After Magritte

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We sold our souls for $300.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Church and State

The greatest development in human freedom is this idea: The government derives legitimacy from the consent of the governed. This started with the Magna Charta and was truly realized in the Declaration of Independence. The next key principle is that only the state has the ability to compel. These two principles lead to individual freedom. Church and state must be kept separate because as soon as you bring religion into the mix, you lose the first principle. Now you have a competing legitimizer. Once religion gets a foothold in the state, it has the power to compel – and freedom is lost. This gives you Iran today or England in the 1600s, where anyone claiming some religious authority has power over everyone else. The freedoms we liberals hate so much cannot exist without a separation of church and state.

Separation of church and state is under attack in this country. This may be the single greatest threat to our freedoms. The worst president in 100 years was reelected in 2004 because of the support of the Christian Coalition – and they expect repayment. James Dobson has more say in who is on the Supreme Court than Arlen Spector. Evolution is under attack in schools and Abstinence is all we preach to prevent pregnancy and AIDS. Even access to birth control is under attack and South Dakota is trying to outlaw all abortions. And of course, the #1 issue in our country is . . . gay marriage.

So, when I read this, I kinda got a little pissed.

I fully recognize that After Magritte is not the best blog in the world. There are others that are better. In my defense, I will say juggling an actual job, 2 kids, a house to maintain is a lot of work. I don’t have that much time to blog. All that beer is not going to drink itself. This blog is half-assed at best. That said, it is time for a new feature: What crap is on the NY times op-ed page today that even I would be ashamed to publish.

Why, then, are the enlightened so conspicuously up in arms these
days, reiterating every possible argument against the existence of God? …The
most obvious answer is that the armies of disbelief have been provoked.
Articulate secularists may be merely reacting to the many recent incitements
from religious zealots at home and abroad, as fanatics and infidels have their
ways of keeping each other in business. A deeper and far more unsettling answer,
however, is that the popularity of the current counterattack on religion cloaks
a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society that it is not the story of
religion but rather the story of the Enlightenment that may be more illusory
than real

I will give our author this, he almost got it. The most obvious answer is correct. As a member of the secular society, let me be the first to say that my anxiety is primarily based on the fears of crazy religious nutjobs jamming their religion down my throat. I am worried that our country is in an endless war in Iraq. I am worried that the man with the hand on the button sees himself as some holy Christian warrior trying to bring out the end of days. I am worried that my kids will not be taught evolution or sex-ed in schools. These things worry me. I am even slightly concerned about the approximately 900,000,000 Muslims who wake up in the morning thinking about how to kill me. Actually, I am more flattered by the last one. Add to that to an irrational fear of snakes and I really don’t have any room for fear of the Enlightenment’s illusory nature.

Oh and please don’t equate those who believe in evolution with those who shoot abortion doctors. We are really not 2 sides of the same coin. Mr. Shweder continues:

The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the “dark ages,” finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe. As people opened their eyes, religion (equated with ignorance and superstition) gave way to science (equated with fact and reason). Parochialism and tribal allegiances gave way to ecumenism, cosmopolitanism and individualism. Top-down command systems gave way to the separation of church from state, of politics from science. The story provides a blueprint for how to remake and better the world in the image and interests of the West’s secular elites. Unfortunately, as a theory of history, that story has had a predictive utility of approximately zero. At the turn of the millennium it was pretty hard not to notice that the 20th century was probably the worst one yet, and that the big causes of all the death and destruction had rather little to do with religion.
One of the things that really pisses me off about the religion apologists is the assumption that anything bad that happens in the world must stem from a lack of piety, all the while ignoring any possible bad thing that could come from religion or any good thing that is secular. Yeah. A lot of really crappy stuff happened in the 20th century. Like the Holocaust. That had nothing to do with religion. The Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda: that wasn’t tribal allegiances at all. And just about all the shitty things that happened in the 21st century were direct results of religion.

The disasters of the 20th century are worse than those of the 15th (which for some reason Mr. Shweder seems to long for) simply because technology has allowed us to kill a lot more people faster. The people of prior centuries were just as nasty – they just lacked the technology we have today. If they had nukes during the Crusades, we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

Our author says: "A shared conception of the soul, the sacred and transcendental values may be a prerequisite for any viable society". Why? What evidence does he have and does that evidence outweigh Darfur? One can easily argue the opposite. Religion actually allows us to be worse to each other. We can justify our evil a lot easier when we say that God made me do it. The idea of an afterlife makes it easier to cheapen this life. The 72 virgins is a great recruiting tactic for suicide bombers.

What the religion apologists continue to miss is that religion actively worked to restrain the science that keeps us from dying of things like the Plague. Organized religion actively encourages war. All the peace, love and understanding that may be in the texts does not come out in practice.

I don’t want to go back to the Dark Ages. I plan to kick the ass of anyone who wants to take us back. I like my freedom and not dying of the Plague, thank you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Letters I’ve Written, Never Meaning to Send

Two stories, 1 question:

#1 Story

Sandi (yes, with an i), was my first real girlfriend. We were a summer camp item. It was summer before 8th or 9th grade, I think. She was cute and fun and it was all young and wacky and insane. The camp carnival that day was one of the top 10 days of my life so far. We sent each other a few letters (yes, letters) afterwards, but that faded away in a few months.

Fast forward about 8 years. I just graduated college and have granite in my muscles and brains. I am moving out to San Francisco to start real life in a week and I am back at home in NJ, packing up my stuff. Lots of bizarre emotions swirling around. I am starting a new life. Leaving many people behind. I am leaving my childhood home of 16 years. This is different from going of to college; it is for reals – there is no expiration date. While packing up, I come across my old notebook from camp and Sandi’s number. I am a serious pack rat. She lives 40 miles away. Funny, when I was 15, she lived 1,000 miles away – or so it seemed. There are some good things about getting older. It’d be fun to catch up. What the hell - I call.

Somewhat flustered “Hi”
“Hi, this is Rob, from a really long time ago – camp.”
“Holy crap, been a really long time.”
“Yeah – so how’ve ya been?”
“Me too, Look I am moving to CA in a week, would love to try to meet up for lunch or something. Catch up.”
“That’d be fun. Well, I am late, running out the door, give me your number.”
Number given, Goodbyes

No call. I move to San Francisco. Door closed.

#2 Story

6 months ago, I get an email from a guy I went to high school with, Dan. He found me through Google and We were friends, but not that close. He went to school in NJ, so when I was home on some kooky off term, I went to visit him. Hadn’t communicated with him in 15 years or so. We send some emails back and forth.

So, I am going home to NJ for Grandma’s 100th birthday – I shit you not. And I email and say, hey, I’ll be in Jersey, lets grab dinner or drinks or something. So, Dan, Matt (another high school guy we knew) and I have dinner and beers. We have a total kick-ass time. Great conversation, funny stories, good perspectives on life – just a good time. Yeah, next time you are out here, lets do it again. If you ever come to San Francisco, let’s meet up.

As time goes by, you become a new person. Those who knew you then are the links back to the ghosts of who you used to be. "If dreams are like movies are memories films about ghosts?"
Old friends are magic. They can take you back to who you were 10-15 years ago. Sometimes that person is fun to hang out with for a while.

#3 Question

So, the question is, should I pull a Dan and find some old friends, send some emails, write some letters?

Why? See how people’s stories are progressing. Share mine. Connect to the ghost me and the ghost them. Reminisce on fleeting youth – maybe kicking my ass in the equally fleeting present. Something different – a personal communication – not spam. Smiles all around. Or is it just creepy and annoying? Hmmm.

Hey, maybe I could just send them here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Move over Citizen Kane

The greatest movie of all time - Borat. No, I haven't seen it yet. But here are the three of the most beautiful words in the English language Humiliated frat boys.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It was a dark and stormy night

There is a race on to explain the Bush administration. Now, everyone will acknowledge that it has been an unmitigated disaster and the only remaining question is was Bush II the worst president ever, or does that distinction still rest with Sideburns T. Muttonchop from the 1830s? The right would like you to believe that this is not a failing of conservatism, per see, but of specific individuals (too many to list here). We all know that is not true. See Hunter’s fabulous Great Conservative Walkback for details (can't find Kos Link, sorry).

A critical concept of marketing is that it is incredibly difficult to change someone’s worldview. To simplify life, we all have stories to keep things in order. These stories provide a frame that helps us understand the world. When we get new information, often we jam it into our story. Case in point, if I want to buy a car, I will only look at Honda’s and Toyota’s. In my mind, I have a narrative that American cars used to be good, then got crappy. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. I don’t have time to read Consumer Reports to see if that is true or not. Now that Toyota has a hybrid drive, do I think: Oh this is new technology that might be buggy, maybe it will have mechanical problems. Nope, doesn’t fit my story. I just assume it will work great. Another example, how many planets are there. Now we have evidence that Pluto is not a planet or some extra hunks of ice are planets – but you don’t care about that, you said 9. That’s been the story since 4th grade and it ain’t changing.

It is critical for the future of the county that we develop a story that explains the Bush administration and that all of their screw-ups (too many to list here) are inherent in conservatism and republican taliban. A story has to be easy to understand and short and easy to tell others – that is how it spreads. Once the lazy media latches onto a story, they will never let it go. That is how we drive a stake into the heart of conservatism and cut off the head and set it on fire and shoot it a few times. Hey, I have seen Friday the 13th and I am not turning my back on these guys.

So, how does the story go? Here’s a start.

Conservatism is failed idea. Cutting taxes for the rich does not create jobs in the global economy. It just gives money to rich people and runs up huge deficits that our children have to pay. The corporate lobbyists – like Jack Ambramoff - will not let the republicans shrink the government when it comes to their pork projects and earmarks. No, the only thing the Republicans will shrink will be things like student loans, FEMA and care for veterans. People who don’t have K-street lobbyists. The only shrinking of the government they will do will be to gut consumer protections and environmental laws. Just doing the lobbyists bidding.

Conservatives don’t believe in the power of government to help the American people. That is why they are so bad at governing. Katrina and Iraq were not accidents. What would you expect from people who don’t believe the government can or should govern? Conservatives are out
of touch. They are faith based ideologues; they are not practical. Conservatives believe in theories. Democrats believe in rolling up your sleeves and solving problems.

The story is general, not specific. This is not about Rumsfeld or Bush or Brown. It is about conservatives. Everything a republican ever says should get slotted into this story. John McCain wants to reform social security – why? What special interest contributor is going to benefit – oh, the Wall Street firms. Faith Based initiatives – the megachurches profit. Stem cell research – all faith, no reality. If you repeat the story enough, eventually the media will do it for you.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I feel pretty and witty and gay.

The world is a little bit better place today. It could be better, but it has been a hell of a lot worse. There are some disappointments. Yes, some people did vote for Macacawitz, and that lump of feces Corker won in TN. How does that happen? But, the country will be a better place.

Oh yeah, can we stop with the bi-partisanship crap? The taliban has bad ideas and are stupid. Why exactly do we want to include them in anything? They should get treated exactly like they treated us – like shit. Dennis Hastert can squeeze his fat ass into a broom closet for meetings. Oh and all those K-street firms who only hire taliban, yeah, your clients are now fucked.

The Dems need to have a list of 6-7 no-brainer bills in the house, lobbying reform, minimum wage hike, negotiating prescription drug prices, earmark reform, etc. They need to make these clean, simple, with no funky riders or anything. Then send `em to the Senate and Bush. The key here is to make McCain vote no on all of these. Which he will because he wants the 08 nomination and will pander to the right wing nutjobs to get it. You get to paint McCain as Bush III. He then has to campaign as the guy who wouldn’t raise the minimum wage or enact lobbying reform.

Another great thing is all the governorships. That means actual legitimate votes in 08. Wow, even black people may get to vote in Ohio.

Thanks to all the people on the ground, who made calls and walked precincts and made this happen. Smells like Victory.