3/31/08

The Wittenburg Door

We have added a link to Bob Flynn's "The Wittenburg Door" website over in the sidebar.

"What is 'The Wittenburg Door?" you ask?

Here is their "About Us" page.

Here is some information about the publisher

and

The Trinity Foundation.

Among other good works, they investigate televangelists and other moral and spiritual pimps and whores hiding like snakes beneath the hem of Christ's robe and behind the term "Christian". How could you not love these guys?

TELEVANGELIST INVESTIGATIONS

An early skepticism about the way religious programming is bought and sold prompted Trinity to conduct a controversial research project on the audience demographics and ratings of religious broadcasting. By the time scandals rocked the religious television industry in the 1980s, Trinity was already monitoring religious programming and reporting abuses of the public trust. In the 1990s Trinity Foundation became the leading "watchdog" of religious media, conducting investigations and providing information used to expose fraud and abuses committed in the name of God.

The foundation regularly provides assistance to print and electronic journalists investigating suspected fraud or other abuses of the public trust by members of the religious media. The foundation maintains a private investigative license with the State of Texas and frequently provides undercover operatives to news programs like PrimeTime Live, 60 Minutes, Dateline, CNN Special Reports, 20/20, British Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Inside Edition, among many others. We have also worked with The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Economist, London Independent, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, U.S. News & World Report, and The Dallas Morning News.

Foundation representatives have testified for Congressional hearings examining abuses by America's television evangelists. The foundation has also provided investigative reports to various agencies of state and federal government.

Victim's Helpline: The foundation sponsors and staffs America's only nationwide toll-free help line (1-800-229-VICTIM) for people who believe they or a loved one has been victimized by a televangelist.

Media Archive: Trinity Foundation maintains a nationally recognized video archive of televangelism broadcasts, a print-media clip-file and extensive direct-mail files on approximately 300 televangelists. Information requests are met regularly from local, regional, national and worldwide media outlets.

Here's an another interesting link:

Televangelist Lifestyles: Fleecing the Flock

"Christianity began as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When it went to Athens, it became a philosophy. When it went to Rome, it became an organization. When it went to Europe, it became a culture. When it came to America, it became a business."

L. Ron Hubbard (Founder of Scientology) once said "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." While our modern day evangelists have not started their own religion, they have unquestionably improved on Hubbard’s idea. Capitalizing on Christianity has proved to be far more lucrative than starting a new religion.

3/29/08

The Wages of Sin

Click on the image for larger version.

Now this is something worth throwing a fit over. Think of all those people who gave their pennies and loose change, or tithed from their Social Security checks or other limited income, all for the church to do its Good Works. I wonder if they all think they got their money's worth. I wonder if they all think this is "doing God's work". Maybe the leadership at Trinity United should take a read of Nouwen.

Another Nouwen scribbling

Leece is reading another Henri J. M. Nouwen book for one of her classes. Nouwen is really good. His "Return of the Prodigal Son" was excellent, and we (Leece and I, not the editorial 'we') highly recommend anything by Nouwen.

This book is entitled, "In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership". Here is an excerpt:

"Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world.

Bret Easton Ellis’s novel Less Than Zero offers a most graphic description of the moral and a spiritual poverty behind the contemporary fa├žade of wealth, success, popularity, and power. In a dramatically staccato way, he describes the life of sex, drugs, and violence among the teenage sons and daughters of the super-rich entertainers in Los Angeles. And the cry that arises from behind all of this decadence is clearly: “Is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who really cares? Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me? Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying? Is there anybody who can hold me and give me a sense of belonging?” Feeling irrelevant is a much more general experience than we might think when we look at our seemingly self-confident society. Medical technology and the tragic increase in abortions may radically diminish the number of mentally handicapped people in our society, but it is already becoming apparent that more and more people are suffering from the profound moral and spiritual handicaps without having any idea of where to look for healing.

It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there."

There's a lot to comment upon in that short excerpt, but note his reference to abortions and how "..the tragic increase in abortions may radically diminish the number of mentally handicapped people in our society...".

Yes, the increase in abortions is tragic. But he obliquely raises a point: What about all those babies, crack babies, babies suffering from fetal alcohol sydrome, babies with other birth defects brought about by drugs, booze, and malnutrition, mixed race babies? "But they're all God's children!" I can hear people like Bolen thundering from their pulpits, real or imagined. Yes, they are. Should they be flushed down the drain like so much waste? No, they should not.

OK. So how many of those babies has Bolen and those who talk like him adopted? How many of those babies have the ardent opposers to abortion adopted, or helped place in loving homes?

The answer is, not many. If any. Talk is cheap. Nouwen observes, "...but it is already becoming apparent that more and more people are suffering from the profound moral and spiritual handicaps without having any idea of where to look for healing."

It is that profound moral and spiritual handicapping that has led to the abortion rate being what it is. The abortion rate is not the problem; it is a symptom. So rather than picketing Planned Parenthood, who after all are just trying in their own way to help women, how about those pastors and other "Christians" who look down their noses at, and pass judgment upon, those who suffer those "profound moral and spiritual handicaps" that contribute to or cause our "social issues", how about they pay attention to the closing line in the excerpt:

"It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there."

You cannot enter into that deep solidarity with the underlying anguish and bring the light of Jesus to anyone if you are hiding within the four walls of your church, refusing to soil your pristine Christian-ship by mingling with the spiritual hoi polloi.

I liked the cricket player who was willing to "run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." There was a man who understood what it meant to be a "Christian".

Not everyone can, or even should, give away the family fortune and go forth to work in rescue missions; not everyone is called to do that, and not everyone is emotionally or otherwise equipped to do that. But certainly, everyone who calls himself or herself a "Christian" can be less of a "honker" and more of a true disciple, especially when it comes to dealing with others.

3/28/08

Another Chinese connection

Billy was munching a deep-fried pork chop, sitting there on his favorite bench in front of Ringo's, as we walked up.

"Hey! Hey!" he exclaimed, "howzitdoon?"

"Pretty good. How about you?" Leece asked.

"I'm outraged," he said.

"Really? Outraged? Why?" she queried.

"Well, because it's the thing to be these days. You gotta be outraged 'bout somethin' if yer gonna be a reel 'merkin. I think it shows involvement and commitment."

"I think it shows that a lot of people are twits, the things they are outraged over, but what would I know," I told him.

"Huh. Huh. Well, I'm talkin' about the Chinese ammo scandal," he explained, "where that Miami company was supposed to be providin' the Army with Hungarian manufactured small arms ammo made between 1965 and 1975, but instead shipped 'em Chinee ammo made between '62 and '74. That's an outrage."

"Why would the US Army be buying ammunition for Kalashinkovs and other Warsaw Pact small arms," asked Leece, demonstrating a certain knowledge of these things.

"Huh. Huh. Well, fer indigenous forces in Afghanistan," he said, "hey, you seem to have a certain knowledge of these things."

"Well, let me ask you this, Billy," she said, "and that is, what's your problem with Chinese ammunition made between those dates, especially if it has been stored properly and there have been no problems with it by those using it?"

"Well...it's Chinee, "he said, "and you know how that Chinee stuff is usually cheap and shoddy."

"Billy. We aren't talking about dog food or toothpaste, or even Italian pita bread from America's Favorite Place to Stand in Line. We're talking about ammunition, " she pointed out.

"Yeah? Yeah? So?"

"How many Purple Hearts do you have, Billy? I'd say that's a pretty good testimonial to how well Chinese ammunition functions. Especially from that time," she said, with cold accuracy.

Billy was silent for a few moments.

"Yeah. I guess you's right. It worked pretty good back then. No reason why it wouldn't now."

"Yep."

3/27/08

Institutions

The evolution of churches is an interesting thing.

Way back when Paul was wandering about, having knocked off killing members of that new religion, Christianity, and having become something of a convert, it was what we could call a 'movement'. It was fresh. It was a whole new way of looking at things. It was the embracing of a whole new relationship with God.

Then, in the course of a few centuries, the church became...an institution. It was no longer a 'movement.' Those who held positions of power and authority within the church became more concerned with holding that power and authority, and with protecting the institution, than they were in developing and maintaining that relationship with God. All you have to do to understand this is take a quick look at the doings of those first few ecumenical councils. They were worse than the Obama and Clinton factions going at it in the present political campaign.

Throughout time, there have been 'movements' which have broken away from The Church, that One True Church - Martin Luther coming to mind - and then from the churches that formed from those movements.

As these things evolve from 'movement', characterized by fresh thinking, fresh ideas, fresh viewpoints, and fresh and renewed purpose of Spirit, into institutions, they lose those characteristics, and become self-serving refuges for...the self-serving. And this causes those who are looking for that relationship with God to ...move on.

That is where we seem to be at this time, here in these United States. The Christian Right makes a lot of noise, but little if any of it has anything to do with serving God. It all has to do with serving the institution, with serving a political agenda. God has little if anything to do with it, and as John Fischer noted in the earlier post: "today Jesus represents something entirely different to those outside the church. To most of these people, Jesus is the champion of a conservative political base. The Jesus who always stood on the side of the poor and oppressed, who stood against established religious rule and authority, who advocated turning the other cheek and loving your enemies is nowhere in the lexicon of what is perceived a Christian today."

Where do Christians stand today? It's easy to see that Fischer's statement applies to a good many so-called "Christians", if not most of them. No, I don't think it applies to all of them. But c'mon. What is the role of the pastor today? To lead people to that relationship with God, or to protect the institution? A pastor is not much of a pastor if all he or she can do is minister to those who claim to be already saved, while throwing childish snit fits when criticized over poorly written and even more poorly thought out 'devotionals' that do nothing but attack and insult those outside the church (no...not Skorick's, this time, but that one in today's paper). What is the role of a Christian today? To send out hate emails attacking presidential candidates, emails with no basis in fact? To throw fits over stupid nonsense like whether or not "In God We Trust" is on our nickels? To threaten those who are either not Christians or those who claim to be but are not the right kind? That is the kind of thinking that we saw after those ecumenical councils, with the hate and discontent that led to Christian-on-Christian bloodshed of epic proportions.

How many Christians oozing hate and discord in Christ's name does it take to destroy the meaning of "...I am the Way..."? How many does it take to make a mockery of that New Commandment?

Here's one to think about, also from Fischer:

"I guess I'm not surprised. Not too many Christians want to identify with the left behind, but until we do, we won't have the compassion to bring anyone to Christ. It was C.T. Studd (1860-1931), a famous cricket player who left the sport for the mission field and gave his inherited family fortune away to fund missions, who said: "Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell."

All those honking Christians...

Here are some excerpts from a John Fischer commentary published back on March 26. You can find the original on his website, John Fischer: In the tank, as well as several other follow up entries that are very good:
================================================================

"When the "Honk if you love Jesus" sticker first got pasted on a bumper, Christians were a minority (at least we thought we were). A lot of followers of Jesus were meeting each other and growing spiritually outside the church. Stickers and buttons were a means of finding each other in the marketplace and that created a sense of newly formed family... today Jesus represents something entirely different to those outside the church. To most of these people, Jesus is the champion of a conservative political base. The Jesus who always stood on the side of the poor and oppressed, who stood against established religious rule and authority, who advocated turning the other cheek and loving your enemies is nowhere in the lexicon of what is perceived a Christian today. In fact for a crash course on how many view Christians today, reflect a bit on this bumper sticker: "I'm for the separation of Church and Hate." Hmmmm...so "Honk if you love Jesus" today means, "Honk if you are on our side..." "Honk if you are one of us..." and all that honking only confirms the fact that those who are not honking don't want to have anything to do with those who are...

==============================================================

At the same link, we also have:

"More on those sticky bumper stickers"

Which opens with this Dylan quote:

"I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes
Then you'd know what a drag it is to see you." - Bob Dylan

and

"In case of rapture, can I have your car?"

which contains:

"Dolores, another of our readers writes: "My husband was a printer, and he loved the Lord, but he could always see things from the unsaved point of view. He found one bumper sticker particularly arrogant. Many cars in our area had one. It read: 'In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.' So my husband printed up his own bumper sticker that read, "'In case of rapture, can I have your car?'"

Now that's identification! Her husband understood unbelievers so well that he created a bumper sticker just for them that didn't presume or pressure their salvation. I love that. You know, if all those rapture people are going to heaven, I just might want to stay back, too."

========================================================

The interesting thing is that the bumper sticker was pulled off their car three times. The first two were in their church parking lot while they were in church; the last time was in the parking lot of the hospital in which Dolores' husband died of cancer. I guess those "Christians" showed Dolores, hey wot?

3/26/08

Corporate non-sequiturs

So I sent an email to the Walmart home planet, down in Benton, Arkansas, complaining about the long lines now extant in our local America's Favorite Place to Stand in Line, as well as the new Italian pita bread they've been pushing off on We the Consumer.

Here is their response:

Dear Mike,

When our associates, or their family members, suffer injuries or medical conditions which are the responsibility of others, our plan steps in to pay covered medical expenses so the associate and their families don't have to worry about their bills or have large out-of-pocket expenses. It is only after the associate or their family member receives a monetary payment from the responsible party, that our health plan becomes entitled to reimbursement.

"While the Shanks case involves a tragic situation, our responsibility is to follow the provisions of the plan which governs the health benefits of our associates. These plans are funded by associate premiums and company contributions. Any money recovered is returned to the health plan, not to the business. This is done out of fairness to everyone who contributes and benefits from the plan. The Supreme Court's denial of the Shank appeal concludes all litigation. The Court ruled that the benefit plan was entitled to the funds in the trust account, which was about $280,000, which is all it requested.

Thank you,
Wal-Mart Customer Relations"

I have no idea what they are talking about. What does the Shanks case have to do with Italian pita bread and long lines? Are they agreeing that Holy Italian bread is a "tragic situation"? Do we anticipate the stress caused by responding to these complaints to overstress the employees, leading to higher health benefit costs? Can I sue Walmart over the emotional turmoil caused by my 'maters falling through the hole, to the tune of $280,000? What are they trying to tell me?

Is it as simple as..."We don't care about you and your stupid problems; we are too busy making tons of munny pushing shoddy goods from China onto you and the rest of the yokels."

3/25/08

More election inanities

Here is the latest Obama blooper being passed around, along with the caption accompanying the photo as it makes its breathless rounds through the Innernet:

When you are faking a pose for a camera photo opportunity, at least you can get the phone turned in the right direction!

And he wants to be President??? ???



Yes, I think it's fairly obvious by now to even the dumbest cow-pie kicking hick from the sticks that Barack Obama wants to be President. My question is, who is he talking to?

My guess is that it's this guy:



By the way...the Obama picture is photoshopped. I dunno about Dubya's. Also, note the time in the photoshopped picture. 3:00. AM? Who knows. Someone has a sense of humah, though.

The Turkey Sandwich

So. Having a hankering for a nice turkey sandwich, on some nice Eye-talyun bread, I went to Walmart, otherwise known as America's Favorite Place to Stand in Line.

I scarfed up on some very nice deli turkey, and picked up a loaf of Italian bread. Unsliced.

After standing in line for...oh...twenty minutes...which wasn't bad for the express line, considering there were 12 people in line ahead of me and it was backed up to the leftover Easter cards section across the aisle, I paid for my goods and made my way to the parking lot, which these days looks like a blow-over from the county landfill.

At home, I laid out the goods in eager anticipation. I first took a slice off a round of Edam cheese. Then I sliced a Roma tomato. Then I took the lid off the mayo. And then, I got my bread knife and sliced The Loaf.

And here is what I found:



Pita bread. The Italians have apparently taken to pita bread. Yep. More often than not, almost always, in fact, this is what you will find when you slice open a loaf of Sam's Italian bread from America's Favorite Place To Stand in Line. I suspect this is the last loaf we will purchase there.

What's a little airspace among friends, you ask? Well...here ya go:



Fortunately the Edam cheese keeps the turkey and the 'maters from falling through. You just have to make sure the cheese stays on the downside.

Of course, this whining is really a demonstration of just how spoiled I am. I guess I could be in Darfur, starving.

So I'm truly thankful for Pita Bread from America's Favorite Place to Stand in Line. I just don't realize how truly lucky I am.

Dashing for the cars "under sniper fire"



Too late?


A while back the Christian Fundies, aided, as it turns out, by a couple of Hillary's campaign workers, were sending out hundreds of thousands of copies of that stupid email about how Obama was really a Muslim.

Then, when it was pointed out that he has been a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ up in Chikaga for a number of years, it was either..."he just did that to cover his tracks" or "that church has a black agenda."

There is no evidence that Obama joined that church 'just to cover his tracks'. That's just more of the fevered babblings of the Christian Right. And, as we have previously stated, there is nothing wrong with a church with a predominantly black congregation having a predominantly black agenda. After all, a typical Christian Fundamentalist church is white, and has a white agenda. What's good for one 'lamb' should be good for another.

But the nature of the Reverend (and we use the term loosely) Wright's rants is such that, like many Fundamentalist preachers, he has gone far, far beyond Christ's message and is delivering his own twisted hate-mongering. And now that he has been well and truly outed, Obama has been 'distancing' himself from Wright. Obama essentially states that just because a friend behaves stupidly on one issue doesn't mean one should dump him. That's true. Any other politician would have done a Pontius Pilate on Wright and washed his hands of him. Obama claims not to support Wright's message, at least in the 'sermons' (and we use the term loosely) that have come to light, but he still considers him a pal. That's OK. At least Obama has shown that he has some guts.

Sinking to a new low

DinkyDau Billy was engrossed in his copy of the WSJ when we walked into The Holy Land Quickee's for a cuppa cappie. He seemed...disgruntled.

"What's up, Billy?" asked Leece, as she went for the French Vanilla.

"This Clinton woman, she sunk to a new low with this latest suckbutt effort to make hersef look good," he said.

"What did she do now?" Leece asked, not even raising an eyebrow at the "suckbutt". She is used to 'that Clinton woman' and her shenanigans.

"Didja hear how she was goin' on about how she had to run from her airplane, duckin' to avoid 'sniper fire', way back when at Tuzla?"

"Yup. Sure did," I said,"I was wondering if she was going to put herself in for a Freedom Medal or try to get the rules changed so she could get a Silver Star or somesuch. After all, anyone who would put her ass on the line for her country like that deserves some kind of Accolade From A Grateful Nation, doncher think?"

Billy sort of snarled as he tossed the WSJ aside. "I don't think so," he snarled again,"she ain't no better than these sleazebag weasels what claim to be vets an ain't, or claim fake medals for nonexistent acks a bravery. She's a cheap sleaze, and this is just one more proof of it."

"No argument here," quoth I.

"Ditto here," agreed Leece.

We sat down with Billy and pondered the pathetic type of personality that has to make such claims in order to make her pathetically self-serving life appear to matter.

3/24/08

Boosting the economy

DinkyDau Billy was snuffling one of those Juan Diego cheeseburgers when we walked into The Holy Land Quickee's. He had two of them in front of him, and one about half down the hatch. He had an extra large diet Dr.Pepper fountain drink, too.

"Wow, Billy, are you going to be able to pedal around after all that?" Leece asked him.

"Mmmphblmargmphth," he replied.

"Say again?" I asked.

Billy masticated mightily and swallowed. He looked like an Amazon anaconda swallowing a peccary.

"Whew!" he gasped, "that was pretty good. They's the best burgers in town!" he exclaimed.

"They're the only burgers in town," Leece observed, "unless you're doing your own at home."

"Yeah. Yeah. That's what I meant."

"So. What are you going to do with your economic stimulus package?" Leece asked him.

"Huh?"

"That refund from the IRS," she amplified.

"Oh. Oh. Well, Dubya says I should go shopping with it. I was thinkin' a takin' the Harley to Pebbler."

"Billy, you have sixteen different restraints against your driver's license. You get bagged on that, don't expect us to come bail you out," I told him.

"Well, I can't take the Harley no how," Billy shared with us.

"Why not, other than the obvious?" Leece asked him.

"Who can afford gas to go shoppin'?" he asked.

Good point.

"Well, you can always shop local," she pointed out.

"Yeah. Yeah."

"I'm taking Leece out to dinner with our check, and then we're going to go to America's Favorite Place to Stand in Line and examine finely tailored wimmin's wear," I confided.

"Yeah? Yeah? Where ya goin' ta dinner?" he asked.

"I was thinking right here at Juan Diego's," I told him, "We'd be supporting local bidness and I wouldn't have to buy any Arab imports."

"Hey. Hey. That's an All-Merkin attitood," he said, "good fer yew. What's that 'Favorite Place to Stand in Line'?

"Walmart,"I explained, "it used to be 'America's Favorite Place to Shop', but now it's 'America's Favorite Place to Stand in Line'. Ever try going out there to get some stuff from the deli and have lunch over in the Subway shop?"

"Oh. Yeah. Yeah. I gotcha. Did that today. I gots some a that broklee salad an a couple chicken laigs. Then I got behind thirteen people in lane 2 and I waited and I waited and I waited some more. The line was clear across the aisle."

"Yep. That's pretty typical these days. Ain't even worth goin' out there for lunch. Too much aggravation."

"You could use your cell phone to call the manager," he suggested.

"Did that. No joy. Got some babe on the phone who put me on hold and then I talked to someone who was pretty much clueless," I explained.

"Shoot. Hey. Hey. You could go to Love's. They's gots good subs." Billy remembered his first night in The Smile Hi City, which was spent snuffling day old subs and snoozing at one of the tables.

"Can't. They took those tables out a long time ago. I think it was because of that Mondragon feller who passed out on one of the tables. But first he puked all over it. Then he put his head down in it. He had long hair, too. Real long hair. Like an Injun."

"That must have been attractive to other customers," observed Leece.

"Yep.You weren't going to see that one in the Chamber newsletter," I snickered.

"So wutter you gonna do?" he asked.

"Well, I guess we'll go have a romantic dinner at Quickee's, and then go home and shop on the Innernet. Can't afford gas, and I ain't waitin' in line like that again," I said, with more than a small amount of righteous indignation.

"I'll see if they can put candles on the table here," Billy said, plotting and scheming.

It was going to be a good dinner.

"Hey. Hey. Youse gice are serious? You really wouldn't bail me out?"

"Nope. You'd have to stay there and pay your debt to society," Leece told him.

He was crushed.

3/20/08

New City Services and Information pamphlet

Jan Schooley, our municipal clerk, has created a new City Services and Information pamphlet. It lists all of the city's board members, city departments, contact numbers, and an index of services provided by the city's departments.

You can download it in PDF format by going to the city's website:

City of La Junta

and clicking on the New! link next to the city seal.

3/19/08

Another bite from Barack

This is great! No answer from the Obama campaign about Michelle Obama and the closing of Bay Foods, and the subsequent laying off of over one hundred of our neighbors just before Christmas...but we continue now to receive more pitches for donations to his campaign!

Talk about...chutzpah!

Not a burden; school reform

"It’s not a burden to ask voters to go to the polls and cast their ballots. Voters should consider it a mark of their liberty to be able to do so.

Many of Colorado’s county clerks seem to think that conducting such an election is an imposition on them. Last time we looked, it was the clerks who ran for office, and one of the responsibilities of that office is to conduct elections for the people, not for their own convenience."

That is an excerpt from this editorial in the Pueblo Chieftain:

Not a burden

It's a good editorial, and one with which those of us hanging around snuffling those Juan Diego burgers agree. Remember when we had DinkyDau Billy out picking ballots out of trash cans and voting them himself? That's not all that farfetched.

Stick with the polling places.

While we're at it, take a look at this:

Florida school reforms a model for Colorado



3/18/08

More from Brother Barack

We aren't getting any answer from the Obama machine about Bay Foods, but we are getting free propaganda complete with links to video, and even a "Donate" button so we can make donations by credit card. So...Michelle Obama played a role in killing 100-odd jobs in The Smile Hi City, and when we asked why that is...the Barack campaign wants us to give them money. Perhaps we should route this one to all the laid off pickle packers? I'm sure they want a change.

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2008 15:23:59 -0400
From: info@barackobama.com
Subject: Obama in his own words

mike or lisa --

Barack Obama just finished a major speech on race in America and building a more perfect union.
You should see it and read it for yourself. Here's the video and full text:

Video: Barack Obama in Philadelphia

http://my.barackobama.com/hisownwords

Please forward this message to everyone you know.

Thank you,

David

Donate

Paid for by Obama for America

Our reply: Yes, we saw that, thank you for sending it, but we are most interested at this point with what the candidate has to say about: Obama's La Junta Connection. Most of us have friends, many of us have family, who were ruined by the abrupt closing of Bay Foods. Given CNN's poll this morning, showing that Obama/Clinton/McCain are in a dead heat statistically, perhaps our few thousand votes in northern Otero County might actually be significant.What do you think? Should we ask Hillary?

Eliminating gun-related crime

Are you afraid of gun-related crime?

If so, the solution is at hand!

Click the video link below for a demonstration.





Get a wide variety of gun-crime elimination resources here

Obama for America

Thank you so much for your interview request. It is now in our system and our communications team will follow-up with you when we have a better idea of your request’s status. We understand the difficulties a delay in response may cause and certainly appreciate your patience.

If you need to follow-up with our team before you hear from us, please email media@barackobama.com. However, we will touch base with you as soon as we have an update.

Best,


Communications Team
Obama for America
www.barackobama.com

3/17/08

Obama's La Junta Connection?

This is an interesting little tidbit. Michelle Obama was in fact on the board of directors of Treehouse Foods from June 2005 through May 2007. But is this really a Kucinich spot? Who knows. It could have been pieced together by anyone, relabeled, and spun, folded, and mutilated. But we do know that Michelle was involved in a decision-making position during the time frame Bay Foods closed. And we do know those weasels closed it down just before Christmas, and we do know that the head cheeses have continued to pull down the big bux while the hicks from the sticks were laid off. Yep. It just makes me want to go around echoing Barack's 'change' mantra, paste campaign slogans on the car, put up signs in the front yard, and generally fawn all over the candidates, one and all, as though they too had risen on Easter Sunday. Yep. It sure does. What a collection of whores.

I wouldn't get too fond of Hillary over this. While Barack is taking his hits over the Rezko affair, let's remember that Hillary and Bill were very close to one of the key witnesses in that Rezko case. That would be Joseph Cari, currently under indictment for extortion and taking kick-backs. Cari was finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, and he had his fingers in a lot of Democratic campaign tills. There is more on this, here:

Corruption in Illinois

The tidbit about Michelle resigning from Treehouse Foods:

Michelle Obama resigns from Treehouse Foods board of directors

On to the Michelle spot, complete with a cast of locals:



We sent a request for comment to the Obama campaign but have heard nothing from them.

3/16/08

Psalm 91

Having checked the mail at The Holy Land post office, I wandered over to Quickee's for a cold one.

As my cup runneth over with Dr. Pepper, I noticed DinkyDau Billy sitting over at the far table, almost hidden from view. I did some further wandering, and plunked myself down at his table.

"Hi Billy. How they hangin', dude?" I asked.

Billy was engrossed with a copy of the New Revised Standard version. I noticed a couple of pieces of tattered note paper. One of them had some ugly brownish stains on it.

"What are these?" I asked.

"One of 'em is Psalm 91. I carried it with me alla time in-country," he told me, "and the other is one a my favrit hymns, 'Come thou fount of every blessing'. The words is by Charley Wesley, I think, or maybe not."

"I see. What's this brown stuff all over the copy of the psalm?" I asked.

"I had it with me when Joe Bob got hisself blown away," he said.

"Ah." There was not much to add to that, at least not with Billy.

Billy gets a bit melancholy every year this time. In 1971, he was a gunner on a Huey with the 48th Assault Helicopter Company, the 'Blue Stars'. They were heavily engaged with the North Vietnamese army during the ill-fated fiasco known as Lam Son 719. They lost a lot of people. It was during the rescue of the survivors of another Huey that had been shot down that Billy's co-pilot was sorely wounded. Billy was busted in the chops by fragments from a couple of rounds from a Chinese 12.7mm machine gun, a heavy gun similar to our Ma Deuce. The rounds hit his gun mount and splattered him with fragments of bullets and mount. To this day, if you look closely you can see the scars on his cheeks and over his eyes. With his gun out of action and his co-pilot bleeding badly, Billy was able to get him out of his seat, and though half-blinded himself, he tried to do first aid. Joe Bob died in Billy's arms, and it was hard to tell at the end whose blood was whose, they having bled so much over each other. So this time of the year, the anniversary weeks of Lam Son, Billy gets kind of moody. He is one of those guys that has a lot of trouble getting rid of the war in his head.

Psalm 91 has been carried in a lot of pockets in a lot of wars. That Billy had carried a copy was not really surprising. That he had kept that blood-soaked piece of paper all these years wasn't really surprising either.

"So you like 'Come thou fount of every blessing', huh? So do I."

"Yeah. I do. It brings me peace."

"Yeah. Yeah, it does, doesn't it."

So we sat there for a bit, thinking of absent companions.

"Come thou fount of every blessing":


And the Vietnam Helicopter History site's nicely done section on Lam Son 719:

Lam Son 719/Dewey Canyon II

The story of how DinkyDau Billy came to town
Republicans, wedding dresses, and altar calls
Gilbert Alvarado's account of 3 March 1971, from the Comancheros website. 

3/15/08

Time for a change

We've heard Brother Barack go on about 'change'. I'm not sure what he wants to change. He is good at sound bytes but short on details.

But as for change, consider this:

A little over one year ago:
1) Consumer confidence stood at a 2 1/2 year high;
2) Regular gasoline sold for $2.19 a gallon;
3) The unemployment rate was 4.5%.

Since voting in a Democratic Congress in 2006 we've seen:

1) Consumer confidence plummets;
2) The cost of regular gasoline soar to over $3 a gallon;
3) Unemployment is up to 5% (a 10% increase);
4) American households have seen $2.3 trillion in equity value
evaporate (stock and mutual fund losses);
5) Americans have seen their home equity drop by $1.2 trillion
dollars;
6) 1% of American homes are in foreclosure.

So much for change, especially under the Democrats.

3/14/08

Top Gear: Bugatti Veyron vs Eurofighter Typhoon

Here's one for Partsm and all the other car nuts:




See also:


Shelby Supercars

for the Shelby Ultimate Aero, which whupped up on the Bugatti and now stands as the world's fastest car

3/13/08

More on non-filers and the 'stimulus' rebate

Hopefully, this answers PARTSM's question:

Release No. 03-03-08

March 12, 2008

‘IRS Free File’ available for non-filers receiving stimulus payment

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) – Individuals who normally do not file a tax return, but must do so this year in order to receive their 2008 economic stimulus payment, can use a free filing tool. IRS officials announced these individuals can use the IRS Free File program to help them file returns for 2007.

The IRS and several of its partners in the Free File Alliance can now accept returns submitted by people who have no legal requirement to file other than to receive their payments. People in this category should take care to use only those companies listed on the Free File section for the payments under “Online Tools” at www.irs.gov.

“If you are only filing a return to receive your economic stimulus payment, Free File is a great option for you,” said Linda E. Stiff, acting IRS commissioner. “All you need to do is follow the simple instructions provided by the software. It’s easy, and it’s free.”

Individuals and families must have at least $3,000 of income from any combination of earned income, Social Security retirement or disability benefits, certain Railroad retirement benefits, or disability compensation, disability pension, or survivor benefits paid by Veterans Affairs. The minimum economic stimulus payment is $300 for individuals and $600 for married couples.

To obtain a payment, all people who are eligible for payments of up to $600 for individuals ($1,200 for married couples) must file a tax return in order for the IRS to know their name, address and eligibility. Parents also may qualify for a $300 payment for each eligible child younger than 17. Valid Social Security numbers are required.

Taxpayers who normally file a tax return and want to use Free File should simply go to the main Free File page on the Web and click “Start Now” to see a list of the 19 companies offering free preparation and electronic filing to the IRS. Free File is available to 97 million taxpayers who earn $54,000 or less.

There is no charge for using IRS Free File. With just a few answers, people can complete a simple form and use IRS e-file. IRS officials also urges all filers to use direct deposit, if they have a checking or savings account, because it is the fastest way to receive an economic stimulus payment.

Once people file a tax return, they do not need to do anything more. The IRS will do the rest and begin issuing payments in May. (Courtesy of the IRS)

CSAP

"Yo dawg! Wut up?" hollered DinkyDau Billy, as he slid to a stop in front of the Holy Land Quickee's.

We were sitting at the table outside, sipping our cappies. It was a bit chilly, but after the winter's darkness and cold, it was a fine morning indeed.

"We're looking at this article about algebra and CSAP," I said, "the one where they talk about pushing the 7th and 8th graders into algebra specifically so the high school will do better on CSAP."

"Huh. Huh. I thunk the idea was to prepare the kids, to educate the kids, to deal with real life. You mean it's just to make the schools look good?" Billy was astounded.

"I don't know if that was the original intent, but that's the way it has turned out," I said.

"They cite studies that show that adolescent brains aren't ready for the type of thinking required of algebra and some of the other higher maths," Leece pointed out.

"Adolescent brains aren't ready for much thinking of any kind," Billy chuckled, "but I take your meaning."

"It looks like roughly a quarter of the eighth graders are being sent up to the high school unprepared to deal with algebra, and there are no alternatives in place for them, other than perhaps that warehousing operation they have," I observed.

"Yeah, but to get into that, don't you first have to demonstrate your artistic skills with a can of spray paint, or some other socially horrific behavior?" Billy wanted to know.

"Something like that. Thing is, this very thing came up six years ago, and was ignored. So now we have six years of failure. But the rest of those kids have been able to handle the algebra and algebra precursors. So do we let the failures drive the program? That seems to be the way it goes these days. Can't have the schools looking bad, you know." Billy was a bit miffed by it all.

"There's another thing to consider," I pointed out.

"Yeah? Yeah?"

"What about Indian, or Chinese, or Korean, or Japanese, or most European kids in the same age bracket? How come their brains are sufficiently developed to whup our behinds in math and the sciences?"

"It's a kulchurul thing, I think," Billy said, thoughtfully stroking one of his dreads that was exposed like an octopus tentacle. "Our kids are more interested in MP3 players, PS3 and X-Box, watching some brain-rotting crap on the teevee, and being fashionable. How can you think critically, or abstractly, when you go home and focus on American Idol, Survivor, or whatever is on MTV, or what Hannah Montana is wearin'? Our kids have very strong thumbs and can text without looking. Can those furrin kids do that?"

"Ummmm...good point. So you think they should continue on with the algebra as it stands?"

"Naw. I think they should be figgurin out why them Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Yurrapeen kids are whuppin our butts and kin think abstractly, and why so many of ours can't. Figger that out, and we won't have to worry about makin' the schools look good. And flush them child psychology books down the school board's collective toilet."

3/11/08

IRS outlines economic stimulus payments for veterans, their families

If you know any vets or their survivors who are the low end of the income scale and do not normally file income tax returns, please print this and give it to them:

Release No. 03-02-08

March 10, 2008

IRS outlines economic stimulus payments for veterans, their families

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- “Leave no man behind” is a proud military tenet. It has a sacred meaning on the battlefield for the men and women of our armed forces, but it also has application in everyday life. Hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors are at risk of being left behind when it comes to the economic stimulus payments that will be paid this summer.

Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, a provision to pay so-called “rebates” to Americans who file tax returns. In so doing, they also extended the payments to include veterans and Social Security recipients who ordinarily do not have to even file a tax return. The minimum payment for those who qualify is $300 for individuals and $600 for married couples filing a joint income tax return.

The payments will be calculated by the Internal Revenue Service based on tax returns filed now through the end of 2008 reporting income received and taxes due for the 2007 tax year. But since some veterans and their survivors do not make enough income to have to file a tax form, there is great concern that they might miss the opportunity to receive money coming to them.

This year, veterans who do not otherwise have to file anything with the IRS will want to send in a tax form in order to receive a stimulus payment, according to IRS officials. This applies to veterans and their survivors who receive certain pension and disability payments which are not taxable.

Veterans who have income other than veteran’s benefits and are required to file a tax return and pay taxes for 2007 have nothing more to do. Beginning this summer, they will automatically receive their economic stimulus payments after they file their tax forms. This would include people who receive non-taxable pension or disability payments from the VA, but who also work and earn enough to have to file and pay taxes.

But veterans who receive VA pension or disability payments, sometimes in combination with Social Security or Railroad Retirement Tier I payments (generally none of which are taxable) will need to file an abbreviated tax form this year so the IRS can send them the stimulus payment they are entitled to receive.

Here is how it works -- Those who have no tax liability and are not required to file a tax return may qualify for a minimum payment of $300 ($600 if filing a joint return) if they send the IRS a simple tax return that reflects $3,000 or more in qualifying income. For the purpose of the stimulus payments, qualifying income includes veterans’ disability compensation, and pension or survivors’ benefits received from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2007. Specifically, compensation or pension received under Chapter 11, Chapter 13, or Chapter 15 of Title 38, U.S. Code will qualify.

3/10/08

Achmed the camel-driver's wife's Lenten Soup

Billy was poring over a piece of paper as we walked into The Holy Land's Quickee's.

"What's up there, Billy?" asked Leece.

"I'm gittin' all the ingredients for my Lenten soup together. I'm makin' a list and checkin' it twice," he replied.

"It's Easter we're coming up on, Billy, not Christmas," Leece told him.

"Huh? Huh?"

"Never mind. Do you have everything you need?" she asked.

"Yep. Cept cardamom. Cardamom is ten bux a bottle in America's Fav'rit Place To Shop. I dunno if I want to put that much into it. I gots everything else," he advised.

"Hmmm..." she ruminated. "Does it matter if it's green or black cardamom?"

"Huh? Huh?"

"Green cardamom, or 'al-Hayl' in Arabic, is probably what you want. It's a member of the ginger family and is often used to flavor dishes in the middle East," she informed our stalwart. "I have some green cardamom at home. Would you like to come over to make this stuff there?"

"Kin I? Kin I?" Billy was enthusiastic. The last time he was over was for Saturday morning breakfast when all the kids were over. They were learning how to make omelettes, with some of that applewood smoked ham, Edam cheese (except for Tookie, who prefers Gouda), green onions, and shiitake mushrooms soaked overnight in a decent brandy.

"Of course you can. Come over Thursday evening and we'll get it all ready, and we'll start it in the slow cooker Friday morning. That way it will be ready Friday evening," she instructed.

"OK. OK. That's so cool. I'll bring over the stuff then. Hey. Hey. One other thing?"

"Yes?"

"I gots some New Zealand lamb chunks, ya know, for, like, a lamb stew?"

"Yes?"

"This Lenten soup is usually a veggie soup, no meat."

"Yes?"

"If'n I add some lamb to it, kin we call it ..."

"I wouldn't even think of going there, Billy," Leece interrupted.

"Yeah. Yeah. We'll stick with plain ol' Lenten soup." Billy almost always takes Leece's advice.

And with that, he took off in a cloud of dust, dreadlocks in disarray.

Achmed the camel-driver's wife's Lenten soup:

You need a couple of onions, medium-sized ones, preferably red. Dice those puppies up. Also a couple of cloves of minced garlic; a teaspoon or two of freshly grated ginger (to taste; freshly grated is strongly flavored); a cup of prepared lentils (red ones, or brown, cooked); 1 can of garbanzo or chick peas; another can of those cannellini beans (or white Northerns); a couple of cups of fresh Roma tomatoes, diced; a handful of diced carrot; a handful of diced celery; one or two teaspoons of garam marsala (start with one and taste to increase or increase to taste); same amount of cardamom; a couple of good shakes of cayenne; no more than a teaspoon of cumin unless you really like the stuff; a tablespoon or two of good olive oil. Six cups of water. Water from the village well is best but tap water will work.

In your main soup pot, saute the onions, garlic and ginger in some olive oil. Add the well water, lentils, garbanzos/chickpeas, cannellinni beans, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and the rest of the spices. Boil it up then let it simmer till everything plays well together.

Serve with pita bread baked over a camel dung fire. If that isn't available, Italian bread from Walmart works well. It has enough large holes in it from poor kneading that it's pretty much a pocket bread anyway.

3/7/08

The latest whine

Now, the Democrats are whining about the Florida and Michigan delegates being 'disenfranchised'.

They are whining that "a Republican-controlled legislature and a Republican governor" forced the Democratic Party to move their primary ahead of the date mandated by the DNC.

Yet, on June 11, 2007, the Florida Democratic Party said, in a press release:

"Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Orlando) today announced that the Florida Democratic leadership voted unanimously to accept January 29 as the date for the binding 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary in Florida."

The Florida legislature did indeed vote to move the primary date forward. The Florida house vote in support of that, through house bill 537, was 118 to 0. That's pretty unanimous. Is the entire Florida house made up of ...Republicans? The Florida senate vote was 37-2. Are there only 2 Democrats in the Florida senate? Surely Florida's Democrats in their legislature would not participate in such a heinous move?

A look at the Florida house indicates that there are lots of Democrats in that chamber.

Florida house

A look at the Florida senate shows quite a few more than two Democrats.

Florida Senate

So. The Democrats supported the change of dates, and they knew what would happen. The DNC would refuse to seat the Florida Democrats, or would refuse to allow them to vote. They went ahead with it anyway.

Now they want to change the rules. Now they holler "King's X!" and want a 'do over'.

A 'do over'?

How incredibly childish.

The Ogre

John Robertson continues to throw fits over the Army, and how unfeeling and insensitive they are. In his latest, he goes on - again - about how LtCol Rice, when queried, admitted to having never walked on The Land In Question. "But I've flown over it..." Rice allegedly said.

This is an indication of how 'callous' Rice is.

Huh.

Well...I've lived down these parts a bit more than thirty years, and I've never set foot on that land, either. I haven't even flown over it.

Why?

Because those ranchers don't allow we hoi polloi on their land. Try going down there just as Joe Citizen and asking if you can go on their land to take pictures, or maybe cycle some of the cow paths or whatever. See what kind of a response you get.

Can you imagine an Army lieutenant colonel showing up at Robertson's place and asking to set foot on it?

Have any of those ranchers invited Rice to set foot on their lands? If it's private property, how else could he do so, without being accused of trespassing? If he were invited, and refused, how come they have never said so?

But it makes for a good sound byte, doesn't it? Getting all outraged over it? They oughta make a TV spot. They could have a guy dressed in cammie fatigues holding a blanket over his head while he runs for a Blackhawk, while Robertson, of serious mein, intones..."Here we have the infamous LtCol Jim Rice, the Ogre of Pinion Canyon, hiding himself in shame as he runs away to callously fly again over our lands...".

That might strike a chord with a few, but outside the local area, it sounds...cowpie stoopid. It oughta sound cowpie stoopid to the people around here, too.

"War is a force that gives us meaning"

When Chris Hedges' book bearing that title was published back in 2003, I understood it. The title phrase, that is. Once I read the book, I understood why I understood it. I had done five tours in Vietnam and Thailand during the war. I volunteered for all but the first. It is easy to get caught up in the immensity and the intensity of it all. I knew grunts who volunteered for several tours. If there was anyone who you would think would avoid repeats of grunt tours, you'd think it would be...grunts. But there were many who went back. And contrary to popular belief, the majority of GI's who served in Vietnam were volunteers, enlistees rather than draftees. That's right out of the VA stats. Hedges' book went a long way toward explaining why we did that.

Hedges' latest is "I Don't Believe in Atheists". From the front flap of the cover: "'...[Hedges] observes that there are two radical, polarized and dangerous sides to the debate on faith and religion in America: the fundamentalists who see religious faith as their prerogative, and the new atheists who brand all religious belief as irrational and dangerous. Both sides use faith to promote a radical agenda, while the religious majority, those with a committment to tolerance and compassion as well as their faith, are caught in the middle."

Yep. I'm not too worried about the New Atheists. What should be of great concern for that 'religious majority', those caught in the middle, is the Christian Fundamentalists. Since we've been on this theological kick, I have had all kinds of people tell me that they will not go to church because of the fundamentalists, all for reasons already discussed here, and then some. And, that it's about time that someone stood up to the fundies. If more of the silent suffering majority would do that, perhaps the fundies would get the message that not nearly everyone buys into their particular line of bovine excrement.

The more people the fundamentalists drive from the church, the more those New Atheists win.

Who is doing the real damage to the church?

Coming up...John Wesley and Imago Dei...

3/6/08

Easter eats

Billy was back from Pebbler, with his Eye-talian beans. As Leece and I walked back from The Barista, we came upon him sitting on his favorite bench, in front of Ringo's. He was, as usual, gnawing on a chicken leg. The bag of WondeRoast was on the bench next to him. It looked like it had spent the night in the dumpster.

"Hey. Hey. Howzitdoon? Wanna chicken laig?" he asked.

"Is it fresh, or from the dumpster out back," I asked.

"Hey. It was OK. The bag was still sealed," he explained.

"Hmmmm...OK. I'll take one. It was cold last night," I rationalized, accepting the proffered piece.

Leece passed on the opportunity. Leece has higher standards than the rest of us.

"Hey. Hey. I'm makin' up a list a churches what are havin' potlucks on Easter," Billy revealed.

"Why is that, Billy?" Leece asked.

"Well, I was reedin' that whatever it is that pastor wrote in today's fishwrapper," he explained, "that thing that was supposed to be a devotional but sounds more like a pistol-whippin'...the one about goin' ta church on Easter out of guilt or misery or worry, or jist so's you can get some free eats."

"Yes?"

"The free eats sounded purty good. I guess I'll go to the one what's got the best eats, and lissen to the preacher lambaste us all about what no-good, sinnin' part-time Christians we all are, and how's we is there outa guilt or worry or whatever. Then I'll go git the eats," he told us.

"Makes sense to me," I agreed, "though I didn't realize we went to church on Easter out of worry or fear or guilt, or maybe even out of wanting to get some free eats."

"Me neither. Back when I was goin' reg'lar like, I felt purty good about Easter. I felt like yellin' 'He is risen! Joy to the world!', ya see. I guess all this time I was supposed to be feelin' miserable about myself. I guess I've missed out on a lot a what it means t'be one a them Christians."

"'Joy to the world' sounds kind of Christmasish," said Leece, "but I understand what you mean."

"So wuddya think? Should we go to that Episcopal church? Or...I hear that bald-headed preacherman's church gots some good potlucks."

"My money's on the bald-headed preacher man's outfit, Billy. I think we'll go there. Why don't you come along. I don't think he requires you to feel bad, or guilty, or filled with worry over Christ's resurrection. He isn't much of a lambaster, either."

"OK. Will I have to cut my dreads?" he asked.

"Nope. Come as you are."

Achmed the camel-driver

Leece and I walked out of The Holy Land's Quickee's with our cappuccinos. As we did, Billy came skidding up on his Ghisallo. He was decked out in his Spongebob Squarepants cycling suit and his roadie helmet, the one with "FTA" stickers and other colorful sayings all over it.

"Hey. Hey. I'm on my way ta Pebbler," he announced.

"Oh? Do you have a 12 Step meeting today?" asked Leece. Billy attends a program across from that big liquor store on Elizabeth.

"Nope. Nope. I needs some cannellini beans for my Achmed the Camel-driver Lentil soup, and they ain't gots none here in town," he confided.

"Achmed the Camel-driver?" I asked.

"Yeah. Yeah. It's his Lentil soup recipe. Akshully, his wife's."

"Oh. So...who is Achmed?"

"A camel driver," Billy replied, somewhat puzzled at the question, the answer to which seemed self-evident to him.

"No...I mean, how do you come to have Achmed's wife's recipe for Lentil soup?" I clarified.

"Oh. Well, Achmed is a Vanguard investor. We met on the Vanguard investors' blog and got to be email pals. He's a disabled vet, too," Billy explained.

"Really? One of ours?" I asked.

"Nope. Nope. Egyptian army. He got his butt kicked by the Israelis. Two or three times. He can't remember. So he's disabled, you see," Billy explained.

"Ah. He's Egyptian. I see," said Leece.

"No, he's really Moroccan, but he moved to Egypt as a kid, so he's kind of an Egyptian now," Billy went on.

"So you are going to serve up an Arab...Muslim, I guess...Lentil soup after the Lenten service. Well. That's...ecumenical..." I noted.

"Naw. Achmed ain't no Muslim," Billy told us.

"Oh. Well, I just figured he would be," I said.

"You shouldn't make assumptions," Billy said, "you know the old saying."

"Yep. Shore do."

"Achmed is a deacon in his church, too," Billy said, enthusiastically. Secular enthusiasm, not theological enthusiasm. He was OK.

"What church is that?" asked Leece.

"Achmed is a deacon in the Coptic Christian Church of Alexandria," Billy revealed.

We were silent for a moment.

"Well...that will make for an interesting conversation point during dinner, won't it?" Leece observed. Leece is nothing if not an optimist.

"Yeah. Yeah. Hey. Hey. I gots ta git goin'. See youse gice laters on."

And with that, he took off down the highway.

3/5/08

Lenten sacrifices

We were sitting on the rail of The Holy Land's bridge over the Arkansas. We were watching the sunset. It was a pleasant evening, though it would chill down quickly with the sunset. "Spring-like" day is not entirely the real thing.

"What do you think about the British bishops plan for a 'carbon fast' during Lent?" asked Leece.

"You mean where they's gonna 'snub' plastic bags and give up the dishwasher for a day, so as to suffer symbolically like Christ suffered?" asked Billy.

"Yes. What do you think of that?" she asked again.

"Well, when I was a kid, our church was St Casimir's, up in Buffalo," I said, "and we were expected to give up serious stuff for Lent. Not like today, where giving up soda pop is considered a major sacrifice. I have a hard time relating giving up an electric dishwasher for a day out of the week as any kind of 'sacrifice', and 'snubbing plastic bags' is kind of farcial, don't you think? Is that the best the church leadership can come up with?."

"Hey. Hey. I gots an idea," shared Billy.

We all glanced over at him. Tookie stopped slurping her artichoke popsicle and waited for it.

"I'm gonna give up Charmin'," he announced, "and just use paper towels. Now there's a real sacrifice. Kind a like them penitentes an' self-flagellation."

"What you should do is start using a lot more Bean-O," interjected Tookie. "That would help reduce the methane levels in the atmosphere."

"Yeah. Yeah. I figgered that. But wut about usin' paper towels instead a Charmin'? Re-cycled paper towels, too. Them bishops'll be proud a me. Ain't it grand to see the church leadership comin' ta grips with the vital issues a the day?"

We went back to watching the sunset, pondering the inestimable mysteries of the human mind thoroughly corrupted by theology.

"An' I gots a reel good recipe for Lentil soup, too," Billy whined, "cuz they say they's gonna have Lentil soup after the Lenten services."

We continued watching the sunset in pointed silence.

Senior bishops call for carbon fast during Lent

St Casimir's Roman Catholic Church (good example of a Byzantine architectural style church, and a spectacular place for First Communion and Confirmation)

3/4/08

On the nature of 'enthusiasm'

Leece just put up a new article on Wesley's view of 'enthusiasm'. It sounds a bit weird at first, at least it did to me, but when I put it in Wesley's context, and applied it to...oh...our anti-abortion pastors who are willing to rant and rave and point fingers and little else, it fit perfectly. It also fits, come to think on it, to just about any version of fundamentalism. In fact, think about your typical political rally, where 'enthusiasm' is highly touted, while reason and logic go out the window.

Here it is:

The Nature of Enthusiasm

2nd Battalion 8th Marines Scout Sniper Platoon

3/3/08

Getting back to fundamentals

Coming up to the Barista's entrance, I saw Leece's Tassajara, DinkyDau Billy's Litespeed, and Tookie's HotRock, all chained to the handicapped parking sign by the curb. It looked like the parking lot of a yuppie biker bar. I pushed open the door and there were my three favorite malcontents, social activists, evangelists, and proponents of the First Amendment.

Tookie was, as usual, licking her spoon. She had a triple scoop of some kind of technicolor ice cream in front of her. A small bowl of chocolate covered espresso beans and a little plastic container of Thai hot peppers rounded out her snackfest. Billy and Leece had their noses buried in books, the remains of their lunches before them. So much for waiting for we hoi polloi. I sat down.

Billy was reading LeClerc's "Singleness of Heart: Gender, sin, and holiness in historical perspective." That was a little different. Billy's an Old Testament kinda guy. Usually you'll find him 'reedin' stuff by Stonewall Jackson or Curtis Lemay or Arthur Harris. Leece was into something about heresy. She was working on a paper for LeClerc. They were...focused. In other words, they ignored me as I ordered.

I noticed Billy was back to wearing his tinfoil hat. He always does that until his taxes are filed. Otherwise, the gummint will be able to use their secret mind-reading rays to find out where he is fudging on his deductions.

I ordered one of those rather delicious quiche and salad combos.

"Hey. Hey. If'n it ain't The Brute," observed Billy.

"Pardon me?" I said, puzzled.

"You know what I mean. You bin pickin' on that pastor group agin, ain'tcha?" he pointed out.

"I don't see it that way," I replied, "what the deal is, is they think they write whatever they want and we're all supposed to just shut up and swallow it."

"Yeah. Yeah. I heerd they was gonna pack up their pens and not do anymore a them dee-voshunuls," he said.

"Oh? 'Devotionals'? Is that what those are?"

"Yeah. Yeah. Hey. Hey. Ya heered they's got proof of Noah's flood? They done found fish fossils up on Pike's Peak. Proof of the flood. How else would fish fossils git up there?" Billy continued, changing the subject.

"Plate tectonics?" chimed in Tookie, who took a bite of Thai pepper, and then spooned up some gooey ice cream with 'spresso beans on top of it.

"Plate tectonics takes millyuns and millyuns of years," Billy pointed out.

"So?" asked Toot Sweet.

"So everybody knows the earth is only 6,000 years old, so plate tectonics is another one a them Darwin lies. Anyone with any sense a-tall knows that," he said.

We all stared at him.

"Wut?"

"Are you serious?" Leece asked.

"Hey. I'm an Old Testament kinda guy," he whined.

"Are you serious?" Tookie asked him, staring at him intently, as if trying to see if he were off his meds.

"Well...no...you gice quit starin' at me," he whined, some more.

"Huh. Well, write that one in to the paper and see what happens," Tookie insisted, "you'll have 'em tarring and feathering you as a heretic."

"Naw. They'll just sulk and not write any more articles, what with them bein' attacked and persecuted and all," Billy snickered.

"Attacked? Persecuted? What horsecrap," Tookie sneered, earning a frown of disapproval from Leece.

"Settle it down, young lady, or I'll settle your hash," she told Toots.

Toots flounced about a bit before continuing, "Well, think on it. Right now, someplace in this world there are people holding services in a basement, or in some other place of hiding, knowing full well that if they are discovered, the jackboots will kick down the door or rifle butts will beat it down. And then the thugs would drag 'em out on the street and beat them senseless, maybe even shoot them."

She had a point. That sort of thing does happen. The Chinese don't take kindly to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Neither do the various Islamic republics.

"So when they start whining about being 'attacked', I have to wonder if they have a clue how ...well...just how cowpie stoopid they sound," Tookie went on, "Do they really think a clerical collar exempts them? Speaking of which, I think these churches where the pastors actively campaign for a particular candidate should lose their tax exempt status. Maybe then they'll pay attention to...fundamentals...".

Billy snorted a Thai pepper up his nose and broke out in a violent coughing and sneezing fit. Leece was quietly having a laughing fit. Me? I just helped myself to Tookie's ice cream while she smacked Billy on the back.

Redux: Royce’s “Doctrine of Life” in an Age of Fundamentalism and Materialism

The author of the paper in question is Dr. Richard Mullin, Professor Emeritus at Wheeling Jesuit University's Philosophy Department. He is presenting it this month at the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy (SAAP) Conference at Michigan State University. Note Dr. Mullin's observations regarding fundamentalism.

Dr. Mullin has given us permission to use his paper on Royce.

We recently had the opportunity to watch "Ablaze with Love: The Living Legacy of Our Nazarene Foremothers". In that video, the decline of women as ministers within the church is in part attributed to fundamentalism.

The video will be shown again at La Junta's First Church of the Nazarene, 10th and Topeka, at 7 PM March 5. It is an excellent presentation, debunking many fundamentalist viewpoints about women serving on an equal footing with men and illustrating the service to the Church Universal of which women are capable.

But we wander afield. Here is "Royce’s “Doctrine of Life” in an Age of Fundamentalism and Materialism" again:

In his 1913 work, The Problem of Christianity, Josiah Royce asks whether a modern person can be a Christian in creed. Of course there are people in the modern era who identify themselves as Christians, but Royce asks whether the Christians are modern persons, and, if so, whether their Christianity is consistent with their modernity. By “modern man” Royce meant a person “whose views are supposed to be not only the historical result, but a significant summary, of what the ages have taught mankind”[1] His definition is a summary of the hypothesis “that the human race has been subject to some more or less coherent process of education.” Royce does not limit the notion of modernity to the period from the 17th to the 20th century as we might do. Rather he argues that by his definition, the term “modern” applies to anyone in any era, who affirms “…that the human race, taken as a whole, has some genuine and significant unity, so that its life is no mere flow and strife of opinion, but includes a growth in genuine insight” (PC 63-64). By this definition, St. Paul was a “modern man” of his era and he presented his teaching as the outcome of a coherent process of education. Since the definition involves progress, a modern person in one era cannot interpret the world the same as a modern man who lived two millennia earlier.

A First Century Christian in the Twentieth Century

A vast contrast separates St. Paul’s world from our modern age, a contrast whose vastness we know but perhaps do not often consider. Royce invites us to think of the contrast by a thought experiment in which a member of a Pauline community goes into a deep coma and is preserved and resuscitated in the 20th century.[2] Royce stipulates that the person of his thought experiment is a well-educated philosopher who had been converted by St. Paul.

The visitor would learn our language and be educated in the whole history of civilization up to the present. The visitor would find many things that no member of his Pauline community could have expected. Nineteen hundred years had gone by, Christ had not returned, and the world had not ended. The earth had been mapped and traveled; he learned of whole continents and peoples that he and his contemporaries had not suspected existed. Our Pauline Christian awakening in 1913 would learn of transoceanic ships, transcontinental railroads, huge cities, electricity, and an effusion of factory-made goods. The earth does not sit at the center of the universe but revolves as a satellite of a star that is one of several hundred billion in a galaxy that in turn is one among billions of galaxies. The world would be more alien to our Pauline Christian than any imaginative science fiction world would be to us. Could the visitor absorb this modern world, give it his intellectual and ethical consent, and still be a Christian? Royce argues that every Christian faces the same problem in the modern world.

We can take a page from Royce and devise our own fiction. If a group of educated people fell asleep in 1913 and awoke in our time, they would face a situation similar to Royce’s Pauline Christian, but not nearly as severe. A person leaping over ninety years into our present time would certainly be overwhelmed by television, jet travel, space travel, computers and the internet, cell phones and the rest of our technology. Perceptive observers in 1913 might have predicted that the future would not be the sweetness and light that many others had predicted at the beginning of the modern era.

But when the visitors learned of the events just in the thirty-one years from 1914 to 1945, the horror would be overwhelming. Their expectations of the future would be assaulted by the reality of two world wars, the Holocaust, and nuclear and fire bombings of cities. They would learn that during the forty-five years following 1945 we lived under the shadow of a nuclear annihilation while famine and mass murders decimated whole populations, and today we live in chronic uncertainty of the future. The visitors might not be asking whether a modern person can be a Christian, but whether any person living today can be a “modern person” in Royce’s sense. They might think that the only people with a trace of sanity are those who call themselves post-modernists. According to Royce, a modern person was supposed to be one “whose views were not only the result of but a significant summary of what the ages have taught mankind.” But to the awakened persons, the human race seems to have turned all of its learning into a nightmare. Our visitors might look at science as more of a danger than a benefit. In considering technology they might remember the warning of William James who compared technological society to a child who got into a bathtub and accidentally turned the water on but did not know how to turn it off. Religion in its best sense appears impotent, but dangerous forms of fundamentalism exert power. The visitors might think of W. B. Yeats’s words, “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

The question that Royce posed for Christianity has not become easier in the ensuing years. But his answer retains its interpretative power. Royce’s answer to the question of a modern person being a Christian in creed requires a distinction between the historical and the essential in Christianity. The essence of the Christian creed, according to Royce, consists in its Doctrine of Life.

The Christian Doctrine of Life

A doctrine of life, as Royce uses the term, includes an ethical and a religious idea. The religious idea brings us into union with “some supremely valuable form or level of life.” The ethical idea teaches us our duty to live in accordance with the religious insight. Redemptive religions such as Christianity and Buddhism begin with a view of human life as lost and in need of redemption.[3] While Buddhism sees desire for individual existence as the source of suffering and teaches its followers to “extinguish” the individual ego, Christianity sees the individuals as having absolute worth. But the worth of the individual flows from being loved by God as a member of the “Kingdom of Heaven." Royce interprets the kingdom as the universal community. The unredeemed or sinful individual stands outside the community. Isolation constitutes “original sin.” Religion reveals the community as an ideal and the ethical duty requires us to work for the creation of such a community.

According to Royce, Christianity begins not in Jesus as an individual, but in the communities in which the members felt animated by the Spirit of Jesus. The specifics of the theology as well as the stories and symbols consist of historical and, to an extent, accidental forms. The essential ideas of Christianity are the need of the individual for atonement, salvation through the beloved community, and the Spirit as the life-giving power of the community. These are universal human truths of which the communities of St. Paul exhibited the first historical manifestation. Royce contends that these ideas are neither limited to nor dependent on any historical forms of the Christian Church.

The historical church cannot in truth declare itself to be a universal beloved community, but it can, and ethically must, proclaim the beloved universal community as a task to create.

Fundamentalism interprets the historical manifestation of the Doctrine in the Pauline community as a literal and final expression, which cannot be altered by the on-going education of the human race. If the visitor in Royce’s story refused to believe the insights gained from science and from the “education of the human race” for the last two millennia, he would not be a modern man. And if such a person actually existed, he would strike us as a comical character. In fact, we would have a problem imagining him anywhere except as a character in a comedy. But what if he generally accepted the education that the modern world provided except that in his religious creed he inconsistently clung to his first century worldview? Does that not express the plight of a contemporary fundamentalist?

In the dilemma faced by the fictional visitors we find Royce’s answer to the question of whether modern men and women can be Christians in creed. The answer is yes, if they do not confuse the essential truth of Christianity with its many historical expressions. The truth that Royce affirms is that the community is a reality and not just a collection of individuals, and the spirit of interpretation that ties the community together is real. According to the teachings of St. Paul, the community is the community of believers, and the spirit is the Holy Spirit. But Royce argues that any community of people tied together by a shared history and a hope in bringing the human race together as a Beloved Community is an expression of the truth that St. Paul taught. This would apply, for example, to a community of scientists who work together in loyal pursuit of truth, even if the scientists are atheists. Royce calls such communities, the "Invisible Church." The task of the Visible Church, the Church in the ordinary sense of the word, consists of serving as an exemplar of the Beloved Community. When the Church fails to do this, as it often fails, it does not perform its task.

Materialism as an Exemplar of Modern Thought

Since Roycean interpretation involves comparison, the viability of the Christian Doctrine of Life can be compared to modern thought, which to a great extent evolved independently of the Doctrine. I will take materialism as an exemplar of modern thought. Materialism may be immune to the disillusionment that has pervaded modernism since the beginning of World War I. If the world is just a conglomeration of molecules, it does not promise anything and if things go badly, that should be no surprise. Of the infinite number of possible universes, one of them had to evolve life like this and we are it. So let’s make the most of it; that’s all we can do. The good news is that if we are materialists, we can be modern men and women. Unlike the post-modernists, the materialists who call themselves naturalists believe in science and that some ideas are true while others are false. As materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett says:

If you want to find anxiety, despair, and anomie among intellectuals today, look at the recently fashionable tribe of post-modernists, who like to claim that modern science is just another in a long line of myths…. But it should be obvious that the innovations of science, not just its microscopes, telescopes, and computers, but its commitment to reason and evidence are the new sense organs of our species, enabling us to answer questions, solve mysteries, and anticipate the future in ways no earlier human institutions can approach. [4]

Dennett exemplifies Royce’s vision of the modern man who believes that the human race has been subject to some coherent process of education. Anyone who thinks scientifically can be called a modern person in this sense. Materialists try to proceed free of dogma, but many, if not all, are subject to at least one dogma. The materialist dogma holds that we cannot coherently speak of reason or consciousness independent of biology. Materialism sometimes mimics religious fundamentalism by bestowing on the contents of science a literal and final expression of truth.

Those who hold the materialist view find it more rational than other explanations because it speaks a language that they can understand, namely, chemistry and physics. Further it does not posit a reality or knowledge beyond their ken, and thereby it allows them to take intellectual control of their experience. The passion for the kind of rationality that allows us to stay in control was expressed by Freud who warned Jung of the danger of giving up the sexual theory. Freud’s theory explained the conscious and unconscious mind through a mechanistic process that Freud could deal with. Jung reports that Freud’s emotional plea to him was, “…promise me never to abandon the sexual theory…You see, we must make a dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark…against the black tide of mud of occultism.” Jung expressed alarm at the terms “dogma” and “bulwark” and understood the term “occultism” to include everything that religion and philosophy had learned about the psyche.”[5] So while materialism may serve as a comfort to some people the way that religion does to others, we can examine an alternative to the materialist theory asking whether such an alternative theory is plausible and if so whether it would threaten our rationality.

A key question for philosophy asks whether it is probable that nothing exists except that which we human beings can understand at this stage of our evolution. Can there be a consciousness that is not based on the evolution of the human brain? Might there be a higher consciousness that we are evolving toward, a consciousness which has a hand in the progress that we are making? Is such an idea coherent?

To probe this I will continue to call on the mature writings of Josiah Royce.

Royce learned from C. S. Peirce that interpretation is the faculty that gets us most in touch with reality. Most philosophers, including James, had identified two basic mental processes, perception and conception. But with the guidance of Peirce, Royce gained the insight that interpretation goes beyond percepts and concepts. For example, interpretation is the only way that we know that other minds exist.

Royce and the Community of Interpretation

Royce argues that we are brought to the very center of metaphysics by investigating the question of a Community of Interpretation. Distinct individuals are unified by certain ideas, events, and goals that are acknowledged by each member. Such a community involves a temporal process with a common history and common hopes. We can think of communities from clubs to universities to nations. We share a common history and a common hope that we try to interpret to each other. For example, Dennett praises “science” for its innovations and commitment to reason and evidence. Science is real and not merely a collection of men and women who work at it. Every philosopher and every scientist believes in a community of interpretation as a pre-supposition for the discipline itself. We do not discover these communities by perception or by conceptual thought, but we cannot seriously doubt their reality.

In comparing modern materialism to Royce’s idealism, we can turn to the issue of freedom. Dennett devoted a book to affirming the compatibility of freedom with materialistic determinism.[6] As a determinist, he argues that given a present state of affairs, only one state of affairs can follow. But because we can imagine several options, and our desires and plans are part of the state of affairs, then we choose freely. A conglomeration of molecules makes the decisions. But in that case do you make the decision? Yes, because you are nothing but the conglomeration of molecules. Decision makers are not Cartesian spaceless points. We make decisions over time and the process involves our brain and even our whole organism. Decisions are partly conscious and partly not conscious. When the whole organism acts with no sense of coercion or prohibition, we are acting freely. This notion of freedom remains consistent with the materialists’ understanding of nature.

While admiring the consistency and elegance of Dennett’s definition, we may question its adequacy. Dennett describes a free act as one in which “…the whole organism acts with no sense of coercion or prohibition.” This description could describe a young man who on his 21st birthday goes binge drinking with no fear of arrest for underage drinking or false ID. Or we could think of the looting in Baghdad after the coalition troops overthrew the Iraqi government. When reporters asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to comment on the looting, he said that the Iraqis are now free and that (looting) is what free people do. By Dennett’s definition the people in these examples, enjoy no more or no less freedom than those who choose to devote their lives to developing clean energy or to improving health care. I take it as obvious that we need a larger definition of freedom based on a larger world view than that of Dennett.

Royce’s notion of freedom means overcoming the capriciousness of our individual desires and even our narrow social ideals in favor of a loyalty to the universal community. After describing the chaos that prevails between individuals and within individuals, Royce affirms that salvation from this condition consists of a wider vision that enables us to "see life steadily and see it whole, and then to live triumphantly in the light of that vision."[7] (SRI, 50). The social world is wider than that of any individual and the ability to understand and share another's point of view corrects our own narrowness. Further, our social responsibility imposes a discipline that moderates our capriciousness

While our knowledge expands, it remains ever incomplete and we form opinions that we believe to be true. Royce insists that an assertion can be true only in relation to a larger consciousness to which the opinion of our partial consciousness conforms. The unity of meanings that belong to the implied larger consciousness Royce calls “the unity of the spirit.” The awareness of the unity of the spirit gives us a glimpse of a reality that transcends the consciousness of any human being and thereby enables us to share in the larger unity.

Loyalty to the universal community requires us to support the loyalty of all communities that work for the advancement of knowledge, including those who strive to explain all that they can by biological evolution. Royce’s idea of loyalty to the task of creating a Universal Community includes the work of scientists who are genuinely devoted to scientific truth. Such loyal scientists are those who strive to bring their personal opinions into conformity with science.

Darwinism can explain a lot, and scientists rightly push to see how much more it can explain. But we can be naturalists without holding to the narrow and pinched view of nature that our contemporary materialists hold. We can come to a fuller understanding of reality, as described by Royce, by interpreting the larger vision revealed in the work of the scientific community just as we can find a larger vision in a religious community or a justice-seeking community. The idea of an individual-transcending community can not only fulfill our spiritual needs and sustain our affirmation of free will, but also provide a strong basis for an environmental philosophy, ethical theory, political and economic philosophy, and many other insights. The glimpse of a partial unity leads to the task of creating a unity beyond our present knowledge.

[1] Josiah Royce. The Problem of Christianity (Washington DC: the Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 63; hereafter, PC.

[2] Royce tells the story in great detail over 14 pages, (PC 369 –384). The version presented here is a retelling of Royce’s story for the sake of brevity as well as updating from 1913. The meaning of the story is maintained.

[3] William James held that all religions begin with a sense of uneasiness, a problem with life as it is as well as a solution to the problem.

[4] Daniel Dennett. Freedom Evolves. (New York: Penguin Books 2003), 5

[5] Carl Jung. Memories, Dreams and Reflections (New York: Pantheon Books, 1963), 150.

[6] Dennett, Freedom Evolves, cited above.

[7] Josiah Royce. The Sources of Religious Insight (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1912) 50.