Saturday, January 27, 2007

How's the view from that cross?

Christ died for our sins. Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?
~~ Jules Feiffer
Last week, James Kopp, who was convicted to 25-to-life last month for the sniper killing of a doctor in 1998, was also convicted on federal charges for the same crime. Kopp had killed Dr. Barnett Slepian in the doctor's Amherst, NY home, and tried to claim in both federal and state trials that he only wanted to wound the doctor, to prevent him from performing abortions.

Incidentally, Kopp has also been charged by Canadian authorities for the 1995 killing of Ontario Dr Hugh Short, and wanted for questioning in other Rememberance Day assassinations of abortionists.

OK, let's be clear here. The Federal government didn't really have a choice in the matter. Although you will never hear George W. Bush admit it in public, Kopp was a domestic terrorist, part of a collection of lunatics who believe that the killing of abortionists is justified.

(In fact, Kopp tried to use that very defense: what he did was justified to "save the lives of the preborn." But the judge made a very simple ruling: abortion is legal. Murder isn't.)

And although the government doesn't have a very good record of hunting down right-wing terrorists, every once in a while, they do try to do their jobs. (Or, to look at it another way, even a broken clock is right twice a day.)

Now, I don't think I've covered this aspect of my personality much (and I'm too lazy to go back and look), but I'm an agnostic. Despite what a number of people have tried to tell me about myself, I'm not an athiest. Denying the possibility of some godlike force is just as much of a leap of faith as saying that there is some huge old guy in the sky who gets cranky if you don't kneel a lot. I don't know which point of view is true (although I lean more toward the athiest end of things, admittedly), but to be honest, it makes no real difference in my life.

In fact, the last set of dog tags I wore in the military proclaimed me to be a Zen Agnostic, which, if you think about it, translates loosely to "I don't know, and I don't care."

But I strongly believe that the interference of Christians in our day-to-day life only leads to a tragedy of Biblical proportions. Dogs and cats living together! (And Rag-time, shameless music, that'll grab your son and your daughter with the arms of a jungle animal instinct! Mass-staria!)

When you let our Christian friends take charge of things, you get ugliness on a monumental order. You get parents suing to keep Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth from being shown in a classroom. Care to guess why?
The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.
And the madness doesn't stop there. You end up with crap science: for example, Bush's choice as head of the FDA's advisory council on reproductive health is trying to tell America that premarital sex interferes with the ability to fall in love. OK, more accurately, the ability to form healthy, lasting, loving relationships. And it all revolves around the nanopeptide Oxytocin. But what it means is that he's claiming to now have scientific evidence that people must practice abstinence before marriage.

You end up with the ugliness that was the Terri Schiavo case - a brain-dead girl whose undead body is kept alive by machines, because the Religious Right said that it must be so.

You end up with Park Rangers at the Grand Canyon who aren't allowed to mention the geologic age of the rocks around them, for fear of annoying the creationists. (Oh, yeah, plus, the park bookstores sell a book that tells us that the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah's flood, not geologic forces.)

And you end up with vitriolic arguments about evolution, and people trying to tell you that soy protein makes you gay. And, for that matter, ignorant arguments about gays, both in general and specifically in the military. (Man, I am starting to quote myself entirely too often. This is probably bad...)

And it isn't just science. They like to try rewriting history, too. And the whole religious thing leads to a bunch of really, really dangerous ideas.

We also end up with other, random bits of humor, though. Like the Virgin Mary in a grocery store freezer (and, incidentally, Jesus in a doggie door). And christianity being used as a marketing ploy on some really questionable items.

So overall, as I said, I really don't have a problem with religious people. (Did I say that? I probably should have said that somewhere. Well, hell, at least I have now, right?) But I very strongly suspect that it isn't a good idea to put them in charge.

Update: One benefit (if that’s the right word) of going to a military chapel is that you get to rub up against peoples of various faiths. So I've had opportunity to see the various flavors of evangelical service in action. And I've noticed something.

There's a word that the "contemporary" services have usurped as their own, and they like to base entire songs around it. That word is "worthy." In fact, I've heard a song where the verse (or possibly chorus) was made up of repetitions of the phrase "He is worthy," over and over. I realize that the phrase is a truncated version of "He is worthy of praise" or something similar, but the following argument still applies.

The evangelical community needs to consider their word choice a little harder. Let's break this down into the most simple form.

1. "Worthy" is the adjectival form of "worth."
2. "Worth" is a value judgement, indicating that one thing is compared to another.
3. It's awfully generous of them to decide that God, creator of the universe and all things in it, compares favorably against Brand X. And it's nice that they feel authorized to make this decision.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's not a game, George

President Bush went on television last night to explain his "new way forward" to America. But his "new way" is strangely similar to the "old way." We stay in Iraq for the conceivable future, and more troops are sent into the line of fire.

See, if you're an Iraqi insurgent, then this "new way forward" is just leading you into a "target-rich environment."

You know, it's strange. Bush feels that he can ignore the American people, 64% of whom disagree with his handling of the war. He feels that he can ignore the military (a traditionally hawkish bunch): in a Military Times poll of active-duty servicepeople, a majority of the troops who responded disapproved of how Bush is handling Iraq.

It was just last month that George W. Bush said "it's important to trust the judgment of the military when they're making military plans… I'm a strict adherer to the command structure." But now, with his plan to put more troops into Iraq, he's even ignoring the advice of his generals.

But this is nothing new. Bush doesn't feel that he needs to consult Congress when he attacks somebody. He's proven this twice in the last week, both in Somalia and with the troops he's planning on deploying into Iraq. He doesn't act like a military commander - he's more like a kid with an army of plastic soldiers - you can almost see him pushing them around the carpet of the Oval Office, making "blam… rat-a-tat-tat" noises.

He's proven over and over that nobody in the Bush White House is a constitutional scholar. I'm not sure that anybody working at 1600 Pennsylvania Boulevard has ever actually read that document. Because the Constitution is pretty clear on the subject.

Way back in 1781, having just broken away from a King, the Constitutional Congress didn't support the idea that one person could unilaterally declare war on another country. The President may be Commander-in-Chief of the military, but if you actually look at the document they created, you find out that in Article 1, Section 8, it says that
"The Congress shall have Power...
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress..."
But Bush isn't just ignoring the will of the people and the law. He's ignoring common sense. General Petraeus, who Bush just placed in charge of the forces in Iraq, drew up a strategy to defeat the insurgents in that country. Unfortunately, according to that report, the best ratio of troops to population, in a counter-insurgency operation like this one, is 20 per 1,000 civilians. But since Iraq has a population of 26 million people, that would mean that the United States would need to add at least 250,000 troops to the current 140,000 military personnel already in Iraq.

It's been a few years since I took a math class, but that seems like a few more than the twenty thousand troops Bush wants to send.

In fact, as Terry Jones (the ex-Monty Python member) pointed out, America has spent one million dollars per dead Iraqi. Strangely enough, it might have been more cost-effective to actually drop bales of money from planes to squash the insurgents.

But Congress has the power. Unlike what the nay-sayers want you to believe, Teddy Kennedy is correct. Congress has every right to tell Bush how to spend the money that they give him. In fact, they've done it over and over again.

It's time for Congress to start treating Bush like a two-year-old. If he won't pay attention to the rules, they need to take his toys away.