Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scott McClellan’s Book

So the former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has published a book claiming that Bush essentially lied us into the Iraq War and that the war was a strategic blunder.

DUH, ya think? No kidding. Is there anyone left in this country with half a brain that isn’t an Evangelical Christian that doubts these two things?

As far as I’m concerned the only remaining question is why?

Was he being delusional? Did he have a “gut feeling” about Iraq and decide he needed to manufacture a casus belli? Or was he making money out of the deal for himself and others? Personally I go with all of the above.

The only way we may be able to find out is with a special investigation into the actions of the Bush administration after he leaves office. I don’t hold out much hope that such an investigation will occur, but I do believe it’s necessary and would reveal much about the nightmare that is the Bush years.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What does it Say?

Two related passages from the bible. The first is from just after the destruction of Jericho. Joshua pronounces an oath over the fallen city.

Joshua 6:26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: "Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: "At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates."

The second is from 1 Kings 16 when someone actually rebuilds Jericho.

1 Kings 16:34 In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun.

The traditional interpretation that can be heard in pulpits all around Christendom is that Joshua pronounces a curse and Hiel, either ignoring the curse or in ignorance of it, brings it down upon his head when he rebuilds the city several hundred years later.

Misfortune starts at the beginning of the work with the death of his eldest son, continues throughout and finally culminates with the death of his youngest son when the work is completed. While the passage doesn’t say, it is generally assumed that any other sons Hiel may have had also perish while the rebuilding is in process.

That’s the basics, but from these basics a good preacher can launch into a wide range of lessons to be learned and the symbolic significance of the fallen walls. All in all it’s a good source for the demonstration of the power of God and the cost of disobedience.

Or is it?

There is another interpretation, one that may, or may not, be supported by archaeological evidence. Like many other things, much is in the eye of the beholder.

There is evidence that what is known as “foundation sacrifice” was widely practiced throughout Europe and the Middle East in ancient times. Certainly the Romans would bury vases and pottery containing food and drink for good luck when putting up a building. But the Romans were civilized compared to the mid-eastern tribes in biblical times.

Digs in Canaan have uncovered the remains of children or adolescents buried into building and gate foundations. It has long been suspected that child sacrifice was widespread in Canaan and even practiced by the Hebrews. The bible repeatedly admonishes kings for sacrificing their sons and daughters (see 2 Kings 16:3 and 2 Kings 17:17 for example). It’s not until King Josiah of Judah marches out with his army, tears down all the altars at which sacrifices are occurring and kills all the priests associated with the rites that the practice begins to die down (see 2 Kings 23).

So, what’s the alternative interpretation? The alternative is that Hiel, tasked with refortifying Jericho, sacrifices his eldest son at the start of the rebuilding, and his youngest son when the gates are restored, as “foundation sacrifices” to appease the gods and then the “curse” is inserted into the mouth of Joshua well after the actual events.

Keep in mind that the Northern Kingdom of Israel was polytheistic and worshipped a wide range of Canaanite deities including Baal and Yahweh.

This interpretation would line up with the Documentary Hypothesis. If you buy into that then the rebuilding of Jericho occurs well before the books of Joshua and Kings are written so it becomes very easy to put a curse into the mouth of Joshua to describe what already has occurred. The relationship between the death of Hiel’s sons and the rebuilding of Jericho would be much more obvious if they were sacrificed wouldn’t it?

You don’t like that alternative explanation? To be honest with you, if you think carefully about the traditional interpretation it’s not very complimentary to God. The traditional interpretation is that God kills two innocent children because of a curse laid down by Joshua and a sacrilege perpetrated by Hiel in order to please Ahab the then King of Israel. You remember Ahab right? He’s the one that married Jezebel.

Is that justice? Why not zap Hiel or Ahab himself? Why pick on Hiel’s children? This is not an uncommon theme in ancient times. You punish the parent by doing something nasty, and often fatal, to the children. Herodotus tells the story of how Xerxes became incensed when one of his advisors asks that his son be allowed to remain at home rather than accompany the army into Greece. Xerxes punishes the man by having his son split in half length wise and then mounted upon posts on either side of the road as the army marches through.

But Xerxes wasn’t God now was he?

Herodotus relays the story as a demonstration of what would be considered a gross injustice by the Greeks in the 5th century BCE. So how come supposedly more civilized folks admire the story of a God who perpetrates an even grosser injustice?

Personally I prefer the alternative interpretation. In that interpretation it’s men that perpetrate the evil and not the deity.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You’re Kidding me Right?

Just when I thought the Right Wing couldn’t get any more ridiculous it manages to leave me with my mouth hanging open again.

Maggie Gallagher is a former editor of the National Review and currently the president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Clearly neither Maggie nor NOM is happy with the recent California Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage but Maggie outdoes herself in a Yahoo op-ed by trying to metamorphise the question from one of individual rights and equal protection into one of religious freedom!

While she’s at it she manages to engage in the time honored fascist tactic of fear mongering. At best she throws out slippery slope arguments, at worst she flips in assertions that are either untrue or irrelevant. Let’s go to the quotes.

“Ideas have consequences. And the California court endorsed two big, brand-new, very bad ideas.”
Well, let’s go see what these “two big, brand-new, very bad ideas” are shall we?

“The first idea is that the internationally recognized human right to marry includes same-sex marriage.”

But this is the very point of the debate isn’t it? One side says that same sex marriage should be recognized on an equal footing with heterosexual marriage and the other side says it shouldn’t.

This is far from a new idea and the idea has been making progress for a long time. Conservatives have been fighting a delaying action here with an occasional counter-attack but the fact is that the zeitgeist is slowly but surely accepting the idea of gay sex and gay couples.

Over the last 30 years the idea of “domestic partnerships” and “civil unions” have slowly gained acceptability until, at the moment, in many places it’s simply a question of semantics. The best example of this is New Jersey where “civil unions” must be the legal equivalent of marriages.

But semantics are important. Some words carry with them strong emotional attachment and strong cultural meaning. “Marriage” is one of those words.

“In U.S. constitutional law, fundamental human rights are those deeply rooted in our traditions.”

No, fundamental human rights are fundamental human rights. They are not driven by tradition or law but exist in and of themselves independent of the law. Fundamental human rights are not created but discovered.

Following Maggie’s line of reasoning the concepts in the Declaration of Independence are nonsense because they were not rooted in traditional. Allow me to quote that document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These rights were not firmly rooted in tradition. Note also that the rights are “unalienable.” In other words they cannot be surrendered. They can never cease to exist; they can only be unrecognized or suppressed by tyranny.

“So in rooting around for precedents, the California court had liberal recourse to our neighbor to the north, Canada. Like Canadian courts, the California court grounded same-sex marriage in a larger human right to form families of choice and to have the government sanction all family forms as having equal dignity. Polygamy anyone?”

Ah yes, the old slippery slope argument. If one takes the argument to its logical extreme, then yes one could argue that polygamy and group marriage fall under the same protection. Practically speaking however this is highly unlikely to happen simply because the number of people who would support such an extension is vanishingly small.

Another point to keep in mind is that while it is probable that homosexuality is not a choice but driven by genetic and hormonal factors, things like polygamy are clearly a choice. That being the case, I for one see no inconsistency in allowing gay marriage while outlawing polygamy.

“Just last week the Orwellian ‘Human Rights’ Tribunal of Ontario ruled that Christian Horizons, a charity that runs homes for developmentally disabled adults, engaged in illegal discrimination when it tried to ensure that its employees were practicing Christians who accepted Christian sexual teaching on adultery, fornication and homosexual sex.”

This is a scare tactic pure and simple. First of all this has absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage. It’s related to discrimination based upon sexual orientation. In the United States, the Federal Government, and a growing number of states, already prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation but specifically exempt religious organizations. Therefore, this scenario could never happen in the home of the free. In the United States, religion is allowed to discriminate.

Does it bother you that in a country which prides itself on freedom and equality we allow religions to discrimnate?

But if such practices are illegal, what is it that exempts a Christian organization from following the law if it has no exemption from that law? Simply the fact that it’s Christian? The last time I looked religious organizations, unless specifically exempted, were obligated to adhere to the law just like everyone else. I also thought it was cute that Maggie put Human Rights in quotes and threw in “Orwellian.” Both of these moves allow Maggie to imply things that she doesn’t have to justify.

“…the second big idea endorsed by the California court is even less promising: Sexual orientation should be treated just like race under the California equal protection amendment, subject to ‘strict scrutiny.’ This is another historic first for a U.S. court.”

An Historic First? As I already pointed out, the Federal Government and many states already prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation but exempt religious organizations so it isn’t much of a first now is it?

“This is a ruling which, if left undisturbed, means that Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims who see marriage as the union of husband and wife, and view sexual activity as best confined to marriage so defined, are in the exact position as racists under California law.”

And the problem with this is? If you honestly believe in equality under the law, and homosexuality is non-voluntary, then this is precisely where they should be. It isn’t equality under the law except for homosexuals.

“The First Amendment will not protect us if our own governments (through the courts) decide that, for example, my Catholic faith is in itself a form of bigotry.”

Again this is a scare tactic by implying that all of Catholicism, and therefore by extension Christianity itself, would be declared a form of bigotry. What you would really have, and in fact already have, is a situation declaring that within the secular sphere discrimination based upon sexual preference is equivalent to discrimination based upon race but, in order to protect freedom of religion, religions which declare homosexuality immoral are exempt.

The United States allows religions to discriminate.

As far as I can see this is exactly where things should be. There is no valid reason in the secular sphere for treating homosexuals different from anyone else. To try and overlay a religious rationale onto the secular sphere, which is what the religious appear to be trying to do, is a violation of the principle of the separation of church and state.

“In Great Britain, a similar idea recently led a court to fine an Anglican bishop $100,000 for refusing to hire an openly gay man -- as a youth minister in one of his parishes.”

More scare tactic. Again this has nothing to do with gay marriage but with discrimination based upon sexual orientation and, again, in the U.S. religious organizations are exempted. They’re allowed to discriminate against gays. I'll also point out the emphesis on "youth minister" here. A reference designed to inflame the old nonsense that somehow homosexuality equates to pedophilia. The fact is that homosexuals are no more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexuals.

“I'd love to get beyond the culture wars in this country. But so far, there are few signs that the courts, or the people who disagree with me, are content to let me.”

But only if everyone accepts you dictating your religious beliefs unto everyone else. The only reason a culture war exists in this country is that the Christian right wants to enforce its moral opinion on the rest of us. We’ll get beyond the culture war when Christians stop trying to do that.
To my mind this column is an example of the dishonest tactics continuously engaged in by Religious Conservatives. I’m willing to accept that a legitimate debate about the appropriateness of gay marriage exists, but throwing in issues not even related to the gay marriage question, and scenarios that can’t even happen, in order to imply that somehow gay marriage will lead to them isn’t legitimate debate.

If you’re opposed to gay marriage because your religion says that homosexuality is an immoral choice and therefore you don’t believe secular society should allow it, make that your argument instead of wrapping it around glittering generalities like tradition and family.

In other words, TRY TO BE HONEST FOR A CHANGE. If you did that 90% of the Liberals in the country, including all the agnostics and atheists, might drop dead from shock. Now isn’t that something you’d like to try and bring about? So go ahead, try honesty.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t hold my breath. Maggie and NOM will be fighting tooth and nail to get Californians to approve a constitutional amendment to overturn the courts ruling. Here’s hoping that the good people of California tell them to stick it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sex and the City without the Sex

Advertisements for the upcoming movie “Sex and the City” have run into problems in the Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Petah Tikva according to an AP report because of the word “Sex.”

Apparently using the word in outdoor advertising has bruised the sensibilities of the religious faithful who want the word removed. That would have Israelis running around looking for a movie entitled “and the City.”

Talk about DUMB. When I think religion and the religious can’t make themselves appear any more ridiculous one of them always manages to surprise me.

Do you think is would help to remind them that it was Sky Daddy that invented that thing they don’t want mentioned on the billboards?

Probably not.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California Supreme Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban

The Associated Press is reporting that in a 4-3 decision the California Supreme Court has overturned a voter approved ban on gay marriages and declared that the domestic partnerships allowed by the State of California are not a good enough substitute.

The decision came in a case filed by the City of San Francisco and two dozen gay couples and gay rights groups after the court put a halt to the gay marriages being performed in San Francisco’s City Hall following Mayor Gavin Newsom's approval of such ceremonies in 2004.

But, as usual, the battle isn’t over. Right wing religious and other socially conservative groups are trying to get a measure on the ballot in November banning gay marriage in the state constitution and the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal outfit representing them, has asked the court to defer its ruling until after the November election.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has already announced that he would not support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court ruling.

Let the games begin as California joins Massachusetts and New Jersey in jumping off the crumbling wall of homosexual discrimination.

I figure that the right wing will have as much success as it had in Massachusetts and New Jersey reversing the trend as well.

Meanwhile, please note that floods and lightning bolts indicating the wrath of God have not descended upon Massachusetts and New Jersey nor has society there collapsed into an anarchy of sexual perversions worthy of Sodom and Gomorrah because equal rights have been extended to gay couples.

Exactly why religious conservatives, and especially conservative Christians, feel it necessary to codify discrimination into the laws of the nation is beyond me and something for which I’ve never seen anything approaching an adequate explanation.

Anyway, hurrah for the Blue State of California.

Declaration of Beliefs

I believe in logic, reason and the ability of men to work their way towards the truth by the use of these tools.

I believe in science and the scientific method.

I believe that morality should be defined by men and enforced by men. Even if there is a God, we are under no obligation to obey his (her? its?) definition of morality. I totally reject the concept of morality by divine command.

I believe that men’s concept of what is moral and what is just evolves over time.

I believe that the law is an imperfect attempt to codify men’s current concepts of morality and justice.

I believe that given the two previous beliefs a “strict constructionist” interpretation of the law makes absolutely no sense unless one wants to delay justice and justice delayed is justice denied.

I believe that Liberalism has been the philosophy most responsible for the expansion of equal rights and justice.

I believe that Conservatism has been the philosophy most responsible for delaying the expansion of equal rights and justice.

I believe that religion is most often an extreme form of Conservatism.

I believe that the courts of the United States, especially the Supreme Court of the United States, bare the responsibility of protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

I believe that the Death Penalty is morally wrong because of the risk of error.

I believe that there are times when an abortion is necessary in order to protect the physical or mental health of the mother.

I believe that the only people qualified to determine when an abortion is necessary are the woman involved and her medical advisors.

I believe that homosexuality is not a choice any more than being left handed or blue eyed is a choice and to deny homosexuals equal protection under the law, including the right to marry, is morally wrong.

I believe that religion is dangerous superstitious nonsense.

I believe that Islam is not a religion of peace but of murder and fanaticism.

I believe that Fundamentalist Christianity is the greatest danger to the survival of American Democracy that has ever existed.

I believe that American society has degraded to the point that we can no longer be confident of the country’s prosperity.

I believe that the average American has no patience and relies upon 10 second sound bites for information.

I believe the average American wants instant gratification without having to work for what they want.

I believe the average American is historically ignorant, scientifically ignorant and biblically ignorant and therefore there is something fundamentally wrong with our educational process.

I believe that George Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States.

I believe that the Bush Administration has engaged in a wide range of high crimes and misdemeanors ranging from lying to Congress and the American People to conspiring with corrupt private companies to loot the wealth of the Iraqi people and the American taxpayer.

I believe that any society that could re-elect George Bush is dysfunctional therefore American society is, at the current moment, dysfunctional.

I believe that the invasion of Iraq is the greatest single mistake ever committed by the United States and has led directly to the decline of the nation both in terms of real power and international prestige.

I believe the Republican Party can no longer be trusted to respect the rights of the American people.

I believe that the Bible is a wonderful book with much wisdom, but with also much to be criticized.

I believe that the Bible is the work of men and, even if there is a God, he (she? it?) had absolutely nothing to do with the generation of the Bible.

I believe that nothing in the Bible is a fulfilled prophecy.

I believe that the Book of Mormon is the totally fictional concoction of a second rate con man and it’s a terribly boring read as well.

I believe that the Theory of Evolution is fundamentally accurate.

I believe that neither “Creationism” nor “Intelligent Design” is a scientific theory.

I believe that Conservative Christians that promote “Creationism” or “Intelligent Design” as a scientific alternative to Evolution consistently use misleading or dishonest arguments in order to sway the very young and the ignorant and I find this conduct reprehensible.

I believe that Conservative Christian organizations pushing bible study in the public schools are doing so for religious reasons and essentially lying about their motives. I find this conduct reprehensible.

I believe that most Conservative Christian organizations use dishonest methods designed to persuade the very young, the ignorant or the emotionally distraught when they promote Christianity and I find this conduct reprehensible.

I believe that any philosophy that feels the needs to engage in misleading or dishonest conduct in order to promote itself or its beliefs is by definition a false philosophy unworthy of respect or adherence.

I believe that the Palestinian people have a right to a land of their own and to be free from foreign occupation.

I believe that the Jews deserve a homeland and that the state of Israel deserves to exist in peace.

Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea how to reconcile the rights of the Palestinian People with the rights of Israel and this depresses me.

I believe that global warming is the single most serious problem that will need to be addressed by my children’s generation.

I believe that the United States needed to eliminate oil as its major provider of energy at least a decade ago and the failure to do so is the single greatest contributor to the decline of the American Republic.

I believe that immigration needs to be managed by law and that the United States needs to regain control of its borders for both security and economic reasons.

I believe that English should be declared by law to be the language of the United States.

I believe that John McCain is a good man who would make a terrible President because he carries with him too much baggage from his past and from a Republican Party that has lost its traditional vision.

I believe that Hillary Clinton is a very competent politician who would make a horrible President because she tends to polarize people.

I believe that Barack Obama is a good man, with a mediocre jump shot, that would make a great President because people both at home and abroad would rally around his presidency.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Executions Resume

William Lynd died in Georgia last week. Lynd’s death marked the resumption of executions in the United States after the Supreme Court decision that the Lethal Injections practiced by 35 of the 36 states with death penalties did not violate the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Lynd is the first man to be executed since Michael Richard was executed in Texas on September 25, 2007.

Lynd’s death brought the total number of execution up to 1,100 since executions were resumed in 1977. 405 of these executions have been in Texas. 902 have been in the South.

Meanwhile, in the State of New Jersey, a seminar on the fight to abolish the death penalty was held at Seton Hall Law School and Senator Raymond J. Lesniak from Elizabeth has published a book entitled “The Road to Abolition, How New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty.”

There are still some voices of reason in the United States.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Judicial Activism

I see John McCain has made a speech parroting the old nonsense about “judicial activism” and promising to follow the Bush precedent of appointing “strict constructionists” to the Federal Courts. This is a pitch guaranteed to warm the hearts of the Republican Conservative faithful who moan about “judicial activism” whenever a court decision goes against them.

I have two observations. The first is that “judicial activism” is simply the art of getting the courts to recognize an injustice that needs to be redressed before one can hope to get it recognized by the electorate at large.

If you follow the history of the battle against school segregation it wasn’t the single court case of Brown vs. The Board of Education. It was a protracted campaign building precedent upon precedent in less far reaching cases until it was felt that an assault upon segregation in general could succeed.

Why not leave it up to the electorate as Conservatives like to say these days? Because the fact of the matter is that the view of the electorate changes slowly. I doubt that today anyone would argue that segregation has merits but in the early 1950’s it was the majority view in many states and had the benefit of court precedent on its side as well. Remember the phrase “separate but equal?” It’s sort of the same thing some folks say about “civil unions” vs. marriage. Here’s a news flash, separate, or different, is inherently unequal.

The courts are the last bastion of royalty, the last stronghold of the wisdom laden elders that we rely upon to insure that society follows the right path. They are the ones entrusted with the burden of protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority. Do I like the idea that we still need a council of elders above the will of the people? No I don’t. Do I accept it as a reality of life? Yes I do.

“Judicial activism” is simply the elders of the tribe realizing before the majority of the people that there is an injustice to be made right.

My second observation is that McCain keeps agreeing with Bush.

The Bush administration has arguable been the greatest disaster in the history of the American Republic. Not only are we bogged down in a quagmire of a war that was not, is not, and never has been necessary, we’ve seen a budget surplus degrade into the biggest deficit in history (so much for the Republican mantra of “financial restraint”), we’re mired in a recession, the country’s influence around the globe has plummeted along with its prestige and we’ve seen this administration flaunt the law by instituting torture and illegal wiretapping.

We’ve seen this administration tell bald faced lies to the American people and congress, out an American intelligence agent, assault science by manipulating or censoring scientific data that didn’t agree with its preconceived notions and thumb its nose at the principle of the separation of church and state by financing “faith based” initiatives.

So why the hell would anyone in his right mind vote for someone who’s going to continue the policies of the last eight years?

Friday, May 02, 2008

The First Torturer

I agree with Ted Rall. The information revealed in an ABC News story that high Bush administration officials, including Bush himself, reviewed and approved the use of torture in interrogations is grounds for prosecution.

But unlike Rall, I don’t want the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police to arrest the bastards (as pleasant a sight as that might be) right now, I’d like to wait until this administration has been swept out and a new one takes the reins.

I’m serious about this. The next administration should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the laundry list of Bush administration transgressions and, if warranted, proceed to criminal prosecution if for no other reason than to try and insure that no future administration decides it’s above the law like this one has clearly done.

This has nothing to do with Democrat vs. Republican. As a matter of fact, I think it more likely that John McCain would undertake such a step than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. If McCain wants my vote, promising such an investigation might be a way to get it.