Friday, April 25, 2008

April fast disappears

It's almost the end of April. Yr friendly curmudgeon has been MIA for a couple weeks. Doing some freelance work, sweating out finances and otherwise trying to keep the head above water as it were.
Not to mention drinking wine, hanging out with the cat (and lately one of my daughters and her dog) and wasting time on computer games.

Weather has been beautiful, daffodils and tulips starting to appear in all their glory. As are the Smith college women. Ah, spring in Northampton! Stop that, curmudgeon! You are way too old for them and you know it—my conscience says. To Hell with my conscience.
Beautiful weather=procrastination. Why you haven't heard from me lately. I know you were waiting impatiently. Too bad.

The political scene is getting uglier. Democrats showing they haven't lost their touch when it comes to shooting yourself in the foot. ABC proved all the media critics right by airing one of the most inane political "debates" ever. They musta forgot it wasn't "American Idol." Enough people have complained about it already so I will maintain a discrete silence.

The Obamarama is not a happy circus anymore. Our lad is running into the truth that way too many Americans are still racist. They don't see it. They think "Negroes" ought to have the same chances as anyone else. Only in some other neighborhood. I mean, Obama is half Kenyan fer pete's sakes! That's almost "not-American."
And Hillary "doesn't think" he's a Muslim. One of her sillier lines. He's United Church of Christ. Of course to some people that's like being Communist. UCC people believe that Jesus really does love everyone and that he doesn't give a rat's ass if you believe in evolution, or have an unconventional sex life.

Where DO these people come from?

And the Pope visited. I hear he baptized a bear as a Catholic and then took a sh!!t in the woods.

Okay, that was cheap and stupid.
I never could pass up a bad joke.

He did a good thing in facing foursquare the abusing priest issue. Unfortunately he hasn't considered the idea of letting priests have normal sex lives so that this stuff is less likely to happen. I think the argument goes that JC was a celibate and anyway sex detracts from meditating on more important things, like the state of one's soul. Actually, the idea of Jesus' celibacy is an inference (albeit a good one), not a known fact. He did have a way with women, especially disreputable ones, as my minister happily says.

I think the state of MY soul would improve if I could have more sex. Or, at my age, ANY sex.

It's striking to compare how many times Jesus has anything to say that is even remotely concerned with sex to the times he has something to say about wealth and possessions. Then compare that to the number of times your basic priest or minister has anything to say about the evils of wealth as opposed to the evils of sex.

Fact is, it's money, esp. money from wealthy donors, that builds churches and pays ministers' salaries and provides priests with parsonages. Sex seems to be deficient in that area.

Ratzi, Pope Benedict, is putting on a friendlier, less doctrinaire face. Sort of like the one George's buddy Vlad (George looked into his eyes and saw his soul) wore before his term of President of the Russias ended. And you know what Vlad is up to.

My prescriptions to save the church (as an ex-catholic):
Make celibacy voluntary.
Allow women into the priesthood. I don't think Jesus will care.
Drop the idea that people who aren't Catholic will have a difficult time being saved and entering Heaven (saved from what, you may ask)(and if you're Buddhist you can say "saved from having to come back yet again for another round of effing up").
Lose the papal infallibility thing. Pope selection is just another political process. I mean, do these guys think they're President of the US of A? Gimme a break.
Bring back the Latin Mass or if you're going to keep the vernacular get some poets to translate it for pete's sake. Let Art rather than doctrine guide the translators.
You have to work a bit to do better in solemnity than the part where the priest says "Sursum corda." And the congregation responds "Habemus ad Dominum."
Lift up your hearts and we lift them up to God, loosely translated.
"agnus dei, qui tollis peccat mundi, miserere nobis."
"Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us."
That's not a bad translation, but the Latin has it beat for solemnity.
You need a poet to get the right feeling of these verses into English or any other vernacular. And the translation has to reflect the FEELING, not the actual MEANING of the words. It's a mistake to get caught up in the literal meaning of the words. The truth does not lie in the literal meaning, it lies in the response you feel when you hear and recite them.

Intellect will not bring you salvation. You heard it here.

I find myself surprised, I who would support almost any modernization of the church, Catholic or Protestant, yearning for the mystery and solemnity of the Latin mass.

My dream is to go to a Catholic Church and hear the Lesbian priest(ess) intoning "Sursum corda."
THAT would be religion.

A lot of the Protestant liturgies also have a problem with this, they being just as concerned as Catholic clerics with getting the "right" meaning (intellectually) into the prayers and invocations, lest they lead people into hellfire.
Give it up.
And don't go all New Agey in the writing. The UCC's New Century Hymnal has some nice stuff in in it; also some really crappy revisions of old hymns. It's possible to go overboard in anything, including "politically correct" language.

English is a bitch. My prescription (I should go into pharmacology, all these prescriptions—it would be a natural, actually, considering my past interest in drugs) is: he, her, hers.
Let the (formerly) male term have the first person and give the possessives to the females. It usually works out that way in life anyway.

Just kidding, ladies. Couldn't resist another cheap joke. (I warned you).

Enough about Latin, Popes and cheap jokes. You could have been doing something useful and here you were reading this.
Geez Louise.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mistakes and brainstorms

One of my astute readers corrected me (and where was the other reader?) on the statement I made that the younger Bush was head of the CIA. It was his father. You remember George the 1st? He was the one who Actually Fought in a war. Did a good job too, I hear. Still, George the 2nd did look into Putin's soul and saw his own reflection.

I see the OBamarama campaign ran into a Pennsylvania pothole. Not that anything he said was necessarily wrong, but it sure was clumsy. I'd sort of like him to win the nomination, I guess, but I think it's good for him to have to deal with people who aren't going to take any shite, no matter what their status. He does have a bit of the "privileged class" about him. The hillfolk have trouble trusting anyone with perfect teeth.
Oh, that was mean. But I'll leave it.

Obama can always excuse himself by saying he made the remarks under sniper fire.

He's getting sniped at now, you betcha. Billary are SO happy to deflect attention away from Hillary's own private Sarajevo. She is hoping like crazy that this will make people forget her own "misspeaking."

Of course, McCain, wily old soldier that he is, is just beside himself with joy. The way it's going, the Billary-Obamarama show will wear itself out by July and leave everyone sick of both of them. Uh-oh, here comes another Republican President.

In the meantime your 'umble servant has been doing his taxes, at great length. Hours spent getting the medical bills together only to find it was all for nought. In 2006 I spent a couple grand and got $91 back in consideration from our government for my efforts to stay alive to pay taxes. This past year I spent under two grand, got nada. Bad, ungrateful government!

But if my figures are right, I'm getting a nice chunk back on my earnings, such as they were (not a whole lot has been trickling down in my direction). If my figures are not right, I'll be posting from the nearest federal detention facility sometime in the future.

It would seem that there must be an easier way to figure taxes, even progressive taxes. If all your income came to a certain amount, then pay this much. If it came to more, then pay more. It's not rocket science. And if your income came to several millions because you sucked the blood out of some company while underpaying and laying off employees, then you just pay back everything and be sentenced to be a waiter in a diner in Enid, Oklahoma for five years.

That would be one way to bring accountability to CEO performance. I really think it's better than sentencing white-collar criminals to cushy federal facilities where they can exchange financial schemes with each other. I mean, if your common teenage criminal goes to jail and learns all kinds of new nefarious stuff from the other inmates, why wouldn't white collar, cheating CEO's also share their criminal techniques?

Instead of five years in the pokey with their peers, make them actually work for five years. Let's put those Enron guys on Alaskan pipeline maintenance duty. Or better, crew on a salmon fishing boat. Well, that's about out I hear, for a while. Too many people enjoying salmon sushi or steak. But there are plenty of unpleasant jobs going begging out there.

That's my brainstorm for the day. If this were a perfect universe I could make this idea a reality, but alas…

I'm outa here.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Looking into Putin's Soul

I heard on NPR today that the Bushman is going to visit again with his buddy, Vlad Putin.
Got me thinking and I have something for all you paranoiacs and tin-hatters out there.
Consider back in Bush's early days when he visited ol' Vlad and said he looked into his eyes, he saw his soul? We all laughed, those of us who use our brains for more than figuring out when "American Idol" is on, but we were wrong. WE WERE WRONG! George was telling the truth. He looked into Vlad's soul and LIKED what he saw. Don't forget, both these guys were connected with espionage, Bush with the CIA and Putin with the KGB. They probably knew each other from the old days.
Consider this: Putin arranges for corruption charges to be brought against big business men who wanted to get him out, and they are in jail or in hiding or dead. He consolidates his power. Bush (or his minions) rips the reputations of any political rivals to shreds (i.e. hatchet job on John Kerry by Swift Boat Liars) in order to consolidate his power.
Putin gathers more control of the state into his hands. Reduces democracy (as little as the Russia had). More police power to intimidate citizens.
Bush uses terrorist hysteria to consolidate his power, infringes on American's freedoms (ever wonder what your librarian has been telling the FBI about you?) through wiretapping, charges of terrorism (hello sunny Cuba, enjoy your stay at Guantanamo Bay) and basically trashes our reputation with torture, rendition and military tribunals.

Neither man wants his people to question his policies: better they should just devote their time to working and shopping.
In short both men are instigating fears amongst the populace and law makers in order to consolidate their powers and suppress opposition. Putin has war in Chechnya, Bush has war in Iraq. Terrorist seedbeds, both of them. Well, now they are, anyway.

And the two men still seem to have a cozy relationship (at least Our Leader thinks so) while officially our governments are at odds over Nato expansion and missile defense.
Sooo, who benefits if there is a resumption of the cold war, or something similar, between the Russia and the USA? The ordinary citizens who just want to be happy and live life or the military-industrial complex and it's greedy political supporters?
Think about it.

Geez, I'm almost convincing myself.
In actuality, I think that Putin is playing George for a sucker. But I could be wrong.

Still, I wonder how much Mr. Bush believes about how those missle installations in the Czech Republic and Poland are really for stopping Al Quaeda missles. Osama bin Laden has a lot of missle delivering capabilities, no doubt. They're just building them helter-skelter in those caves on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Well, that ought to be enough to disturb your sleep for the night. My work here is done.

More on our tendency to anthropomorphize God

Here's an old Sufi story, courtesy of Idris Shah, the late Sufi leader. It's in one of his books.
There was a guy who learned how to talk to ants. He found a couple ants one day and asked them "What is God like?"
One of the ants replied, "Oh, God, well, we only have one sting, but He has two!"
It should be obvious what this story is trying to say (at least on one level—Sufi stories have a lot of levels, but don't ask me about that, I'm not a Sufi) .
Don't obsess on the absurdity of talking to ants, it'll hold you back.

It may be that the reason and meaning of our existence is nil, just a copacetic accretion of biological events. Or there may be something more to it. Maybe life itself is a prime mover, an entity not like us of which we are nevertheless a part, and from which we came and to which we return. Jesus said "the kingdom of God is within you." He was trying to tell us something. Buddha said that this world is illusion. He was trying to tell us something. They both were talking about the same thing, only from different angles.

If that's making your brain explode, go back to worrying about talking to ants.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Losing your religion?

Well, Hillary is finding out what real sniper fire is like now that the press and stand-up comedians everywhere are jumping on her "visit to the war zone" comments. if she would just take a more positive approach with ideas and proposals for the future instead of trying to glorify herself…

In the meantime everyone who is looking for a way to get at Obama is continuing to go on about the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Attacking Obama's patriotism is a good way to cover up a fear of his race. Way to go Jeremiah, doing a good job of protecting Obama's back. The ironic thing is that finally someone of color is actually in contention to be the next President, while the Rev is going on about America suppressing blacks. Well, he's right, it's been that way. But it's changing and he could recognize that. Rev, did you ever hear the expression "a self fulfilling prophecy?"
Actually, the man shouldn't be required to hold back his thinking for the sake of the election. It is a free country, and Obama did say he didn't agree with the Rev. As a clergy friend of mine pointed out, the Biblical Jeremiah said a lot of unpleasant things to the Israelites. This Jeremiah is just carrying on the tradition.

Oh, and don't give me a lot of crap about bussing and affirmative action and reverse discrimination. Any progress and any mistakes made trying to fix the racism situation along these lines are comparatively recent. (Thirty year olds are going to have trouble thinking that something that happened before their birth is recent, but they should get over that). This grouch remembers reading about a lynching in the South (well, where else?) back in the late fifties. That's not prehistory.
This grouch remembers the killings and beatings of the civil rights era, and being yelled at himself at demonstrations.

Anyway, I'm digressing. I was going to ramble on about religion. Found an article about atheist criticisms of religion,,2265446,00.html#article_continue

It's called "The Atheist Delusion," a take-off on Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion."
The article doesn't really go after the final conclusion of atheistic thought, but does a good job of showing how the latest round of polemicists are pretty much acting like evangelical religionists.
here's a quote:
" It is true that religion has declined sharply in a number of countries (Ireland is a recent example) and has not shaped everyday life for most people in Britain for many years. Much of Europe is clearly post-Christian. However, there is nothing that suggests the move away from religion is irreversible, or that it is potentially universal. The US is no more secular today than it was 150 years ago, when De Tocqueville was amazed and baffled by its all-pervading religiosity. The secular era was in any case partly illusory. The mass political movements of the 20th century were vehicles for myths inherited from religion, and it is no accident that religion is reviving now that these movements have collapsed. The current hostility to religion is a reaction against this turnabout. Secularisation is in retreat, and the result is the appearance of an evangelical type of atheism not seen since Victorian times."

Again, the author doesn't directly refute the atheist idea that there is no God, nor does he seem to support the idea that there is a God. He's just pointing out how much like religious believers the latest critics are, and shows that their contentions are not a matter of fact but a matter of faith.

Disclosure: hard as it may be to believe, your curmudgeon is a deacon in a Congregational church. Okay, I'm not a particularly pious deacon, but I am one. There it is. Also, the church is a part of the United Church of Christ, and guess what? Rev. Wright's church happens to be the largest UCC church. Obama is a member of the UCC just like me. Doesn't mean I'll automatically vote for him, he'll have to convince me. Nor does it mean I agree with Rev. Wright.

Anyhow, I like what the author of the piece, John Gray, has to say about the similarity of atheistic "faith" to religious faith. The same single-mindedness, the same conviction that those who disagree are wrong, the same concatenation of ideological points to prove their point. The same suppression of the knowledge that all the arguments lead nowhere.

The thing about faith is, well, it's faith. When one has faith in anything, any so-called objective fact can be incorporated into it, or ignored, or refuted. Think about those Christians that believe the world is only 5,000 years old. Dinosaurs? No problem. King Arthur probably killed them off. (I just made that up). Carbon-dating? Inaccurate or a little trick God is playing to see if we really believe. It goes on.

A common atheistic argument involves all the killing and repression caused by religion. While a lot of injustice was done in the name of religion, it wasn't necessarily caused by religion. The root cause is in the tendency of people to group together and their need to demonize others to support their group belief. It's really a basic psychological thing.
I'm familiar with this argument. I was once asked by a priest who was working underground, as it were, in the hippie community, to come to the local Newman Club and explain why I quit the Catholic Church. I did alright, tho it was a little scary to look at a row of stern-faced nuns and imagine being cudgeled roundly by a dozen rulers. But I used all those arguments— the crusades, the suppression of thought etc. I was young and impetuous and full of myself. So I have an excuse.
There's really no qualitative difference between, say, the Communist's slaughter of the Czar's family and the murder of Albigensians by the French Catholics. (There's a quantitative difference, of course, there were a lot more Albigensians.) Consider the treatment of the Japanese toward the Chinese and Koreans. That would certainly seem to be more racial than religious. The Nazis made a "religion" of their philosophy. Didn't have anything to do with God or Christianity.
It's all about people having to feel that their group is the best, is the only right one, is the only one with the truth. Everyone else is by definition, inferior. It has nothing to do with faith in a God.
One of the problems I have with any arguments about God is that underlying everything is a belief that God is like us in some way. No one can get away from the anthropomorphism, the belief that somehow there is a way to understand. God may not exist, or God may be something totally different than what we understand in this life. I'm betting my soul that God is not a bearded guy in a robe who weighs out every little peccadillo or good deed to see if I'm one of the "elect." As long as the people involved in an argument believe that God, or the idea of God is someone who looks human and acts human, that argument is pointless.

And it's late. Maybe more later. I'm outa here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Late night meanderings

Ever since I was laid off I have been up til 1 or 2 in the morning. I still get up at 7 AM.
Needless to say the lack of sleep is causing some changes in my mental equilibrium.

I need another root canal. No insurance of course. I'll be paying this off for a couple years. Why doesn't this country have a good health care system? Do I have to move to France to get my teeth fixed?
The problem as I see it is that certain people in high places, senators and representatives etc (AKA Republicans) Are afraid that if they create a really good system someone, somewhere, will take advantage of it and get benefits he or she doesn't deserve.
Like this doesn't happen amongst the big money Wall Street crowd who run crying to the gov't. every time they get too reckless with investors' money?

Back up Chrysler and Bear Stearns but for God's sake don't let that poor black woman get away with having another baby on the gov't. dole. Now I know there are a lot of dull knives in the drawer, but really, how many women of any color are considering having a lot of kids as an income producer?

"Shit, I don't have the rent money this month, I better get pregnant again."
This is really sexist. I, a man, don't have this option.
(just kidding, folks)

I'm sure there is someone out there stupid and venal enough to think this way, but how many? Are thousands of people who could genuinely benefit from financial help to be penalized because a couple of wingnuts are gaming the system?

Don't ask me about the time I was told I would have to sell my car and buy a junker before I would be eligible (with three kids to support because my ex-wife was having a brain fart) for food stamps.

These problems come from those so-called Christians who talk the talk but can't bring themselves to walk the walk. Someone said, "those who can't trust are unworthy of trust themselves." And Republicans, as a rule, just can't bring themselves to believe in the goodness of people even as they preach about it on Sunday. They can't trust and they show over and over again they can't be trusted.
Do you really trust George Bush to preserve your freedom? To make sure you won't end up living in a cardboard box in an alley somewhere? Assuming you can find a cardboard box. Those republican CEOs probably have cornered that market. They can recognize a growth industry.

People wouldn't cheat if they didn't think that the system was loaded against them. Why shouldn't I try to weasel as much out of the system as I can when CEOs are raking it in even when they are effing up royally in making their companies profitable? I wish someone would pay me for effing up. I could be a billionaire by now.

These same asshats and their supporters in Congress will tut-tut over that (apocryphal) welfare mother popping out babies for the monthly child-raising stipend. How much does she get? An extra fifty bucks a month? How much do these wingnuts in business get for their malfeasance as leaders? An extra million a month?

Here's fair warning to all Republicans who worry about someone squeezing a couple hundred bucks a year out of the system without "deserving" it. I'm your man. I'll get whatever I can and I'll laugh in your faces. So there! I'm laughing all the way to the bank. Come visit me on my Caribbean island hide-away.


I'm going to bed.
I hope I'm keeping someone, somewhere, awake.

Paranoia is your friend when you can use it to drive others (read:"Republicans") crazy.