Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Have Americans Always Been Like This?

Have Americans always been like this?

I used to be deeply into politics but now I'm all about NASCAR. Oddly enough, political aficionados and NASCAR fans are much the same in how blindly partisan they are.

Political supporters despise the other guy. It isn't enough that they disagree with his positions on policy, he has to also be a foreign-born, Muslim communist. He isn't just wrong on the issues, he's guilty of treason.  It isn't enough to work to beat him in the next election, he has to be impeached.  He is worse than Hitler!

Meanwhile, on the NASCAR sites, attitudes are similar. After a race, the blogs go up dripping venom. The race winner is an idiot, he's a piece of shit, he's gay (NASCAR's favorite pejorative). Someone should put him into the wall. He isn't given credit for having even a smidgen of talent. He wouldn't have won if a) he didn't have a great crew chief or b) he didn't have a great pit crew or c) he didn't cheat or d) his owner didn't pay off NASCAR to let him win or e) (my favorite), he has a lucky golden horseshoe up his ass.

I've only been a NASCAR fan since 2008 so I don't know what it was like back in the day. Did Richard Petty's supporters loathe David Pearson? On the other hand, I've been a faithful politico since the 60's and I don't think we used to be so poison-filled.

I remember Republicans like Bob Michel and Everett Dirksen and Howard Baker and Democrats like Tip O'Neill and Sam Ervin and Scoop Jackson. As I recall, these men were highly esteemed and respected by both parties. We believed then that once the elections were over, these men would work together and be willing to compromise to do what they thought was best for the country.

Democrats didn't try to destroy Dwight Eisenhower and Republicans didn't try to destroy John F Kennedy (although God knows, he had as many human frailties as Bill Clinton). Richard Nixon's impeachment was a joint exercise by Republicans and Democrats who were in agreement that high crimes and misdemeanors had been perpetrated by the Nixon administration.

Now, we live in a world of perpetual elections. Every quote and decision is made with partisan politics in mind. Saying something positive about your opponent is considered lilly-livered. We want our candidates to be on the attack at all times and of course, today's media stirs that pot until it boils.

So, it's armed camps all around, both on the campaign trail and at the NASCAR tracks.

I don't know when that started but I wish expecting every contest to be a death match would stop.


Monday, May 23, 2011

The Similarities between Religion and Domestic Violence

Last week on Morning Joe, I heard Joe Namath confess that the tornadoes that visited death and devastation on Alabama made him question his faith momentarily. Fortunately for Namath he was able to regroup and hang on to his belief in God's innate goodness.  He didn't explain what he based his conclusion on but when I hear statements like this, I can never help wondering.

Christians remind me of victims of domestic violence. They have the same ability to overlook the negative and emphasize the positive in their beloved. They make excuses for the cruelty and give credit for the kindness. They blame themselves. If only they'd tried harder to please him....they must have failed him in some way to force him to act as he did.

I have often worked with battered wives. I took them to shelter as an advocate for Women's Outreach. I typed transcripts of their interviews with officers at the Sheriff's Dept. I read their statements as a legal assistant for the Prosecutor's office.

Later, even before I had time to call the safe house to check on their status, they'd returned to their abuser. Before I even had their interviews transcribed, they were in the lobby of the jail putting money in his commissary account. Before he even went to his initial hearing, they were begging the Prosecutor to drop the charges against him. Just like Broadway Joe and God.

Despite broken bones and betrayal, the faith of these victims was unshaken. He had his reasons. His boss treated him like a dog at work and he took his frustration out on her. He was drunk and didn't know what he was doing. She nagged him. I heard from a victim once whose husband had blacked her eye because she put too many cherries in the cherry pie! If there truly is the kind of God Christians believe in, a personal god who marks when each sparrow falls, he often seems to have reasons every bit as irrational as putting too many cherries in the pie for some of his actions.

No matter what the provocation, battered women are all about denial. The pain she suffered when he dislocated her shoulder was nothing compared to the joy she received from the apologetic roses he sent her afterwards - her forgiveness proved she loved him and the flowers proved he loved her too.

Same with Christians. No misfortune is so catastrophic that they aren't prepared to overlook it. Child diagnosed with leukemia? House swept away in a flood? Job loss leads to poverty? None of it is God's fault. Like the abused wife, they focus on the good things. If, after bouts of painful treatment, the baby's cancer goes into remission, then that rebounds to God. God is good! If your house is blown away by a tornado, all least everyone lived through it....except the ones who didn't.

It seems to me that you can't have it both ways. If God is all-powerful as Christians (and I'm not picking on Christians, I feel the same about all religions) claim he is, then he's responsible for the baby's leukemia as well as the remission (if, in fact, there is a remission). But why? An innocent child couldn't have sinned in a way to deserve such a fate. And if it was the parents who transgressed, would a loving God punish them by putting a toddler through agony?

It seems to me, there are only a few possibilities. One is that there is no god or if there ever was, he lost interest in us long ago so it's all random and arbitrary. We're on our own, muddling through this life as best we can, driven by an innate drive to procreate and maintain our species. Even that conclusion, though, implies that a Superior Intelligence is at the root of our existence.

The second is that there is an All-knowing Being who views us in the same impersonal non-interfering way a scientist studies amoebas under a microscope, out of a simple desire to learn how we react to various stimuli.

The third is a God with a split personality. He may give us a miracle one day and visit tragedy upon us the next, depending on his variable mood swings. That's the harsh Old Testament God we used to believe in although most Christians think he mellowed with fatherhood, (not that he was all that kind to His Son).

And, last, of course, is that there is a God with a rational plan which is simply too vast for us to comprehend, as staring at a one square of an intricate quilt does not offer the scope to see the entire pattern. This, I suppose, is the God in which most Christians choose to believe. This world is simply too frightening without faith that a caring, parental being is watching out for us, just as battered wives find the world more terrifying without their man than with him, despite his occasional bouts of violence. They need to believe he loves them.

I don't personally know which of these answers is right. Perhaps none of them are.








Monday, May 2, 2011

Credit All Around

Well, well, well, we finally got Osama bin Laden. What wonderful news - and the part I like about it best is that the way it went down, it gives credibility and respect to various issues and people and ideas that pains both sides in America's cultural divide to admit to.

Starting, of course, with Barack Obama. Oh, my, it is been fun to watch his mortal political enemies find twisted ways to give him only the least bit of credit. Some said they wished it had been Bush. But it wasn't Bush, was it? It was Barack (whom, even yet, many right-wing nuts believe is a Kenyan-born Muslim) and his administration that developed the final piece of intelligence and gave the order to go in and get Osama. No way around it. The president came through big-time. Suck it up, Trump!

The Obama administration  - for playing political hardball in not informing either Congress or any of our allies, including Pakistan. We just went and got the job done and told them after it was a fait accompli. We tend to think of Democrat presidents as being too concerned about the niceties of diplomacy to take unilateral action but not this time. As they say in NASCAR - "light the fires and kick the tires, Big Daddy, and let's go racin', Boys!"

The C.I.A - most liberals loathe the C.I.A. and everything it stands for. There's no doubt that agency has been involved in some pretty shaky operations in its history. Besides that, in the last several decades, they've seemed to put most of their eggs in the technological basket, forgetting that there in no replacement for human intelligence. In spite of often having to fight for their political lives, they stepped up and got the job done here.  Bravo to the agents who live on danger's edge to protect us while we sit safely in purse-mouthed moral judgment back home.

Special Operations - I'm so thrilled that it was a team of Special Forces who nailed Osama, rather than an impersonal missile attack. I can't even imagine the courage and confidence in your team it would take to be dropped via helicopter into a highly protected compound in enemy territory based on what may or may not be correct information, then to have to engage in a firefight once inside. I love spy novel heroes like Sean Dillon, Mitch Rapp, The Gray Man, Micah Dalton and Gabrial Allon as well as many others. It's nice to know their real-life counterparts are alive and well, as brave and daring as they are in fiction.

Guantanamo Bay - I'm opposed to torture and will always be. I don't believe it is as effective as other methods of interrogation. Having said that, some of the information that led to Osama's death came from the Guantanamo detainees. George W Bush and his administration deserve credit for ensuring they were there to be interrogated.

I'm glad Bin Laden's death came down to a shot to the head. This seems more fitting and honorable on America's part than a dropped bomb. I'm glad Osama won't be around for a long, drawn-out trial during which he'd be able to spew his poison to the world. I'm glad they buried him at sea so there will be no gravesite or or martyr's memorial where his follower's can pay homage.

This was a win-win-win all around and everyone on all political sides deserves some of the credit for a job well done.