Category Archives: Reality

Mitt Romney’s pledge

Pro-choice, multiple choice, or pro-life, Mitt Romney rejects a hyphenated title. He pledges instead “to preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.” This is not a label or a reaction to any endorsement. He has not changed his mind, and he will not change it. Listen to his statement:

Why the TV news is garbage

Today WCYB reported that “Obama Calls For Israel’s Return to Pre-1967 Borders,” and added commentary about the negative response. Their report is not true. In cable news, you hear the headline over and over. In local news, you hear it once. If the headline is not true, you don’t hear the truth.

Of course the excuse if you raise the issue is that they are pressed for time and do not have time to include the details.

For those who can get to the Internet to check up on what people say, WCYB.com posted a longer article titled Obama Calls For Israel’s Return To Pre-1967 Borders
by Tom Cohen of CNN. If you go that far to check, you still have to read a bit to know that someone misled you because the headline is still a half-truth, which is a politically significant lie:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama on Thursday made official the long-held but rarely stated U.S. support for a future Palestinian state based on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

In the past, the United States has unofficially backed a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict based on the borders in place prior to the war 44 years ago in which Israel seized the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula.

In a major speech Thursday, Obama became the first president to formally endorse the policy, but he also acknowledged the need for modifications through the negotiating process due to conditions on the ground. [italics mine]

The words in italics do not correct the lie in the headline. They confuse the issue with the idea that this information is an aside or a nod or a concession added to the recommendation. I heard the original speech. What President Obama said was that Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders with mutually-agreed swaps to form secure borders that can be defended. There was never a suggestion at all that Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders. Unfortunately, the lie is as much as the TV news reported, and the truth in the article is well hidden because over 90% won’t follow up the TV news story, and of those who do, most won’t read past the headline and the first two paragraphs.

President Obama’s actual statement is quoted in paragraph 5:

“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” Obama continued.

Farther into the story on the website, the article reports President Obama’s strong support for Israel:

At the same time, Obama reiterated unwavering U.S. support for Israel’s security, and he endorsed major negotiating positions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, including an incremental handover of security responsibilities by Israel when conditions on the ground allow it.

Obama declared the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security “unshakable,” and said “every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat.”

“Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security,” Obama continued, touching on the major concerns of Israel in facing a new Palestinian neighbor. “The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.”

So the long and the short of it is that if you want to know what really happened, you will have to search for it. The TV news is not going to tell you.

Discussions don’t have to end in bloodshed

When someone sees all opinions as equal — i.e., any person has a right hold any opinion — all discussion is circular. People who are trapped in that false construction of reality feel personally threatened by conflicting opinions. But they are lucky in one way: they have it pretty easy in the research department.

When a person sees opinions as derived from weighing the facts, the conflicting opinion is not a personal threat, but it does present you with a lot of work. First you have to see what facts the other person uses to justify their opinion, then you have to see how those facts fit into the larger context of your opinion and your known facts, and then you have some fact checking and connecting of the dots to do before you:

  • change your mind and agree with the other person,
  • continue in disagreement with facts to sustain you,
  • or arrive at a third opinion that incorporates all of the facts.

Sometimes the gathering of facts becomes so involved that you can’t remember the original conflicting opinion, but you have the benefit of the study even if you can’t remember what the object was. (Hint: Wikipedia is cool, but set a timer.)

Once you start gathering, verifying, and associating facts, you discover how seldom you have all of them. Some are hidden for later discovery — often in hopes they will never be found — and new ones keep popping up. Example: I might spend money today at Sam’s Club. That will invalidate several facts in Sam’s inventory, in my bank account, and — if I trip over the curb and break my leg — in whether or not I can drive a car. So if someone verified any of those facts yesterday, their facts would be outdated.

Sometimes people pick their fact set to persuade you to believe something contrary to the truth, maybe in order to move money from your bank account to theirs. So you have to see who is using what facts to promote what opinions and what they are leaving out, and there you have another whole set of dots to connect.

Keeping conflicting opinions in the factual universe and connecting the dots is worth the effort. You can learn new things, modify an opinion without bloodshed, and break out of the circular discussion. Frequently you can even keep your friends, since you don’t have to kill them, silence them, or shame them.

Probably the greatest advantage of forming your opinions in the fact-based universe is that the fabric of that universe is not easily ripped by shouting heads. You can study the deficit, tax breaks for big oil, tax breaks for millionaires, or any other issue in the opinion mill, without feeling like it is a deadly tumor in your own personal cranium. Nobody is expected to be rational about a deadly tumor in their own personal cranium, but the number of people who are irrational about public policy issues today is — well, irrational.

The semantic quibble is tiresome

The “marriage” vs “civil union” discussion is semantic. If you favor civil union for same-sex couples, you favor extending the civil codes relating to marriage to gay people. I guess the semantic argument bothers me for two reasons — first that I am an old English teacher and administrator who has had to get around too many arguments like this from people who didn’t do their homework, and second because this one has been used for so long to deny people their civil rights.

Today is the anniversary of the 2004 law that made Massachusetts the first state to sanction same-sex marriage, a right now recognized in five states and in Washington D.C. One of the first arguments put forward was by people who declared support for the rights of same-sex couples but who were unwilling to give them the word. On Facebook today the argument is still out in full force — “I support civil unions, but we should not redefine marriage.”

It is a religious quibble to deny civil and human rights to protect the use of a sacramental word in the civil code. Sacramental words are sacred and deeply appreciated within their respective churches, but in civil records “marriage” and “union” are both words with meaningful legal standing. Marriage in the civil code is the union of two people who express their commitment to each other and promise to live together as a couple. You can get “married” at the courthouse before a judge or magistrate without the intervention or sanction of any church, and under the civil law you will be married. So those who object to the use of the word “marriage” can have civil unions any time just by voting for gay marriage. Marriage is already a civil union in the United States.

With or without the law, each church must decide whether or not to sanctify same-sex unions. Each church can also decide what to call whatever they decide to do. Language is organic and takes time to change, but it follows the culture — so your terminology might catch on. If you wait for the language of the civil laws to change before you are willing to correct a recognized denial of civil rights within the culture, you are putting the cart before the horse.

When faith is fragile

Christians have never seemed stronger in the United States than they appear today, with fundamentalism entrenched in the marketplace, education, entertainment, and government. But faith appears increasingly fragile.

Many families home-school children using curriculum materials that support biblical truth as opposed to social, historical, or scientific truth. Churches have their own rock music so they can rave without hearing contrary words, and there are Christian romance novels and Christian post-apocalyptic fiction for the young folks so they will not be led astray. Many Christians feel attacked by the mention of evolution, and their faith cannot comfortably coexist with science, other religions, or alternate lifestyles. To preserve their fragile faith, they silence or marginalize — perhaps demonize — people who do not fit their mold.

Human understanding of the universe and of people grows and expands, through human experience, reflection, discovery, and discussion. Such learning threatens the God of fundamentalism, who is changeless and text-bound, too small to contain the whole unfolding universe. So they protest too much and believe too little, and they are stressed-out and fearful, defending their downsized God instead of living in faith and moving forward.

The religon wars

Conflicts today often devolve to a conflict over religion, or at least between two groups committed to different interpretations of God. Both Islam and Christianity claim to be religions of peace, but history does not reveal them to be so. Judaism does not have an imperialist commission to convert people of other faiths and expand their territory, but it too bears historical scars of both oppressed and oppressor.

Yesterday in Egypt, a bomb exploded outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, killing several people:

After the explosion, some Christians from the church clashed with police in anger over the blast. The Christians hurled stones at police and a nearby mosque, chanting, “With our blood and soul, we redeem the cross,” the witnesses said. An AP photographer at the scene said the protesters stormed into the mosque, throwing books inside out onto the street. The protest sparked clashes with Muslims, as both sides began throwing stones and bottles at each other in the streets. (The Huffington Post, Maggie Michaell, “Egypt Church Explosion,” 12/31/10)

It is convenient in any conflict to be able to identify the “other person” who is the “enemy” as someone who does not worship the true God, meaning of course the one you worship. It doesn’t even have to be a different God. Arguably the reference “God” in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all refer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The whole problem is that Muslim fundamentalists understand this God one way, Christian fundamentalists understand him another way, and Jewish fundamentalists yet another way. The difference becomes a reason for any group to kill members of the other group, wreck or ban their houses of worship, destroy their books and artifacts, call them infidels, and otherwise treat them in unfriendly and injurious ways.

Through history, most of the world’s large killing sprees have involved Christians, frequently on both sides of the conflict. Muslim fundamentalists have warred against each other and against Christians, earning their reputation as terrorists by striking at civilian targets without warning. It is not as if they were powerless to do better, because they have the same platforms available to other groups from which to negotiate or otherwise present their grievances. Their method is of their own choosing, and they expect that their God will reward them with paradise. Somehow it is not incongruous to think of a Viking soldier believing that his spirit will be borne into Valhalla if he dies in battle, just as it is not incongruous to think that some shepherd on the hills of ancient Rome believed that the sun was Apollo’s chariot racing across the dome of the sky. But in a scientific age it is difficult to think of a modern human with a suicide bomb believing that killing a group of random strangers is his ticket to paradise.

Perhaps it is that religion, which probably should be about how we live, has come to be about how we ought to die for our faith. A martyr earns God’s special favor in paradise and headlines that go around the world to tell people he is a soldier of God, while a person who dies in his bed after a long life of service to fellow human beings gets only his obituary in the local paper for a couple of days and a few family to welcome him on the other side. Or perhaps it is even more simple, and since nobody is actually certain of their own God’s favor, they have to prove themselves right and righteous by proving the other person wrong. If the other person is trampled upon or dead, if the other person’s books and holy artifacts are trashed and his temple destroyed, obviously his God wasn’t as good as the God whose soldier is still standing.

With the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution in our history, it seems likely to me that people could learn to live in peace if we could all manage to quit defending our all-powerful and eternal Gods against attacks by every piddly little infidel that strikes a pose.

Not a clue

It is not often that you get to meet a voter who knows exactly who God is, what God wants, and who God wants them to vote for, but I did meet such a person back in the summer while campaigning for Rick Boucher.

It was particularly disturbing because the person was a Christian. In the authoritative Christian text, Jesus said “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s,” clearly separating the secular from the sacred. In addition, he refused to be king of the world, and he threw the money-changers out of the house of worship. His message to the woman at the well separated worship from geography, tribal origin, and nationality. So to call any nation a Christian nation is contrary to the teaching of Jesus. History books published prior to the Great Revision (BGR) all show that in the United States it is also contrary to the ideas of the Founding Fathers. As to what God wants us to do, the Sermon on the Mount does not go into much legal detail the way Leviticus does, but it says pretty clearly that while God really doesn’t need anything that we can give, our fellow human beings are often hungry and ill and anxious, and if we take care of them, it is the same as if we are caring for God.

Anyway, this voter had come with a group to Acres of Democrats, an annual Democratic party fundraiser. Her group filled a table at the front of the room to the right of the speaker, and when Rick had finished his speech, they were strategically positioned to surround and pursue him, scripted and choreographed. To their dismay, Rick passed right through them, and several of the Democrats who saw the ambush stepped into his wake and stopped them. There were five or six of them, including two women who were apparently spokespersons, a videographer, and an outlier or two who were there to block.

Two Democrats were comforting the crying woman, listening to her repeat tearfully, “I just wanted him to answer me, just wanted him to come to our event that we invited him to.” She was visibly distraught, which is important when when there is a video. As we all began to realize what was going on, people turned away from the scene.

I stood for a minute or two listening to her performance, then I asked her some kind of question, which caused her to turn to me. The two people who had been listening to her seized the opportunity and left, having done their duty.

This voter was in tears, as proponents of the extreme right often are — agonizing about whether to vote for an incumbent with a proven record of service or for a newcomer campaigning on the “I am Christian” platform. The incumbent had supported gay rights and women’s rights, and so was accused of threatening the sanctity of marriage and killing babies. This was old rhetoric that I had already heard. But I was surprised to learn from this voter that Liberation Theology, which originated in the Black church, specifically in Reverend Wright’s church, was the most serious problem facing Americans, that it was the basis for the class warfare being waged by Democrats and Liberals, and that it was going to destroy the United States and Christianity. She knew nothing about Cap and Trade, about climate change, or about any issue. She was concerned about that one great evil, Liberation Theology. I myself had not even recognized this as an issue. She was concerned, even distressed, about Liberation Theology, but she still didn’t know anything about it. She could not name any of the tenets or principles, or name a theologian other than Wright. She did say that she had read all about it in Glenn Beck’s book, and she was an expert because she had been studying history for three years. Somewhere someone has a video. If you see it let me know.

This person’s vote counted as much as mine. She had no clue about the issues, but she was a protector of marriage against the threat of gays, protector of babies against murdering Moms, stalwart of the Christian faith without a clue what that is, advocate for millionaires that she didn’t know against people living in her own trailer park, on a mission from God and Beck, and pretending to be a Democrat in order to ambush a Congressman and pour out her self-righteous tears on camera.