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“STUPIDITY” DOESN’T MEAN “SECURITY” – PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement on February 29, 2012 at 12:30 am

First, the good news: The Pentagon, a past target of Al Qaeda terrArabism, is still open for public tours.

Americans can still observe–if only during a limited, guided tour–how the men and women of the United States military “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Now, the bad news:  Some of the security measures at the Pentagon are as absurd as those found at most local, State and Federal buildings.

Consider this memo from the Public Affairs Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, dated February 2, 2012:

MEMORANDUM FOR Tour Requestors

FROM:  Pentagon Tour Office

SUBJECT:  Security Measures

The following guidelines must be adhered to when taking a tour of the Pentagon to ensure everyone’s safety and security.

  1. Tour groups should arrive 30 minutes prior to your scheduled tour to provide enough time to be cleared through Pentagon security.  Have your confirmation letter available to show the Pentagon Police upon arrival at the Pentagon’s Metro entrance.  Once cleared, groups will check in at the Pentagon Tours window located inside the visitor’s center 15 minutes before the scheduled tour start time.  Groups that fail to check-in at the scheduled time will have their tour cancelled.
  2. Persons participating in a Pentagon Tour will not be allowed to bring weapons of any sort (i.e. guns, knives, box cutter, mace, pepper spray, etc.) or inside the building: weapons of any sort or large bags (i.e. knapsacks, camera bags, backpacks and shopping bags, etc.) into the Pentagon.  Purses are permitted but are subject to search if brought into the Pentagon.
  3. Electronic devices such as cellular telephones, mobile e-mail and smartphone devices (Blackberry, iPhone), cameras (still, digital or video), PDAs, laptop and tablet computers, and tobacco products may not be used while participating in a Pentagon Tour.  Additionally, eating and drinking are prohibited while on the tour.  You are encouraged to not bring these items inside the building as it will slow processing into the building.
  4. Proper personal identification (ID) must be produced when requested by Pentagon Police prior to entering the Pentagon as follows.

-        Ages 12 and under – ID not required.

-        Ages 13 to 17 – One form of photo ID or a parent/guardian to vouch for them.

-        Ages 18 and up – Two forms of ID: one form must be a government issued photo ID, the other may be a credit/debit card, U.S. passport, birth certificate, or another item with the individual’s name printed on it, excluding business cards.

Please contact Pentagon Force Protection Agency directly at (703) 697-1001 if you have questions regarding what constitutes acceptable forms of ID.

//SIGNED//

Director, Pentagon Tour Program

* * * * *

OK, let’s examine these requirements one-by-one.

Number One: “Tour groups should arrive 30 minutes prior to your scheduled tour to provide enough time to be cleared through Pentagon security.  Have your confirmation letter available to show the Pentagon Police upon arrival at the Pentagon’s Metro entrance.”

This makes sense, becuse it takes time for people to go through metal detectors and show various forms of ID to security guards.

Number Two: “Persons participating in a Pentagon Tour will not be allowed to bring weapons of any sort….into the Pentagon.”

Again, this is just basic common sense.  The military have more than enough weapons of their own–and they want to be certain that only they have access to them.  And having been the targets of a massive terrArabist attack on 9/11, those who work at the Pentagon don’t want to risk being the targets of smaller attacks, either.

Number Three: “Electronic devices….and tobacco products may not be used while participating in a Pentagon Tour.  Additionally, eating and drinking are prohibited while on the tour.”

Once again, this is intelligent security.  The Pentagon is crammed with sophisticated electronic equipment–much of it for keeping track of United States military forces positioned throughout the world.  Its officials don’t want any of this–nor the faces of those who work there–captured on cameras.   The same holds true for cell phones and computers.

As for banning eating, drinking and using tobacco products: The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building by floor area, with about 6,500,000 sq ft.  This translates into about 600,000 miles, of which  3,700,000 sq ft (340,000 miles) are used as offices.  About 23,000 military and civilian employees and 3,000 non-defense support personnel work in the Pentagon.

So it makes sense to not have people scattering pieces of their various sandwiches, candies, potato chips and other snacks all over the building.  That’s why the Pentagon has over 20 of its own fast food operations, including Subway, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Panda Express and Starbucks–for its employees.

And even though grizzled officers still order their men to “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em”–that’s only in old movies.  The Pentagon–like all other Federal buildings–is off-limits to smokers.

Having reached the limits of intelligent security, we will next explore its opposite.

MIND(ING) OUR OWN BUSINESS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on February 28, 2012 at 12:18 am

Once again, Washington politicians are wringing their hands in public.

The reason: A civil war is raging in Syria.

United Nations officials estimate that 6,000 people have died there since protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad began nearly a year ago.

But that’s not what worries these pillars of the Washington elite.

Here’s what does: TV reporters from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and other networks are eagerly training their cameras on the carnage.

As they say in television journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

And this, in turn, causes members of Congress and the Obama administration to fear for their jobs. They dread that voters will blame them for not “doing something” to end the fighting.

Like sending in American armed forces to somehow stop it.

True, most of these officials never spent a day in military service. But it’s always easier to send someone else into combat than to take that risk yourself.

Actually, they need not fear for their jobs.

A CNN/ORC/International poll released on February 14 revealed that 73% of Americans believe the United States has no obligation to respond to the Syrian unrest. Only 25% believe it does.

Still, there are better reasons than public opinion–always a fickle commodity–for staying well out of Syria. Among these:

First, the United States just disengaged from Iraq. On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded.

Second, the war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But this demanded that the United States quickly pacify Iraq. The Iraqi insurgency totally undermined that goal, forcing U.S. troops to focus all their efforts inward.

Another unintended result of the war: Whereas Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn. Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

Third, the United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan. By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

The initial goal of this war was to destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden–and its Taliban protectors. But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.

So the American military didn’t wrap up its campaign as quickly as possible and then leave the country to its own devices. Instead, U.S. forces wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.

This increasingly brought them into conflict with primitive, xenophobic Afghans, whose mindset remains that of the sixth century.

On February 21, protests erupted throughout Afghanistan as accounts emerged that NATO personnel at Bagram Air Base had burned copies of the Koran. The books had been confiscated from suspected insurgents and inadvertently marked for incineration.

The incident sparked rabid anti-American demonstrations. At least 30 people, including four American troops, were killed, and many were wounded. Two American military officers were murdered by a trusted member of the Afghan military.

As a result, American forces no longer trust their “brothers” in the Afghan army to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban. One American officer stated that he would no longer meet with his Afghan counterparts unless there were five armed U.S. troops in the same room.

Fourth, intervening in Syria could produce similar unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more islamic terrorism.

Fifth, since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hezbollah and Hamas. For many years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

Sixth, according to U.S. defense reports, Syria has weapons of mass destruction–and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Syria has an active chemical weapons program, including significant reserves of the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Seventh, the United States had no part in instigating revolt against the Assad regime. Thus, Americans have no obligation to support those Syrians now trying to overthrow it.

Eighth, China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.

Ninth, while Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources to launch attacks against the United States.

All of this adds up to one, overwhelming conclusion: America should mind its own business–and let the Syrians attend to their own.

THE AYATOLLAHS AMONG U.S. – PART FIVE (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on February 27, 2012 at 1:47 am

Three mindsets:

THE RELIGIOUS MINDSET:

This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America.

If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.

He didn’t have much success in the early days. Our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes even the strongest foundations.

And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.

He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia….And so academia, a long time ago, fell….

And so what we saw this domino effect, once the colleges fell and those who were being education in our institutions, the next was the church….So they attacked mainline Protestantism, they attacked the Church, and what better way to go after smart people who also believe they’re pious to use both vanity and pride to also go after the Church.

After that, you start destroying the Church and you start destroying academia, the culture is where their next success was and I need not even go into the state of the popular culture today….

The fourth, and this was harder, now I know you’re going to challenge me on this one, but politics and government was the next to fall….

–Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, August 29, 2008

THE ATHIEST MINDSET:

The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken….

Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do….

And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, you don’t. How can I be so sure? Because I don’t know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt.

Doubt is humble, and that’s what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong…. If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers.

If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was that we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That’s it. Grow up or die.

 

–Comedian Bill Maher, in “Religulous,” 2008

THE AGNOSTIC MINDSET:

You see, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. 

I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things. But I’m not absolutely sure of anything. And there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here.

I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious Universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell.

–Physicist Richard Feynman

THE AYATOLLAHS AMONG U.S. – PART FOUR (OF FIVE)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on February 26, 2012 at 1:41 am

On February 18, Rick Santorum warned about the “phony theology” of President Barack Obama.

“It’s not about you,” Santorum told supporters of the right-wing Tea Party in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”

Which raises an interesting question: What would a Bible-based agenda mean for the country?

The death penalty would be vastly expanded to cover such “crimes” as:

  • Sabbath-breaking: Because the Lord considers it a holy day, anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death.  (Exodus 31:12-15)
  • Adultery:  If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)
  • Fornication: A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death.  (Leviticus 21:9)
  • Nonbelievers: They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13)
  • Homosexuality:  If a man also lies with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.  Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20-13)

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution–which forbids slavery–would be repealed. The Bible not only permits slavery but lays out rules for its practice–such as:

  • When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. (Exodus 21-7)
  • However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. (Leviticus 25:44-45)
  • Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18)

Almost all scientific progress would be discarded, since most of its findings conflict with the Bible:

  • One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4). This claim is totally contradicted by what astronomers now know about the eventual fate of the Earth: In about 7.6 billion years, the sun will exhaust its nuclear fuels.  This will vastly increase its heat and gravitational pull, and at least Mercury, Earth and Venus will be vaporized.
  • The Bible speaks of a world where physical laws are often violated by the will of God.   Thus, Jesus turns water into wine and raises Lazarus from the dead; Jonah lives inside a fish for three days; Noah dies at 950 years; and demons are exorcised.
  • In Biblical times, mental illness was seen as a manifestation of demonic possession.  Today we know that mental illness has nothing to do with evil spirits.

Laws guaranteeing equal rights for women would be repealed:

  • I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (1 Timothy 12:10)
  • Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)
  • A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. (1 Timothy 2:11)
  • But if…and evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsman shall stone her to death. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)

Military conflicts would be fought without regard to the Geneva Convention–as the Israelites did:

  • “You are my battle-ax and sword,” says the Lord.  “With you I will shatter nations and destroy many kingdoms.  With you I will shatter armies, destroying the horse and rider, the chariot and charioteer.  With you I will shatter men and women, old people and children, young men and maidens.  With you I will shatter shepherds and flocks, farmers and oxen, captains and rulers.”  (Jeremiah 51:20-23)
  • Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15, 1-3) 

Yes, a nation governed by “a theology based on the Bible” would be one far different from the United States we know today.

Since a number of Old Testament practices might lend themselves to easy abuse, this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

THE AYATOLLAHS AMONG U.S. – PART THREE (OF FIVE)

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2012 at 12:30 am

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, America’s most famous preacher, spends a lot of time thinking about who qualifies as a Christian–and who doesn’t.

He said just that on the February 21 edition of the MSNBC show, “Morning Joe.”

First, however, he offered his views on the relative Christian dedication of the major contenders for the Presidency in 2012:

President Barack Obama: “Islam sees him as a son of Islam…. I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich:“Newt’s been married several times… but he could make a good candidate. I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is.”

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum: “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it. I think he is, no question, a man of faith.”

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney: “I’m just saying most Christians would not recognize Mormonism. Of course they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have a lot of other things that they believe in, too, that we don’t accept theologically.”

Toward the end of the program, Mike Barnicle, one of the panelists
interviewing Graham, said: “You must spend a big part of the day checking out what you conceive to be people’s depth of faith, in terms of measuring.”

“This is my business,” replied Graham. “You guys go through newspapers every day. I look at a person’s political interest, but more importantly I look at their spiritual interests….

“You have to go by what a person says, and how they live their lives… Are they faithful church goers? Or do they just go when the cameras are on them?”

Another man who dedicated his life to judging the religious commitment of others was Bernard Gui, the chief inquisitor at Toulouse from 1308 to 1322.

His inquisition of those suspected or accused of heresy led to over 900 guilty verdicts. Of those convicted during examination by Gui, 42 were executed–by being burned at the stake.

Gui closely studied the best methods for interrogating “heretics.” He set forth his findings in his most important and famous work, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis. or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness.”

In this, he offered a vivid example of how such interrogations might go. The following is taken from that manual:

Interrogator: You call your faith Christian, for you consider ours as false and heretical. But I ask whether you have ever believed as true another faith than that which the Roman Church holds to be true?

Accused Heretic: I believe the true faith which the Roman Church believes, and which you openly preach to us.

Interrogator: Perhaps you have some of your sect at Rome whom you call the Roman Church. I, when I preach, say many things, some of which are common to us both, as that God liveth, and you believe some of what I preach. Nevertheless you may be a heretic in not believing other matters which are to be believed.

Accused Heretic: I believe all things that a Christian should believe.

Interrogator: I know your tricks. What the members of your sect believe you hold to be that which a Christian should believe. But we waste time in this fencing. Say simply, Do you believe in one God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

Accused Heretic: I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe in Christ born of the Virgin, suffered, risen, and ascended to heaven?

Accused Heretic: (Briskly) I believe.

Interrogator: Do you believe the bread and wine in the mass performed by the priests to be changed into the body and blood of Christ by divine virtue?

Accused Heretic: Ought I not to believe this?

Interrogator: I don’t ask if you ought to believe, but if you do believe.

Accused Heretic: I believe whatever you and other good doctors order me to believe.

Inquisitor: Those good doctors are the masters of your sect; if I accord with them you believe with me; if not, not.

Accused Heretic: I willingly believe with you if you teach what is good to me.

Inquisitor: You consider it good to you if I teach what your other masters teach. Say, then, do you believe the body of our Lord, Jesus Christ to be in the altar?

Accused Heretic: (Promptly) I believe that a body is there, and that all bodies are of our Lord.

Interrogator: I ask whether the body there is of the Lord who was born of the Virgin, hung on the cross, arose from the dead, ascended, etc.

Accused Heretic: And you, sir, do you not believe it?

Interrogator: I believe it wholly.

Accused Heretic: I believe likewise.

Men like Rick Santorum and Franklin Graham do not seek a golden future. They crave to return to a “golden” past–which includes the one-time power of Christians to impose their religious beliefs on others.

THE AYATOLLAHS AMONG U.S. – PART TWO (OF FIVE)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on February 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm

American right-wing elements have recently raised the cry that President Barack Obama is waging “a war on religion.”

It’s clear that GOP candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney intend to make this a major theme of their respective campaigns for President.

Obama supports a woman’s right

  • to obtain abortion–including in cases of rape and incest;
  • to obtain birth control; and
  • to obtain amniocentesis (pre-natal testing).

So, according to American fascists, the President is “waging a war against religion.”

Meanwhile, those Americans who do not support the theocratic agenda of the Right may well be confused.

Since access to such medical procedures as birth control and pre-natal testing has long been entirely legal, what’s all the fuss about?

Those Americans would be well-advised to learn a simple Russian phrase: “Kto-kovo.” This translates as “Who-whom.” Or, to be more precise: “Who can do what to whom?”

In short, the Right is not waging a “war for religious liberty.”

It’s waging a bitter struggle to establish a government that uses force or the threat of it to impose highly conservative religious beliefs on religionists who do not share such religious beliefs.

And on atheists or agnostics, who share none at all.

These Rightists and their theocratic allies have more in common with Tomas de Torquemada (1420 – 1498) the infamous Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, than with Jesus Christ.

Christ never ordered the torture or death of anyone. Torquemada–claiming to act in “defense” of the Roman Catholic Church–presided over the deaths of at least 2,000 “heretics.”

Nor did these unfortunate victims of religious fanaticism meet their death quickly or painlessly. They died by perhaps the cruelest means possible–by being burned alive at the stake.

Torquemada didn’t hesitate to pronounce someone a heretic. He “knew” who such people were. They were Jews. They were Muslims. They were “lapsed Catholics” who, in his view, failed to show fervent devotion to the religious authorities who ruled their lives.

For such people, Torquemada believed, the only road to salvation lay in being “cleansed” of their sins. And nothing burns away impurities like fire.

But before the fire-stakes came the fire-mindset: The arrogance of “knowing” who qualified as “saved” and who would be forever “damned.”

Unless, of course, his or her soul had been “purified” by fire.

This mindset was most recently put on display by no less a religious authority than Franklin Graham, son of America’s most famous preacher, Billy Graham.

Appearing on the MSNBC program, “Morning Joe,” on February 21, Graham was asked if he thought that Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney qualified as Christians.

On Obama, Graham said: “Islam sees him as a son of Islam… I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

On Santorum: “I think so. His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it… I think he’s a man of faith.”

On Gingrich: “I think Newt Gingrich is a Christian, at least he told me he is.”

On Romney: “Most Christians would not recognize Mormons as part of the Christian faith. They believe in Jesus Christ. They have a lot of other things they believe in too, that we don’t accept, theologically.”

Thus, Graham had no problem in pronouncing as “saved” a notorious multiple-adulterer like Gingrich, or a rights-denying religious zealot like Santorum.

But he clearly refused to pronounce as “saved” a longtime church-goer like Obama or a Mormon like Romney (whose faith, most evangelicals like Graham believe, is actually a non-Christian cult).

It’s easy to imagine Graham transported to the French city of Toulouse in the 14th century. And to imagine him wearing the robes of Bernardo Gui, the chief inquisitor of the Dominican Order during the Medieval Inquisition (1184 – 1230s).

Gui closely studied the best methods for interrogating “heretics.” He set forth his findings in his most important and famous work, Practica Inquisitionis Heretice Pravitatis. or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness.”

In this, he offered a vivid example of how such interrogations might go. The following is taken from that manual:

When a heretic is first brought up for examination, he assumes a confident air, as though secure in his innocence. I ask him why he has been brought before me. He replies, smiling and courteous, “Sir, I would be glad to learn the cause from you.”

Interrogator: You are accused as a heretic, and that you believe and teach otherwise than Holy Church believes.

Accused Heretic: (Raising his eyes to heaven, with an air of the greatest faith) Lord, thou knowest that I am innocent of this, and that I never held any faith other than that of true Christianity.

THE AYATOLLAHS AMONG U.S. – PART ONE (OF FIVE)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on February 23, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist in Saudi Arabia, decided to celebrate the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammed in a truly unique way.

In early February, he posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and Muhammad:

“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.”

“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”

“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

“No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.”

The tweets sparked some 30,000 infuriated responses. Many Islamic clerics demanded that he face execution for blasphemy.

Kashgari posted an apology tweet: “I deleted my previous tweets because…I realized that they may have been offensive to the Prophet and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand.”

Soon afterward, King Abdullah ordered his arrest.

Kashgari fled to Malaysia, another majority-Muslim country. He was quickly arrested by police as he passed through Kuala Lumpur international airport. Three days later, he was deported to Saudi Arabia.

Human rights groups fear that he will be executed for blasphemy, a capitol offense in Saudi Arabia.

Kashgari believed that the threats against him resulted, in part, from the tens of millions of dollars King Abdullah donated to the religious police last spring. Many Saudi dissidents have noted increased repression in recent months.

Outrageous? By Western standards, absolutely.

Clearly there is no tolerence in Saudi Arabia for the freedoms of thought and expression that Americans take for granted.

But before you say, “Religious oppression like that could never happen in the United States,” think again.

Right-wing American ayatollahs are now working overtime to create just that sort of society–where theocratic despotism rules the most intimate aspects of our lives.

One of these is GOP Presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. In early January, he said that states should have the right to outlaw birth control without the interference of the Supreme Court.

In an interview with ABC News, Santorum said he opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling that made birth control legal:

“The state has a right to do that [ban contraception]. I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that. It is not a Constitutional right. The state has the right to pass whatever statutes they have.

“That’s the thing I have said about the activism of the Supreme Court–they are creating rights, and it should be left up to the people to decide.”

In the landmark 1965 decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court struck down a law that made it a crime to sell contraceptives to married couples. The Constitution, ruled the Justices, protected a right to privacy.

Two years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court extended Griswold by striking down a law banning the sale of contraceptives to unmarried couples.

Santorum has left no doubt as to where he stands on contraception. On October 19, 2011, he said:

“One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘“Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.’

“It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also…procreative.

“That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act….And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure.”

“How things are supposed to be”–according to right-wing fanatics like Santorum and the evangelicals who support him.

Like the Saudi religious religious zealots who demand the death of a “blasphemer,” they demand that their religious views should govern everyone. Both groups have far more in common than they want to admit.

The important difference–for Americans who value their freedom–is this:

The United States has a Supreme Court that can–and does–overturn laws that threaten civil liberties. Laws that GOP Presidential candidates clearly want to revive and force on those who don’t share their peculiar religious views.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

The same holds true–in a democracy–for candidates who seek dictatorial power over their fellow citizens. Don’t give them your consent.

NON-SAYING WHAT WE MEAN

In History, Politics, Social commentary on February 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

The 1992 military courtroom drama, “A Few Good Men,” climaxes with a brutal exchange that has since become famous.

The legal combatants are Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

COLONEL JESSUP: You want answers?

KAFFEE: I want the truth!

COLONEL JESSUP: You can’t handle the truth!

Apparently, many of those who work in the television news business feel the same way about their audiences.

* * * * *

[WARNING: This column contains some words that some readers may find offensive.  Read on at your own risk.]

* * * * *

On February 18, editor Anthony Federico posted this headline on ESPN’s mobile website: “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-Snapping Loss to Hornets.”

The headline was posted at 2:30 a.m. and quickly removed when someone realized that it might be seen as offensive. By Sunday afternoon, Federico had been fired from ESPN.

It’s true that “Chink” is seen by Asians as a derogatory word. It’s equally true that ESPN has the right to discipline its employees when they violate its journalistic standards.

But ESPN should not have the right to treat its audience like so many school children who must be protected, at all costs, from life’s unpleasantness.

Consider ESPN’s apology:

“Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET.  The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET.

“We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake.”

Note the words “posted an offensive headline.” If you didn’t already know what the headline had said, ESPN wasn’t going to enlighten you.

And other news networks–such as ABC and NBC–have acted similarly, referring to the “c-word” without telling viewers just what was actually posted.

Since the “c-word” is often used as a euphemism for “cunt,” it’s easy to see how many viewers could imagine the writer had used a very different expression.

The official reason given for refraining from actually saying the word that lies at the center of the story is to offending some members of the audience.

But when the use of certain words becomes central to a news story, editors and reporters should have the courage to reveal just what was said–and let the audience decide for itself.

The evening news is–supposedly–aimed at voting-age adults.  And adults need–and deserve–the hard truth about the world they live in.  Only then do they have a chance to reform it–if, in fact, they decide it needs reforming.

Examples of such censorship are legion.  For instance:

In 1976, entertainer Pat Boone asked Earl Butz, then Secretary of Agriculture: Why was the party of Lincoln having so much trouble winning black votes for its candidates?

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want,” said Butz. “It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Unknown to Butz, a Rolling Stone reporter was standing nearby.  When his comments became public, Butz was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, most TV and print media struggled to protect their audiences from the truth of Butz’ racism.

Many newspapers simply reported that Butz had said something too obscene to print.  Some invited their readers to contact the editors if they wanted more information.

TV newsmen generally described Butz’ firing as stemming from “a racially-offensive remark,” which they refused to explain.

In short: A high-ranking government official had been fired, but audiences were not allowed to judge whether his language justified that termination.

Nor is there any guarantee that such censorship will not occur again.

On February 16, Foster Friess, offered his views about the importance of legalized birth control.  Friess is the wealthy investor bankrolling a super PAC for GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

“This contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such inexpensive,” said Friess. “Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

It’s understandable that women would be highly offended by this remark.

But shielding them from the women-hating mindset of those who support right-wing candidates like Santorum would ill serve their interests.

Censoring the truth has always been a hallmark of dictatorships.  It has no place in a democracy–no matter how well-intentioned the motives of those doing the censoring.

Some words will always be hateful–to blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, women, men.  In short, everybody.  Refusing to acknowledge their use will not cause them to vanish.

The truth is the truth. If you can’t handle it, that’s your problem.

But those of us who can deserve the opportunity to learn it.  And, when necessary, to act on it.

A NEEDED WAKE-UP CALL

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics on February 21, 2012 at 1:30 am

There is a famous joke about racial profiling that’s long made the rounds of the Internet.  It appears in the guise of a “history test,” and offers such multiple-choice questions as:

In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by:

  • Olga Corbett
  • Sitting Bull
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by:

  • Lost Norwegians
  • Elvis
  • A tour bus full of 80-year-old women
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

During the 1980s a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by:

  • John Dillinger
  • The King of Sweden
  • The Boy Scouts
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:

  • A pizza delivery boy
  • Pee Wee Herman
  • Geraldo Rivera
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

On September 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked.  Two were used as missiles to take out the World Trade Center; one crashed into the Pentagon; and the other was diverted and crashed by the passengers. Thousands of people were killed by:

  • Bugs Bunny, Wiley E. Coyote, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd
  • The Supreme Court of Florida
  • Mr. Bean
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

It’s well to remember the bitter truth behind this joke, especially in light of the latest headline:

On February 17, the FBI and Capitol police arrested a man who intended to carry out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol as part of a larger al-Qaida terror campaign.

Amine El Khalifi, 29, a Moroccan who had lived in the United States for 12 years, was arrested near the Capitol after he received what he thought was a MAC-10 automatic weapon and a vest packed with explosives.

The “Al Qaeda terrorists” who provided these items were actually FBI undercover agents.  The gun was disabled and the vest had inert material.

And now the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit, tasked with preventing another 9/11 in America’s Number One target city, finds itself facing a possible civil rights lawsuit.

On February 18, the Associated Press (AP) broke the news that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known.

According to the AP, the NYPD conducted surveillance at schools far removed from New York.  These included Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Detectives daily tracked Muslim student websites and recorded the names of professors and students.

The NYPD, with CIA help, has monitored Muslims where they eat, shop and worship.  The NYPD has placed undercover officers at Muslim student associations in colleges within New York City.

The United States is locked in deadly combat with Islamic “holy warriors” around the world–including those within its own borders.

To put this act of treachery into historical context, imagine the New York Times leaking the exact timetable for the D-Day invasion to agents of Nazi Germany.

And America’s enemies are not just willing but eager to make use of that information–legally and illegally.

“I see a violation of civil rights here,” said Tanweer Haq, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse, upon learning of the AP’s revelations.

“Nobody wants to be on the list of the FBI or the NYPD or whatever. Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has.”

That’s true.  But no other nationality has so often attacked Americans within the last 30 years–nor continues to pose so great a threat to the country.

In one NYPD operation, an undercover officer accompanied 18 Muslim City College students on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York.  He noted the names of those who were officers of the Muslim Student Association.

Jawad Rasul, one of the students on the trip, was stunned when he learned that his name was included in the police report.

“It forces me to look around wherever I am now,” Rasul said.

So now he knows how Americans feel when they spot Muslims wearing chadors that hide their faces from view, or even burqas that cover their entire bodies (and any explosive devices they might be carryinig).

Don’t laugh–or sneer: Al Qaeda has used exactly that tactic repeatedly–and successfully–against Afghan military forces.

Osama bin Laden was forced to spend his last years in a Pakistani house watching movies on TV.  But that didn’t stop him from continuing to plot further acts of destruction against “infidel Crusaders.”

Among the plots he sought to unleash was the assassination of President Barack Obama.

It was simply America’s good fortune that the Navy SEALS got him first.

PROBLEM STUDENTS: U.S. AND MEXICO

In Politics, Social commentary on February 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm

A two-time “Teacher of the Year” in Arlington, Texas, is now fighting to keep her job.

Her crime: Telling a disruptive Hispanic student: “Go back to Mexico.”

Shirley Bunn has spent 24 years as a teacher.  But her career as a math instructor at Barnett Junior High School could end with what she called a moment of frustration.

On September 30, she was distributing Title 1 forms to her eighth-grade students.

That was when a student who had a history of being disruptive repeatedly demanded a form printed in Spanish: “I’m Mexican, I’m Mexican.”

Bunn tried to tell him that he could get the forms in the office.

Instead, he continued arguing with her and loudly repeaing, “I’m Mexican.”

“Then go back to Mexico,” replied Bunn.

The school board placed Bunn on paid leave, until an independent hearing examiner could review the case.

“It was a very, very hard week, the end of six weeks,” Bunn, 63, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  “It was late in the day. It was a Friday.

“We were on the third day of the first curriculum assessment and I knew it wasn’t going well. It was just an extremely bad day,” Bunn said.

Bunn had previously had problems with a disruptive group of Mexican boys in her class.

An independent hearing examiner recommended that the district reinstate Bunn.  He cited her student approval, two “Teacher of the Year” awards, excellent appraisals and volunteer efforts with a Hispanic heritage organization.

The school board is expected to decide Bunn’s fate before March.

Could this have happened in Mexico?  Hardly.

First, let’s consider the matter of nationality.

Is this student an American citizen?  If he isn’t, then he shouldn’t even be in the United States.

Because if he was an American citizen living illegally in Mexico, the Mexicans wouldn’t hesitate to kick him out.

Mexico has a tough, streamlined law that ensures that foreign visitors and immigrants are:

• in the country legally;
• have the means to sustain themselves economically;
• not destined to be burdens on society;
• of economic and social benefit to society;
• of good character and have no criminal records; and
• contributors to the general well-being of the nation.

The law also ensures that:

• immigration authorities have a record of each foreign visitor;
• foreign visitors do not violate their visa status;
• foreign visitors are banned from interfering in the country’s internal politics;
• foreign visitors who enter under false pretenses are imprisoned or deported;
• foreign visitors violating the terms of their entry are imprisoned or deported;
• those who aid in illegal immigration will be sent to prison.

Next, let’s look at the student’s demand for a Spanish-printed form.

Again, in Mexico, that simply wouldn’t happen.  In fact, it couldn’t happen.

Because Mexico has only one officially recognized language–and that’s Spanish.  And the country doesn’t print out forms in any other language.

As the Mexican Government sees it: If you can’t hack it in Spanish, then go back to where you can speak the language.

But, in the United States, there’s a different standard–of catering to the demands of every uninvited visitor.  And even of those visitors who deliberately, systematically vi0late our immigration laws.

Third, let’s look at the student’s known history as disruptive.

Why should one trouble-making student be allowed to disrupt the lives of those students who come to school to actually learn?  Why should a teacher–or, more likely, many teachers–be expected to put up with a mouthy teen punk?

Certainly, in Mexico, such misbehavior would not be tolerated:

  • In Mexican schools, parents do not question the role of the teacher and school in giving their children a fundamental education. 
  • The teacher stands and teaches; students sit and learn.
  • Calling your teacher by his or her first name–as is common in American schools–is unthinkable.
  • Students are addressed as Joven (Youth), followed by their name.  This gives them a title–and denotes their inexperience, which puts the onus on them to gain experience.
  • How a student acts reflects not only upon him but his family.
  • Teachers don’t hesitate to make students aware of what is expected of them–and what is not expected.

A favorite way ot doing this is to call a student before the class and ask his fellow pupils, “What is wrong with this picture?”

Typical student answers:

“He doesn’t wash his hair.”

“He doesn’t study enough.”

“She cheated on a test last week.”

It’s embarrassing to have your peers air out your dirty laundry.  But it’s also highly effective.

In deciding the fate of two-time “Teacher of the Year” Shirley Bunn, the school board can do more than reinstate her.

It can demand that its students–including the Mexican ones–show respect for their teachers and fellow students.

The way they’re required to in Mexico.

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