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Saturday, March 22, 2003

About this religion fixation

It occurs to me that I've been somewhat fixated on religion for the past month or so. Here's why:

The last time I was really motivated to attend church was the Sunday following September 11, 2001.

I was here in Chicago, 400 miles from my family. I was alone and living in a high-rise apartment building a mere three blocks from Sears Tower- which, at the time, was being touted on the terrorist hit parade as number two with a bullet.

Like many baby boomers, I had regularly (if not religiously) attended church and Sunday School during my formative years. So I found myself drawn to the Methodist church in the Loop, where the rituals, the hymns, the structure of the service were comforting.

Now I find myself in the same emotional state, due to the war in Iraq.

But I have no place to go.

There's no doubt in my mind that this whole business is about oil and the political stability of the Middle East. And, latent imperialist that I am, I can understand the strategic necessity of protecting our interests. Fine. Let's debate the issue on those terms.

But what I just can't abide is the use of religion to justify their actions. If I disagree with the Administration, I'm risking the wrath of the Almighty, because He's On Our Side.

That George W. Bush and I belong to the same Christian denomination - The United Methodist Church - makes me take a serious look at my continued membership in that organization.

The church to which Dubya and I belong has an official stance on the whole war thing:

"We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as a usual instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Note the weasel word: a usual instrument of national foreign policy. Some Methodists proclaim this to be a "just war;" after all, we're there primarily to secure the blessings of liberty and religious freedom for the Iraqi people, right?

Yeah. And how would you feel if someone nailed a copy of the Constitution to the cross in your sanctuary?

Conquer the world if you want to, Mr. Bush, put bases in the Mideast like we did in Europe after World War II. Incidentally, notice how they're still there? This should provide some indication of how long there'll be an American "presence" in Iraq.

But leave religion out of it, please.

Why does no one challenge the constant incursion of religion into the Federal government? Why does no one refute the increasingly common belief that the United States was founded by a bunch of fundamentalist Christian zealots?

It should be noted that the three primary architects of our government- Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams- weren't Christians, but Unitarians.

Franklin was a deist and moral pragmatist.

Jefferson, while technically an Episcopalian, actually wrote his own version of the Bible, telling contemporary John Adams he salvaged the true meaning of Jesus' teachings by "abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separate from that as the diamond from the dung hill."

Adams was a New England Congregationalist.

None actually belonged to Unitarian congregations. The first formal Unitarian church in the United States wasn't founded until the year after Jefferson and Adams died. And to say they weren't Christians isn't entirely true, either. All felt that Jesus' teachings and examples should be followed. They weren't Trinitarians, though; they didn't believe Jesus was God, a member of the holy trinity. And they didn't subscribe to any church's dogma.

With few exceptions, every president from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln was either a Unitarian or a Deist. So much for the great fundamentalist Christian underpinning of our government.

I wonder what Thomas Jefferson's reaction would be to a church that bears his name? I doubt we're ever going to see a George W. Bush United Methodist congregation anywhere.

While there's still religious freedom in the country, I think I might check out a Unitarian church tomorrow morning.

And then there's always The Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua.


This is still a great country. Enjoy it while you still can.

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At least they still have chocolate bunnies and peeps...

First pancakes, then "freedom fries," and now this. When will these idiots learn that this type of action is just plain stupid?

Why not just ban bread and wine because they're used via mystical transubstantiation in the Christian ritual of symbolic cannibalism (communion)?

Hot cross banned: councils decree buns could be "offensive" to non-Christians
By Chris Hastings and Elizabeth Day

Schools across Britain have been ordered by local authorities to abandon the ancient tradition of serving hot cross buns at Easter so as not to offend children of non-Christian faiths.

Some councils are refusing to hand out the traditional treats because they fear that the symbol of the cross will spark complaints from Jewish, Hindu and Muslim pupils or their families.

Officials in the London borough of Tower Hamlets decided to remove the buns from menus this year after criticism over its decision to serve pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. A spokesman for the Labour-run council claimed that there had been "a lot" of complaints but did not have a figure.

The spokesman added: "We are moving away from a religious theme for Easter and will not be doing hot cross buns. We can't risk a similar outcry over Easter like the kind we had on Pancake Day. We will probably be serving naan breads instead."

In the past, invidivual schools have taken the decision to not serve hot cross buns, but this is the first time local authorities across the country have imposed blanket bans.

Liverpool council, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats, also told The Telegraph that the symbol of the cross had the "potential to offend" and buns will no longer be served to children.

Despite this ruling, the council confirmed that it will continue to organise special menus to celebrate events as diverse as the Chinese New Year, Italian National Day and Russian Independence Day.

Other councils not serving hot cross buns include York, where Labour is the largest group, and Wolverhampton, which is Labour-run. Officials in Wakefield, which is also controlled by Labour, have decided it would be more appropriate to tailor the Easter menu to information technology.

"We are not serving hot cross buns at all, " said a spokesman. "Each term we try to come up with a menu which encourages children to think about different issues. This Easter term we chose information technology and did not even consider putting hot cross buns on the menu."

Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary who is a Roman Catholic convert, described the ban as "appalling and absurd". "These people are silly asses, " she said.

"It would appear that we should know about everyone else's culture apart from our Christian tradition. It seems that anything that comes from an ethnic minority is fine, while anything Christian is wrong.

"What can be more innocent than a hot cross bun? There's no more fun way to explain the Christian tradition to a child and it is not as if eating a hot cross bun automatically makes you a born-again Christian."

The Muslim Council of Britain called the decision "very, very bizarre". A spokesman said: "This is absolutely amazing. At the moment, British Muslims are very concerned about the upcoming war with Iraq and are hardly going to be taken aback by a hot cross bun.

"Unfortunately actions like this can only create a backlash and it is not very thoughtful. I wish they would leave us alone. We are quite capable of articulating our own concerns and if we find something offensive, we will say so. We do not need to rely on other people to do it for us.

"British Muslims have been quite happily eating and digesting hot cross buns for many years and I don't think they are suddenly going to be offended."

Although the buns and their distinctive symbols have been a feature of English life for nearly 2,000 years, they have not always been associated with Christianity.

The tradition dates back to pagan times when the cross represented the moon and its four quarters. It was claimed for the Christian church in 1361 when Father Thomas Rockcliffe distributed the buns to the poor of St Albans.

It became traditional to eat the buns on Good Friday after Elizabeth I passed a law limiting their consumption to religious festivals. Some local authorities such as Manchester have decided that they can keep hot cross buns on the menu while catering for other faiths.

A spokesman said: "We are in favour of diversity and will be catering for all tastes. We cover a wide geographical sweep and our menus are tailored to the ethnicity of various areas. We could serve naan breads or hot cross buns, depending on the demand."

A spokesman for Lincolnshire county council said: "We will be serving hot cross buns and have never experienced any problems with them."

Birmingham city council had put an outright ban on hot cross buns but relented on the decision following inquiries from the city's Anglican bishop, the Rt Revd John Sentamu. It has now told individual schools that they can request hot cross buns if they wish.

Last year, the Food Standards Authority named hot cross buns as the healthiest option for those who wanted to indulge themselves at Easter. On a weight-for-weight basis, the buns were found to contain the lowest amount of sugar and fat as well as having the highest fibre and lowest calorie content.

A spokesman for the Church of England last night said that there was no reason why any school should should stop serving hot cross buns.

He said: "I see nothing wrong with anything which encourages children to remember that it is Easter time. Easter has its own special symbols and the hot cross bun is one of them. People who do not want to eat the buns do not have to."

He added: "It is difficult to understand how anything which is ancillary to the celebration of Easter can create so much offence."

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Friday, March 21, 2003

Guerrilla Gridlocking

Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn't block traffic.-Dan Rather

The war protesters (well, at least some of them) are starting to discover that staging large demonstrations isn't the best way to attract attention to their cause.

They've discovered that the citizenry just avoids the areas where the protests are being held. They've also discovered that peaceful, organized demonstrations don't get much in the way of news coverage, and that the number of participants is understated. One individual noted that if the media used the same methodology in determining the number of people watching the annual SuperBowl telecast, they'd claim viewership was "at least several hundred."

Instead of deploying everyone in one large group, some organizers are putting together numbers of smaller teams, comprised of a dozen or so people, and are directing them to block as many intersections as possible.

The police can't be everywhere. And with the instant gridlock this type of action creates, the police can't get to the scores of problem areas.

Of course, neither can emergency medical or lifesaving vehicles. I suspect it's just a matter of time that someone gets arrested or sued because their participation in a protest delayed the arrival of an ambulance or fire truck that resulted in injury or loss of life. It's just a matter of time before the "you can't yell fire in a crowded theater" rationale is used to prevent public demonstrations.

It's 60s deja vu all over again. Except that back in the 60s we at least had good music.

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Be Prepared

Duct Tape

Security Security Security

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Thursday, March 20, 2003

This war thing...

"Terrorism" is what we call the violence of the weak, and we condemn it; "war" is what we call the violence of the strong, and we glorify it.-Harris, Sydney J.

A democracy needs an opposition, especially in time of war, precisely to keep the government honest, and to point to whatever errors (or possible errors) it finds in the government's actions.-Volokh, Eugene

A wonderful time--the War:
When money rolled in
And blood rolled out.
But blood was far away
From here--
Money was near.
-Hughes, Langston

After each war there is a little less democracy to save.-Atkinson, Brooks

And so we went. Young men always go. Always there is another war. Always there are reasons. In the past these were straightforward: lust, booty, excitement, empire, a way to escape the family yurt, sheer joyous combativeness, the king was bored. Not much has changed.-Reed, Fred

But in modern will die like a dog for no good reason.-Hemingway, Ernest

I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved.-King, Rev. Martin Luther, Jr.

I would like it if men had to partake in the same hormonal cycles to which we're subjected monthly. Maybe that's why men declare war- because they have a need to bleed on a regular basis.-Butler, Brett

I've been to war. I've raised twins. If I had a choice, I'd rather go to war.-Bush, George W.

In any war, the first casualty is common sense, and the second is free and open discussion.-Reston, James

In time of war, when truth is so precious, it must be attended by a bodyguard of lies.-Churchill, Winston

In war you rarely find allies with clean hands; and so, again, conflict is always a matter of bad and worse choices.-Hanson, Victor David

It's negative to think about blowing each other up. That's not a positive thought. That's a Cold War thought. That's a thought when people were enemies with each other.-Bush, George W.

Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because it is the one thing that stops women from laughing at them.-Fowles, John

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead.-Hemingway, Ernest

Sometimes I think war is God's way of teaching us geography.-Rodriguez, Paul

Suppose they gave a war and nobody came? Why, then the war would come to you.-Brecht, Bertolt

The Scripture in time of disputes is like an open town in time of war, which serves indifferently the occasions of both parties.-Pope, Alexander

The mere absence of war is not peace.-Kennedy, John F.

The problem of pain, of war and the horror of war, of poverty and disease is always confronting us. But a God who allows no pain, no grief, also allows no choice. There is little unfairness in a colony of ants, but also there is little freedom.-L'Engle, Madeleine

The two-party system has given this country the war of Lyndon Johnson, the Watergate of Nixon and the incompetence of Carter. Saying we should keep the two-party system simply because it is working is like saying the Titanic voyage was a success because a few people survived on life rafts.-McCarthy, Eugene J.

There never was a good war or a bad peace.-Franklin, Benjamin

There will never be a nuclear war. There's too much real estate involved.-Zappa, Frank

War has... become a luxury which only the small nations can afford.-Arendt, Hannah

War hath no fury like a non-combatant.-Montague, C.E.

War is a great asshole magnet.-O'Rourke, P.J.

War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil.-Orwell, George

War is evil, but sometimes man has to play with the devil to get rid of him.-Forquer, Roy

War is just one more big government program.-Sobran, Joseph

War will exist as long as there's a food chain.-O'Rourke, P.J.

When war is declared, Truth is the first casualty.-Ponsby, Arthur

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.-Rankin, Jeannette

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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Oxymoron of the Day

From CafePress:

Product Update
We're pleased to announce that the Jr. Baby Doll T-Shirts are now available in X-Large!

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You can't make up stuff like this.

This is for real. Check here.

Tom Lehrer's right. You can't do satire any more.

CLEVELAND (AP) - Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia banned broadcast media from an appearance Wednesday where he will receive an award for supporting free speech.

The City Club usually tapes speakers for later broadcast on public television, but Scalia insisted on banning television and radio coverage, the club said. Scalia is being given the organization's Citadel of Free Speech Award.

"I might wish it were otherwise, but that was one of the criteria that he had for acceptance," said James Foster, the club's executive director.

The ban on broadcast media, "begs disbelief and seems to be in conflict with the award itself," C-SPAN vice president and executive producer Terry Murphy wrote in a letter last week to the City Club. "How free is speech if there are limits to its distribution?"

The club previously gave its award to former U.S. Sen. John Glenn after his retirement in 1998 in recognition of his opposition to a consitutional amendment to flag-burning.

The City Club selected Scalia because he has "consistently, across the board, had opinions or led the charge in support of free speech," Foster said. The proclamation applauds Scalia for protecting free speech in several Supreme Court cases, including voting to strike down a Texas flag-burning ban.

Cameras and recording devices are banned from the Supreme Court chamber, and Scalia prefers not to have camera coverage in other settings, said Kathleen Arberg, spokeswoman for the court.

Scalia made the same demand on John Carroll University, where he spoke Tuesday night. He talked mostly about the constitutional protection of religions, but also said that government has room to scale back individual rights during wartime without violating the Constitution.

"The Constitution just sets minimums," Scalia said. "Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires."

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Hot Air and Hydrogen Gas

The problem is that the Good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas reserves where there are democratic governments.-Richard Cheney

You know I could run for governor but I'm basically a media creation. I've never done anything. I've worked for my dad. I worked in the oil business. But that's not the kind of profile you have to have to get elected to public office.-George W. Bush (in 1989)

What experience and history teach is this: that people and governments have never learned anything from history.-Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


I read an article last week estimating it would cost about $100 billion to develop hydrogen fuel cell technology to the point where it would be an effective replacement for fossil fuels.

As the late Senator Everett Dirksen noted, "A billion here and a billion there; pretty soon it adds up to real money." $100 billion is real money. It's also only 200 days of keeping 300,000 troops mobilized in the Persian Gulf.

As a co-worker pointed out, however, there is something a bit unsettling about the concept of millions of vehicles careening around with highly-explosive hydrogen gas in their fuel cells.

At least it would reduce the number of SUVs. And make rush hours a lot more interesting.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

It's a Grand Old Flag

Published on Wednesday, April 3, 2002 by Common Dreams

What the American Flag Stands For
by Charlotte Aldebron (age 12)

The American flag stands for the fact that cloth can be very important. It is against the law to let the flag touch the ground or to leave the flag flying when the weather is bad. The flag has to be treated with respect. You can tell just how important this cloth is because when you compare it to people, it gets much better treatment. Nobody cares if a homeless person touches the ground. A homeless person can lie all over the ground all night long without anyone picking him up, folding him neatly and sheltering him from the rain.

School children have to pledge loyalty to this piece of cloth every morning. No one has to pledge loyalty to justice and equality and human decency. No one has to promise that people will get a fair wage, or enough food to eat, or affordable medicine, or clean water, or air free of harmful chemicals. But we all have to promise to love a rectangle of red, white, and blue cloth.

Betsy Ross would be quite surprised to see how successful her creation has become. But Thomas Jefferson would be disappointed to see how little of the flag's real meaning remains.

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Monday, March 17, 2003

OK, now I'm worried...

Like many Americans, I'm rather selfish and self-absorbed. The war is thousands of miles away. Robert Blake is on the loose again, but I'm a male and 2,500 miles away from him, too.

But then there's this SARS thing. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a flu-like illness precipitating in atypical pneumonia and possible death. While most cases have been limited to Southeast Asia, there are reports of someone exhibiting SARS-like symptoms being taken off a commercial airliner and placed in isolation. Where? Why, in New York... where I spent three days last week, arriving and departing on a commercial airliner.

I can't help thinking about the H.G. Wellsian aspect of this. Remember War of the Worlds? Where a superior civilization's high-tech military might was effectively negated by common bacteria?

I'm hoping the slight wheeze I have this morning is caused by the reaction of my immune system to the lady in the elevator who took a bath in cheap perfume prior to boarding and the Marlboro Light 100 I had with my coffee this morning.

If you need me, I'll be a fetal position under my desk.

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Sunday, March 16, 2003

I Am The Lord Thy... Carp?

From "The UK's most popular newspaper website:"

An obscure Jewish sect in New York has been gripped in awe by what it believes to be a mystical visitation by a 20lb carp that was heard shouting in Hebrew, in what many Jews worldwide are hailing as a modern miracle.

Many of the 7,000-member Skver sect of Hasidim in New Square, 30 miles north of Manhattan, believe God has revealed himself in fish form.

According to two fish-cutters at the New Square Fish Market, the carp was about to be slaughtered and made into gefilte fish for Sabbath dinner when it suddenly began shouting apocalyptic warnings in Hebrew.

Many believe the carp was channelling the troubled soul of a revered community elder who recently died; others say it was God. The only witnesses to the mystical show were Zalmen Rosen, a 57-year-old Hasid with 11 children, and his co-worker, Luis Nivelo. They say that on 28 January at 4pm they were about to club the carp on the head when it began yelling.

Nivelo, a Gentile who does not understand Hebrew, was so shocked at the sight of a fish talking in any language that he fell over. He ran into the front of the store screaming: "It's the Devil! The Devil is here!" Then the shop owner heard it shouting warnings and commands too.

"It said 'Tzaruch shemirah' and 'Hasof bah'," he told the New York Times," which essentially means that everyone needs to account for themselves because the end is near."

The animated carp commanded Rosen to pray and study the Torah. Rosen tried to kill the fish but injured himself. It was finally butchered by Nivelo and sold.

However, word spread far and wide and Nivelo complains he has been plagued by phone calls from as far away as London and Israel. The story has since been amplified by repetition and some now believe the fish's outburst was a warning about the dangers of the impending war in Iraq.

Some say they fear the born-again President Bush believes he is preparing the world for the Second Coming of Christ, and war in Iraq is just the opening salvo in the battle of Armageddon.

Local resident Abraham Spitz said: "Two men do not dream the same dream. It is very rare that God reminds people he exists in this modern world. But when he does, you cannot ignore it."

Others in New Square discount the apocalyptic reading altogether and suggest the notion of a talking fish is as fictional as Tony Soprano's talking-fish dream in an episode of The Sopranos.

Stand-up comedians have already incorporated the carp into their comedy routines at weddings. One gefilte company has considered changing it's slogan to: "Our fish speaks for itself."

Still, the shouting carp corresponds with the belief of some Hasidic sects that righteous people can be reincarnated as fish. They say that Nivelo may have been selected because he is not Jewish, but a weary Nivelo told the New York Times: "I wish I never said anything about it. I'm getting so many calls every day, I've stopped answering. Israel, London, Miami, Brooklyn. They all want to hear about the talking fish."

A devout Christian, he still thinks the carp was the Devil. "I don't believe any of this Jewish stuff. But I heard that fish talk."

He's grown tired of the whole thing. "It's just a big headache for me," he added. "I pull my phone out of the wall at night. I don't sleep and I've lost weight."

(Thanks to Dennis Brumm from the ABC World News Now discussion group.)

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Violators will be prosecuted.
So there.  
The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


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I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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Flies spread disease. Keep yours zipped.

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