Back on the blog and Merry Christmas!!!

December 25, 2009

I’ve been off this blog for several weeks, well, actually months, because I got the proverbial day job, no actually day and night job, and on top of that, my computer crashed. Just got a new one — a wonderful and generous Christmas gift. It has taken me a couple of hours to figure out how to access my old blog site, but hopefully, as I key this in, I have figured out how to get back into this thing. This computer is different to the touch, and I am having problems typing (yes I began writing back when we still plugged away at typewriters, and right now this seems as difficult). I’ll get used to this new machine (yes you can tell I am of the pre-computer age by my use of the word “machine”.  I remember old folks, back before I was one of them, old folks, that is, referring to a car as “the machine”).

I’ll make this post short and sweet as I write this tonight, Christmas Eve, because I am tired beyond belief and excited at the same time that I am able to be back  in the blogosphere.

The devout Christians see Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Children everywhere, and adults just as much, see it as a chance to get some cool gifts or not so cool gifts, whatever.

Saw a letter to the editor in my local newspaper complaining that a public school had ruled out any reference to Jesus or traditional Christian religious songs in its Christmas program. This seems absurd to me. But then again, I have to wonder what folks would think, if say, the school allowed or put on a program with a Muslim or even Jewish theme.

I have never thought that the First Amendment prohibited children from praying or singing the praises of Jesus. The First Amendment is supposed to guarantee the right to practice religion — among other things. But of course, the government, or the public school, cannot support any one religion, so the only way the authorities can see to handle this is to prohibit any religious reference in programs altogether.

On a related matter, I am not aware of any school actually prohibiting individual children from quietly praying on their own, although, this may have happened somewhere. School personnel cannot be seen as sanctioning or promoting any one religion or interfering with one’s right not to be religious.

This post is kind of a ramble because I am tired and I am having a hard time navigating this keyboard.

But on this Christmas Eve 2009 I can only hope that we get something out of the teachings of Jesus and learn to enjoy the good earth and the blessings we have been given.

I do not know why we must fight wars, except in true self defense. But I do know from reading the Bible, which good Christians tout  everywhere, that war and terrible violence men inflict upon one another, not to mention the wrath of God, has been a fact of life since the dawn of man.

But Christmas is a time of hope. And I hope that we humans can change and learn to live in peace.

But life is a struggle over limited resources.

Nonetheless, Merry Christmas and a hope of peace for all mankind!

Palin lacks faith in democracy and quits when going gets tough…

July 6, 2009

Sarah Palin claims she is quitting her governorship of Alaska in part because she wants to effect change by working outside of government. I’m not exactly sure what that is supposed to mean. In this nation public policy is supposed to be made by the democratically (small d) elected government.

There is such a thing as lobbying – private interests who work to influence government. So maybe that is what she means.

Apparently she would rather help pressure government to do things from the outside, hoping to avoid public scrutiny – raise money, work behind the scenes, whip up the base with demogoguery by spouting off narrow-minded hot button issues that appeal more to emotion than rational public policy or accuse anyone who does not agree with her message of lacking patriotism. She could drum up money with her fanatical appeal to further her policy aims — whatever they might be — or to buy fancy clothes for herself and her family as she did with Republican Party funds when she ran with John McCain. Last I heard SarahPac or whatever it is called was still accepting donations.

Maybe she just means she is going to work on behalf of other candidates, but those candidates would be working directly in government.

And maybe she thinks there ought to be some power out there beyond government because she does not agree with the majority of voters at this time.

She claims to have been mistreated by the press. Well join the ranks of all those in public life. That is the ugly price that is paid for freedom of speech. We can’t just arrest people who may say things we don’t like, such as might be done in Iran. And it is true that freedom of the press, guaranteed in the First (the very first mind you) Amendment to the Constitution carries with it the annoying aspect of sometimes protecting those who distort the truth or tell outright lies (including Sarah Palin). Unfortunately, it’s the only way to guarantee an actual free press (and press these days means all types of public dissemination of thoughts and information – there are fewer and fewer newspapers).

Palin through a lawyer has reportedly threatened a blogger with a lawsuit over defamation of character. I think even Palin is aware of the First Amendment but thinks anything unfavorable to her is not covered.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision called New York Times vs. Sullivan (1964), public figures have a higher standard to meet when trying to prove defamation and libel. It could be done if it is shown a person acted with reckless disregard for the truth and actual malice. But in the blogger’s case, as I understand it, it involved repeating a rumor or rumors that have been circulating about Palin for years, something about awarding construction contracts and personally benefitting when she was Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. True? Have no idea. Rumors can be a troubling thing and are often unfair. But if in public life rumors were illegal we’d never find out anything and real corruption would never be investigated. Word from rumors is often how investigations get started and/or how those in power are forced to look into things.

What Palin must be trying to do is intimidate opponents or anyone who might hold her up to public scrutiny. As evidenced by her VP campaign, her mode is to be able to say a lot of things but be questioned very little (and no wonder, have you ever heard her respond to questions?).

Palin also made a weird comment about quitting the governorship (half way through her term) because she did not want to waste the taxpayers’ money by being a lame duck. If she ran again, she would not be a lame duck. And does she mean that anyone who is voted into office should simply quit at the point he or she may not get his or her way? And does she not have an obligation to those who voted for her? I’m not understanding all of this.

(Add 1: An Anchorage Daily News editorial lauded Palin’s accomplishments as governor but said her explanation about not wanting to be a lame duck was “more lame than duck”.)

And I personally detest the political strategy that allows candidates (or potential candidates) to make a lot of noise, make accusations, distort the truth, but then allows them to hide from questions under the guise that questioners are only trying to discredit them – that is sometimes true, but what other way is there? Have FOX news lob leading softball questions to you? Or for that matter have CNN ask leading softball questions? No if you run for political office you should be able to stand up to penetrating questions from all and let the public at large judge. The public is smarter than you think Sarah. Is that what you are afraid of?

Fairness Doctrine counter to First Amendment…

February 14, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

There has been some talk, to include comments from former President Bill Clinton, that the federal government’s Fairness Doctrine should perhaps be reinstated.

The Fairness Doctrine regulations were formerly under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission and called for broadcast stations to present programs on public issues and do so with a balanced presentation.

A good idea, but not if under the thumb of government.

On its face it seems contrary to the freedom of speech protections in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

For one thing, the First Amendment calls for free speech, not forced speech.

The rationale for the Fairness Doctrine, upheld by the courts, was that there were only a limited number of broadcast frequencies available and since they were allotted and controlled by the FCC, that agency had a right to protect the public interest. And of course it is important that the public has  access to information on public issues which hopefully would be presented in an objective way in which all sides of an issue are voiced.

Sounds good, kind of.

But while at one time the protection might have had a place, with all the access to information, news, opinion, gossip and so on that is available today (most of it by way of the internet) the doctrine is an anachronism. And I still don’t think it was ever a good or workable policy.

Those calling for reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine are generally Democrats (but certainly not all Democrats) and primarily of what for lack of a better label we call the “left wing” or perhaps “progressives”.

And the reason they want it is that for about the past one to two decades the right wing or so-called conservative element has ruled the airwaves, thanks in large part to one entity: Clear Channel Communications. This outfit owns some 1,200 radio stations across the U.S. and every one of them play right wing talk shows nearly 24 hours per day.

There has been some attempt to counter it in the past several years with something called Air America, but to my knowledge it has pretty much fallen flat, even though one of its stars, Al Franken, did get elected to the U.S. Senate. And I understand Air America after going bankrupt changed hands and is now called Air Media.

A lot of this is a problem of monopoly and of demographics. The monopoly, Clear Channel, inundates the airwaves with right wing talk. And for some reason, the audience is primarily made up of what I would label as “reactionaries”, listeners who resent objective or analytical reasoning and often feel those on the left are perhaps too educated for their own good. These are also typically people who have a lot of time on their hands or in their minds to listen to radio. I used to be a truck driver; and as I drove along for hundreds of miles per day, I had a lot of time and I listened. I was often entertained. I seldom agreed. And I was often outraged at the opinions presented, but again it did seem to have some kind of draw. I also listened to what liberal talk there was. There is little to no middle-of-the-road talk (being objective and reasonable is dull, I suppose).

But all that said, the last thing we need is the government policing our speech, especially when it comes to the discussion of public issues.

Ironically, Public Broadcasting is the closest thing we have to government broadcasting aimed at the general public. I say ironically, because even though in the past many years (not now) our politics was tilted to the right, Public Broadcasting to me seems tilted way left (don’t get me wrong, I like it, I can sort things out).

But anything that would be regulated or in any way or in any amount funded in its presentation by the government would be exactly opposite of what our democracy and the free flow of ideas it depends upon for survival call for.

I need to explain something here too. My quick Wikipedia research tells me that the defunct Fairness Doctrine is not the same as the Equal Time rule, which covers political candidates, which is still applicable (but there are exceptions to it).

Here’s another obstacle in enforcing a Fairness Doctrine. It is supposed to cover only public issue discussion, not news reports (I think). But sometimes news and opinion are intermingled – actually make that nearly all the time on most broadcast shows (and we will not dicuss the internet here). Partly it is the nature of how broadcast has to be presented, with its time constraints, that meld facts and opinion together, especially when speakers are summarizing.

For years many complained that the three major networks tilted toward left-wing or Democratic politics in their news coverage. I recall that David Brinkley was said to display his opinion with the mere raise of an eyebrow and ironic or sardonic expression when he read the news on NBC (and I used to watch him a lot – he did – although I don’t recall if he always leaned in one ideological direction).

Today we have Fox News. This network is blatantly and unapologetically right wing in its presentation of news and opinion, even though its tag line is ironically “fair and balanced”. But by doing so they reach that reactionary demographic I mentioned earlier. And I find myself checking Fox News out to make sure I’m not be snowballed by the accepted storyline that the traditional media has tacitly agreed upon, even if in the end I do not agree with Fox.

Restrictions on free speech are not what we want. If the monopoly of Clear Channel and Fox was as powerful as even I once thought it to be, Barack Obama would not be president of the United States today.

P.s. Like our new president said in response to a question as to whether he’s too nice: “I’m leaving on Air Force One in a few minutes”.

P.s. P.s. How about this for a Saturday Night Live routine: Barack Obama reintroduces himself to John McCain: “Hi, I’m the President and you’re not”.

P.s. P.s. P.s. And the proof about the Fairness Doctrine question is that, as we all know, if most talk shows leaned the other way (left), former President Clinton would not call for the Fairness Doctrine. He also in public remarks allowed as how Rush Limburger (not his real name, but the one I use) is entertaining. I thought so too at one time. But I got tired of him.

Is religious freedom provision understood???

January 3, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think when someone laments that “they won’t let children pray in public schools,” or “they’ve taken God out of the schools”, that is a false notion.

It is my understanding that no one is prohibited from praying in school, but public school authorities are prohibited from leading that prayer. I think there also is a caveat to prevent prayer activity that might be disruptive. But certainly a personal silent prayer done at a time and place that does not interfere with anyone else would not likely fall into that category.

I think that some people just don’t want to accept that the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights provides for freedom of religion by denying the government the power to establish an official religion or the power to prevent the free exercise of religion, as well as providing for free speech (and some folks have problem with free speech, as well).

The First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

As I understand it, for instance, a school child could pray by his or her self in a way that would not be disruptive to others, and there is no authority to stop that. On the other hand, if a teacher or other school official were to lead in prayer that would amount to the sanctioning of religion or a type of religion, as in establishing an official religion. And certainly anyone could see that with all the different religions (and even atheism) and the various denominations in those religions, it would not be wise for school authorities to put their mark of approval on any one single form of practice. You can hardly have freedom of religion if official authority is leading you in the practice of a religion.

And then there is the ongoing question of whether religious groups can meet at public schools. I don’t know the precise status on all the legal rulings on this and I don’t want to get into all the legal research.

But the idea of religious clubs forming at public schools is what brought this topic to my mind. I read in my morning newspaper some man (and woman)-on-the street responses to the question:

“A California court this year will decide whether students can form a Bible club at a public school. What do you think?”

I’ll give the responses and then my response to the responses:

A student: “I think they should have the option to form one if they want, but I don’t think it should be mandatory.” That’s probably closest to what I think, but not so much in a legal sense. Certainly they could not be mandatory, otherwise we’re back to state-sponsored religion, and as we know, some nations have that – Iran anyone? Iraq anyone? for that matter.

An equipment mechanic: “I think they should have one. I think it’s very important that they have that in schools.” So this man, as I would imagine a lot of folks are, is in favor of Bible clubs for students. He does not address the fact that what he thinks might not be what others think, and he does not address what the First Amendment says (but, then again, no one else did either).

A retired teacher’s aide: “I believe they should have the same access as any other group that wants to form a club. I don’t think they should be denied access.” I kind of feel that way too. And the U.S. Supreme Court majority did hold in 2001 (Good News Club vs Milford) that a school could have a religious club because to not allow such would be counter to the First Amendment’s free speech clause. And to me it seems it might be argued that it ran counter to the clause against the government “prohibiting the free exercise (of religion)…” But that’s just me.

An apartment manager: “I think it’s great. They should be able to form any club they want to. There should be teacher coordination with that too.” I’m not at all sure what he means by “teacher coordination”, but certainly that sounds wrong, because then we are mixing government and religion, contrary to the First Amendment.

A student: “I am not against it. I think students should form clubs as they see fit as long as they don’t break any school rules.” Well that seems reasonable.

A food service worker: “Yes, absolutely. I think you should be able to.” Thanks for your input.

So there you have it. No atheists, heretics, or antichrists in the bunch.

Irrespective of the constitutional aspects, I tend to agree with the prevailing mood here. Let them form Bible clubs.

But the one thing I always have to ask myself is why do religious folks want to meet at public schools? Why not at their own churches? I suppose convenience is one factor.

On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that there is a right-wing fundamentalist religious movement that wants to make inroads into all public activities, be it the public schools or politics, and who wants to force its doctrine on all.

I also think the assumption among many of these groups is that a Bible club would of course be a Christian group using the King James version of the Holy Bible. Would they be comfortable with a turban-wearing group carrying copies of the Koran? Would they want teachers leading everyone in a prayer to Allah?

No so much.

P.s. One thing that causes problems in all of this is that often First Amendment religious issues pit atheists on one side and unyielding and intolerant religious fundamentalists on the other, while most of the public falls in between. Nonetheless, we all live with the ultimate court decisions that are framed from arguments made by the polar extremes.

Fundamental influence…

June 2, 2008
By Tony Walther
We are supposed to have freedom of religion in the United States of America. But apparently that does not apply if you run for high public office. You have to satisfy fundamentalist Christians, but at the same time not offend the Jews, and don’t offend other religions either, but make it clear that you are indeed a Christian.
There is no state sponsored religion, but this is a Christian nation folks will tell you.
So, the way that it is, is that there is freedom of religion and there is supposed to be a guaranteed separation of church and state via the First Amendment, but in reality it is a Christian nation, with the president expected to be Christian. That’s because there’s more declared Christians than anything else and how likely is it that someone not professing to be one would be elected? Actually some of our earlier presidents have been recorded in history writings as adhering to deism, a kind of natural religion, even though they also apparently were raised as Christians (but no one knows what that’s all about, so lets drop that).
Barack Obama, the Democratic Party front runner, and first black man to have a real chance at the presidency, joined a Christian congregation some 20 years ago, but still gets accused of being a secret Muslim who swore into office with his right hand on the Koran (Islamic holy book) and doesn’t like to wear a flag lapel pin (the last two bogus, as far as anyone knows, but the rumor persists in the online jungle and probably among the ignorant).
And to add insult to injury, now folks are holding Obama to all those things that have been said over time in his church. Seems some of the pastors at his congregation would get fired up and spout off some mighty uncomplimentary things about America and white folks, and it’s all of video tape. And a visiting white priest recently mocked Obama’s white, female Democratic opponent. So now Obama has decided to resign from the church after two decades. Apparently he either did not attend regularly or slept through the sermons (harangues), or maybe thought everything was okay with it all until it was put out over the media and a big fuss was raised.
The word is that he’ll decide on a new church, but conveniently not until after the general election. Gee, what’s he going to do in the meantime, just give simple prayer directly to the Lord? Now how devout is that?
Republican presidential candidate John McCain tries to be low key about his religion, but he almost got the holy kiss of death by being endorsed by Pastor John Hagee down Texas Way. That’s the fire and brimstone Christian fundamentalist portly pastor who goes to great lengths to praise the Jews (the Lord’s chosen people) and at the same time lets everyone know that his Christian way is the only way. He can tell you how we have to fight the Muslim hordes and protect the Jewish state to carry out the prophesies of the Bible, which in the end will mean the annihilation of the Jewish people (in Hagee’s interpretation) and he can tell you frightening tales about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as written in the Book of Revelation (as a matter of fact, I have watched him often. If he is one thing, he is entertaining).
And Hagee has said that Adolf Hitler was sent by God as some type of heavenly sign to the jews that they should resettle in the promised land.
McCain wisely rejected Hagee’s endorsement, after originally courting it (the friends we try to make in trying to get elected).
So that good old time Christian religion can be a help to vote seekers and then sometimes it comes around and bites them on the posterior.
In strange a strange ironic twist, Joe Lieberman, of the Jewish faith, one time Democratic vice presidential candidate, currently a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, listed as Independent, has praised pastor Hagee. Apparently politics and religion make strange bedfellows.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, fights on, like a Christian soldier, in what seems to be a losing battle for the nomination. She has told of her Christian faith during the campaign (she’ll need it). Her husband took to long conversations with his preacher after the flap over his in-the-White-House infidelities.
While I believe individual voters will rightly consider religious issues in their own personal assessments of the candidates, it seems strange that in a nation that proclaims freedom of religion, there is so much influence from one branch of religion, the fundamentalist Christian branch.
I am not a fundamentalist, but it does not bother me that there are fundamentalists. It just bothers me that they seem to have so much of an influence. To me, fundamentalism in Christianity is on par with fundamentalism in Islam. Both are closed to progressive thought and objective thinking. Worse yet, both see violence as the solution to disagreement or as a way of dealing with those who disagree with them.
Christian fundamentalists proclaim that the Bible must be interpreted literally. How does one do that? First of all, it was not originally written in English. It has been translated from the ancient languages and translated many times over the years. Nearly each passage in the Old Testament and the New Testament is open to more than one interpretation. The Bible is allegorical, and it certainly is a great piece of literature. And, actually the answers to all of our questions as humans may well be in the book, but the interpretation is in one’s mind, I think, not in the oratory of those bellicose televangelists.
But no matter what your faith (or lack of it), remember, the First Amendment is there to protect you.
It protects the believer and non believer alike.
In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”