Zippo by Susan Snyder

Homelessness is a problem for the city of Zenith, and Mayor Bob Hooper has a solution. Working for the Mayor, Kristin is only recently removed from a life of destitution herself. Disheartened by the conditions her former friends are living with, she’s proud to know an end is in sight
With her trusty Zippo lighter constantly fidgeted in her hand, Kristin has high hopes that this solution will resolve the issue in a compassionate and humane way.
Susan Snyder shares a bleak tale of class warfare and gentrification, no less heartbreaking for how short it is.

You can pick Zippo up by going to http://www.godless.com or downloading the app. This title is part of the 31 Days of Godless event for October of 2021. The link is below:

Zippo by Susan Snyder

Thoughts On American Polarization

We are polarized.
Our culture is playing a high-stakes game of tug-of-war with the Overton Window and the view through that window in America has been growing progressively more right-leaning and red over the years. The talking heads fanning flames of fear will tell you that America is being consumed from within by “communists” and “socialists” whenever there’s even a tiny concession made concerning basic human rights or the recognition that homosexuals, transgender people, women, or any sort of minority group haven’t been receiving a fair shake. The reality is that we’re nowhere near moving left in this country. Even the Democrats tend to disregard the most left-leaning members of their party.
In large part, this is due to Democrats not being progressive enough in their policies and largely being unwilling to play the same rhetorical shell game with facts and truth that the other side has become expert at playing. There’s an unwillingness to think big or take big risks within the bulk of the Democratic Party whereas the Republicans have no problem with lining up behind a man who represented the worst extremes of right-wing politics in America because they assumed that it would get them just a little bit closer to their ideal positions of power and authority. The most progressive members of the Democratic Party, on the other hand, have to fight tooth-and-nail to receive even marginal representation when it comes to matters of policy. There’s a bit of simpering cowardice and a lack of boldness within the bulk of the Democratic establishment, and it’s been that way for decades.
So yes, we are indeed polarized in several key aspects. That’s a hard truth of American politics. It does present a challenge.
The worst part about it all is that we’re not quite as polarized as it superficially might seem.
There are a lot of points where individuals on the left and those on the right are in total agreement. The focus is never on those things in our political discourse, especially through media of all kinds (whether we’re talking about mainstream media–and that does include Fox and OAN, though I see a lot of people trying to pretend otherwise–or social media). This division is cultivated by keeping people on the left appearing as crazy socialists to those on the right and the folks on the right appearing to be mentally deficient bigots in the eyes of the people on the left. These descriptors are certainly true of some individuals, but they aren’t representative of the bulk of either group.
This is going to devolve into a rambling diatribe, I’m sure. I know myself well enough to see that on the near horizon. I apologize for that being the case. I can only hope you’re able to keep up with me along the way.
I do lean Socialist in my political views. It can easily be inferred that I’m pretty far left of the Democratic Party (as a whole). I don’t dispute this at all. This is not to say that I think the Federal Government should become a nanny state or that I feel like D.C. should be the focal point of a new religion.
I’m not a nationalist, after all.
I believe the role of the US government is to serve the best interests of the American people. That’s it. That’s the sole purpose of it. Politicians are our servants, meant to act in our best interests. This is not what is happening.
What we see today, from the vast majority of our political figures, is a government acting in the interest of those who fund their reelection campaigns and provide them with hand-outs. They’ll toss some superficially pleasing and inoffensive concessions our way once in a while, as long as it doesn’t cost them too much by way of campaign funding…but that’s about all we get for the price of admission we pay by voting and participating in the democratic process.
This is not the way it’s supposed to be working.
We all know it’s wrong…right and left, center and fringe.
The only people who don’t seem to know it’s wrong are the ones directly benefitting from the oligarchy we’ve allowed to grow within our nation like an unchecked tumor.
This is not being written for the people who subscribed to the QAnon conspiracy. There’s no getting through to you if you believe Donald Trump was the literal savior of America (or the world). You’re too far gone for me to have any hope of reaching you. This is not for the militant leftists who somehow believe that we’re going to overthrow the American neo-fascist government and usher in a utopia of communal living and worker-owned industry overnight. Though people in those aforementioned groups still recognize that things are wrong with the political arena in America, they’re choosing to cling to fantasies and wish-fulfillment rather than reality. That’s a whole different conversation for a different day.
It’s also a conversation I don’t care to have.
Most of us aren’t bigots. Or should I say that all of us are bigots, just not quite the way the term gets tossed around?
I know that’s difficult for some people on the left and the right to acknowledge…but it’s true.
No, most people aren’t homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, or religiously intolerant beyond a tiny extent.
That tiny bit of bigotry…well…we all have it. We’re all ignorant, some more than others. We’re all biased in different ways, larger and smaller. We’ll never find any sort of resolution as a society if we can’t come to terms with the fact that we are all wildly imperfect.
The only thing we can do is come together. The more we meet new people and interact with others who aren’t like us, the greater the chance that we can overcome those cultural biases deep within our psychologies. I’m no less guilty of this than anyone reading these words.
For most of us, our biases are minimal…though no less problematic. These things can be overcome. I honestly do have this much faith in my fellow human beings. I’ll admit that I could be overly optimistic here, but I believe most of us are better than a lot of us think we are.
This is not to say that systemic racism is not a real thing.
It is.
This is not to say that there is a profound undercurrent of homophobia and transphobia within large segments of the population.
There absolutely is.
This is not to say that sexism in America (and a whole lot of the world) is not a real cause for concern.
It most assuredly is.
There are, without question, awful people out there who believe terrible things about other people based on either their ignorance or contempt.
If we take the time to try and explain things to others without frustration and impatience, maybe we can come to better terms with one another. We might even be able to get through to some of the people who otherwise seem irredeemable.
We need to come together, sooner rather than later. If we can’t figure out how to do this, we’re going to continue being ground beneath the treads of those who benefit the most from us being at one another’s throats. Until we stand together, we’ll continue to find ourselves crushed, consumed, and disposed of.
We all see money being squandered on ridiculous corporate bail-outs while the middle class disappears below a rising poverty line. It’s fair to say that almost no one, regardless of party affiliation, sees something like that and agrees that it’s something good or right. We’ve been seeing it in D.C. a great deal since the pandemic started in early 2020. There was no hesitation when it came to bailing out Wall Street and corporations where the CEOs and board members had been seeing massive rises in profit while the employees receive barely subsistence wages. Money that was earmarked for small businesses, to keep them afloat during these troubling times ended up being approved as loans for companies that needed no assistance. People who were without work had unemployment benefits stripped away before anything had been done to improve their odds of returning to work. Politicians in Congress nickeled and dimed the actual voting population, trying to figure out just how little they could offer while still appearing to care just a little bit. And then, only a few short months later, they were doing the same thing all over again. They happily approved money for the people and corporate entities who fund their campaigns but decried payments (beyond a pittance) sent directly to people as socialism. We saw the same thing back in the recession more than a decade ago as well. We tossed money at banks and corporate entities while we allowed people to be swallowed up by debt and poverty.
We see these things happening while infrastructure around the country fails. Bridges and roads are maintained poorly, utility networks are neglected so that the providers can obtain record profits, some of those profits sure to be funneled into the coffers of the politicians who turned a blind eye or actively aided in deregulation under the guise of honoring the free market. Most of us see through these infantile rationalizations, but they succeed in these selfish grifts by counting on the polarization of our political climate to guarantee their base will still support them.
We squander countless billions of dollars on corporate welfare, regime-changing conflicts, and a war on drugs that has been a transparent failure since the beginning. All the while we’re told that it’s too costly to divert mere fractions of that money to programs that would improve the overall quality of life for American citizens…programs like universal healthcare or free access to higher education and trade school. We’re told that this is “socialism” and that we can’t afford it, while the rest of the civilized world succeeds in doing these things without becoming the socialist dystopias American politicians and media talking heads insist we would become. We’re told to worry about higher taxes when most of us are already paying more for insurance premiums and deductibles than we’d ever end up paying in increased taxes. We’re told that we should selfishly refuse to spend our money on someone else’s medical costs, even though that is precisely what our insurance premiums are for. The insurance companies don’t pay those bills out of some endless surplus of funds they generate for themselves, they utilize the money you and I are paying and divert that money to the medical costs of other individuals with the same insurance provider.
We’re told that raising the minimum wage in proportion with the cost of living (rate of inflation) and the degree of productivity will raise costs (creating a cascade effect of ever-increasing inflation rates) and force businesses to close their doors…but both of those things have been happening for decades while the living wage has remained stagnant. Some of these fears could be offset if we introduced universal healthcare, as employers would not have to dedicate funds to insurance companies for their co-pay portions.
We’re told that we should find nobility in pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, often by individuals who come from families who passed wealth down generation by generation in the form of land ownership, business partnerships, or literal wealth. We’re told that America is a land of equal opportunity by these same people after generations of dominion have allowed their particular class to largely rig the game in their favor. As an individual who descended from a family who took advantage of the Homesteader Act back in the day. I’m familiar with the myth of Manifest Destiny. Those early Westward traveling settlers were handed parcels of land by a government that didn’t own the land in the first place…all for nothing more than working the land and making lives for themselves.
What is being given to us for our labor these days?
Insufficient wages, insurance that denies our claims when we need them most (while we make the higher-ups at these insurance companies sufficient money that they can buy politicians), and the sense of being beaten down beneath the feet of those who use our labor to elevate themselves?
Whether we want to admit it or not. We have these things in common. I have a decent job, as far as wages are concerned when compared to the difficulty. My insurance is pretty decent and not particularly expensive. There are plenty of us in this position.
For every one of us, there’s someone miserable where they are, and that misery is being compounded by the exploitation of the people they work for. It’s easy to claim they should just leave those jobs to find something else.
When are they supposed to find the time to look for new work while they’re still working the job they wish they could get away from?
What happens to them if they become ill while they’re between jobs?
What if the benefits aren’t as good but the pay is better?
These are concerns that could be entirely eradicated with something as simple as universal healthcare being in place. With guaranteed higher education or trade school, it provides the worker with better leverage as well.
Alright.
Fuck it.
I’ve babbled more than enough. I’ve probably lost the thread somewhere along the way…but I hope you’re able to follow along to some extent.

Corruption and Hypocrisy In South Dakota: or Great Faces, Rigged Cases

As could have been predicted, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg gets a pass for what should have been a clear-cut case of unintentional vehicular manslaughter (at the very least). After Ravnsborg killed a man in September, while driving distracted (clearly accurate based on the misdemeanors he was charged with), the Hyde County Deputy State’s Attorney finally announced that this asshole is facing a whopping three misdemeanor charges; using a mobile electronic device, driving in the wrong lane, and careless driving. Ravnsborg was supposedly sober at the time of the accident…based on an alcohol test performed 15 hours after the incident.

This man hit another human being with his car (while he clearly wasn’t paying any attention), called 911 to claim he believed he hit a deer, and went home to sleep…while another human being never made it home at all. Supposedly, if you believe the story released in Ravnsborg’s statement after he’d gotten a couple of good nights of sleep, the Sheriff had arrived and checked out the damage to Ravnsborg’s vehicle and sent him home. They claimed that they had both looked for the deer while somehow entirely missing the dying (or already dead) man in the ditch next to the scene of the accident. If that’s true–and I don’t believe it is–the Sheriff probably has no business being a Sheriff at all…he has even less business keeping his job if the story is a fabrication. The Sheriff was so kind that he even allowed Ravnsborg to borrow his own vehicle while the damaged vehicle was towed away.

None of this should really surprise anyone familiar with politics in South Dakota. This isn’t even all that dissimilar from an incident involving former Governor Bill Janklow back in 2004.

Even with eyes all over the state and the surrounding states closely watching this case and waiting to see the result of the investigation, there’s so much rampant corruption that this was almost a foregone conclusion.

Welcome to South Dakota, where accountability only exists if you’re poor or uninvolved with politics.

The Substrate Of My Beliefs

I like to think that most of my decisions in politics and life are informed by defensible positions and beliefs.

I believe that LGBTQ people are, first and foremost, well…people. I believe that the love between two people is fundamentally no different, regardless of the sexual organs and gender expression. I’m not always great with using the right words, but I also grew up when referring to friends as “gay” as a term of endearment was commonplace. I still try to get things right, most of the time.
I believe that there is literally mountains of scientific and sociological data supporting the argument that gender is a sociological construct that varies dramatically from culture to culture and that the biological/chromosomal nature of “sex” is nowhere near the binary thing a lot of people cling to out of stubborn resistance to waking up and embracing new knowledge that transforms our earlier assumptions. I like the use of binary in those terms, though…because 1 and 0 could be seen as phallic and vaginal, respectively.
I believe that Black People and other minority groups are arrested, incarcerated, and killed at an improportionate rate because of a series of systems that are geared for inequity and inequality. In other words, I do believe that systemic racism is a very real, life threatening issue in America.
I believe that women are no less capable and valuable within our society, and that there are numerous hurdles and double-standards in place that make things more challenging for women than for men in almost every arena that matters.
I disagree with regime-changing conflicts that aren’t specifically and intentionally for the purpose of mitigating actual human suffering and torture.
I believe that we already spend altogether too much on military and defense, and that we could easily scale things back and do a better job of repairing failing infrastructure at home.
I believe that, aside from the indigenous people, every single person here in America is here because of immigration over less than a thousand years…and that we don’t get to simply say, “no more immigrants,” because they aren’t the right color of skin or believers in the right form of superstition. Most of our ancestors came here with little to nothing, but the dream of a different life. There have always been a small number of bad people who slip through, but the majority of immigrants all along have simply been people who want better for themselves and their loved ones.

I have plenty of other beliefs that are more debatable and more a matter of my personal outlook on things…but the ones I laid out here are the core of what I base my judgments upon.

As to my less concrete beliefs and influencing perspectives:

My views on climate change (I do believe we have had a negative impact that we can–and should–work to remedy) are open to disagreement. I’m no fucking climate scientist, but I’m inclined to trust those who are.

My pro-choice perspective is one based on the fact that it is not up to me to impose my own morality onto others or to have them impose their morality onto me. Additionally, the thought experiment is a solid one. If a fertility clinic were about to explode and I could either save a five-year-old child or a tank containing hundreds of viable, frozen, embryos…I would choose the child 10 times out of 10…unless they were particularly annoying. That, to me, showcases a very real distinction between which is a child and which is not.

I believe healthcare is a right and that no one should go bankrupt or have their lives destroyed because of the skyrocketing costs of healthcare in America.

That list could go on and on…but I would change those assumptions if I were supplied with logically consistent, rational, and well-informed arguments to the contrary.
The ones in the main post…those aren’t going to be changing.

Foreign Aid & International Relations

It seems to me that public comprehension of foreign financial aid is generally pretty low.
Less than 1% of the US Federal budget is typically distributed in the form of foreign aid to other nations, mostly developing nations, but also countries where there are US military bases in place (it’s more than you probably think).
What’s especially humorous to me is the fact that these same people I see complaining about foreign aid being sent to other nations are often the same ones talking about how defense is the most important budgetary concern. It’s like they’re entirely oblivious to the plain fact that federal spending in the form of foreign aid is one of the most important tools in the box where national defense is concerned…no, I misspoke, it’s not like that…it is that. They’re entirely oblivious when it comes to anything pertaining to diplomatic relations, foreign policy, and total federal spending. It’s perhaps not their fault that they’re stupid people, they suckle at a steady diet of bad/misleading information and memes in place of study.
The same people who I see shouting out about American exceptionalism and the superiority of capitalist social and economic structures are seemingly unaware of the way foreign aid is a propagandic method to encourage capitalist transitions in other countries.
I suspect these people also aren’t aware of the fact that more than 3/4 of the foreign aid doesn’t actually go to foreign governments or entities of those governments. It’s perhaps too much to expect that these same people recognize that part of that calculated budget dedication to foreign aid is in the form of military aid (troops and training).
It’s clear that altogether too few people take the time to read or study history in even the most rudimentary sense. This is precisely why I suggested that there needs to be a better focus on sociology and history in our educational system…and not just the, “America is Awesome,” variety certain politicians have been so fond of.

Financial Burdens Existing Only for the Poor

The recent hilarity and turmoil associated with certain hedge funds encountering a mob of amateurs online have certainly done a great deal to showcase the illusory nature and absurdity of our financial reality here in America. That is, assuming it wasn’t already obvious, from the massive disconnect on display with the stock market rising while millions of Americans are still jobless, homeless, or facing poverty.This seems like a good time to discuss the costs and financial burdens that exist only for people below certain levels of income.

Crimes for which the only penalty is a financial one:

For an individual making $70,000 a year, a fine of $100 amounts to only 0.14% of their income. Assuming a $15 minimum wage (which isn’t a reality yet), that same $100 fine amounts to 0.32% of the individual’s $31,200 annual pay (nevermind the fact that federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009, which is an income of only $15,080 per year). That translates into more than twice the proportional loss for the individual at this hypothetical minimum wage. If the higher-income earner in this thought experiment was making an income of $500k annually, we’d be looking at only a loss of 0.02% of their overall income with the payment of a $100 fine. For someone at the hypothetical minimum wage of $15 an hour, that percentage of their income would be only $62.40 (it would only be $30.16 for someone at the actual minimum wage of $7.25)…but in reality, no matter how much or how little the individual earns, the fine is still going to be the same $100.

Overdraft Fees:

A single overdraft fee can range from anywhere between $15 and $50, with the average being $35. These are costs that are ultimately only levied against those below certain income levels, yet these fees earn financial institutes an average of more than $30 billion a year (it’s worth noting that the Trump administration wanted to potentially make it easier for banks to penalize customers with overdraft fees only a couple of years ago).

Someone might suggest simply not having a bank account, but that’s hardly a viable option for most people these days. Increasingly, employers push for direct deposits in place of paper checks (even those direct payment cards provided by certain employers are backed by financial institutions), and payment of monthly bills is becoming more inconvenient (if not outright impossible) with cash. God forbid these same people want to save money by utilizing automatic payments for many of their bills because that isn’t an option without a debit or credit card. They had better keep a close eye on their finances because a single $60 payment for their gas or water bill can suddenly run them $95 or higher if they don’t quite have the money in their account yet. Naturally, this sort of thing can cause a cascade effect.

Late Fees:

Late payment fees for bills are something we’re unlikely to see if we’re above a certain income level as well, especially if we can comfortably utilize automatic deductions for the bills in question. Paying your monthly electric bill ten days late doesn’t cost the electric company anything, but it will cost you…either a percentage or a flat-rate late fee. Paying your rent three days late (in South Dakota) probably doesn’t cost your landlord or property management company anything, though it can come with late fees or trigger the beginning of the eviction process.

Deferred Maintenance:

Whether it’s your home, your car, or even your own body, sometimes one simply can’t afford to get something checked out promptly. A minor tooth pain that would cost less than $100 to address when only a cavity will cost upwards of $500 when it requires a root canal. A small vibration in your car may be a minor repair of only $300, but if one can’t afford that, it could end up being something that costs thousands (or takes the vehicle out of commission entirely). A crack in the living room window could be too expensive to address, but when it shatters during a blizzard and allows freezing temperatures and snow to accumulate inside of the home, the costs could be insurmountable.These are additional financial burdens that typically aren’t experienced by those above certain income levels (assuming they aren’t living ridiculously beyond their means).

More things could be tossed into this list of ways our financial system is rigged at the expense of those who have little, to the benefit of those who have plenty, such as student loan payments (whether we’re talking about college/university or trade school) and debts sent to collections…but I’d never finish typing this up. It’s worth thinking about ways these issues can be addressed and the inequity can be resolved. With the sheer absurdity of our financial institutions on display, there’s no time like the present to think about ways to fix what is clearly a broken system.

This post was originally written for my Facebook page. I hadn’t done anything with my blog for quite some time, so I figured I’d copy it over here as well.

It’s Been A While: More Politics-Deal With It

This is to be another political post, which makes me think that perhaps I should just get it out of my system altogether and become a politician…since I happen to be so damn opinionated on the matter and hate being an armchair political analyst. I know that plenty of you (assuming anyone actually reads these posts) have entirely different opinions from me…and that’s great, that difference of opinion is what allows for discourse to take place…without diversity of thought an opinion we have no room for meeting of the minds.

Our former mayor posted something earlier today regarding what he perceives as backwards morality from “Christians” that constitute the far right wing of the Republican Party…the invocation of Christ whenever they are rallying against issues that Jesus had no opinion on (at least nothing mentioned in the Gospels) such as gay marriage, abortion, taxes, and numerous other things while actively working to upset programs that coincide with the actual teachings of Christ (caring for the poor and the hungry, the sick and the elderly). You all know that I am not a Christian…that I’m not even remotely religious…but I do have a bit of knowledge about these things.

I initially wanted to do no more than let our former Mayor know that there are still Republicans like myself who don’t feel that these individuals speak for the party as a whole. I was going to leave it at that until someone opted to refer to Romans: Chapter 1, where there are some statements that could be interpreted as being opposed to homosexuality.

I felt it was necessary to point out that Romans was not a Gospel and did not have any statements made by Jesus attached to it. At best it was the writing of Paul the Apostle (not one of the Twelve Apostles, something that I suspect many Christians are unaware of), quite probably half a century after the death of Christ. It might also be noted that Paul was never in the presence of Christ (not being born until after Christ had died) and that his conversion came about from a vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. So Paul had no firsthand experience of Christ or his teachings…in fact he actively persecuted the early Christian cult during his life up until that conversion took place; and this is the man responsible for the bulk of the non-Gospel New Testament. He was just a man, nothing more…as fallible as any other.

The individual also pointed towards 2nd Timothy: Chapter 3 and I felt compelled to point out that these verses still have nothing to do with the teachings of Christ…and are even further removed. 2 Timothy has unknown authorship but it is traditionally attributed to some random (unnamed) follower of Paul the Apostle…somewhere in the vicinity of a century after Christ’s death.

This individual then expressed that they had assumed I might believe in the divine inspiration of scripture.

I felt the need to disillusion him of that; considering that it is only in those pieces of writing that it mentioned that the scripture was divinely inspired…I question it a great deal. I question the veracity of anything that changes dramatically in meaning when translated from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek and further. If divinely inspired, the meaning would remain constant. That is far from the case. I can write a piece of scripture today, tack on something about how all scripture is valid and inspired by god, and people are supposed to accept that? What is in the commonly used Bible today is nothing compared to what is found in the Catholic Bible, and that only consists of what a handful of humans determined would best suit their needs as scripture. Who gets to determine which scripture is valid and which is not…because neither God nor Jesus ever made any statements to that effect?

I didn’t mean to come off as being cynical there, but recognize that I really am a bit cynical when it comes to those things. I can understand how that whole statement could be considered highly cynical, and I was sorry about that. I just wanted to express my concern regarding the mindset associated with scripture being divinely inspired. Bart D. Ehrman has addressed these issues far better than I ever could, being Professor of religious studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill…he has been able to go far more in depth than I am able where the veracity of Biblical scripture (and especially the New Testament) is concerned. I highly recommend anyone who has the means should take the time to procure and read some of his books on textual criticism of scripture. That is neither here nor there though.

It was after this that another individual made some comments about how there isn’t really much of an actual difference between big government Republicans and socialist Democrats as far as he was concerned, and he isn’t entirely incorrect. He commented on the fact that there is no article of the Constitution that speaks of equalizing pay or for providing healthcare or education.

To me, it has nothing to do with either Republicans or Democrats really…but I could see where he was coming from.

Those of you who know me are aware that I happen to be a small government Republican. I think we need fewer laws and interferences into the daily lives of the American people. I don’t think it is the place of government (state or national) to define marriage or anything else. We need to step back and trim the fat from our overbearing obsession with legislation.

Regarding protection of wages, healthcare, education, and similar bones of contention I had to disagree…as these are issues that directly impact the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of the very population this government was developed to protect. Those issues weren’t salient at the time this country was founded and would almost definitely have been taken into consideration by the founding fathers had that been otherwise. The US government was designed in such a way as to allow for alterations and modification with the passage of time. It has never been a static creation and wasn’t intended to be. Our government has the sole function of providing for the well being of the populace that supports it…to uphold the rights and liberties of the American population. Nowhere is it stated that we are expected to become involved in political or social reform in other nations, but that isn’t often something that we hear complaints about from the same people who are so concerned with the programs that aid the American people.

Regarding the Christian uproar from the far right wing of the Republican party as far as these issues are concerned, John Adams and George Washington were pretty clear on that very point when the Treaty of Tripoli was signed. There was no ambiguity in the wording. Those persons in the US government who are so concerned with their distorted form of Christianity and the almost rabid desire to impose it upon everyone else are suffering from delusions of what Christ taught as well as basic lack of understanding regarding the history of the United States.

That same man recognized that we are, of course, entitled to our differences of opinion and went on from there to express his concern over what he sees as an inflated Executive branch, stating, “Who needs congress when presidential decree gets the job done?”

I definitely feel that our last two presidents have set an unwelcome and disturbing precedent as far as overstepping the bounds of the office is concerned. I’m not a huge fan of our “do nothing” Congress either. It is my opinion that we need a complete overhaul of Washington, but not the variety that the Tea Party has been pushing for…the last thing we need in Washington is more people who don’t understand how the government works (or is intended to work) and who believe that Christ hated the poor and needy.

These are just my opinions of course. I am just some guy who happens to feel that some of this should be common sense.

A Little Something To Think About

The current political climate is a horrifying thing for anyone who is capable of rational thought, neither of the major political parties inspire much faith or hope in the nation we live in today or for the future that expands before us.

What scares me most about the Republican Party as it exists today is the trend towards devolution that is so seemingly pervasive. The rhetoric that is spewed is something that should make us all laugh at the sheer ludicrous nature of it; and it might if it weren’t so truly terrifying, and made all the more terrifying by virtue of the fact that so many people are altogether too willing to accept it as fact instead of the theatrical nonsense that rhetoric (by nature) always is.

Beyond the rhetoric, though, is the subtext, and that is what is most mortifying. Racism, homophobia, and sexism abound in ways that should be appalling to everyone, not just those who are of the opposition. I used to be proud to say that I am a Conservative (capital letter intended), but there is nothing that I want more these days than to sever all ties with that hate and fear mongering culture that has devoured and transformed what was once the Republican Party.

I’ve seen Republicans point fingers at men like Robert Byrd and George Wallace as examples of the racism that was once associated with the Democratic Party, and they aren’t wrong in doing so. There is ample evidence of racism and sexism within the Democratic Party during the civil rights movement. They, of course, choose to ignore men like Jesse Helms who may have started out as a Democrat but was happily accepted into the Republican Party during the 1970’s, the party where he spent the majority of his political career. As appalling as I find any of those particular views, I also recognize that, at the time, they were pretty damn common. It was a different nation, and a different world, 40 years and more ago. That doesn’t make it acceptable by any stretch of the imagination, but it does make it a bit easier to understand. A few bad apples (or even a few dozen) decades ago doesn’t spoil the bunch today.

The Republican Party lost my support and my votes in any instance where it is pandering to the lowest common denominator like the tea party and fanatical religious right, and I’ve been hard pressed to discover any place where that is not the case. It’s fucked up that, as my Republican friends gleefully point out, during the civil rights movement it was the Democrats who were notably racist and sexist, but are now championing the rights of homosexuals and women…how times have changed. Both parties have changed since then, but only one of them seems to be changing in a positive manner anymore. America, as a whole, has been circling the drain for a good, long while, I have no doubt about that. But the GOP deciding to turn their back on progress and reality by stupidly picking up the banner dropped by men like Robert Byrd and George Wallace might be a sign that they will reach the drain ahead of the rest of us.

I’m not a huge fan of the Democratic Party, I disagree with a lot of the policies that are promoted by the party leadership, but at least they want people to be treated like people. There isn’t a widespread assumption within the Democratic Party that God has delineated certain people and lifestyles as being subhuman, and that alone is enough cause for me to throw my lot in with them in the coming election, and it should be enough for you too.

The only valid issue I’ve ever witnessed any of my Republican friends complaining about with respect to the Democrats was their short-sighted, knee jerk stance on gun control. It’s exceedingly rare that the gun violence which perpetuates their stance is perpetrated by legally obtained firearms, thus tighter restrictions are of little to no value. However, the insipid Second Amendment argument does not make their case at all. Seeing as how none of these mouth breathing, brainwashed jackasses are members of a “well regulated militia,” the right to bear arms does not apply to them. The wording was very clear in our Constitution, and it did not even ambiguously indicate that it was meant to be interpreted as a right for any Tom, Dick, and Harry to purchase and bear arms. What scares me, and makes me desire stricter laws where firearms are concerned, are these religious nut, tea party idiots having guns. I wouldn’t place a firearm in the hands of a severely mentally challenged child, and the same basic reasoning applies here.

A good friend of mine optimistically believes that all of this appalling shit (from racism to fanatical Christianity) will be ground under the feet of reason and science within the next 50 years. “Don’t hold your breath there,” is what I have to say in response. He has far more faith in human nature than I do. You can force feed facts and reality down people’s throats and it doesn’t hold a candle to feeling like they are special and that every action that they commit, no matter how heinous, is ultimately forgiven by the only judge that matters even if no other human being would ever provide said forgiveness.

The reality that we are all mortal, insignificant creatures who will be utterly scoured from the face of the universe in another couple of billion years when the atmosphere and everything else is burned away simply lacks the appeal of being eternally loved, special little beings for whom the whole universe was assembled. There’s simply no way to compete with that. We’re arrogant little fuckers, human beings, and when it comes to a choice between being special or being little more than a dust mote, most of us are going to choose the former.

I made my choice.

Not So Much a Religious Discussion as a Monologue This Time.

I ask my friend how he can look at extremists and see them as being representative of all of Islam when he can overlook the rapid, violently insane voices within Christianity as being far from indicative of what Christianity is and what it stands for.

He responds by spitting out the generic, “Because Christianity is rooted in love and Islam is rooted in death.”

These discussions have been going on for far too long, and with no resolution, I think. Finally, it’s time to stop pussyfooting around the real issue. “Christianity, throughout history,” I begin, “is responsible for more death than Islam could hope to become responsible for even with another dozen 9/11 type attacks. There is no more or less promotion of violence or love in either of the religious texts that you refer to.”

Not that I expect that to get through to him, similar arguments have just slid right off of him like his religious convictions and ignorance regarding his own faith are Teflon coated.

Weary with expecting better of him, I express what I suspect is really the substrate behind all of his rabid anti-Islam, anti-Hebrew, and anti-science rhetoric, “The fact of the matter is that you’re simply a narrow minded, uninformed bigot who simply accepts what some equally uninformed bigot claims about a religion that isn’t your own.”

I continue, “Rooted in love or not, your own faith is responsible for thousands of deaths during the Spanish Inquisition, hundreds more in Christian on Christian violence in Ireland, thousands more during the various Crusades, hundreds more during the witch trials, and tens to hundreds of thousands more during the imperial expansion into central/south America, Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world…all for the glory of your God…to spread his holy word at the tip of sword and sting of bullets.

“Islam has never even come close to those numbers…and never will.”

Turning my eye to the current American military action in the Middle East, I go on, “And there are still people being killed, by Christians, in the middle east for no better reason than that the people there don’t want to bow down and pray to the God that you do.” Admittedly, that isn’t the root cause for our involvement there, but there is no question that it is a motivating factor for a good number of the violent acts that we have witnessed.

Before he replies with some ignorant statement about how we are simply defending ourselves from Islamic aggression, I follow my previous comment with, “You’d fight with no less single minded determination than they are against us if roles were reversed.”

Once more, I opt to go after the source behind all of the things that he plasters online and argues against, “You’re a hypocrite and a bigot…you can distort it and twist it around all that you like…but anyone with open eyes and a trace of sense would be as aware of that fact as I am…and you aren’t blind or stupid enough to be ignorant to that reality yourself. Somewhere inside, beneath the layers of self-delusion and brainwashing, you know better.”

Choosing to address the way that everything is distorted to fulfill his own worldview I continue by saying, “Christians commit murder on a daily basis here in America…against other Christians, against Muslims, against Jews, against every different sort…the only reason it doesn’t tabulate the way you twist things around is because we don’t call it, “Christian violence.” It’s only because we brand any violence performed by a practitioner of Islam as “Islamic violence” that you even have news articles to share and targets for your finger pointing.

“Hell, that’s just common sense…to anyone. If we go through news articles and check the religious backgrounds of the murderers and rapists in American prisons, you’d have far, far greater incident rates of Christian violence than Islamic violence to read about.”

Momentum built up, I go on, “And hate speech like yours just spurs it on. You condemn Muslims for waving signs that Christians wave around on a regular basis…while protesting the funerals of military personnel…men who sacrificed themselves for this nation in a way that none of those jackasses with picket signs would ever dare to do.”

Thinking back on how this man used to be a friend of mine, I find myself both frustrated and disappointed, “Your religion of “love” produces and promotes no less hate than Islam. So give it a fucking rest already…you’re not that stupid. No matter how brainwashed and deluded you might be, you simply can’t actually be that stupid.”

I decide to wrap it up, receiving no response or inarticulate defense from him; I feel that maybe I have said enough. I don’t suspect that it will get through to him, but I hope that maybe some of it might. It is with that in mind that I conclude, “I consider what you believe to be insipid, primitive tripe…but I give you more benefit of the doubt than you give to people who believe something quite similar to what you believe.”

 

Another Religious Discourse Brought About By A Friend’s Blind Hatred of Islam

The same friend that led to the previous religious discussion happened to post something depicting Islam as a vicious, intolerant cult and I couldn’t help myself. Names have been omitted in order to avoid coming across as too much of an asshole.

I responded with, “Yeah, because there aren’t numerous people around the world or even in this Midwest region who haven’t been just as brutally mistreated by Christians, my friend. You let your bias cloud your judgment far too readily with your anti-Islamic nonsense. There are no more people who have been hurt by Islamic violence throughout history than those who have been by Christians behaving the same way or worse.”

It was in response to this that a friend of my friend chirps in by suggesting that I am either misinformed or choosing to spew lies and further, that, “Virtually all conflicts in the world are caused by Moslems killing those who do not agree with them. Fighting back is demonized by the ignorant.” The choice of spelling was not mine, but that of the individual who made the statement. She followed that by quoting an article from FrontPage Magazine by a Buddhist author who expressed fear that Islam would sweep away the cherished practices and people of the Buddhist traditions if it were to gain ascendancy and that Islam is the only belief system that propagates itself by the sword.

I responded to her claim that I was misinformed by saying, “The crusades, the inquisition, and countless other examples of Christian violence exist…and in recent years doctors, homosexuals, and other individuals have been beaten and even killed by Christians in direct relation to what they believe. The only misinformation comes from bigots like you hypocrites.”

She replied by informing me that those episodes from history that I mentioned were reactionary, in defense against Islamic barbarism; and that the more recent incidents that I alluded to were the work of extremists (which can be found in every culture) who don’t represent the majority except (in her opinion) within Islam, where they are fulfilling the wishes of the majority. She further suggested that I need to get educated before I spew my hate and that I really “need to read something.”

To which, I said, “I will give you the benefit of the doubt and operate under the assumption that you are merely Ill/uninformed rather than being a willfully ignorant hate monger. Either way, you clearly know less than you think you do.”

She mockingly thanked me for giving her the “benefit of the doubt” and indicated that she realized that my stance was derived from a government edited public school system, which had deceived me.

I found the condescension irritating and replied by saying, “You literally know nothing about me or the topic at hand. For your information I attended Catholic school for part of my education and spent three years at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology as a double major in physics and chemistry before having to put my education on hiatus because I got custody of my (then) kindergarten age daughter who was in school for half days and her education took priority when it came to the schedule conflicts between our respective schools. I am not one of these uneducated individuals that you can hope to sway without actually knowing what you’re talking about.

“In addition to my own education (and being exceptionally well-read) my best friend’s PhD work is in Middle Eastern Language and Culture, he (another white man of European descent, like myself) is fluent in numerous dialects of Arabic (to the extent that he is paid for translations to and from those languages), Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and others. I do know what I’m talking about when I disagree with the uninformed statements that individuals like you and my friend are so eager to plaster online.”

She replied by saying that she was proud of me. I can’t quite tell if it was sincere or derisive. I’m opting to err on the side of caution and presume it was intended to be derisive though.

I continued, “Earlier in this dialogue you made a comment about how Islam propagates via the sword, and I feel the need to remind you of what Jesus said in Matthew, ‘Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.’ And Christian history is filled to the brim with examples of that being quite true, no less than the examples that you can provide of/for Islam. You claim that it’s only extremists within Christianity who spread hate and promote violence and the same is true of Islam or of Judaism. There are extremists within each of those cultures and they are no more representative of the whole. Islam is not the enemy. If our nation were to be invaded by a primarily Islamic force, Christians would be reacting with no less violence and hate than you are seeing from extremists over there when invaded by a primarily Christian force. After 9-11 there was a great deal of violence perpetrated against Muslims and individuals who simply appeared to possibly be Muslim (including both Hindi and Sikh practitioners) here in America, violence perpetrated largely by Christians; imagine how much worse it would be if a primarily Islamic army had invaded our nation and began exercising control. I don’t assume that those individuals are representative of Christianity as a whole…you should think a bit more about extending the same courtesy to Islam.”

Her response was to insist that there was not one reported case of violence against Moslems following 9-11, that I “drank the Cool Aid.” She further queried that if what I was saying were true, then why is Europe being lost to Islam? Her assumption was that I obviously only have an education in the areas that I was allowed to see and that I should check the other side for a while.

She also suggested that I check out Eric Allen Bell, an individual who previously worked with Michael Moore. He had been turned around while filming about the bigotry associated with the mosque in Tennessee.

I felt the need to correct her by saying, “Yes, there were numerous accounts of violence perpetrated against American Muslims and others who simply looked like they might be Muslim. Someone has indeed been drinking the Kool-Aid, and it hasn’t been me. Europe isn’t being lost to Islam. I know a lot of people in Europe, and there is no such nonsense transpiring there. However, if we wanted to pretend that was the case, Europe was already lost to the Christians not altogether that long ago as they went through and subjugated, killed, and converted everyone in the path. The same thing happened here in America even more recently. The same thing happened numerous times during the various Crusades. And there damn well is anger in Islam against Europe (as well there should be) since most of Europe was standing behind America and the UN as invaders throughout the Islamic world. In addition to that, it was Europeans who decided to arbitrarily determine that the Palestinians didn’t need the area that was then delineated as Israel…as if they had any right to reorganize political and social boundaries like that. I know a great deal about history, and about world events.”

In addition I felt it necessary to say, “Michael Moore is a hack who cherry picks and conveniently edits interviews to say what he wants…and Bell learned a lot from his time working with him.”

Her response was to imply that I was somehow missing a whole other side to the story and that I should educate myself and not simply, “read the approved text.” She followed that by insinuating that I might, myself, be a Moslem.

I was flabbergasted, to say the least, “Approved text? What sort of mental gymnastics are you performing? I read everything, everything that I can ever get my hands on…and I have large hands. I’m not a practitioner of Islam, I don’t subscribe to Christianity or Judaism, I’m not Mormon, I’m not a Buddhist (though I do actually admire some elements of the Buddhist philosophy, I recognize that it isn’t actually a religious practice in any real sense), and I’m not a Sikh or Hindu either. But I have read the major (and a lot of the minor) religious texts for each of those religions and more.

“The difference between you and I is that I don’t subscribe to some mindless Conservative agenda, I don’t read only those articles and texts that are recommended by the individuals working to further that agenda and I can change the channel and watch something other than Fox News.

“And before you start condemning me for being some sort of liberal brainwashing victim, I might want to let you know that I voted for G.W. Bush both terms (because I felt that neither Gore nor Kerry had a fucking clue how to run a country and Bush at least had his father to help guide him along, sadly that didn’t seem to happen, but it was what I was hoping for since G.W. himself was borderline retarded).”

I admit, I am ashamed to have admitted that part, seeing as how god-awful G.W. Bush was as both president and a human being…but mistakes were made, and I do still have to stand by my decision in voting for that insufferable jackass.

I continued, “I am the dirty little secret that the Republican Party wants to pretend doesn’t exist…I’m a primarily conservative atheist. 🙂 I’m an independent voter, but most of my political views tend towards the conservative rather than liberal bent. Hell, I didn’t start having issues with the Republican Party until they started pandering to the outspoken religious right, those people creep me the fuck out. If McCain had actually run when he was up against Obama the same way that he was running during the primaries that he lost to G.W. Bush, he might very well have gotten my vote…but he seemed to have tossed common sense and critical thinking out the window in order to cater to the vocal minority that is the religious right, and I was sorely disappointed. McCain used to be a sensible, intelligent, and well-spoken individual…but then he somehow lost his way, and the nail in his coffin was picking Palin as a running mate.

“So no… I’m not expressing the thoughts that I express because of some political agenda of my own…and it certainly isn’t because I’m a proponent of Islam. I think all of these religious traditions are ridiculous and that the world would be a better place if people would just grow up and stop obsessing about imaginary friends and the conflicts that they promote.”

There was no further dialogue. Perhaps I shared a bit too much about myself in those last few bits of conversation, but I felt the need to avoid the individual trying to claim that I was somehow perpetuating some myth put in place by liberals.

I thought that my few readers might enjoy having this conversation shared with them; I hope that I was correct in that assumption.

If you happen to have any opinions on the matter, feel free to comment, I enjoy conversation and would love to know what you readers happen to think.