Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Flying Flags Is Too Easy

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I touched on this issue in my NASCAR blog this week but I wanted to expand on it here.

I think there is no question that NASCAR is the most patriotic sport, the sport most supportive of the military. Generally, that is a good thing. We love our flags and fireworks and flyovers, and we especially love our soldiers. This year, every car on the track had the name of a fallen warrior where the driver's name usually goes. Teams brought the families of those so honored to the race.

But even on weekends not celebrating Memorial Day, NASCAR goes above and beyond. No invocation neglects to mention the members of our Armed Forces. Uniformed personnel are usually front and center at races. Driver's foundations support veteran's groups. Flags fly on every race day.

Having said all that, I wonder how many race-watchers really think about whether the soldiers whose names were on those cars went to their deaths for a good and just cause? Face it - America is a war-like nation. We are ready to send our planes and ships and tanks and yes, our kids off to battle at the drop of a hat. We have been at war many more years of our history than we've been at peace.

We've fought Germans and Japanese and Native Americans and Mexicans and southeast Asians and Koreans and Iraqis and Spanish and Italians....and we've fought each other. We've fought for territory and we've fought to defend friends and we've fought for abstract geo-political principles.

As the old saying goes, "if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." The military is America's hammer. We have the biggest and the best. We spend more on our military than the next 20 nations combined. We let other critical matters go unattended to ensure we have the most ships and tanks and missiles.

When it comes to war, America is Justifiction Nation. We had to drop those atom bombs! We had to torture those people! We had to engage in extreme rendition! We had to exchange guns for hostages! We had to assassinate bad guys like Allende! We had to get Saddam Hussein!We have to send out our death-dealing drones! America, it seems, has to do bad in order to do good.

It is estimated that America has lost 1,411,397 soldiers in all our various wars (with the Civil War and World War II accounting for the most, by far.

And yet, looking at all those deaths and all those years of war, what have we really accomplished? I will grant you World War II. I'm not an expert but it seems to have been necessary, although in the end, we traded Germany for Russia, which seems like something of a toss-up. Still, I suppose we couldn't let England fall. And, perhaps, Korea was a more positive outcome than if we hadn't gone.

But we committed genocide on the American Indians and took a lot of hits on our side too, but hey, we had to have that land, right?

We fought the Civil War to keep the country united but all these years later, it seems the South still harbors an enormous grudge. Maybe we'd have been better off to let them go their own way.

Over all, is the world a better place because of all our many interventions? We've supported corrupt governments at least as often as honest ones. We mucked around in South America. In Nicaragua, for instance. Do you know what finally happened in Nicaragua, the country Ronald Reagan told us was of such great importance? Do you care? Well, the the bad guys won against our chosen side, the Contras. Nicaragua is a republic now and recently moved to liberalize its policies.

We went to Vietnam to keep the dominoes from falling but they fell anyway. Vietnam began to be less dictatorial and more prosperous when the war was over. We trade with them now.

Afghanistan is now our country's longest war. The Taliban is as strong as ever and the "real" government is gutless and deceitful. Just like Russia, we'll eventually withdraw, much the worse for wear.

Iraq. Can anyone say things are better there? ISIS makes Saddam and even al Qaeda look like pikers in the brutality department but they are taking over huge swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, the official government military run like whipped dogs with their tails between their legs, leaving the weaponry we gave them behind as a gift to ISIS.

The entire Middle East is a giant cauldron of boiling hatred. In my opinion, anyone who believes America can change that is delusional, no matter how many of our kids we're willing to give to the effort.

I don't believe there is never a time for war but certainly, we hop in and out of deadly conflicts as if the lives of our children were no more than fuel to keep the military-industrial complex running.

Our children - "our" being the key word. Which brings us back to NASCAR. There has recently been something of a baby boom in the sport. It's fun to see all the drivers with their little ones during the pre-race ceremonies. But for all that NASCAR honors the troops, what do you want to bet that none of these little NASCAR kids will ever be a troop.

If we really thought all our wars were vitally necessary, we would insist on a shared sacrifice instead of allowing less than 1 percent of our citizens to bear the entire burden. That makes it too easy for us to say, "sure thing, on to the next war." (Iran, perhaps.)

In light of that, excuse me if having my dead child's name on the side of a race car wouldn't mean that much.  


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Evangelicals versus "Nones"

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According to the latest Pew poll, fewer Americans consider themselves affiliated with any religion than ever in our history. Pew did the last survey of religious life in America in 2007 and then again in 2014. In that span, the number of people who called themselves Christians dropped from about 78 percent of the population to just under 71 percent. Meanwhile, the Americans who considered themselves atheist, agnostic or of no particular faith increased from 16 percent to 23 percent. (I understand why these last are lumped together as "everyone else" but that can be misleading because their spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs are often miles apart).

Still, almost 71 percent of us consider ourselves Christian, which means Christianity remains the dominant faith by far. By contrast, Muslims and Hindus together comprise less than one percent with Jews at 1.9 percent (a slight rise).

This all means that 56 million Americans are not followers of any religion, which is the second largest total behind evangelicals, who claim 62 million believers.

This sets up the political fault lines we see in American politics as most "nones" tend to vote Democratic while evangelicals vote overwhelmingly Republican.

Meanwhile, mainline Protestants, which used to be the majority, have fallen by about 5 million. Catholics have dropped 3 percent. Ethnicity makes a difference. One third of America's Catholics are Latino. A quarter of evangelicals are minorities.

All of these trends are even more accentuated when it comes to young people, particularly Millennials.

Why is this happening? There are many theories and I have one. Keep in mind, it is from observation and reading only, there is no scientific research behind it so you can accept or dismiss it as you see fit.

I believe the two main trends - fewer Christians in general and more evangelicals in particular, are interconnected.

Different groups of people need different things from their religion. Some require structure and exclusivity. They want to know they are indisputably right while anyone who disagrees is wrong. There is no room for tolerance. They need passion from their faith, the passion of the true believer. Doubt makes them uncomfortable. Homosexuality is wrong. God said so. So is abortion. Period. End of story.

If you die without having accepted Jesus, you're going to hell. God does not make allowances. The rules are the rules. All you have to do is follow them unquestioningly and you'll be fine. Otherwise, you're going to hell.

On the other hand, to the "nones', evangelicals, (and by extension, Christianity itself), seem increasingly harsh and judgmental about their fellow man. Reading their militant posts on social media pushes the "nones" farther away from the established church. They often consider themselves spiritual even if they are no longer religious. They prefer a kinder, gentler deity, one who made us with all our weaknesses and is understanding of them.

I would expect that Pope Francis will drive away some of the more philosophically militant Catholics while drawing back some of those who fell away during the more intolerant reign of Benedict.

So, there is a push/pull in American religion today. It is the same divide we see in our politics between conservative and liberal. The number of religious are smaller, over all, but they are ever more driven to work their will on the country, which is what religious freedom laws are all about.

The "nones", meanwhile, fight against having to abide by the rules of the religious, rules they themselves don't believe in.

Where does this leave the mainstream churches? Standing on the sidelines trying to find a way to make their own views relevant. All the interaction is between the fundamentalists and the "nones".

Religious war has never turned out well. I have no doubt that this one won't either.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Number One Priority for Republicans - Abortion

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The political parties argue about many issues - wars and spending and gay rights and climate change and on and on but truly, abortion is and has been for the last many years, the Republicans' main priority and, increasingly, that also includes contraceptives. They are obsessive about it. It's one of the first laws Republicans push when they have control of any legislature - national or state. This was all outlined by Rachel Maddow on her show last night. But what is it that really drives Republicans on abortion? Is it truly love for fetuses? If that is so, some of their legislation seems to work at cross-purposes with those declarations.

- For instance, Colorado has had one of the most successful programs for lowering teen pregnancy rates and teen abortion rates, one for which they've received national recognition. They did it by providing IUDs to girls who don't want to get pregnant. They lowered the teen pregnancy rate by 40 percent and the teen abortion rate by 35 percent. You would think Republicans would hail those results but no, as soon as they took control of the Colorado legislature, they de-funded the program. Presumably, the pregnancy and abortion rates will now begin to go back up so what was the Republicans' rationale?

- North Carolina has one of the most prestigious medical schoolsin the country at the University of North Carolina. Republicans considered banning the teaching of when and how to perform abortions at UNC until they discovered that such a backward move might lose the school its accreditation, then they back offed....reluctantly.

- Still North Carolina legislators did proceed with passing a measure that would mandate women who wanted abortions to be forced to have an unnecessary ultrasound against their and their doctor's will...and here's the good part - not only would they have to have an ultrasound, they would then have to send it to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to be filed. I guess this is the Republican idea of limited government. If the idea of seizing women's ultrasounds doesn't make you hear the Jaws theme playing in the background, then you are insensitive to government overreach (except when you believe it is your ox being gored because....guns).

- Tennessee's Republicans just voted on new restrictions meant to close their family planning clinics, much like the ones in Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin.

- Oklahoma's governor, Mary Fallin, just signed a bill mandating a three-day waiting period before a woman can proceed with an abortion.

- Alabama just passed three new laws restricting abortions.

- Arkansas, not to be outdone, passed six!

- So far, 11 states have passed 37 new laws restricting abortion in 2015.

And what about the national Republican party. Oh, yes, The House too is pondering what kind of abortion bill to pass next. If you remember, a so-called "fetal heartbeat" bill was the first legislation they contemplated voting on in 2015. It was so onerous that even Republican woman balked and in the end, the bill was pulled. But, not to worry, they haven't given up.

Despite the fact that in the next few days, they have to a) re-authorize NSA spying which was recently found to be unconstitutional as it stands, b) pass a Defense appropriations bill and c) decide whether undocumented aliens can enlist in our military, they still have plenty of time, it seems, to debate and vote on new abortion legislation.

Right now they appear to be struggling with a couple of components of the proposed bill. One is whether to impose a 48-hour waiting period on rape victims wanting an abortion, as well as requiring proof that the she has sought counseling. The second question deals with incest victims. At what age can girls who've been impregnated by their fathers or other family members be allowed to have an abortion? The current Republican thinking seems to be that if you are 17 or under and don't want to bear your freaking father's child, then yes, we guess, you can have an abortion. But if you're 18, nope, you gotta' go ahead and do it 'cause we say so.

They are considering this bill even though, if anything, they've made it worse, so will the Republican women who opposed it before suddenly decide to capitulate? Does it have a chance to get 60 votes in the Senate? (Unlikely). Will the president veto it? (Absolutely!) So, why do they insist on tilting at this windmill with all the serious issues they should be working on instead? Is it just to please their base? Does this so color their thinking, they can't not do it? Do they simply believe they must control women because God know what we'd do if they let us get out of hand?

So far as I've heard, all the Republicans running for president are pro-life, some more than others. To people like Mike Huckabee, pro-life not only means anti-abortion, it means anti-birth control as well.

The Republicans love them some fetuses, hell, they don't even have to be fetuses, they can be eggs, not even eggs, just their cute single little sperm is enough to call forth reverence from the Republicans. They feel this way right up until the sperm becomes a fetus becomes a baby and is born, then it's "hey, Mom, if life is tough for you and your little brat, too bad so sad. You want help with food, with housing, with healthcare, well, sorry, Exxon and Citibank come first."

I will simply never understand why any woman votes Republican.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sunshine and Shadows

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I have always thought that there are sunshine people and shadow people. Of course, we all contain some qualities of both but some of us lean far more toward one than the other. I've always been of the sun. I'm mostly fairly happy no matter what is going on. Even when life is hard, I find contentment in books and flowers and music and friends. I don't expect perfection and I'm never disappointed.

By contrast, my son was a shadow person. He could never find his way into the sunlight and I could never help him get there. Even as a little boy, he seemed not to have a strong survival instinct. He liked living on the edge and shrugged off risks, as if it didn't matter that much one way or the other. He was always reckless about taking chances.

He was once in a bad wreck. He and a friend hit a semi-trailer loaded down with steel, broadside. He was about 15 then. He told me he looked up and knew they were going to hit. He thought he was going to die but rather than being afraid, he was exhilarated, wondering what came next.

When you raise a child like John, you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. He was the most daring when the kids all rode dirt bikes or  went "mudding" down at the river or jumped off bridges. He sky-dived and scuba-dived. Honestly, I figured the call I got would be Lisa telling me he'd crashed speeding on his motorcycle.

I remember telling him that if people had nine lives, like cats, I thought he had pressed his luck about as far as he could.

I don't exactly know how to describe what I mean about the shadows. He wasn't suicidal. It wasn't that John was never happy. He loved his wife. He loved traveling. He enjoyed carpentry and working on his truck. He liked spending time with his friends but still, the shadows always seemed to hover, receding sometimes but never quite disappearing.

He never found where he fit in. I think he always felt a little out of sync. He had a master's degree in Psychology but after a couple of jobs in that field, he abandoned it. He didn't think it had "integrity". He'd rather roof houses or build bookcases because you knew when you were doing something "true". That was important to him, probably more important than it should have been in a world that often demands compromise.

The Toxicology report isn't back yet so I don't know what chemical was the actual culprit in his death and I don't really care. The end result was the same. The detective asked me what I'd like to see happen and my answer was "nothing". I have no animosity toward the friend he was with (they'd been friends since they were all in elementary school). John was 46. He entered into whatever he did willingly. No one tied him down and forced him to ingest a substance.

He'd said he wanted to be cremated with no funeral, no viewing, no service, no obituary, so in the end, he drifted quietly from the world rather like one of his own shadows. I figure my Mom, who loved him more than anyone else, was there to meet him. At least, that's what I choose to believe.

So, I was shocked but not totally surprised when he died. I hope wherever he is now, the sun is shining.