Friday, December 30, 2011

My Predictions

The title is supposed to be ironic because I don't believe in predicting the future. I know that my family will enjoy another week in Disney Resorts in March. I know there's going to be national elections in November. I know that spring will follow this winter.

Beyond that, couldn't tell you.

Based on previous experience, I'm guessing that a bunch of people across the political spectrum are going to say and do stupid, occasionally criminal, stuff. I also am pretty sure some conservative will say something liberals think is outrageous and it will become the hot-topic for a few days. Then, a liberal will say something conservatives think is outrageous and the cycle will repeat itself. None of it will mean very much, but it should be fun.

On the religion front, people who don't know anything about it, or any specific religion, will write millions of words about how silly it is. Again, doesn't mean much, but it should be a lot of fun. Nothing feels better than that deep satisfaction that comes from telling the world someone is being mean to you.

I feel safe predicting that about 90% of the music that will be released to the public, both on major labels and independents, will be, at best, mediocre sound sludge. Quite a bit of it will be crap. This time next year all sorts of people will either be moaning about how awful the year in music was, how wonderful the year in music was, or how the hipsters/Baby Boomers/music industry/rock critics/stupid listening public have destroyed musical entertainment. Again. If you look carefully enough, these same general complaints go back to the rise of popular music in this country at the end of the 19th century. Someone is always pissing in someone else's tea, apparently.

I'm not trying to be cynical here. I'm just saying that most of the things people get in high dudgeon about don't really matter all that much. The things that really matter, though, usually pass unnoticed and unremarked upon. If I made New Year's Resolutions, mine would be simple enough: Pay attention to what really matters. Let other people get their panties in a wad over things that don't matter.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm Not Insulting Anyone

Some people don't like to be called out for being bad people. Surprising, I know. Who wants to have the world know that, at heart, they have deep ugly recesses in their hearts filled with rage and disgust directed at their fellow human beings? If the past generation or so has taught us anything, it's no longer acceptable to be a bigot.

Except, of course, there are still bigots out there. They just don't like being called out for it, because being a bigot is socially unacceptable, so they deny-deny-deny.

I, for one, do not consider it a personal attack to call an ignorant person ignorant. When they demonstrate their ignorance for all the world to see, repeatedly, then it isn't an insult. It's just a description of . . . their ignorance. When an individual repeatedly expresses bigotry, calling them a bigot isn't an ad hominem attack. It is just calling things as they are.

If I said they were so ugly they were born prematurely because their mother's body couldn't stand them, that would be an ad hominem attack. If I said they were so stupid they couldn't breathe without cue cards reminding them, that would a personal attack. Calling someone who repeatedly demonstrates ignorance "ignorant" isn't an insult.

Just as people get all up in arms when someone notes that public figures, or bloggers, or writers, are lying - not prevaricating, being misleading, misstating the facts - I'm not sure why this is even a problem. The question of lying, for instance, is one I find fascinating. People will go to great lengths to excuse others from the charge of lying. For me, the test is really simple. If a person makes a statement that is contrary to fact, that's a lie. Do they know it is contrary to fact? With the multiple resources available to ensure factual accuracy, getting facts right is one of the easiest things in the world. So, when Michelle Bachmann claims that the HPV vaccine is dangerous, then tries to insist that she is merely relating what others have said, she is lying. In the first instance, the HPV vaccine is not dangerous; about ten seconds on Google would clear that up. In the second instance, repeating something someone else says about a topic that one does or can know is factually inaccurate is . . . lying. How is this hard to figure out?

I actually have a pretty simple standard for whether or not a person is lying. Person "A" says "X". Several people mention to "A" that "X" is false. Person "A" continues to say "X". That, folks, is lying. Even if Person "A" did not know in the first instance that "X" is false, once it is pointed out that "X" is false, Person "A" not only has a moral duty to make clear that he/she is wrong; Person "A" has a moral duty to make sure that, in the future, "X" is not presented as true.

Again, this isn't rocket science.

When a person doesn't know something, yet makes claims about understanding and insight and knowledge, repeatedly, and gets all manner of things wrong about said topic; when others, trying to be helpful point out a variety of errors in the first individual's claims, and that person continues to make claims rooted in ignorance, then that person is being both ignorant and untruthful. Not "misleading". Not "misstating the facts". They are both ignorant and, of course now, they are lying.

Again, this is first-grade moral clarity here, folks. The reason it's so simple is because it is.

It isn't "name calling". It's simple description. I'm not sure why any of this is a problem. Yet, it is.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rick Santorum Gets Something Right

Yesterday, Talking Points Memo's Livewire noted that former Senator and current candidate for the Republican nomination for President Rick Santorum said Pres. Obama "is against both free markets and the founders' idea of individual liberty." One tends to scoff when Santorum speaks, yet on the latter point, he does have something right.

In the recently passed Authorization Act for the Department of Defense, FY 2012, Section 1301, subsections (a) and (b) have received some attention, albeit too late for people to actually do anything about it.

(a) IN GENERAL.-Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

(b) COVERED PERSONS.-A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.
In essence, Congress has given blanket authority to the President to arrest and detain anyone, anywhere, who may have, in some way or other that is never defined, supported not only the terrorist attacks ten years ago, but ongoing terrorist activities.

Sounds like Pres. Obama isn't too fond of freedom to me.

Back in September, Jonathan Turley, writing in The Los Angeles Times, made the point even more bluntly:
One man is primarily responsible for the disappearance of civil liberties from the national debate, and he is Barack Obama. While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States.
Turley revises and extends a tad:
President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the "just following orders" defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.
While I'm pretty sure Rick Santorum doesn't give a fart in a tornado for civil liberties, he did manage to trip over the truth despite his ongoing efforts to be the most risible of an admittedly risible bunch.

Those who argue that, somehow, electing a Republican candidate will make things worse haven't been paying attention. Obama's signature on the Defense Authorization Bill, not even fighting to get this section removed, is just the latest in a series of blows against civil liberties. It is difficult to imagine a President actually expanding the policies of the Bush Administration, but Obama has achieved that with relish. Yet one more reason to refrain granting him my vote next November.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Story

I suppose there is no better time, except perhaps Holy Week, to confess a sense of inadequacy in regards matters of faith. I have been feeling . . . well, let's just say I've been battling a sense of my own ultimate unworthiness in the face of the Gospel story. One hears the Good News, and it seems impossible the simple message of salvation - a free gift, to those loved beyond measure - is really meant for one such as I know myself to be. Not that I'm a horrible person. Just . . . faced with the reality of the whole thing, I have just felt myself without a plea, without a single leg upon which to stand.

I confessed to Lisa, before worship this morning, an overwhelming sense of my own unworthiness, of being beyond redemption. She cried for me, as I cried for myself, and she promised to pray that I would understand, anew, the promise of redemption that has been, is, and will be mine.

Then, in worship, I was overwhelmed with the presence of the Son, through the Spirit, for the sake of the Glory of the Father. The whole story seemed to unfold in my head and heart and I believed, in a new way, that this story was for me, too. I felt called forward to see the baby, offered a chance to hold him by his parents who smiled and insisted. The tiny hands, the marvelous baby-weight in my arms. . . Such joy.

On the north wall of the worship space at Cornerstone hangs a cross. Like all Protestant Churches, it is empty, signifying both its centrality and that this instrument of death is not the end of the Jesus story. As we sang Christmas carols, after having taken communion, I could see first, the tiny baby, then the man, hanging there, smiling down through the blood and tears. Then, the cross was empty and I could hear, from an empty tomb, the laughter that is the true final word of the story. The baby who sleeps on a bed of straw, wrapped in rags to stay warm is the man tortured and murdered by an Empire who does not want to hear a word of freedom, of salvation. The New is the biggest threat to all Empires, and Jesus was nothing if not the first real new thing to come to the world. Our capitalist orgy is as much about removing the threat implicit in the Christmas story as it is a celebration of the birth.

The story, in its fullness, doesn't really begin with a remembrance, an anamnesis of that long-ago night in Bethlehem. It began on the first day of creation, because it is the story of God's prodigal, never-ending love, an obstinate refusal to take our no as the final answer. Even if that means substituting his yes for our no. We are caught up in the great adventure, the challenge God poses for us - do we recognize and celebrate that magnanimous grace that is ours in the babe of Bethlehem or do we refuse, perhaps even laugh it off as a fable, a myth, a story for gullible ignoramuses too purblind to accept the reality of its falseness?

Today, I received the best gift anyone could ever give me. In a new way, not for the first time, and I know not for the last, I received assurance that my name - yes, mine - is called by the babe in the stable to come forward and kneel. I received the blessing of seeing that babe look down on all of us with love born in pain, and forgive us. I received the blessing of the Divine laughter that is the first sound of Easter, the only real Christmas carol worth singing.

Merry Christmas to all of you, to each of you, and may the peace of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, be with you.

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