Thursday, April 10, 2014

Will the Real God Please Stand Up

I don't know God personally, of course, but it's a good bet He isn't looking kindly upon His follower, Tristan Emmanuel, who was out there defending His Good Name by calling for the flogging or hanging of a comedian (a comedian) because this "pugnacious degenerate" made some jokes about God and the proven nature of His wrath. (Proven, I should mention, because the Old Testament is full of stories about a God who is just scary angry. It's all in there.)

Pugnacious Degenerate

I'm not here to defend Bill Maher, who did say some pretty awful things about God in his closing monologue recently, but, as is par for Bill, he's said some pretty awful things about everyone and everything.  That's what he does.  He's a comedian.

He's famous not in spite of, but because he drops F-bombs like they were raindrops, because he conjures up yucky sexual images, and because he's as free-wheeling about the use of drugs as any pharmaceutical company out there.

He's a comedian.

From all I've seen and heard, God (not that scary angry OT God of long ago) has a delightful and sometimes wicked sense of humor.  It takes a Big Man to laugh off that kind of silliness and get on with His life. As near as I can tell, when it comes to Big, in certain circles God is unequivocally it.

Since I don't know God personally, I'm constantly confused about who He is and how He is able to draw such a crowd.  He is a singular God, yet His actions and motives are open to as many interpretations as there are stars in the sky.

Gandhi said, "Belief in one God is the cornerstone of all religions.  But I do not foresee a time when there would be only one religion on earth in practice.  In theory, since there is one God, there can be only one religion."  

He said, "Religion should pervade every one of our actions.  Here religion does not mean sectarianism.  It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe.  It is not less real because it is unseen.  This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc.  It does not supersede them.  It harmonises them and gives them reality."

That would be absolute sacrilege to most religious people.  A Christian is not a Jew.  A Buddhist is not a Muslim.  A Catholic is not a protestant.  A protestant is not a Mormon.  A Baptist is not a Methodist. An Apostolic Lutheran is not an Evangelical Lutheran.  And so on.  "Affiliation" is the byword.  Community.

But then there are His most vocal, often vicious defenders--God's Warriors--the ones who claim God as their own, yet don't seem to like many of God's Chillun.

(Note to God's Warriors: He's God. He's got this. Relax.)

Take that guy, Tristan Emmanuel, a Canadian Christian activist who took personal offense at Maher's performance.  He put his own argument up on YouTube and published the text on a website called Barbwire.

Here's Tristan:
"Here is an example of how America once dealt with the likes of Bill Maher: 'Be it declared and enacted by the Lieutenant Governor, Council and Representatives, convened in General Assembly, and it is enacted by the Authority of the same, that if any person shall presume willfully to blaspheme the holy Name of God, Father, Son, or Holy Ghost; either by denying, cursing or reproaching the true God; his Creation or Government of the World: or by denying, cursing, or reproaching the holy Word of God… everyone so offending shall be punished by imprisonment, not exceeding six months, and until they find sureties for good behaviours; by sitting in pillory; by whipping; boaring thorow the tongue, with a red hot iron; or sitting upon the gallows with a rope about their neck; at the discretion of the court…' — Massachusetts General Laws.
Lamentably, in 1952 the US Supreme Court decided, 'It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.' And ever since then atheists have freely and very publicly ridiculed God, challenged every public demonstration of Christian religion, belittled Christians and attacked every institution bequeathed to us by our Christian forebears. But I gotta say, Maher’s comments are the most shocking and heinous public utterances of blasphemy on U.S. airwaves.
And worse still, Christians — and especially Christian leaders — have said very little. America is hanging on by a thin thread of longsuffering divine justice. The pugnacious degenerate Bill Maher may think blasphemy is a laughing matter. The nation of America may think it can hide behind the First Amendment. And Christians may falsely think they are demonstrating Christlike love by remaining quiet in the face of profligate profanity. But mark my word, a day of reckoning is coming. God is very clear. Exodus 20:7 'You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.'"
Tristan, bless his heart, published a follow-up to his piece after some people were mean to him about it.  He says he wasn't actually calling for a Maher-flogging--obviously--but then he says,
"At any rate you so-called Christians helped to prove my point perfectly.
You do not care about God’s honour and yet you have the audacity to call
 yourselves Christians. Therefore I say again, America, and especially
American Evangelicalism, is hanging on by a thin thread.
Don't be surprised if God sends an unlikely candidate to judge your lawless society.  Just like he used the Babylonians in the past to judge apostate Israel, I don't doubt for a [sic] monument that he will use a twisted distortion of Old Testament law--sharia law--to teach mealy-mouthed Americans what happens when you reject His righteous rule and law."

At any rate you so-called Christians helped to prove my point perfectly. You do not care about God’s honour and yet you have the audacity to call yourselves Christians. Therefore I say again, America, and especially American Evangelicalism, is hanging on by a thin thread. Don’t be surprised if God sends an unlikely candidate to judge your lawless society. Just like he used the Babylonians in the past to judge apostate Israel, I don’t doubt for a monument that he will use a twisted distortion of Old Testament law — sharia law — to teach mealy-mouthed Americans what happens when you reject His righteous rule and law.
 So there. And okay.

These kinds of arguments among people who call themselves religious leave wide-open questions about the real nature of God and how it is that there are so many interpretations of a Creator's wishes for His own invention, the human race.

Who is God?   The obvious answer is, He's whoever someone wants Him to be.  He is the deity each church, synagogue, temple or mosque wants Him to be.  He's so many different things to so many different people, the call to find God seems all but impossible.  Yet every person who believes in Him claims to know who He is.

I don't know and can't know.  For me, the jury is still out on whether or not He exists, so, as an outsider looking in, I ask. . .

Is the God who loves and cherishes the Earth's inhabitants the same wrathful, intolerant God revered so passionately in the "God Hates Everyone but Us" churches?

Which God looks kindly on the poor and afflicted and which One shines His light upon those who are actively fighting against using any governmental advantage to help those sad souls?

Which God looks the other way when TV preachers use His name to con gullible people into sending them money and which One is thinking of ways to smite Bill Maher, the comedian?

Which God thinks He should be a prominent fixture in government-funded public schools and in public places and which God is satisfied with His ability to give humans the capacity to learn and think for themselves?  

Which God expects His people to define the books of the bible wisely and lovingly and which One says fugettabout the Golden Rule and stick with the juicier passages highlighting sin, suffering, discrimination, and hate?

Which God shakes His head at the willful destruction of His handiwork and which God chuckles at tee shirts in his name?

Which God works overtime trying to teach the world about humanity and tolerance and which One spends His days helping His chosen people find everything from spouses to pets to car dealers?

Which God is it?

Will the real God please stand up.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Alan Colmes' Liberaland)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ye Auld New America: Didn't We Go Down This Road Before?

Working for someone else, fingers to the bone with no expectation of decent wages or a foothold on the ladder, is back in vogue here in America.   Even your big deal congresspersons will tell you that.  There are no greater patriots than the country's laborers, and the very, very finest--the finest patriots of all--are those who have no use for unions. The best patriot/workers understand that in America it's All for One and None for All.

And this, too:  If God wanted you to be healthy, wealthy and wise, he would have given you better parents.  It's a practice near to sin to get the taxpayers to take care of you and yours.  The taxpayers have a hard enough time taking care of the rich.

The rich have earned our blind, gushing loyalty (How, you ask? By being rich, you ninny).

You? You haven't.

Yes.  Well.  You'll pardon me for bringing this up, O ye sensitive ones who hate having to hear about the bad old days vs. the good old days, but didn't we goddamn settle this already?

Child coal mine workers, 1900s

I bring this up because Nate Silver says there's a 60% chance the Republicans will take the senate.  Nate seems to know what he's talking about but he doesn't say why the Republicans deserve to take the Senate.  That's for the rest of us to chew over.  So I'm chewing:

How many workers see something in the Republicans that tells them life will be better when the GOP/Tea Party takes over Congress?  What is it they see?

How many women see something in the GOP that the rest of us don't?  Enough to take them over the top?  What is it they see?

When the Republicans win will they finally get busy and deliver on sustainable jobs? Affordable, ethical health care?  Bridges?  Roads? Pollution? Kids?  Or will a comfortable win tell them all they need to know about the sterling virtues of capitalism and the ready acceptance of an oligarchy?

Paul Krugman:
America’s nascent oligarchy may not yet be fully formed — but one of our two main political parties already seems committed to defending the oligarchy’s interests.
Despite the frantic efforts of some Republicans to pretend otherwise, most people realize that today’s G.O.P. favors the interests of the rich over those of ordinary families. I suspect, however, that fewer people realize the extent to which the party favors returns on wealth over wages and salaries. And the dominance of income from capital, which can be inherited, over wages — the dominance of wealth over work — is what patrimonial capitalism is all about.
In Bernie Sanders' report, "Poverty is a Death Sentence", he warns:
“If people don’t have access to health care, if they don’t have access to education, if they don’t have access to jobs and affordable housing then we end up paying not only in terms of human suffering and the shortening of life expectancy but in actual dollars."
These are not revelations new to the 21st century.  Krugman and Sanders are both echoing what President Roosevelt said in his 1944 State of the Union speech, in the midst of the Second World War, when he proposed a second Bill of Rights:
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.
We've been here before.  Millions of Americans took FDR's words to heart and worked tirelessly for decades to insure that these most obvious, common-sense American rights should come to pass.  Many of them did come to pass, but now they're in jeopardy.  Now the Republicans (and, yes, some bloody Democrats) are working tirelessly to undo it all.

Millions of us see clearly what's happening again and are trying to stop it, but there are millions of distinctly separate Americans who think it's high time we give up on that old FDR course and head in another direction.  The direction they want to take us in is the same direction we were headed when all hell broke loose in 1929 and it all came crashing down.

It looks like the oligarchs might just get away with it.  So what is it they're seeing in this new, same-old plan--the plan that caused the stock market crash in 1929 and led us into a devastating long-term depression--that makes them think it's going to work this time?

The answer is, it doesn't have to.  America is the place to make money; any idiot knows you wouldn't want to keep it here.  Whatever happens to us won't happen to them.

Some setup, huh?  Makes you wonder if we shouldn't have stuck with that Democracy thing and at least given it a try.

(Cross-posted on Dagblog, Alan Colmes' Liberaland, and Political Carnival Featured on Crooks and Liars Blog Round Up)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Paul Ryan to Poor Parents: Even Your Kids Are Ashamed Of You

Photo:  Salon
Paul Ryan took to the podium at CPAC on Thursday and did not disappoint those of us waiting to pick at the lies this duly elected government official must tell in order to remind us all that our government --the very same government he volunteered to be a part of; the very same government that pays him a handsome salary and will give him lifelong perks--has been infiltrated so thoroughly by the socialists (that's us) huge chunks of it must be eradicated and the spoils turned over immediately to the only saviors who have our best interests at heart--the privateers.   (Why does Paul Ryan lie?  Because he's Paul Ryan and that's what Paul Ryan does and does and does.

Here's a portion of what he said:
"The way I see it, let the other side be the party of personalities. We’ll be the party of ideas. And I’m optimistic about our chances—because the Left? The Left isn’t just out of ideas. It’s out of touch. Take Obamacare. We now know that this law will discourage millions of people from working. [We do?] And the Left thinks this is a good thing. [They do?] They say, “Hey, this is a new freedom—the freedom not to work.” [Who says that?  Lemme at em!] But I don’t think the problem is too many people are working—I think the problem is not enough people can find work. [ Now you're talking] And if people leave the workforce, our economy will shrink—there will be less opportunity, not more. [Yeah, that's what we've been saying ever since you guys came up with that crazy outsourcing idea] So the Left is making a big mistake here. [They are?] What they’re offering people is a full stomach—and an empty soul. [Okay, now--what?] The American people want more than that."
 So then he went on to explain that remark about the full stomach and the empty soul:                               
"This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him."
Now, I know I'm not the only one to sit up and take notice over that one.  It's been all over the place.  But the emphasis from most corners has been on Paul Ryan's misuse of an anecdote that was lifted initially by Eloise Anderson, Scott Walker's appointee to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, who skewed the story to serve her own purposes after apparently finding something somewhat similar in Laura Schroff's book, An Invisible Thread.

I don't care where it came from.  I don't care that Paul Ryan was careless about the source.  What grinds me most about this are these words out of Paul Ryan's mouth:
She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
This is a representative of our government shaming poor people.  This is a man of privilege--a man who never hesitates to vote against safety-net programs designed to pull underprivileged people up and out and on their own; a man who, through his own "Ryan Budget", offered up huge cuts to the safety nets in order to give more to the rich and to the military--shaming poor parents by telling them their own children don't want a free lunch.

He told a crowd--and the rest of us by extension via TV cameras--that poor kids are ashamed of their parents, that poor parents who accept government aid ought to be ashamed, and that we on the left are guilty of encouraging that kind of behavior:
"That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand. We don’t want people to leave the workforce; we want them to share their skills and talents with the rest of us. And people don’t just want a life of comfort; they want a life of dignity—of self-determination. A life of equal outcomes is not nearly as enriching as a life of equal opportunity."
This is what Paul Ryan does, and why he is so dangerous.  A quick reading of that quote above has everybody nodding their heads.  Skills!  Talents!  Dignity! Self-determination! Equal opportunity!

But what he's really doing is equating essential programs like welfare and SNAP to "a life of comfort".  He's suggesting poor people are poor because they like it that way.  A "life of dignity" means getting out from under the government wing and going it alone.  "Self-determination" means you brought this on yourself.

The "Brown bag" story means stop using your kids as pawns in order to get people to feel sorry for you and give you stuff.

And, oh, by the way, get a job.  (But good luck with that, since the dreaded Obamacare just killed that avenue for you, too.  The theory goes that employers hate the idea of Obamacare so much they're cutting their workforce in order to show how much they hate it.  The insurance companies thank them very much.)

This is Paul Ryan. He is wildly successful.  We pay him, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to his other income sources.  We will give him health and retirement benefits for the rest of his life--not that he needs us to pay for them.  We've given him the power, as a representative of the people, to use this public platform and he uses it to screw the least of us.

If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's this:  Live with it.

Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland.  Featured on Crooks and Liars MBRU.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hail, CPAC! Silly Season is Upon Us. Can Spring be Far Behind?

To this liberal there is no more fun in the world than when CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) comes to Virtual Town.  I look forward to the two-day conference every year and I'm never disappointed. Best comedy show ever!

Photo:  Media Matters

 This year's roster includes all the usual Biggies:  Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie (Wait. . .seriously?),  Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Jim deMint, Mike Huckabee, Wayne LaPierre, and lastly but not leastly--not in his eyes, anyway--Donald Trump.  (Inside, but not on the front page:  Newt Gingrich, Ralph Reed, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, Grover Norquist, Michele Bachmann, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and a star-studded cast of delightfully daffy dozens.)

A few of the workshop titles (Full PDF schedule here):
  • More Guns, Less Crime:  How Law Enforcement is Beginning to Embrace a Well-Armed Civilian Population.
  • Healthcare After ObamaCAre:  A Practical Guide for Living When No One Has Insurance and America Runs Out of Doctors
  • Conservative Journalism:  From Benghazi to the IRS - A Layman's Guide to Covering "Phony Scandals" New Media Style.  Sponsored by TownHall Regnery Publishing  [Ed Note:  Is that an admission that they are, in fact, "phony scandals"?  I think so!  Remember, you read it here first.]

There will be a  book signing by former candidate Christine O'Donnell. (Remember her?  She is still not a witch.)  Also one by Newt's current wife, Callista.  And one by Ann Coulter.  (I'm swooning.  Bring on the smelling salts. Can this be Heaven?)

Ted Cruz is speaking right now, as I write this, and he has his McCarthy face on.  He's got the voice down pat, and you gotta hand it to him--he could be teaching Demagoguery 101.  He's that good.  Already I'm hearing "first amendment rights" and "second amendment rights".  I should just stop watching.  I'll never get anything done.

So, since I have a busy day today, I'm going to pull myself away from this.  If anything really exciting/hilarious happens in the next couple of days I'll put my reporting cap back on and bring it to you posthaste and pronto.

For your further entertainment,  I've written about past CPACs here, here and here.   I don't know--those guys just tickle my funny bone.  I get an even bigger kick out of the fact that it's not my funny bone they're after, but, no matter how hard they try, that's as much as they're ever going to get from me.

Cross-posted at Liberaland and at dagblog.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Writer asks a Famous Writer to Stop Writing Because–Why Again?

Every writer is jealous of other writers.  Whether it’s fame or fortune or talent, we can’t help but snivel a little when they become Them and we’re still just us.

Most of us do it in silence or in the midst of a narrow group of co-commiserators.  Not many (Okay, a few, but they’re gone now) do it as publicly as a writer named Lynn Shepherd did recently when she wrote a blog post on HuffPo UK telling J.K. Rowling she’s had her turn and if she had any decency at all she’d hang it up and give someone else a chance.

Now, who is Lynn Shepherd to be telling the great Jo Rowling she’s being selfish with all that extraneous publishing now that Harry Potter is done and over?  Beats me.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  Honestly, I don’t.  I’m all for audacity and truth-telling but I can’t get past her own admission that she really doesn’t read Rowling.  It’s all about the fame and fortune.  One person apparently shouldn’t have that much.
A snippet of what she said:
"I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right? But The Casual Vacancy changed all that.
.It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?"
I guess you noticed that she never read any of the Harry Potter books?  Seems odd, doesn’t it, that she would then go on to say, “I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”

Gulp and gasp and get outta here!  I’m a grown-up, I read a LOT.   I loved the Harry Potter books.  I felt a lot of things while reading them, but I’m pretty sure I never felt shame.

So here’s my dilemma, and I’m going to be honest about this.  I don’t much like that this person who puts herself in league with “ordinary authors” (see above) is getting all kinds of attention simply because she’s in a snit over someone else’s fame. (Check out her FB and Twitter hits.  Many more than I (sniff) ever got.  Hmmmph.)   And here I am, adding to the so thoroughly unearned attention

But why Jo Rowling?  Because she had the nerve to move on to “adult” books instead of staying in the kiddie section where she belongs?  Because people are buying her books simply because her name is J.K Rowling?  Because she doesn’t deserve it?

I have a feeling Lynn Shepherd knew exactly what she was doing with this piece.  A friend tried to warn her, but I think she saw it as the perfect attention-getter for her own books.  If that’s what it was, she failed.   Look at this (My bold):
"So this is my plea to JK Rowling.  Remember what it was like when The Cuckoo’s Calling had only sold a few boxes and think about those of us who are stuck there, because we can’t wave a wand and turn our books into overnight bestsellers merely by saying the magic word. By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn."
Jo Rowling’s success was anything but overnight.  I get that she's talking about her fame giving her a head start with any subsequent books, but Jo Rowling has certainly paid her dues.  There isn’t a writer on earth who doesn’t know about Rowling’s struggles while working on the first Harry Potter book.  She was a single, jobless mom living for a while on welfare and food stamps.  Her fame was not handed to her.  No magic wands.  Not by a long shot.

But, by golly, Lynn Shepherd got what she wanted.   First Huffington Post and now here.  (Oh, I’m kidding!)  I admit I’ve never read her books, but I don’t need to in order to say this:
That was a cheap trick.  I’m sorry I got pulled into it but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to say publicly that that was a cheap trick.
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. – Albus Dumbledore”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

NOTE:  I wrote this post last night, before I heard there was a negative-review bomb against one of Lynn Shepherd’s books over on Amazon.  At last count I saw 44 one-stars, most of them published yesterday.  They were all paying her back for what she wrote about J.K. Rowling.

What I wrote above is fair game.  It’s my opinion, just as Lynn Shepherd’s opinion is hers.  What is happening to this writer at Amazon is an attempt to destroy a writer’s work by giving it deliberately low ratings.

I left my post as it was originally written because my thoughts about Shepherd’s piece haven’t changed, but I’m frankly appalled by the outside attacks on works that have nothing to do with what she wrote at HuffPo.  This is chilling to any writer who writes opinions on controversial subjects.

Whatever I said about cheap tricks above goes ten-fold for those who think this is a cool way to get back at her.  Get back at her for what?  I think Jo Rowling will be just fine after this.  Whatever I think about Lynn Shepherd, I don’t want to see her own career ruined over a simple thousand-word opinion.

I hope I’m not alone.

Follow Up:  This is what Lynn Shepherd told The Guardian on 2/27/14:
Speaking to the Guardian today, Shepherd apologised for upsetting writers and readers alike, explaining that she had "only ever meant to raise the issue of how hard it is for new writers to get noticed and how publishing is much more of a zero sum game than people often think".
"Many writers face the same challenges and frustrations when they're just starting out, and JK Rowling did herself," Shepherd said. "She's been a phenomenal success since then and has millions of fans who are passionate about her books. That's an amazing achievement. With hindsight I'd have written my piece an entirely different way, as I never intended it to upset anyone, and I'm very sorry that it did."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Story: Pentecostal Snake Handler refuses help and dies. My Reaction: Surprising, even to Me

For days now, since I heard about the death of Jamie Coots, the snake-handling preacher from Middlesboro, Kentucky, I've been struggling with my own thoughts about it.  There is no reason in the world why I should be involved in any of it.  I didn't know him.  I had never before heard of his church.  And I didn't know before this weekend, when I read about his death, that he had been the star of a National Geographic Channel series called "Snake Salvation".

Photo:  National Geographic
 I read about his death--about how he had been bitten by a venomous snake during a church service on Saturday, about how his family carried his unconscious body to their home, about how the family refused help from the EMS team dispatched to their home with the needed anti-venom serum, about how Jamie Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name died without ever waking up again--and before I had even finished reading the article a blog post was already taking shape.

The more I read about this man, about his beliefs, about the origins of Pentecostal snake-handling in the hills of Appalachia, the closer I came to seeing it as a story ripe for ridicule.  And I wrote it that way.  I had some funny lines in there--laugh-out-loud, if I do say--and I had a link to a video that would make Jamie Coots look foolish.  He did look foolish.  To me.  But I couldn't get it right.  I kept coming back to the raw fact that a man had died.  A man was dead and I was trying to create a piece that would be a candidate for Wacky Story of the Week.

It isn't that.  It's a story about belief and trust and how difficult it sometimes is to understand interpretations, perceptions and faith.

It's about the actions of generations of men who invented and relied on their own definitions of a few passages of the bible having to do with the handling snakes in order to start a new kind of church.

And it's about us, the outsiders, and where we draw the line.

For any church, for any religion, the outsiders are irrelevant. Unless we're directly affected, their methods of worship are their business, not ours. If we don't understand their rituals, they can live with that.

My own sense is that we draw the line when it's evident that during their rituals people can be, and have been, physically harmed.  Then we step in and look around.  In this case, it should be easy to analyze the problem here:  Their religion causes them to show their devotion to God by handling venomous snakes.  As reported in a USA Today article, they don't believe that God will save them from snakebites.  That's not the point:
Professors who study snake handling say worshipers are very aware of the risks they are taking and accept the consequences.

Brian Pennington, a religion professor at Maryville College in Maryville, Tenn., has studied Coots during his research on snake handling in worship.

He said the prominent leader of the snake handling community saw the practice as "an absolute command of God."

"These are not irrational people. These are people who know very well what they're doing every Sunday or Wednesday night — whenever it might be they go into that church," Pennington said. "They know very well the fate that Pastor Coots suffered could be suffered by any of them who does this during a service."
 Throughout the history of the Pentecostal snake-handling movement, mainly based in rural Appalachia, many people have died from snake bites, including the movement's founder, George Hensley.  After being bitten numerous times, one of the bites finally killed him.  He wasn't alone.  There are no accurate records of the numbers of snake bite deaths during these rituals, but it was enough for some states to outlaw religious snake handling.

In 2012,  Mark Wolford, pastor at the Apostolic House of the Lord Jesus, died of snake bite wounds.  These deaths aren't nearly as publicized as that of Coots, who was the star of a TV show and thus better known, but they happen, and are expected to happen.
"A common misunderstanding is that handlers believe they can't get bit or it won't kill them," [Ralph Hood, a religion professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga] added. "What they'll tell you is, `No one will get out of this alive.' They'll also tell you it's not a question of how you live; it's a question of how you die. ... This is how he would have wanted to die."
  The problem, then, and the reason we pay attention--beyond a natural curiosity about something as odd as serpent-handling for God--is that people seem to be willing to die for reasons we will never understand.  They are deliberately putting their lives in jeopardy as a supposed honor to God.  All based on a few slim passages nearly hidden away in the King James version of the bible.

I was angry when I first heard about this--and maybe I still am.  People are dying over something that makes no sense.  But the longer I got into it, the more I came to realize--for my own self--that we can't help them.  We can't understand them and we can't help them. They embrace a literal translation of a few biblical passages and have created an entire religion around it.  A religion that's over a century old now.  That's pretty monumental.  In the end, it doesn't have to make sense to anyone else. 

There is the snake's point of view, of course, and it shouldn't be ignored.  Some say that in order to keep the snakes willing and docile, they underfeed and underwater them.  They keep them tightly together in glass cages and their life span--three to five months--is far below the normal span of 10 to 20 years.  That is animal cruelty and needs to be addressed.

But if it can be proven that no snakes are harmed in the process, I'm all for moving on to something else.  They're going to do what they're going to do with or without our blessing--which, it should be noted, they haven't asked for.

Even now, the next generation is moving to take over where Jamie Coots left off.  Jamie's son, Cody, will follow the family tradition. (Jamie's father and grandfather were both serpent-handling preachers)  Children in these churches are not allowed to handle snakes, but nobody stops them from watching.  If they're brought up in a culture where handling venomous snakes is a major part of honoring their God, it would be the rare kid who wouldn't want to try it as soon as they came of age.  Even the dying part is noble.  But once they're adults, our commitment to watch over them has ended.

According to Knoxville's WATETV. com on Sunday:
 The pastor's son [Cody ]Coots saw the snake bite his father last night.

"The snake that bit him, we've been carrying it for four months. It's been carried hundreds of times and handled all kinds of times. But when it's your time to go, it's just your time to go," Cody Coots said.

Cody says while they're in shock, his family will stand strong in their beliefs.

"I don't think it's dangerous. It's the word of God. We've always said it's a good way to live by and it's a good way to die by," Cody Coots said.

Cody Coots is expected to keep his father's ministry going.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ugly Politics: When the Meme is "The President Must Die" We Have To Pay Attention

At a Town Hall meeting held last week in Oklahoma, an audience member raised her hand and said to Jim Bridenstine, a congressman from the First District,  “Obama is not president as far as I’m concerned. He should be executed as an enemy combatant.”

Read that again:  "Obama is not president as far as I'm concerned.  He should be executed as an enemy combatant."  (Video here.)

 She then went on to remind Bridenstine and the audience about the Muslims Obama is letting into this country to be pilots on commercial jets (I did not know that!), which was proof to her that "this guy is a criminal!"  She blamed congress for doing nothing when Obama "has no authority.  He has NO authority!"

And when she was finished and the camera turned back to him, the first words out of U.S. Congressman Jim Bridenstine's mouth were, "Look, everybody knows the lawlessness of this president."

He went on to describe a Chief Executive so out of control, so power-hungry that when he couldn't get something done through executive order, "then he used foreign bodies".

He used as an example an effort in April, 2013 to ban certain types of guns, "not because they operated any differently than any other types of guns but because they looked scary".  (Oh, THAT was why.  I wondered. . .)  But congress blocked it, "which was the right answer".  Then he tried to block magazine sizes, which, again Congress blocked.  "Which was the right answer," according to Jim.

But the congressman saved the best--or worst--for last: "Then he wanted universal background checks, which is a national gun registration, let me be clear."  Pause, repeat:  "He wanted universal background checks which is a national gun registration. . .".   And when Obama couldn't get that done he went to the U.N, where they passed an international Arms Trade Treaty, which, according to Jim, says if you have any gun that has any part manufactured in a foreign country than you have to do not a national background check but an international background check and it becomes an international gun registry.  (The Horror!)

Well, of course, this president signed it.  So here's how Jim sees it:

"Now let me be clear.  The Second Amendment of the United States of America is not open for debate by a foreign government."

A woman in his audience has just called for the President of the United States to be executed and this congressman answers her by bringing up the president's push for background checks, gun registration, and his dealings with foreign countries to accomplish the same.

Nobody seems to know where this meeting took place or exactly when, but someone put it on YouTube and it went viral. The press picked it up.  Bridenstine got wind of the flak and put this notice on his web page:
“A public figure cannot control what people say in open meetings. I obviously did not condone and I do not approve of grossly inappropriate language. It is outrageous that irresponsible parties would attribute another person’s reckless remarks to me."

No, Congressman Bridenstine, you are the irresponsible one.  You kept quiet when an audience member called for the death of the president, and then you added fuel to the fire. You brought up guns and the Second Amendment and insinuated that the President of the United States is in league with foreign players to take American gun rights away.

I hope the Secret Service pays that group a call and I hope you're there when they do.  You all need a lesson in Government, in Civics, in Constitutional and Sedition Laws, and in civility.

I confess that I've never been as fearful of a president's safety as I have with Barack Obama.  The gun nuts are getting bolder and the propaganda against his "otherness" is unrelenting and growing more fierce. 

There is no proof that this president has been threatened more than any other.  (I went looking.)  The Secret Service won't provide those statistics, of course, and Politifact finds no evidence and calls the charges that he has been "false".   But a simple search finds threats against this president by the thousands.  Including this one on Facebook from the Christian American Patriots  Militia (Read more here.):

The rumor is that Ted Nugent got a visit from the Secret Service for saying, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year."  I hope it's not just a rumor.  We'll never know unless Teddy tells us, but I hope they're doing their jobs.  That was a direct threat. (Not that it would cure him.  I wrote about his shenanigans just last month.  He gets off on this stuff.  Apparently so do a lot of other people.)

Are threats against the president illegal?  It depends.  There is this:

18 U.S. Code § 871 - Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. 

But then there's this from FrumForum on July 21, 2011:

On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that comments which encouraged the assassination of President Obama and predicted that he would have “a .50 cal in the head soon” while using racial slurs against him were protected by the First Amendment. While the decision seems to be a plausible reading of existing precedents, a former Secret Service agent contacted by FrumForum thought that it exposed the president to unacceptable risk.

“It was a bad decision,” said Joseph Petro, former agent and co-author of Standing Next to History: An Agent’s Life Inside the Secret Service. He argued that permitting such remarks “creates more potential for someone to do something” dangerous. Petro claimed that, in his experience, it is normal to treat such comments as threats, saying “I’ve seen this before … Back in the Nixon days, there was a guy who put up a billboard in New Jersey saying ‘Kill Nixon.’ He was arrested and the billboard was taken down.”
“We’re all in favor of constitutional rights,” he added, but “there should be some … sensitivity shown for the unique risk that the President faces.”

The former agent suggested that the ruling was part of a pattern of recent events that did not show a proper awareness of the dangers presidents face comparing it to incidents in the past two years in which protesters brought weapons to presidential speeches. Petro also noted that the fact that the accused, Walter Bagdasarian, predicted that Obama would be shot with a .50 caliber rifle while he owned such a gun made the threatening nature of the comments especially clear.

However, two legal experts contacted by FrumForum both agreed with the majority’s central claim that Bagdasarian did not express an intention to personally kill Obama because he merely predicted the president’s killing and encouraged others to shoot him. “The speaker did not tell Obama that if he didn’t do something he would shoot him,” said Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago who has written extensively on First Amendment issues. “The speech may have been repugnant and ugly … but it did not constitute a threat within the meaning of the First Amendment.”

I'm afraid.  I'm very afraid.  When advocating and encouraging the killing of our president is protected under the First Amendment, it's destined to become as twisted as the Second Amendment to mean whatever the advocates want it to mean.  It'll be open season on wishing the president dead.

Something will have to happen before we wake up to the harm this can bring.  I dread to think what that might be.

(Can I just say to those who are already revving up their keyboards to remind me that George W. Bush got death threats, too?  I don't doubt it.  Every president has.  It goes with the territory.  But this was a town hall meeting where a member of congress did nothing to disabuse an audience member of the notion that the President of the United States should be executed as an enemy combatant. Instead, he immediately launched into an attack on "the lawlessness of the president" and his shady attempts to bring in foreign countries to control our guns, showing him to be a dangerous character, indeed.   Let me know when you find something comparable.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Farewell, Pete Seeger. Peace Be With You.

I woke up this morning to the sad news that Pete Seeger, America's folk singer and man of peace, has died.

He was 94 years old, so we should be grateful that we had him with us for so long.  He was a man whose presence was timeless and inspiring, and the truth is, we needed him.  We need him still.

He was more than a singer/songwriter, although in his case that would have been enough.  He was a man of courage, unafraid to face down fancy fools and demagogues.   In the 1950s he was hauled before Joe McCarthy's Red-scare witch-hunters and branded a communist--a brand he neither confirmed nor denied until much later, when he said he had been a communist for a time but dropped out.  He never failed to remind those who asked that it was never illegal in this country to be a communist.  The young ones were, as you might imagine, surprised to hear it.

He was jailed, blacklisted, and was sentenced to 10 years for contempt of Congress. (That last one was overturned, but he was able to retain the bragging rights.)
During the communist witch-hunts of the early Fifties, however, the Weavers were blacklisted, resulting in canceled concert dates and the loss of their recording contract with Decca Records. Under congressional subpoena to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Seeger asserted his First Amendment rights, scolding the committee, “I am not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or my religious beliefs, or how I voted in any election or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked.” - See more at:
 In 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was famously uncooperative, citing the First Amendment (freedom of speech and association) instead of the Fifth (freedom from self-incrimination) when he refused to answer, because he believed there was nothing "incriminating" about knowing communists or being one. Clubs and TV shows canceled the Weavers' bookings, their recording company voided their contract, and their records vanished from stores and radio airplay. Seeger was indicted for contempt of Congress, and sentenced to ten concurrent one-year terms in prison (a sentence he didn't serve, as it was overturned on appeal). Seeger and his band were blacklisted, and for years worked only in tiny clubs willing to take the risk of hiring them.
Pete never failed to let us know he was one of us.  His concerts became one big sing-along, where everyone joined in and became his back-up singers.  (That could be because Pete himself said as a singer he made a pretty good song-writer, but his audiences loved it.)

We knew the words to his songs by heart and understood where the words came from.   He cared about the least of us.  He was a union man.  He was a man of peace who would not submit.

Solidarity forever, Mr. Seeger.  It was a privilege to be on this planet with you.  You will live on.  We'll make sure of that.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ted Nugent: Obama is Still President. I've Let The Country Down

Let's face it, there is no shaming that bad boy, Teddy "The Nuge" Nugent, the "Motor City Madman",  proud draft-dodging gun nut, NRA spokesman, and Grand Champeen Obama hater.  He thrives on badboyism.  It has made him what he is today.  One look at him tells me he ain't gonna listen to no mamas, so why waste my time?

But it's okay if I make fun of him, right?  Because that's what mamas do when the kids go off the deep end and think they're too cool for school.  Usually the kids in question are still what we might consider kids and have a chance to outgrow it, but, as in Teddy's case, mavericks do cut loose and stay loose.  Sometimes they get lost in their own kid persona and never grow up. It's sort of sad, watching them, but they never stop thinking they're pretty damned cute, so what's the harm?

So here's what that bad Teddy has done this time.  In his agony over not actually having the power after all to unseat/destroy the sitting president, Barack Hussein Obama, and all the stray Democrats (a power he, sadly, truly believed he had--see first sentence below), he's gone back to his old Devil's Thesaurus to find just the right words to settle this thing once and for all.  At the 2014 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT) last week, he took a moment to tell a reporter for what he thought of Barack Obama. That Obama is one bad dude. He is, in fact, according to Teddy, a "sub-human mongrel."
Here's Teddy:
I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist, raised communist, educated communist, nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America. I am heartbroken but I am not giving up. I think America will be America again when Barack Obama, [Attorney General] Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, [Sen.] Dick Durbin, [former New York City Mayor] Michael Bloomberg and all of the liberal Democrats are in jail facing the just due punishment that their treasonous acts are clearly apparent.

So a lot of people would call that inflammatory speech. Well I would call it inflammatory speech when it's your job to protect Americans and you look into the television camera and say what difference does it make that I failed in my job to provide security and we have four dead Americans. What difference does that make? Not to a chimpanzee or Hillary Clinton, I guess it doesn't matter.

I don't know how Hillary got in there.  I would think it's because she could be a contender--a Democratic contender--in 2016, and that would be bad for his guys. But he's a Hillary-hater from way back.  At a 2007 concert he told Hillary to ride his machine gun and called her a worthless bitch.  (He had some choice words for Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein at that same concert, but you'll understand if I pass on posting them here. )

So.  Two things happened that gave Teddy the idea that he might be more than an old rock star--that he might actually have a future in galvanizing Americans to jump into rabbit holes and view the world in a topsy-turvy setting having nothing to do with reality:  The NRA gave him a position on their board, and Texas Tea Party congressman Steve Stockman got him a seat at last year's State of the Union address.

That last gig thrilled Teddy no end:

He had a good career going there for a while as a singer.  ("Cat Scratch Fever")  He could carry a tune and everything. ("Cat Scratch Fever")  But it could be that the crowds stopped coming (just guessing) and if he wanted to stay in the spotlight he had to find a new gig.

But what's a Medicare-eligible guy to do when he has his big 'ol patriot heart set on saving the country from assorted Muslims and Communists and uppity wimmin but his only talents lean more toward screaming and cussing and prevaricating while making goofy faces and toting big-ass guns?

Beats me.  I'm just glad he's not my kid.

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's the Ego, Stupid

Yesterday New Jersey governor Chris Christie took 108 minutes out of his busy schedule to do something so unprecedented there wasn't a pundit anywhere in the country who wasn't on top of it, who didn't have an opinion about it, and who, almost to a person, saw it as the beginning of the end of that lovable bully.  No White House for you, big guy!

So what happened yesterday was that Chris Christie set up a press conference and stood before reporters for more than an hour and a half to apologize, sort of, for the colossal, politically incorrect, on-purpose screw-up that caused the week-long closing off portions of the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee, N.J.

The apology for the undisputed fact that his own aides had orchestrated the closing was short and sweet compared to the hand-wringing that followed while Chris Christie, the ultimate victim here, explained to reporters how he felt when he discovered that he had been betrayed by members of his trusted staff.

He felt sad. He was sad.  He was so sad:
"I'm sad. I'm sad. That's the predominant emotion I feel right now is sadness, sadness that I was betrayed by a member of my staff, sadness that I had people who I entrusted with important jobs who acted completely inappropriately, sad that that's led the people of New Jersey to have less confidence in the people that I've selected. The emotion that I've been displaying in private is sad."

The initial blow-up was over the vindictive phony shutting down of toll booths and portions of the insanely busy George Washington bridge.  It ended up causing days of needless chaos for what turned out to be an odd game of supposed retaliation by Christie's staff against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing their guy in the last election.  Their guy, Chris Christie!  That guy!

But after all that, their guy Christie, true to form, felt nobody else's emotion but his own.  It's true he mentioned the bridge fiasco a few times, but the main thrust of the news conference was about Christie's own strong feeling of betrayal.  Yes, the buck stops there, and yes, that mess on the bridge was awful, but how can he get across to the reporters in the room just how affected he was by his staff's actions against him? It was as if the chaos caused by the phony toll booth and lane closings was nothing more than collateral damage: The real story was Et tu, Brute?

(By the way, Rachel Maddow made a pretty convincing argument last night that the traffic jam vendetta wasn't really over the mayor but was, rather, against New Jersey Democrats who wouldn't give the Gov what he wanted when it came to Supreme Court justices.  It's all about the timing.) 

Egos are a dime a dozen in politics.  Every politician has one, and usually it's a doozy.  It has to be, in order to go through that whole election process.  When you go into it knowing hundreds if not thousands if not millions of people are going to hate you and make fun of you and try to bring you down in the process, something besides the thought of doing good deeds is driving you.

If, once elected, politicians could check their egos at the door, let's face it--they wouldn't be nearly as entertaining.  The quiet drudges get no press, and that's a fact. Gov. Christie has built a pretty good career on being a callous blowhard while showing signs every now and then of an underlying humanity, often enough to be forgiven for his theretofore signature rudeness.  (See Hurricane Sandy)  But it's Christie's ego that gets him every time.  In the end, it's always all about him.

  A healthy ego can be a marvelous thing (See Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, FDR, Martin Luther King, Jesus), but in the wrong heads it's the malignancy that will be the death of those folks yet.  Witness John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Thaddeus McCotter, Herman Cain. . .

Chris Christie went to Fort Lee yesterday to meet with the mayor there and apologize personally, even though the mayor all but begged him not to come.  He went anyway, because that's who he is.  He gives orders, he doesn't take them.

But he didn't give the order to mess with the toll booths and set up the cones of artifice on the George Washington Bridge.  Because what do you think he is--stupid?