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Thursday, October 31st, 2002

Happy Halloween

Like several other holidays that I 'celebrate', I don't subscribe to the traditional notions that are the foundations for Halloween. I find the religious people who view Halloween as 'demonic' with a mixture of humor and sadness. They are missing a good time on a very silly premise.
Of course I don't suspect that many people give too much thought to the strange amalgam of Christian and 'Pagan' tradition that compose modern day Halloween.

But I have very fond childhood memories of running around local neighborhoods begging for candy and properly 'tricking' those foolish households that made the mistake of having poor treats (apples, pennies) or worse yet, the mistake of not being home at all.

For me, Halloween is an opportunity to have some fun at the expense of all of the things that have crawled in the dark corners of our minds since we were children. It is a chance to be amused by what scares us.

In fact, I've always had a golden rule about my costumes: they have to be 'scary'. I never liked that Halloween got adopted at some time as just an excuse for a masquerade. Halloween is when the dead are suppose to walk the earth so I want to see zombies and ghosts, not drag queens and presidents!

I love the socially accepted opportunity to scare the begeezies out of some tyke or unsuspecting friend or family member. And if you are good and lucky, you might even be able to scare me. I say, go for it - scare me if you can, I enjoy the adrenaline rush; but be warned: I will return the favor ten fold. ( ~Evil laughter~ 'Bwah ha ha ha!')

You can learn more about this strange holiday by reading 'How Halloween Works'.

Monday, October 28th, 2002

So many people seem to be remarking on the early appearance of Christmas decorations, but then it seems like people say this every year. So I wonder, are they really any earlier this year or not?

Regardless of whether these decorations are appearing as early as usual or not, I wish we didn't have to see them at all before December. Three months of decorations and Christmas songs should be enough to make almost anybody think that Christmas is nothing but a long commercial.

I was reminded once again what a nut-job Jerry Falwell is after reading this CNN article:

Gays to Falwell: We're here to stay
Sunday, October 27, 2002 11:18 AM EST

The article reminded me of comments that Falwell made awhile back after the attacks of September 11th when he said God allowed terrorists to attack America because of the work of gays, abortionists and feminists.

In this latest article CNN reports that "Falwell said he still stands by his assessment of the terrorist attacks, blaming the "secularization of America" for exacerbating God's wrath. "I just think those statements were ill-timed," he said."

As I've written here before, the notion that the United States was ever a "Christian Nation" is a myth. Therefore, the idea that America is becoming secularized is a fallacy. If anything, America is falling into the pit of Theocracy.

But beyond that, I wonder about anyone who's faith it is that, there is a god who sits in heaven and punishes countries by inducing or allowing followers of another faith to successfully attack 'his' (supposed) nation by killing thousands of unarmed and unsuspecting human beings.

Falwell's god must have the maturity of an evil two year old.

I'm reminded of a song from the late Frank Zappa's album "You are what you is", 1981

Dumb All Over

Whoever we are
Wherever we're from
We shoulda noticed by now
Our behavior is dumb
And if our chances
Expect to improve
It's gonna take a lot more
Than tryin' to remove
The other race
Or the other whatever
From the face
Of the planet altogether

They call it THE EARTH
Which is a dumb kinda name
But they named it right
'Cause we behave the same...
*We are dumb all over*
Dumb all over,
Yes we are
Dumb all over,
Near 'n far
Dumb all over,
Black 'n white
People, we is not wrapped tight

Nurds on the left
Nurds on the right
Religous fanatics
On the air every night
Sayin' the Bible
Tells the story
Makes the details
Sound real gory
'Bout what to do
If the geeks over there
Don't believe in the book
We got over here

You can't run a race
Without no feet
'N pretty soon
There won't be no street
For dummies to jog on
Or doggies to dog on
Religous fanatics
Can make it be all gone
(I mean it won't blow up
'N disappear
It'll just look ugly
For a thousand years...)

You can't run a country
By a book of religion
Not by a heap
Or a lump or a smidgeon
Of foolish rules
Of ancient date
Designed to make
You all feel great
While you fold, spindle
And mutilate
Those unbelievers
From a neighboring state

Hooray! That's great
Two legs ain't bad
Unless there's a crate
They ship the parts
To mama in
For souvenirs: two ears *(Get Down!)*
Not his, not hers, *(but what the hey?)*
The Good Book says:
*("It gotta be that way!")*
But their book says:
With whips 'n chains
'N hand grenades..."*
Have another and another
Our God says:
*"There ain't no other!"*
Our God says
*"It's all okay!"*
Our God says
*"This is the way!"*

It says in the book:
*"Burn 'n destroy...*
*'N repent, 'n redeem*
*'N revenge, 'n deploy*
*'N rumble thee forth*
*To the land of the unbelieving scum on
the other side*
*'Cause they don't go for what's in the
*'N that makes 'em BAD*
*So verily we must choppeth them up*
*And stompeth them down*
*Or rent a nice French bomb*
*To poof them out of existance
*While leaving their real estate just where
we need it*
*To use again*
*For temples in which to praise
*("Cause he can really take care of

And when his humble TV servant
With humble white hair
And humble glasses
And a nice brown suit
And maybe a blond wife who takes
phone calls
Tells us our God says
It's okay to do this stuff
Then we gotta do it,
'Cause if we don't do it,
We ain't gwine up to *hebbin!*
(Depending on which book you're using
at the time...Can't use theirs... it don't work
...it's all lies...Gotta use mine...)
Ain't that right?
That's what they say
Every night...
Every day...
Hey, we can't really be dumb
If we're just following *God's Orders*
Hey, let's get serious...
God knows what he's doin'
He wrote this book here
An' the book says:
*He made us all to be just like Him,"
If we're dumb...
Then God is dumb...
*(An' maybe even a little ugly on the side)*

Friday, October 25th, 2002

The news media outlets have really been disappointing me lately, particularly the country's most popular source of news: television news.

The public air waves have been polluted by silly tabloid styled reports of shark attacks and kidnappings that are 'non-stories'.

Don't get me wrong, a shark attack or a kidnapping might be worthy of local news but their national newsworthiness is dubious at best particularly since both shark attacks and kidnappings are actually down nationally!

Our national news, with their large budgets and international connections should concentrate on truly national and global news of the greatest merit, and they should deliver that news with accuracy, critical thought and insightful reporting.

But I found my self torn when evaluating the recent sniper murders in Maryland. I had to confess that the story might have national importance because of the magnitude, nature and relative uniqueness of the events.

But this morning, the day after the apparent sniper or snipers have been caught I turned on my morning news. There on CBS, live national television I watched as the morning host clumsily interviewed someone who was suppose to be of significance to this case, someone who could enlighten tens of millions of viewers.

The conversation went something like this (I paraphrase liberally):

Host: As the friend of the sniper did you ever suspect he'd do something like this.
Interviewee: I'm not his friend.
Host: But did you have any clue that he would kill people?
Interviewee: I'm not a friend of the sniper.
Host (with confidence): But you DO know him?
Interviewee: No.
Host: You don't know him?
Interviewee: His sister's kids and my sister's kids played together once. Sega video games I think.
Host: Um, did the family seem normal?

Any merit that there might have been in reporting this story nationally has long since been bled dry by the rabid and scabrous news vultures who have disguised themselves as real reporters and editors. If this story ever deserved national coverage, it never deserved one hundredth of what it received in the end. That is, if we are at the end.

Alright people. Move along. There is nothing else to see here.

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2002

From Time magazine:

Dicky Armey, House Majority Leader: "America sits and wonders why it is that al-Qaeda, this ragtag bunch of terrorists scattered all over the globe, can reorganize themselves. I think the difference is that al-Quaeda doesn't have a senate. Al-Quaeda doesn't have a Senator Daschle."

This is a funny quote (darkly funny that is). Damn that pesky Senate of ours! If we could only get rid of the Senate or at least Senator Daschle.

Everyday it seems like this country desires to be more like al-Qaeda.

I appreciate that this is just a quote and out of context at that but it still seems to underline a general trend of thinking within this country. Yes, it is true, small dictatorial organizations can move quickly. But it might occur to Dick Armey that there are a few draw backs to the approach as well, which I should hope needn't be pointed out to him.

Monday, October 21st, 2002

Over the weekend I watched "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966) based on Edward Albee's play, starring Richard Burton (as George) and Elizabeth Taylor (Martha), co-starring George Segal (Nick) and Sandy Dennis (Honey) directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl).

The film received 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting nominations for the lead quartet. The movie won five of the Oscars for which it was nominated.

The movie was ground breaking at its time for its dark and cynical portrayal of marriage and for its profanity riddled dialog in the era of "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best".
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

The movies acting is fantastic, - at least measured within the range of anger or angst. The dialog is witty if not realistic and the directing is good if not particularly engaging.

Alas, as much as the profanity and hateful arguments between George and Martha shocked audiences in the 1960's, they only left me feeling like a needle was being slowly pressed into my temple.

When a movie is labeled as a classic, one is often cautious to speak ill of it. But this movie was just painful to watch, and not because it 'challenged' any preconceptions I might have but, just because it was tiresome. As the movie dragged on (and on and on), I kept waiting for some revelation, some new point to be made but ultimately, I found no more illumination at the end of the movie that I didn't already have an hour and a half earlier.

The movie might be worth watching from a historical perspective or for the power of the acting or the occasional chuckle of its droll dialog but the bickering collision of drunken intellectuality and immaturity that was cutting edge in the 1960's has lost its power to shock. Now the movie is only a dreary way to spend two hours. The art that is made to 'shock' us today has its merits to expand our horizons but when it offers nothing else it will lose much of its interest to the dustbin of history.

As an interesting footnote "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was the most expensive black and white film ever made up to that time (1966), due in large part to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's salaries of $750,000 and $1.1 million.

Friday, October 18th, 2002

Candy I've eaten so far today:

About 5 'Mixed Fruit' Mentos
1 Reese Peanut Butter Cup
5 Jaw Breakers

Sorry. Not a lot to say today. I spent a lot of time over the last several days researching and composing yesterday's posting and I'm a bit burned out today. Besides, I like to alternate my articles 'weightiness' so that they aren't always either serious or lighthearted, and yet, I'm only seeing grim things in the news today. Hence my candy report.

Thursday, October 17th, 2002

The U.S. Founders choice for our national motto was, "E Pluribus Unum", meaning, Out of Many, One. This Latin phrase was chosen by a committee appointed on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress 'to prepare a device for a Seal of the United States of America.' Committee member Benjamin Franklin proposed the motto 'Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God,' but the phrase E Pluribus Unum' was chosen by the committee and officially adopted on June 20, 1782. When Benjamin Franklin proposed during the Constitutional Convention that the founders begin each day of their labors with a prayer to God for guidance, his suggestion was defeated. It is interesting that our allegedly oh-so-pious Christian Founding Fathers had an opportunity to choose a national motto with the word "god" in it and rejected it in favor of a secular one.

The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. It begins, "We the people," and contains no mention of "God" or "Christianity." Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust" (Article VI), and "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (First Amendment). The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase "so help me God" or any requirement to swear on a bible (Article. II, Section 1).

In the early years of our country the motto on our coins, then the major medium of exchange, was often just "LIBERTY." "E Pluribus Unum" has appeared on most U.S. coins, beginning in the late 1790s. Both legends, that is, "LIBERTY" and "E Pluribus Unum", were used somewhat regularly on coins throughout the nineteenth century. The motto "In God We Trust" did not appear on any U.S. coin until 1864. The practice of placing "In God We Trust" on coins and bills is a tale of historical revisionism, perfidy by our elected representatives and appointed officials, and ecclesiastical opportunism whose results have tended to eat away at the foundations of our liberties and threaten the very idea of the separation of church and state.

In November 1861, a certain Reverend Mark Richard Watkinson, pastor of a Baptist church in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to persuaded him to try to introduce 'In God We Trust' as a motto on the coins of the land, arguing on the theological premise that in a Judeo-Christian nation, "There is but one God." Congress, then beginning to be responsive to the religious community and the votes that it was presumed to control, passed the Coinage Act of April 22, 1864, which designated that 'In God We Trust' be put on coins "when and where sufficient space in the balance of the design" would permit it.

Reverend M.R. Watkinson religionizing of the currency was part of a larger campaign waged by a coalition of eleven Protestant denominations under the umbrella of the National Reform Association also went so far as to suggest amending the preamble of the constitution. A Petition was drawn up and formally presented to congress to change the preamble to the following:

"We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government..."

Fortunately, the altered preamble was rejected.

In the late 1940s some religionists thought it was about time that the motto was placed on our paper currency to thank the lord for preserving us through the World War II which had just ended [ignoring the ironic fact that the German army had the motto "Gott mit Uns" (God with us) inscribed on their belt buckles]. On July 11, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Public Law 140 making it mandatory that all coinage and paper currency display the motto "In God We Trust."
The following year, Public Law 851 was enacted and signed, which officially replaced the national motto "E Pluribus Unum" with "In God We Trust". All of this occurred at the height of cold war tension in the age of Senator Joe McCarthy, when political divisions between the Soviet and western block was simplistically portrayed as a confrontation between Judeo-Christian civilization and the "godless" menace of communism. Indeed, the new national motto was only part of a broader effort to effectively religionize civic ritual and symbols.

On June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Congress unanimously ordered the inclusion of the words "Under God" into the nation's Pledge of Allegiance. By this time, other laws mandating public religiosity had also been enacted, including a statute for all federal justices and judges to swear an oath concluding with "So help me God." In 1956 legislators introduced Constitutional amendments to state that Americans obeyed "the authority and law of Jesus Christ" that were rejected.

After October 1, 1957, all paper currency included the "In God We Trust" national motto.

A similar issue now arises from the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the insertion of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a former Baptist minister and cousin of the famous radical writer Edward Bellamy, as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus's "discovery" of America. Bellamy was a Christian socialist dedicated to the ideal of a cooperative commonwealth. His unpopular socialist critique of capitalism from the pulpit forced his resignation from the ministry.

Francis Bellamy's orginal wording omitted reference not only to God but also, interestingly, to the United States:

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The original pledge, was a patriotic commitment to the great American principles of unity, liberty, and justice for all. The pledge remained unchanged for 62 years, so that every American soldier in World War I and World War II recited the pledge without invoking God.

A driving force for the alteration of the pledge of allegeince was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut, D-Mich., formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress. In signing the bill Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town ... the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty." That the nation, constitutionally speaking, was in fact dedicated to the opposite proposition seemed to escape the president. This was a major expansion of the religious province of government officials; what had previously been expressions of personal piety, as in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, were now transmogrified into a religious test instituted for citizens of this nation.

As for the Constitution, more than a half-century ago the Supreme Court, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, declared unconstitutional a law requiring schoolchildren to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation," Justice Robert H. Jackson memorably said for the court, "it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."

The recent Ninth Circuit court's decision came almost 40 years to the day after the Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale. In that case, the court ruled it unconstitutional for public schools to allow prayer, even though the prayer was non-denominational and students were allowed to abstain from the exercise. When asked about the unpopular decision, President John F. Kennedy replied coolly that he knew many people were angry, but that the decisions of the court had to be respected. He added that there was "a very easy remedy"-not a constitutional amendment but a renewed commitment by Americans to pray at home, in their churches, and with their families.

As the Ninth Circuit's Judge Alfred T. Goodwin opined in his writing for the majority:

"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."

Beyond the Constitutionality, one must contemplate what happens when students in an overwhelmingly Christian community gather together each morning to declare their allegiance to their flag and their country "under God," that many religious minorities--including Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, as well as atheists and agnostics--may well feel that they are being asked to endorse the mainstream religion. The fact that it is young children who are led in this exercise makes the issue even more difficult. An adult is much better equipped than a child to understand the difference between an acknowledgement of religious belief and a statement about who belongs and who does not. Indeed, we all understand - and remember - that most school children are particularly sensitive to being told that they're not part of the "in crowd." This is one of the reasons that the most difficult and important cases about the separation of Church and State have arisen in our public schools. The Ninth Circuit's decision did not forbid anyone from privately reciting the current pledge, "under God" included, and it reaffirmed the right of schools to lead children in the secular version of our pledge -- a version that predated the "under God" edition by over fifty years.

And yet, in spite of all of this, on October 8th, 2002 the House of Representatives approved a bill reaffirming the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance.

House OKs Bill Backing 'Under God' in Pledge
October 08, 2002 01:10 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill reaffirming the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance, making clear its disapproval of a recent court ruling that a reference to God in the pledge was unconstitutional.

By a 401-5 vote, the House also voted to reaffirm the national motto, "In God We Trust." Although the Senate has approved a similar bill, the measure must now return there for another vote because the House made a minor change.

A ruling in June by a federal appeals court in San Francisco that the "under God" portion of the pledge was unconstitutional prompted outrage among U.S. politicians, including President Bush, who called it ridiculous.

The court overturned a 1954 act of Congress that added "under God" to the pledge, saying the words violated the basic constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

The response of the public, the media, and our elected representatives to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of (federal) Appeals June 26th, 2002 ruling of the unconstitutionality of the revised Pledge of Allegiance has been an embarrassment of knee-jerk reactions, majoritarian triumphalism, and cheap expressions of hollow patriotism.

The Washington Post fretted that the ruling would "generate unnecessary political battles." The New York Times declared it a trivial issue, arguing that "[i]n the pantheon of real First Amendment concerns, this one is off the radar screen."

But in fact, the issue is far from trivial. Indeed, both the fundamental nature of the Constitution let alone the intensity of the public reaction would seem to indicate as much.

Not one major political figure summoned the courage to rebut the spurious claims that America's founders wished to make god a part of public life. Members of Congress (on both sides of the aisle) have jumped on the Ninth Circuit's decision and threatened judges - current and future - in ways that should give us pause.

Senator Robert Byrd has promised to "blackball" any judge who votes for the opinion -- a serious threat, since the decision may be revisited by the full Ninth Circuit. Speaker Dennis Hastert has suggested that the "liberal" Ninth Circuit deliberately reached out to make trouble and should be replaced with more "common sense" judges - also a serious threat, given the number of vacancies in the federal courts. Georgia Republican Rep. Bob Barr raved against the judicial system, and called for the confirmation of more judges who might be hostile to such a ruling. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) described the decision as "just nuts." Our countries senior law enforcer, attorney General John Ashcroft, ignorantly stated this decision is "contrary to two centuries of American tradition" Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said, "There may have been a more senseless, ridiculous decision issued by a court at some time, but I don't remember it." President Bush was in Canada for an economic summit at the time of the original ruling, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The president's reaction was that this ruling is ridiculous."

The only Representatives brave enough to stand-up for our Constitution and vote against this absurdity were Representatives Barney Frank (MA), Mike Honda (CA), Jim McDermott (WA), Bobbie Scott (VA), and Pete Stark (CA). Pete Stark said, "The meaning of these words is only proven by Congress' religiously inspired crusade to chastise and even undo the Ninth Circuit's opinion."

It has been suggested that practices such as the designation of 'In God We Trust' as our national motto, or the references to god contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag have lost any significant religious content through rote repetition. In Judge Fernandez's view who dissented from the Ninth Circuit's ruling, the reference to god in the current version of the Pledge is simply a bit of harmless fluff, a minor bit of "ceremonial deism" that poses no real danger to anyone's religious freedom. Not only does the ardor of the controversy sparked by the Ninth Circuit's decision rebuffs these claim, but it ill serves religion to declare that the sympathetic mention of a god in a nation's civic creed is but meaningless utterance and rote.

By identifying patriotism with religion we excludes agnostics, atheists and all believers in some deity or deities other than the Christian God. Anyone who dares to question the orthodoxy of the pledge, whether for reasons of conscience or religious conviction, is sure to be ridiculed--or worse, branded as unpatriotic--by America's political, religious and civic leaders

Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president and author of a recently published children's book about patriotism suggested the 9th Circuit's ruling was wrong because it was unpopular: "This is such a minority opinion." The vast majority of Americans, we are told, "support the pledge." Perhaps a vast majority of Americans would even support keeping the words "under God" in the pledge, if the media reported this case accurately. But being part of a majority does not give one a moral license to disregard - indeed, steamroller - dissenting viewpoints. It's not the job of the courts to heed popular will. The whole reason we have a strong judiciary in this country is to protect the rights of minorities--even tiny ones, or minorities of one--from the excesses of majority rule. In other words, the fact that a judicial ruling is unpopular hardly means that it's wrong. As a matter of fact, in a case like this it may well mean that it's correct. America is one nation under a Constitution. Although the Constitution sets up a representative democracy, it specifically was amended with the Bill of Rights in 1791 to uphold individual and minority rights. On constitutional matters we do not have majority rule. For example, when the majority in certain localities voted to segregate blacks, this was declared illegal. The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religion. Likewise, the enforcement of a religious creed does injury to liberal democracy. It is not the business of government to promote one, or any, religion, even -perhaps especially- if it is the faith of the vast majority of the population.

Since the founding, critics of America's secularism have repeatedly sought to break down the church-state wall. The broader message seems to be this: If you think mention of "God" in the pledge of allegiance is unconstitutional, then you're not only a godless heathen; you're an unpatriotic godless heathen. Critics of the decision keep talking about the religious faith of the founders, but the fact is that this country was founded in large part by religious dissenters and Deists. Our Bill of Rights was written against a backdrop of centuries of efforts by the British government to control religious beliefs. (To this day, Britain has an official state-sponsored religion [the Church of England], which is nominally headed by the Queen.)

Too often it can be difficult for us to appreciate today what a radical a document is the Constitution. In nearly all previous governments, there was an explicit entanglement of church and state. For example, in Eurpoe the constitutions of Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and the colonies were replete with references to God and the Established Church. The unfortunate consequence was that Catholics were persecuted in Britain and Germany, Protestants were persecuted in Spain and France, and Jews and other non-Christians were persecuted in nearly every European nation. In Britain only members of the Anglican Church could hold public office, and Parliament still has the power to select bishops for the Church of England.

Just as the founders of this country rejected the idea of a king, so they rejected the idea of an official state religion. Here in the United States, religion is a personal matter, not subject to state control. And if most Americans would stop and think about it for a moment, they would agree that they prefer to keep things that way. Who really wants to have Congress writing prayers and weighing in on questions of faith? The fundamental right to worship as one chooses - or not to have a religious belief - is at the core of personal freedom. The American people are at their best when they tackle difficult issues and reaffirm their values by challenging their own assumptions. They are at their worst when they refuse to question their beliefs and rely on numbers to silence, rather than foster, debate.

Rember that the "In God We Trust" motto does not prove, as is often suggested, that the United States was based on Christian ideals. The Constitution contains not a single reference to a deity or to divine inspiration. Remember that the First Amendment is a much more basic tenant of the this country than it's current motto. The separation of church and state, and the individual freedom to worship according to the dictates of one's conscience, are pillars of American civil liberties and the American tradition of religious liberty. The Constitution is clear on church-state issues: Congress "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Worship and prayer have thrived under our existing constitutional framework, reflecting the strengths of American religious liberty and pluralism. To alter or ignore that framework is to destroy the very religeons that so many claim to value. The United States, with more than 1,500 different religious bodies and 360,000 churches, temples,a mosques and synagogues, is the most religiously diverse nation in the world because of, not in spite of, the fact that we do not allow government to become entangled with religion.

Wednesday, October 16th, 2002

Saddam 'wins 100% of vote'
Wednesday, October 16, 2002 Posted: 10:21 AM EDT (1421 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein won another seven-year term as Iraq's president in a referendum in which he was the sole candidate, taking 100 percent of the vote, the Iraqi leader's right-hand man announced Wednesday.

All 11,445,638 of the eligible voters cast ballots, said Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council that is Iraq's key decision-making body.

"This is a unique manifestation of democracy which is superior to all other forms of democracies even in these countries which are besieging Iraq and trying to suffocate it," Ibrahim said at a news conference in Baghdad, apparently referring to the United States.

It is ironic to me that Iraq's dictatorship would think that a supposed 100% unanimous vote would indicate solidarity to the rest of the world. More than anything, the 'vote' illustrates the mean grip that Saddam Hussein has on his country.

We in the U.S. should take heed of this object lesson and value our rights of dissension. Beware unanimous opinions.

Wednesday, October 9th, 2002

Pat Robertson's is a bigot who would, if he could, exile all other religions from this country and replace them with his brand of christianity. I am not at all happy that my tax dollars are going to fund his 'charity' organizations.

From The American's United For Separation of Church and State's Web site:


Federal Grants To Robertson, Other Religious Leaders, Entangle Church And State, AU Charges

Giving TV preacher Pat Robertson and other religious leaders control over the distribution of public funds through the Bush "faith-based" initiative violates the Constitution, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced today that Robertson’s Operation Blessing and 20 other charities -- many of them religious -- will be given demonstration grants through the so-called Compassion Capital Fund. Robertson’s organization and the other "intermediaries" will in turn distribute the public money to religious and community groups of their choice to provide social services.

"Giving religious groups control over public funds is a blatant violation of the Constitution," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Under the First Amendment, religious ministries shouldn't become an arm of the government."

Lynn said the grant to Robertson illustrates one of the problems with the faith-based initiative.

"Robertson is one of the chief purveyors of religious bigotry in America," said AU’s Lynn. "To reward his outfit with government funding is an insult to every American taxpayer.

"Robertson was one of the earliest critics of the ‘faith-based’ scheme," Lynn continued, "but I guess 30 pieces of silver was enough to change his mind."

Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, was a harsh critic of the Bush "faith-based" initiative when it was first announced in January 2001, but in recent months his criticism of the plan has all but disappeared.

The transformation has been dramatic. On Feb. 20, 2001, the Virginia Beach-based preacher told his "700 Club" television audience that the Bush plan "could be a real Pandora's box."

Robertson also charged that religious minorities such as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, the Church of Scientology and the Hare Krishnas might get public funding through the initiative.

Two weeks later, Robertson told his viewers that religious groups would become addicted to government funding.

"They’ll begin to be nurtured, if I can use that term, on federal money, and then they can't get off of it," he said. "It'll be like a narcotic; they can’t then free themselves later on."

Robertson’s new role as a partner with the Bush administration is startling, given his vitriolic attacks on political opponents and religious minorities. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Robertson and fellow TV preacher Jerry Falwell blamed America's sins for the incident while appearing on Robertson’s Sept. 13 "700 Club." During the episode, Robertson blamed court rulings upholding church-state separation for the attacks.

"We have insulted God at the highest levels of our government," Robertson said. "And then we say, 'Why does this happen?' Well, why it's happening, is that God Almighty is lifting his protection from us."

Robertson has launched repeated attacks on Islam. In a Sept. 18, 2002 appearance on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes," he said the Prophet Muhammad was "a killer" and added "to think that this is a peaceful religion is fraudulent." In 1991, he said Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians reflect "the spirit of the Antichrist."

Robertson's Operation Blessing, a $66-million-a-year agency, also has a controversial history. According to news media reports, investigators with Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs wanted to prosecute Robertson in 1999 for making deceptive appeals about his charity but were overruled by the attorney general’s office. Lawyers in the attorney general’s office agreed Robertson had made inaccurate statements but decided against prosecution.

The controversy over Operation Blessing stretches back to 1994 when Robertson used his "700 Club" daily cable television program to raise funds for the charity. Robertson told viewers Operation Blessing was using cargo planes to aid refugees from Rwanda who had fled into the neighboring nation of Zaire (now known as Congo) to escape a violent civil war.

In fact, Robertson was using the planes to haul mining equipment in and out of Zaire for African Development Corporation (ADC), his for-profit diamond-mining company. Robertson later said the planes had proved impractical for relief work and insisted he had reimbursed the charity for ADC’s use of them.

The Virginian-Pilot newspaper noted that state officials criticized the charity for sloppy bookkeeping and for mixing non-profit and for-profit activities. It also pointed out that Robertson reimbursed Operation Blessing for ADC’s use of its airplanes in two stages. Investigators determined that ADC owed Operation Blessing $468,773. Robertson ultimately gave the group $572,597, but $400,000 of that came two months after the official investigation began.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Be certain to review the American's United For Separation of Church and State's Top 10 Reasons that the Bush 'Faith-Based' Initiative is wrong.

Tuesday, October 8th, 2002

It is hard to measure the direction of humanity. Are we progressing? - Or for that matter, what qualifies as progression?

I'd suggest a good measure of 'progress' is factored from the health, and opportunity for happiness of humankind and; humanity's ability to maintain and grow a positive standard of health and happiness irrespective of nation, race, or religion.

It is my thesis that knowledge and learning are necessary and fundamental for humankind to survive and prosper.

Ignorance makes humans susceptible to disease, tyranny, crime, oppression, superstition, war and a world of other woes. Knowledge, understanding and education break the yoke of ignorance.
Someday our understanding of the universe may even lift of us safely beyond the confines of this small blue mote of dust we call earth and deliver humanity forever from the eventual doom of a meteor, supernova or other world destroying event. Truly, knowledge is power.

Humankinds pool of knowledge is certainly growing, we understand the universe exponentially better than we did a mere 100 years ago. So is our growing knowledge helping us and if not, why not?

It is very easy to be romantic and imagine a past when times were better - so called, 'golden ages'. But usually, by only scratching the surface of these romantic tales we discover the lead under the golden gilding.

But in less than 100 years humankind has realized the power to virtually if not literally destroy itself and, it has come frighteningly close to doing so.

It is because of this seeming paradox that I add another factor to my thesis. It is not just the overall cumulative knowledge of humankind that matters but, the dispensation of this knowledge.

History would indicate that the more empowered the people of a civilization becomes, the healthier they become and the more opportunities to seek happiness they have.

We entered the 20th century with less than 2 billion people, and we leave it with more than 6 billion. The ability for education to reach all of these people seems to be behind the pace of our growth. This issues is exasperated by the hording of knowledge by some few, by censorship, and the willful sharing of misinformation. - We will spend billions, trillions even, to build guns, bombs and poisons to 'defend' ourselves from the 'others', but we chafe at spending even a fraction of this on schools, hospitals and infrastructure that would likely end the need for most of these defenses...

Here-to-for we stand at an especially unique place in time (as measured within sixty or so years), - a place were we threaten our own extinction. But a place where we are also armed with new powers to heal and help, a place with new comprehensions of our place in the universe and even the very fabric of time and space.

In my mind I see a scale. Weighed on one side are the evils of ignorance and its child, hatred and, on the other side, I see the hope and the weight of knowledge. I'm afraid that the scale may be on the verge of tipping irretrievably to the side of ignorance and hatred. And it would seem that we are willfully pushing it in that direction, or at least we are not sufficiently opposing the pull.

I don't know if humanity can save itself and our fellow species but I only have a desire to see us try. I believe that human beings possess the power or potentiality of solving their own problems, through reliance primarily upon freedom of thought, reason, critical thinking, skepticism and scientific method applied with courage, hope and humanity.

What direction will humanity go?

Friday, October 4th, 2002

Attention Soccer Moms and Yuppies! Chevy, Jeep and Ford have combined forces to bring you the new 4-wheel drive, Earth Crusher 3000 Sports Utility Vehicle !

At the low, low cost of $45,000* you can drive this tree stomping, earth ripping monstrosity for all of your urban needs. Over designed to conquer the rugged territory of the Yukon and the Australian Outback, this 12 cylinder, 'go anywhere, do anything' beast is great for getting you to your office every day, for picking up your little rascals at the shopping mall or for just driving to the beach on the weekend.

Think of your neighbor's envy as you roar down your suburban neighborhood while you enjoy a Premium, smooth ride from the Z71 Off-Road suspension.

Your own personal sense of self worth will go through the sun roof as you slide into the contoured front bucket seats with Custom Leather surfaces.

And the Earth Crusher 3000 is more powerful than ever now that clean air standards have been lowered allowing the gas efficient** Hydra-Matic four-speed electronically controlled automatic with overdrive 500 horse-power engine to run at full capacity.

Don't be the last person on your block to own an Earth Crusher 3000 - buy one today! Or better yet, buy one for everyone in your family - it will make you happy - we promise!

*Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price. Tax, title, license and optional equipment are extra.
**City driving: 3 to 5 mpg; Country driving: Not Applicable.

Meanwhile, from the god save us department:

Falwell Brands Mohammed A 'Terrorist'

Oct. 4, 2002

(CBS) The Rev. Jerry Falwell has called Islam’s founder and most sacred figure, Mohammed, “a terrorist.”

The Reverend Jerry Falwell: "I think Mohammed was a terrorist."

In a 60 Minutes interview with CBS News Correspondent Bob Simon, Falwell also affirms the Christian Right’s steadfast support for the state of Israel against its Islamic enemies and hints that right-wing religious groups are influencing U.S. government policy toward Israel. Right-wing Christians believe the turmoil in the Middle East is a harbinger of the second coming of Christ.

The interview with Falwell will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

"I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough…by both Muslims and non-Muslims, [to decide] that he was a violent man, a man of war," Falwell tells Simon. "In my opinion…Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses, and I think Mohammed set an opposite example."

When President Bush urged Israel to remove its forces from Palestinian towns earlier this year, Falwell sent him a personal protest and the White House received 100,000 e-mail protests from Christians.

Falwell say he believes Bush is well aware of the Christian constituency. "There are 70 million of us…[and] there’s nothing that would bring the wrath of the Christian public in this country down on this government like abandoning or opposing Israel on a critical matter," he says.

Falwell and conservative Christians support the Israelis and condemn their enemies because they believe the triumph of Israel is God’s will. The Jews’ return to their ancient homeland – and sole ownership of the territories Arabs and Israelis both lay claim to - is a precondition for the second coming of Christ, according to the Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians’ interpretation of the Bible.

The Biblical scenario is not a savory one for many Jews, however. "God save us from these people," says Israeli political analyst Yossi Alpher. "When you see what these people are encouraging Israel and the U.S. to do…ignore the Palestinians, kick them out…they are leading us into a scenario of out-and-out disaster," he tells Simon.

But disaster is part of the scenario. Many Fundamentalist Evangelicals believe there will be catastrophic events on earth, some occurring already, including the turmoil in the Middle East, culminating in the Battle of Armageddon in which Christ will triumph and begin ruling the earth. At this point, they believe, non-believers will be destroyed, good Christians saved and any remaining Jews converted to Christianity.

Says Ed McAteer, a founder of the Moral Majority and known as the godfather of the Christian Right, "I believe that we are seeing prophecy unfold so rapidly and dramatically and wonderfully, and, without exaggeration, [it] makes me breathless."

"It's not the things in the Bible I don't understand that bother me, it's those that I do."

- Mark Twain

Tuesday, October 1st, 2002

Now, as in the past, I've offered this site as a forum for my friends and family who aren't 'Web enabled'. I hope to some day enable a proper feedback system but haven't gotten around to it to date.

In the mean while, here is a copy of my friend Mr. Vargo's thoughts. Mr. Vargo references the World Tribune article immediately below. At the bottom of the World Tribune article are Mr. Vargo's comments.

- The commentary and views expressed by Mr. Vargo (and the World Tribune), are completely his own and may not necessarily be shared by this editor.

Report: U.S will need 40,000 troops in post-Saddam Iraq

Friday, September 27, 2002

The United States will require at least 40,000 troops to ensure its war aims in a post-Saddam Iraq, according to a new report by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

The report said that the troops would not help rebuild Iraq but would be required to ensure that neither President Saddam Hussein nor his supporters would try to seize power, Middle East Newsline reported.

The United States would require 100,000 troops to topple the Saddam regime, the report said. A post-Saddam U.S. military presence would require 40,000 U.S. troops. Such a force would need to be bolstered by allied troops.

"The post-combat U.S. military presence augmented by allied forces should require roughly 40,000 U.S. troops to destroy the terrorist networks and cells, eliminate Iraq's WMD arsenal and infrastructure, protect its energy resources, and block Iranian hegemony in the region," the report said.

"The post-war military force in Iraq would be tasked primarily with confronting any remnant elements of Saddam's deposed regime and deterring other regional powers from exploiting the situation for purposes injurious to the interests of the United States and its allies."

Authors Baker Spring and Jack Spencer asserted that the U.S. force would require up to 5,000 special operations troops to locate and destroy Iraqi's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Another 30,000 troops would be required to be deployed to protect Iraq against neighoring Iran.

Washington must also plan for the deployment of an additional 5,000 troops and another 5,000 allied forces to protect Iraq's energy infrastructure. Such a force must be capable of turning from a combat to a police force.

"The U.S. contribution to the post-war effort should include two divisions, one light and one heavy [armored], with the ability to patrol Iraq's border with Iran, along with other specialized units for destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and securing its energy sector," the report said.

The report said U.S. military planners must maintain any post-war military presence on securing war aims rather than turn into a peacekeeping force. Such post-war activities in Iraq should not be subject to what the report termed "arbitrary deadlines."

"However, the administration should avoid making the U.S. military presence appear to be indefinite. Specific end goals for the U.S. military should be established and, once they are achieved, U.S. forces should be pulled out to enable them to prepare for other contingencies."

Mr.Vargo's editorial regarding the above article:

"100,000 troops for a successful invasion. 40,000 ground troops stationed there, in perpetuity, turning it into another police state and upsetting the balance of power in the region. They'll be fighting guerillas and getting picked off for years. The US responses will become increasingly harsh and turn into the soviet Afghanistan occupation, turning Hussein into the martyr he doesn't deserve to be.

You've probably figured out by now that I'm focusing on the practical reasons why invading Iraq is stupid. Even if someone thinks invading Iraq is the right thing to do (and I don't), you can confront them with the stupidity of the mission plan itself...like Bush sr. described in the last link I sent. My solution is the economic solution, the Cuba solution. If a regime is bad, don't fund it and make sure through political pressure that no one else does. It didn't get rid of Castro but it marginalized his power and that's the best we can do."

See past WorldView and Friends and Family News in the Archive
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