Monday, December 25, 2006

Traditional Christmas Post

It's Christmas, boys and girls. Let's not be political today.

OK, one thing. There is no "War on Christmas." And anyone who says so is not, themselves, a good Christian. Know why?
Matthew 22:37 Jesus said unto him "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
But here in America, we have people trying to start fights based on preventing their neighbor from celebrating Hanukkah, Ramadan, the Hindu festival Makar Sankranti, Shakyamuni Buddha Day, or a day to meditate on the Tantric Bodhisattva Goddess Red Tara, or basically any holiday other than Christmas.

That's not "loving," that’s "discriminating." It's a subtle difference, but I'm pretty sure that it's one that Christ would have made, too.

Anyway, let's talk about movies.

I was watching the kids of some friends of ours, and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" came on. The real one, not the Jim Carrey bastardization.

I'm willing to say that two out of three Jim Carrey movies are worth watching. His Grinch is a nice homage to the original, but it isn't as good as watching Chuck Jones' animation, and listening to Boris Karloff reading the story and Tony the Tiger (Thurl Ravenscroft) singing. It just doesn't get any better than that.

But, as I said, the real Grinch came on, and I told the boys that "this is the best Christmas movie ever made." There was a little fussing at first (Spongebob Squarepants was coming on, after all), but within seconds, they were hooked.

Grinch, however, was followed by A Christmas Story. And, you know something? I've never seen that movie. I know dozens of people who can quote lines by heart, and who see it every year. So I tried to watch it.

You know something? I think that I'm too old to watch it. You had to be a certain age, and interested in a certain type of humor, to see it the first time (or maybe to be old enough to remember when life in America was like that), and apparently I don't fall into the right era or something. I was bored.

I tried to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, too. Again, I was bored. Maybe I've seen it too many times. It was cute, but it didn't do much for me.

On the other hand, some of the Christmas specials I watched as a child probably wouldn't do much for me anymore, either. And in that category, I count pretty much all of the Rankin/Bass collection ("The Little Drummer Boy" disappeared many years ago from the major networks - did you know that José Ferrer was one of the featured voices in that? - but I'm willing to bet that it's available on one of the religious cable channels).

Every few years, I watch It's a Wonderful Life again. If you don't watch it too often, it's good - it holds up a lot better than most movies from 1946. I'm pretty sure that it would get old if I watched it every year, but I know people who do just that.

I mean, if you're seriously looking for a new holiday movie, let me just give you a few choices. Try The Nightmare Before Christmas (which Disney wouldn't release under their own imprint because Michael Eisner felt it was "too dark for children" - it ended up being released under Touchstone).

There's always the obviously-named Christmas Vacation - definitely the best of a played-out series. Chevy Chase does the slapstick and deadpan acting that would have made him rich (if it wasn't for the drugs, anyway). This movie actually can (and probably should) be watched without ever seeing any of the other movies in the Vacation series. (This movie, by the way, includes the last screen appearance of Mae Questal, the voice of the original Betty Boop).

If you're in the mood for an action film, you can't really beat Die Hard (although God knows they tried to beat it to death with the sequels).

However, for the most recent "Christmas Classic," I'd say that my money would have to be on Denis Leary's The Ref, an amazingly funny movie about dysfunctional people running full-speed into each other.

There. That pretty much covers it. Except, of course, for the movies I completely ignored. Maybe I'll talk about them some other time. Maybe not.

Deal with it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Well, if it isn't Christ, then it must be...

Let's look at the latest bit of insanity being propagated by our friends on the Far Right.

For a long time, there has been a war against science by the Religious Right. It started back before it was even considered a Right/Left issue. The early Catholic church kept their services in Latin, and ensured that there were no copies of the Bible translated out of Latin, in order to keep power over the uneducated.

It's a simple rule: if the people can't understand it, then they can't argue against it. And looking around, we find that same philosophy cropping up in politics again.

You would think that evolution is a dead argument (so to speak). It isn't really a "theory" (in the sense that it might be the way things happened, but there's an equal chance that it didn't). It's called the "theory of evolution" in the sense that we haven't been alive and sentient for 5 billion years, and so there are parts of it that we can't explain fully.

On the other hand, evolution is the structure that far too much of science is built around. We can point to massive amounts of evidence that shows that evolution is at work in the world today. We can prove that evolution is continuing (OK, everywhere except in Kansas and the Crystal Cathedral).

We can even show that evolution is perfectly in line with Christian belief - the book of Genesis says that God built the world in seven days. We'll ignore that whole "no sun, no days" argument here, and accept that "day" was a metaphor for an uncounted period of time (they covered that in Inherit the Wind, didn't they?). We'll just ask one simple question. Where does Genesis state that evolution wasn't the mechanism that God used to create life? Are you saying that God has to stick to some human timetable?

And my wife pointed out an interesting argument. If you really want to get picky, go back to the King James version of the Bible. God gets all the time He needs to get the job done right.
"These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens." Genesis 2:4
They screwed that up in other translations - "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created" (NIV) - but old Jamie Rex has the answer for you right there: time isn't a fixed concept for God. Just for Man. (It's the only thing my wife remembers from Sunday School. Her teacher must have been so proud.)

And oddly enough, there are a large number of people who can accept the fact that evolution and God can be in the same room without starting a fight.

Meanwhile, though, if you wander through the South (and particularly in Baptist churches), you keep hearing about "Eee-evil-utionists," and how they're trying to keep God out of our children's lives.

It's the same old story. If there's something complicated (like evolution), and you can keep people in the dark about how it works, then you can lie to them about it, and twist the truth to fit your agenda.

The same can be said about homosexuality. It's the one issue that people refuse to agree on. You've got people who find it disgusting (and people who find it enticing but have been trained to believe that it's disgusting), who cannot accept that there are some people who are attracted to people of the same sex.

OK, let's rephrase that last sentence. It should read like this: "You've got people who cannot accept that there are men who are attracted to other men."

Because, for the most part, lesbians aren't disgusting - it's more like "Yeah, women should like other women, until they get a real man like me, in there between 'em..." And then the whole fantasy breaks down into a lot of sweaty, steamy panting.

Let's be real for a minute. Guys, listen up.
They aren't called "lesbians" because they like guys! They're lesbians because they don't want you in the room with them!

And most of the time, they can beat you up if you try to join in, too!
Sorry, that's kind of off the topic. What we're supposed to be talking about is the War on Science.

This is one of those places where the Religious Right coincides with the Political Right. Both sides want to keep science as one of those Big, Scary Things That Nobody Understands. Because it helps them. On the religious side, people are more accepting of the Bible as "the unaltered Word of God" if they haven't read it.

On the political side, people won't believe in "global warming" if they don't have a high school education, and can't understand how pollutants in the atmosphere might alter how the sunlight affects the earth.

Ignorance helps both groups, so they work together to keep people ignorant. Which brings us to today's topic.

Our friends at the World News Daily have a new theory they'd like to bounce off of you. Soy makes you gay.

Feel free to read the article. It's fascinating. It contains enough crap per paragraph to poison an entire crop of spinach. The author, Jim Rutz (who is not a doctor, by the way - he's a minister) wants you to know that not only does soy "feminize" men, it makes everybody fat! (The McDonalds' "Dollar Menu" has nothing to do with that, right?) And it causes leukemia, too! (No, really. It does. Trust us.)

Oh, by the way, you don't need to worry about soy sauce. "Unlike soy milk, it's perfectly safe because it's fermented, which changes its molecular structure. Miso, natto and tempeh are also OK, but avoid tofu." (Have you ever seen natto? Nasty stuff - let's not even get into it.) This is a simple correction, but it means that the soy product that most people have in their cupboards, soy sauce, is nothing they need to worry about. It makes the masses feel better about ordering Chinese food, I guess.

Now, why do we find this particular line of crap in a far right, religious website? It's simple. See, the "perfect" televangelist is, himself, perfect. Like the Pope, he can't be questioned, because God talks through him.

But just lately, too many evangelical leaders are showing themselves to be gay. Ted Haggard, for example, was not only seeing a gay prostitute, but tweaking on crystal meth at the time. (This is nothing new, by the way. Look up the story of Jim Bakker sometime.)

But if the leaders of the evangelical movement are gay, and they've been preaching against gay sex, then what are the people to believe?

Well, if you listen to Jim Rutz and his soy theory, it isn't their fault! They aren't gay! They just had too much soy!

Sadly for him, people are gradually starting to realize that maybe the Word being preached doesn't necessarily come from the Lord. Jesus Christ preached about helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and not screwing up the world the God created.

Maybe, if more people read the New Testament (and actually thought about what those words in red were trying to say), they'd start to wonder whose word Jerry Falwell was actually preaching.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I've been rude this week

Apparently, I stopped being polite to people at some point. (Not that politeness have ever been a hallmark of my attitude, but... well, you know, we try to do better...)

First, I saw this story in the Washington Post, and decided to email Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA). Admittedly, he isn't my Representative (by all appearances, she is still going to be Heather Wilson, sadly), but he pissed me off anyway. I gave it the subject line "Congratulations on the publicity."
Dear Representative Kingston,

I just read the story in the December 6 Washington Post where you complain about the unreasonable strain working five days a week would put on your homelife.

"Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."

I’m fortunate, in that I can make it (barely) on a job working eight hours a day, five days a week. I know far too many people who work long hours, or two jobs (didn’t Bush call a lady working three jobs “uniquely American” two years ago?). I was in the military for 21 years, and while there, I was most often working 14-hour days, sometimes seven days per week (when we weren’t on call and essentially working 24-hour days).

And you have the unmitigated gall to complain about working more than three days per week? You worked all of 103 days this session. This tells me that you have absolutely no work ethic.

On top of which, you’re earning a six-figure income for this minimal effort. You might as well be stealing directly from your constituent’s wallets – you definitely aren’t doing enough work for the salary you’re pocketing.

If you’re going to complain about the unfairness of your overpaid job, it’s time to quit and return to the private sector. We need government representatives willing to work for us.

I’ll sign off now. I have more to say on this subject, but I don’t have time to write it out for you.

I have work to do.
I can't say that I'm surprised that Jackie didn't write me back. But he did post a blog entry where (imagine my shock) this whole mess was the fault of the Democrats and the liberal Washington Post. (OK, admittedly, it's entitled "Jack's Blog," but I'm going to hope that it's written by an aide. Because otherwise, Jack talks about himself in the third person, and that's just weird.)

Jackie-boy, that argument doesn't hold water, since what you said was "Keeping us up here eats away at families. Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."

You didn't say "I have important work to do at home." You basically said "I wanna be with my wife a lot more than I wanna be in Washington."

But then, last night, my father emailed me. Now, understand that my father is a life-long Republican. And, knowing the political affiliations of my sister and I, he likes to occasionally send us Rush Limbaugh-style jokes and rants that he's found somewhere. Usually, I scan them to make sure that they aren't anything original to him, and delete them. Not this time.

It wasn't even something particularly insulting. Usually, I might read it for the irony, and then move on. Not this time - he hit me in just the wrong mood, I guess.
For My Democrat Friends:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere . Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting these greetings, you are accepting the aforementioned terms as stated. This greeting is not subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wishor to actually implement any of the wishes for herself/himself/others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wishor.

For My Republican Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Yeah. High humor, there. So anyway, I sent the following reply.
For my (strangely, despite the pride I once had in his ethics and good sense) Republican father, try to stay comfortable despite all evidence that the world is insane.

Remember, ignore all science. Global warming is a lie. Stem cells hold no promise. Evolution is a myth.

Ignore history. Invasions of other countries can work. Diplomacy is a stupid idea - you can't negotiate with your enemies. And a government composed entirely of people who dodged the draft can plan a war. (Except Rumsfeld - he trained fighters for a while, four or five decades ago. Of course, he quit, didn't he? Or was he fired? It's hard to tell.) And it's not a civil war.

Ignore common sense. Staying in Iraq is good. We can't win if we quit. And they're only attacking our troops because they want to affect the outcome of the election... oh, wait...

And ignore personalities. Pretend that your son has frequently filled his language with useless, empty syllables, for any reason other than humorous effect.

For my Democrat sister:
Peace out
And, you know, I think I showed great restraint. His new wife is a Catholic, so I didn't say anything about having to ignore the fact that the Pope was once a member of the Hitler Youth (and then a member of the German infantry). That might have been over the top.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

If you think that, you don't know Dick...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, November gave us a victory for freedom and the American Way, right? The Democrats were swept into office by a wave of people who finally got tired of being lied to, and for the next two years, Bush and his cronies are going to find their hands tied, right? They won't be able to launch any bizarre neocon plots, and butterflies and puppies will rain down on the people of this once-great land, right?

Don't be too sure.

Yes, Democrats now have a majority in both houses of Congress, but don't think that's going to change anything. The next two years are probably going to be one fight after another, with George Bush trying to do something, Congress shooting him down, and Bush going ahead and doing it anyway. And why?

Two words: Dick Cheney.

Cheney has been a big supporter of the President-as-King theory of democracy (or, in the more graceful Republican-talk, the "unitary executive") for much of his career. Or, at least, that part of his career where he served under Republicans, anyway.

You see, that's the rough part about being a politician. Your life becomes public record. And people like Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe can turn up all kinds of fun facts about you. Like the time in July 1987, when Cheney was talking about the Boland Amendment, which banned aide to anti-Marxist militants in Nicaragua. To be exact, Cheney said "I personally do not believe the Boland Amendment applied to the president, nor to his immediate staff."

You remember that point in the Reagan administration? It was called "Iran-Contra" - a bunch of the president's aides were selling arms to one group of terrorists in Iran, so that they could funnel money to another group of terrorists in Nicaragua. And Cheney said to the committee investigating Iran-Contra that the president didn't have to follow the laws passed by Congress.

Before that, in December 1974, during the Ford administration (with Cheney as Deputy Chief of Staff), Seymour Hersh, writing for the New York Times, disclosed that the CIA was tapping phones, opening mail, and breaking into the homes of anti-war protesters. (Sound familiar? That's what Bush keeps trying to do.) And when Democrat Frank Church of Idaho headed up a Senate committee that started investigating the CIA's role in all of this, Cheney wrote that they needed to head off "congressional efforts to further encroach on the executive branch."

A few months later, when Hersh wrote an article about US subs spying on the Soviet Union, Cheney wanted to have Hersh arrested.
Making an example out of Hersh, Cheney wrote, would "create an environment" that might intimidate both the press and Congress. "Can we take advantage of it to bolster our position on the Church Committee investigation? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigations?" Cheney wrote. The idea, however, was scrapped to avoid attracting the Soviets' attention to Hersh's article.
And later, as Bush 41's defense secretary, Cheney didn't like the idea of telling Congress that troops were about to attack Iraqi's in Kuwait. In the 1996 PBS Frontline documentary, Cheney explained "I was not enthusiastic about going to Congress for an additional grant of authority. I was concerned that they might well vote 'no' and that would make life more difficult for us... From a constitutional standpoint, we had all the authority we needed. If we'd lost the vote in Congress, I would certainly have recommended to the president that we go forward anyway."

That's the way Cheney thinks. He honestly believes, just like Nixon, that "when the president does it, that means it's not illegal." Cheney said on ABC This Week in January 2002, "in 34 years, I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job." And he wants to do all he can to make the president all-powerful. (Do you really think that a C-student and frat-boy came up with the idea of the "signing statement" on his own?)

And he's doing it again. In the November 27 issue of the New Yorker, Hersh reported that, a month before the midterm elections, Cheney was in a national security roundtable.
"If the Democrats won on November 7th, the vice president said, that victory would not stop the administration from pursuing a military option with Iran," Hersh wrote, citing a source familiar with the discussion.

Cheney said the White House would circumvent any legislative restrictions "and thus stop Congress from getting in its way," he said.
So, unless Congress is willing to take firm action and get oversight on everything that the president and vice president do, we could very well get into another endless war in the Middle East. And there are still people out there who'd support it, too.

There is one thing that we can do. It will never become law, because very few politicians are willing to have their names attached to it, but the first thing we need to do is institute a draft. Because Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has it right: the only way that a lot of the American public are going to oppose going to war is if their children are definitely going to be in the foxholes. War is good for business - look how much money companies like Halliburton (and, uh... former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney...) have made off this last one.