Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Peek into the Republican View of How to Properly Love America

I have finished reading a fascinating, yet disturbing, article that gives frank insight into the Republican worldview and how to properly express love for America and proper patriotism, especially if you are President of the United States.  It's worth a read, but I feel it's necessary to almost interact directly with the essay to respond to it adequately.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2015/02/23/the-insiders-why-would-anyone-think-obama-doesnt-love-america-plenty-of-reasons/

The author, who chairs a lobbying and communications firm cofounded by Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi in 1991, starts by somewhat defending Rudy Giuliani's recent statement that President Obama doesn't love this country without exactly co-signing his remarks.  Then he starts trying to explain the Republican viewpoint:

The fact is that a lot of Republicans do believe that Obama doesn’t clearly and consistently demonstrate his love for America in a way that they can always relate to. 
The first sentence is helpful, and peaks my curiosity.  I relate to a statement that somehow Obama doesn't display his love of country in a way that Republicans recognize or relate to.  Tell me more! 

The media are in full-throttle attack mode against anyone who gives pause to Giuliani’s statements. Their blaring “how dare you” harangue reveals their defensiveness.
Here we go, the required attack on "the media", which does NOT include right wing radio or Fox News.  Any criticism of Republicans is part of an established conspiracy that just PROVES conservatives are right about everything!  *sarcasm*

 “Love” is a subjective term, and humankind has grappled with exactly what love is since the beginning of time. So who is to say who loves whom and who loves what?
Precisely the point!  That's the whole point of the "how dare you!" harangue mentioned earlier.  This is the President of the United States you are accusing of hating the very country he leads, all because he doesn't express his love of country the way you want him to.
Well, first of all, in politics, image matters.
Indeed, it does.  Too often, image is ALL that matters.
It’s easy to imagine Bill Clinton and either President Bush getting teary-eyed at the proverbial Fourth of July parade, as the veterans wave and flatbeds filled with 4-H kids roll by. It’s hard to imagine Obama in a similar situation. He has a cerebral, cool and aloof style that keeps him a little distant.
I seem to remember mockery of Bill Clinton for his "I feel your pain" personality and his ability to get choked up quite often.  It didn't become "OK" until Dubya started doing it.  Anyway, one of the reasons the country elected Obama was his detached sense of calm no matter the situation.  In case you forgot, the country was in full meltdown in the fall of 2008, and we needed someone calm who could get in there and FIX IT because the rest of us were just scared of what was going to happen next.  So Obama doesn't cry  in public when puppies, veterans, or children appear.  So what?  Grow the hell up. 

From the beginning, this president’s misguided approach to foreign policy has suggested something about what he sees as America’s place in the world. It goes all the way back to the 2008 campaign, when then-Sen. Obama said he would agree to meet unconditionally with America’s enemies, including the leaders of Venezuela, Iran and North Korea.
Once again, this statement about the 2008 campaign lacks any understanding of what was going on at the time.  We'd had eight years of "pre-emptive war" doctrine and F*ck-You, You-are-either-with-us-or-against-us diplomacy that had alienated just about everyone, especially our traditional allies.  Bush wouldn't even SPEAK to anyone who dared disagree to his face.  This kind of foreign policy had not served us well, and Obama understood that.  His willingness to simply listen, even to our enemies was a breathe of fresh air.  It seemed more reasonable than what we had been doing.   No where did Obama promise to concede anything to America's enemies... he simply expressed a willingness to not act like a big bully.  It's a shame conservatives think that is proof of hating America.
This willingness to accommodate America’s traditional enemies and at times, disregard old friends, has been a nagging and persistent pattern in the administration from when he was first elected to the present day.
Well, that's a loaded statement.  So talking to enemies is "accommodating" them.  I suppose it's better to just bomb them into submission rather than try to have a dialogue, right?  As to disregarding old friends... other than Israel (which is way more complicated than simply charging that Obama is dismissing that country), who else has Obama "disregarded" and how?

 Most recently, the president’s gift of recognition to our traditional enemy Cuba — while getting nothing in return — and his inaction as another traditional enemy, Russia, makes a mockery of peace talks and interferes in a country that wants the United States to come to its aid just add to the idea that Obama is quick to let America’s enemies have their way.
Here we have some specifics!  We have been aware since at least the 1990s that the whole Cuba embargo was an abject failure.  It did not bring Castro to his knees or end communism on the island.  Here again, we have Obama willing to own up to a policy that HAS NOT WORKED and say let's try something different and see what happens.  I'm not sure what Obama would demand "in return" for abandoning a policy that hasn't served our national interests.  Opening Cuba up to more interaction with Americans will change the island for the better.   We don't let a communist regime stop us from interacting with China, do we?  Why not see if we can't practice some cultural imperialism to open up Cuba?  

On Russia, I'd love to know what the Republicans would prefer Obama does.  Our traditional friends do not want a war exploding in Ukraine between Russia and the Allies.  There's way too many nuclear weapons involved, and Putin is just crazy enough to think about using them if he's pushed too hard.   Obama's philosophy appears to be to let diplomacy exhaust itself before using military force.  Yes, he can sometimes wait too long (see Syria) but again, we are coming from an era with Bush that was "shoot first, maybe talk later...but only if you agree with me".  Our allies are more likely to support Ukraine if all avenues short of war have been exhausted.   As with most messes in Europe, this Ukraine situation could get out of hand very quickly.   It's clear to me that Obama is doing all he can to keep that from happening. 

 And then there is the disastrous, continuing effort to avoid offending Islamic terrorists.... Yet the president won’t even put the words “Islamic” and “terrorist” together. Somehow the president manages to leave the impression that he doesn’t want to offend those who would like nothing better than to kill us. His refusal to call them out fits with the notion that he might not see the danger or apply all necessary means to fight these terrorist groups.
SERIOUSLY?!?  Sweet baby Jesus, save us!  He doesn't go on and on about "Islamic terrorists" because he's not trying to fan the flames of religious hatred or prejudice.   We have Muslims living in this country who are fellow American citizens.  Why should Obama qualify the terrorist groups as Islamic when we don't do the same for groups who happen to be Christian or some other faith?  Timothy McVey was a terrorist, not a "Christian terrorist".  Even President Bush was careful to stress that our gripes were not against Islam itself, but against terrorists who abuse and distort the religion.  Take your xenophobia somewhere else, conservatives. 
Many were left flat-footed and with jaws dropped after the president’s remarks at the recent National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where he let the Islamic terrorists know that he is keeping their actions in context. Obama felt compelled to equate today’s Islamic terrorist butchers to the Christian Crusaders of 900 years ago. It was just another example of how the president appears willing to try to understand — if not justify — the actions of those who hate America.
Now he's just making me tired.  So by Obama reminding folks who seem to think that Christianity is above reproach that we too have a checkered history that doesn't accurately reflect our faith, he's giving the terrorists a verbal bear hug with a hand job?!?!?  REALLY?!?   It may be beyond the pale for conservatives to have a little reasoned perspective on emotional matters, but in the rest of the world, this is generally considered to be a good thing.   If we do not understand the history of these conflicts and grievances, they cannot be beaten.  Just because you acknowledge some really awful things Christians did in the name of the faith 900 years ago does not excuse what terrorists are doing in the name of their faith now, no matter how much Republicans say it is so.  Trying to understand what drives the hatred of these radical, unhinged terrorists is not to apologize for them...it is looking for insights to undermine, beat, and destroy them.   Obama gets this.  Heck, I get it.  Why can't conservatives?  Why is this concept so difficult?

In the meantime, the president is ignoring our loyal ally, the prime minister of Israel, and plenty of America’s most experienced foreign policy leaders in dealing with Iran — a country that has said it wants to acquire nuclear weapons to use against Israel and the United States. Obama’s evolving position on how much of a weapons infrastructure he will allow Iran to keep is frightening to anyone who fears for Israel, the United States and our other allies. It makes one wonder about the president’s commitment to ensuring that Iran does not ever have nuclear weapons.

Notice how the author shifts the focus from "disregarding old friends" (i.e. Israel) to "ignoring" Benjamin Netanyahu who is the current PM of Israel.  I don't know enough about the negotiations to have an opinion on what Obama is or is not willing to do to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.  I will cast a weary eye on whatever the deal is simply because I don't think Iran can be trusted.  It's leaders want a nuke in order to dominate the middle east.  The notion that Iran could fire a nuclear missile at the USA and get away with it, is ridiculous.  The ayatollah may have wet dreams about turning Washington DC in to a nuclear wasteland, but it is not going to happen.  Israel is in far greater danger, which makes the political games Netanyahu is playing even more dangerous.  He all but actively campaigned against Obama in 2012, which is not only a breach of protocol but a very dangerous game to play in a divided America. 

I will concede no ground to anyone in my support of Israel's right to exist.  Israel is not perfect, but the existence of this Jewish democracy needs to be protected.   I understand that average Palestinians have been brutally punished in an effort to defeat their leaders, and Israel has gone too far quite a few times.  But like America, Israel is not perfect.  Admitting this does not diminish support for Israel overall or its existence.  It is infantile to suggest otherwise.  The choices are not "Whatever Israel Wants is Awesome" or "We hate Israel and hope the Jews are Pushed into the Sea".    Again, other than direct war on Iran, what would conservatives do?

Obama also has a famously strained relationship with the military. His own former defense secretary, Robert Gates, was particularly pointed in his revelation that he didn’t think the president liked being around members of the military. And of course, for many Republicans, the U.S. military is the most revered of all government institutions. Lack of support for the military can be viewed not only as an indication of a lack of traditional patriotism but also as a lack of commitment to America’s strength.
Here's a theory:  Conservatives will always believe that anyone who is NOT a Republican in the White House is illegitimate.  Bill Clinton was considered illegitimate by the right since he never got 50% of the overall vote despite his overwhelming electoral college victories.  The right cried foul when many of us considered Bush illegitimate after the 2000 election since he got a half million FEWER votes than Gore and only won with a handy assist from 5 Republican members of the Supreme Court.  Of course, once 9/11 happened, we put those concerns aside and supported Bush's actions (remember his 90% approval?) until he pushed fake evidence to get us into a war in Iraq that was really about avenging his daddy.  Clinton was hit with the "disrespect" charge for his less than crisp salute.  Technically, the President of the United States is not to return a salute since he is commander-in-chief.   It was Reagan who started this practice, and it was incorrect then and is incorrect now.  But since His Holiness, Ronald Wilson Reagan, did it, every president since has done it (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/opinion/01winfrey.html)   It doesn't mean Obama hates the military, and just because Sec. Gates thinks Obama didn't like to be around military members does not make it so. 

The real issue is here is the unquestioning reverence that the GOP has for the military that the author admits to.  When it comes to things like healthcare, social security or any domestic spending, conservatives love to claim "fiscal discipline" but if the military wants it, we should give it unquestioningly.  America's military should always be strong, but it also needs to be smart to avoid the pitfalls that history shows happens to great militaries who are unquestioned by the people.  To me, Obama shows proper dedication to the military and its mission.  The charge that he doesn't like military people or the military in general has not basis in fact.

The author wraps up his explanation of the Republican worldview complaining about a hurried salute holding a coffee, the fact that Al Sharpton is welcome in the White House (the horror!  He might as well have Bin Laden over for tea...except Obama is the one who killed Bin Laden) and that a civil rights lawyer was appointed Secretary of Labor instead of some Chamber of Commerce type who sees the worker as a tool rather than a human being.

All this combines to give people plausible reasons to think that Obama doesn’t exactly see America as the light in the darkness or as the world’s best hope, and he even had to be shamed into acknowledging American exceptionalism. So is it reasonable to wonder whether his heart is really in it? Is it ridiculous to think this president is biased toward seeing America’s flaws and imperfections first and that he doesn’t see America as the worthy leader of the world?
Allow me to answer your questions, Mr. Rogers (yes, that's his name). NO, it is not reasonable to wonder whether his heart is really in defending and protecting this country based on what you've written.  YES, it is ridiculous to think that President Obama is biased toward America's flaws and imperfections and would rather that America not be a leading nation.  Obama recognizes that the world, and the United States place in it, is a complicated and nuanced picture.  It does not mean we aren't a great nation, because we are.  It doesn't mean we are perfect either, because we aren't.  We should constantly challenge ourselves to be better.  Obama understands that, why can't you?
  

Monday, April 07, 2014

God's Not Dead

Yesterday, I saw the movie, "God's Not Dead".  As an entertainment vehicle concerned with contentious philosophical issues, the movie entertains and enlightens in a way that it likely did not intend.  The story is set in a small, "third tier" college and follows the travails of Josh Wheaton (played by Shane Harper),  a freshman who signs up for a philosophy class to fulfill his humanties requirment despite a warning that he might want to find another class after the upperclassmen helping him sign up for classes sees the cross around Josh's neck.  The warning was well founded, as Professor Radisson (played by Kevin Sorbo aka "Hercules") begins class by informing students that they will need to disavow, in writing, the existence of God on that first day, or face a failing grade for fully 1/3 of their final grade.  This was the first of several heavy-handed tropes in the movie that bothered me.  I cannot imagine a professor at any university getting away with demanding that his students sign a statement that "God is Dead" or face a dramatic reduction in grade.  At a state university, it would violate the first amendment by demanding a statement of faith (or lack thereof) in the face of punishment.  At a private school, I cannot imagine it would survive either.  I'm a fairly liberal Christian, and I would take great offense at such a requirement by a person holding authority over me.  Even at 18, I believe I would have dropped the class AND filed a complaint.  But framing the story in this manner is important to the worldview expressed in the movie.   More on that later.


As other students in the class begin scribbling the words “God Is Dead”  and signing their names on pieces of paper as instructed, Josh is clearly uncomfortable, and finally offers a nervous refusal, provoking an a smug, sarcastic response from Radission.  The professor (clearly standing in for evil, godless academia) assigns him a daunting task that is set up to humilate Josh: if Josh will not admit that “God Is Dead,” he must prove God’s existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments and evidence over the course of the semester, and engage Radisson in a head-to-head debate in front of the class.  Josh is smart enough to ask who decides if he has succeeded, and when Radisson tries to say it's his class, so he (Radisson) would be the judge, Josh counters by saying the class should vote since they all had just agreed with Radisson's proposition that God is dead.  It helps that Josh dreams of being a lawyer, so he'll treat the exercise as if the class is a jury.    Radisson accepts the premise, still quite smug that Josh will be humiliated and fail.  Of course, if Josh fails, his acadmic career is "destroyed" and he'll never be accepted to law school. 

That's a lot to put on a first semester freshman!  Defend your faith or face complete life failure!   It's also not true.  Even if he had failed the class, over the course of 4 years, Josh could make up for the hit on his GPA.  The movie, however, wants you to feel the high stakes for Josh.  His perfect blonde girlfriend (oddly left off the cast page of the movie) is also depicted as a pseudo-Christian shrew who literally orders him to not challenge Radisson because it will "ruin" their future.  After all, she lowered herself to go to this "third tier" school so they could be together, giving a hint that Josh may not be the stellar student that she is.  The movie reveals that they have been "together" since they were 12 years old when their two youth groups came together for some kind of event.  This girl has their whole life planned out, and Josh better not deviate from the "plan" if he loves her.  When he actually stands up for himself, she dumps him and says that her mother was right about him all along.  Ooooo.....BURN.... lol. 

Josh, of course, is stressed out and goes to church to pray for help.  An obviously burnt out pastor with frosted highlights (played by David A.R. White) asks if he can help, and ends up quoting two pieces of scripture that basically says if Josh doesn't stand up for God, then Jesus won't stand up for him when it's Judgement Day.  So now, Josh is not only facing "academic suicide", he is also facing eternal hellfire and damnation.  Poor, persecuted Josh!  Whatever will he do?   The dramatic tension here is a bit juvenile, but effective.  It is only because of the heavy dose of persecution that I present a slightly mocking tone.  Again, more on that later.

By this point in the movie, we have been introduced to three characters who provide subplots that present a very interesting view into the conservative, evangelical psyche.  The first is an oppressed Muslim girl (played by Hadeel Sittu) who is forced to wear a modified hijab that covers her head except for her eyes.  Her Muslim father is seen adjusting the hijab before she is allowed to leave the car.  I wondered why she was able to wear western clothes if her dad was conservative enough to demand an "eyes only" hijab.  Seems to me if her head covering needs to be that extensive, he'd insist she not wear form fitting blue jeans and a button up blouse, but a full length burqa.  If we're going for stereotypes, why not go full bore?

The girl rips off the head scarf as soon as her dad drives away, so she can fit in with the other students.  At one point, another girl tells her "You're so pretty.  It's a shame you have to hide it."  Of course, this girl is sporting a cross, and says this as the girl's father drives up.  He immediately demands to know who she was talking to, and she says no one.  The father seems to sense his daughter's discomfort, and says he knows it's hard for her to be a part of this world but not OF this world.  But that all he asks is this one thing (wearing the head scarf), and he only does that because he loves her.  Does she understand that?   That was a fairly honest portrayal of the tension of how a conservative Muslim family living in America might feel.  Yet, they ignore the disrespect shown the girl's faith by pressuring her to not wear the hijab.  Perhaps if she were ugly, it would be OK?  The portrayl was sympathetic but ultimately from a place of "how backward these Muslim people are!".

There's a twist, though!  This Muslim girl is not only wanting to fit in with her American peers, she is also interested in the Christian message.  Later, we see her listening to Franklin Graham preaching via a podcast.  This was an important "tell" by the makers of this movie, and the perspective they bring.  That Franklin Graham would be the preacher she listens to, rather than his father, shows what the movie believes is the "real" form of Christianity.   All I could think of when I saw Franklin Graham's name on her ipod was all the hateful things he's said about gay people. 

Of course, the girl's little brother comes in while she's resting and rips the ipod out of her hand to see what she's listening to.  The little boy then tells on her, and the girl's father comes raging in, demanding that she recite "There is no God but God, and Muhammed is his profit."  I was kind of surprised that he didn't demand she scream "Alluh Akbar!"  The girl then admits she has become a Christian in her beliefs, which provokes violence from the father.  He strikes her, and drags her by the hair out of the house and throws her in the street, slamming the door to their home and locking it.  The movie is not unsympathetic with the "nasty" and "unreasonable" demands of Islam, as it shows the father wishing he didn't have to throw his daughter out, and showing him collapsing in sobs after he does. 

We also have a subplot around a Chinese student (played by Paul Kwo) studying at the university.  Of course, being a "godless communist", he knows nothing of God until the fight breaks out in the Philosophy class, and Josh has to defend the existence of God.  But the quiet Chinese student is intrigued, and we see him talking to his father about it.  The father says that whatever the professor says goes, and he doesn't want to hear any  more about it.  Of course, being an obedient chinese boy, he doesn't want to go against his father or the professor...but the God stuff calls to him.

Finally, we have a blogger (played by fiery redhead Tricia LaFache) and her douchebag boyfriend, a power executive played by Dean Cain.  She is the chief scribe of a blog called "The New Left" whose sole purpose is apparently to "ambush" Christians to challenge their faith.  She is seen  pouncing on one of the Duck Dynasty boys and his wife as they go into church, basically calling him a murderer for hunting ducks.  She also makes a snide remark about his wife not being barefoot and pregnant.  The character is portrayed as a shrill feminist leftist who hates Christians for being moral and looks to attack them however she can.  Her blog is supposed to be popular, getting 1 million clicks a month for her posts.  The Duck Dynasty guy is shown to be humble, and tells the blogger that if someone doesn't like the fact he's a christian who prays on camera, they can change the channel.  It's all part of the theme of standing up for Jesus (the movie is dropping the more general "God" for an explicit message about Christ at this point). 

As luck would have it, the blogger has cancer, and it has spread widely throughout her body.  It appears there's little that can be done to save her.  When she tells the douchebag boyfriend, his first response is "This couldn't have waited until tomorrow?"  See, he closed a deal today, and the dinner was supposed to be a celebration, and she had to ruin it with her news of cancer.  Then he informs her that she violated their deal, and the relationship is over.   She had thought he loved her, but she was mistaken, and since she's a feminist liberal shrew, she is now utterly alone, facing cancer and death without anyone who loves her. 

Turns out, the douchebag boyfriend's sister is living with Professor Radisson (played by a VERY toothy Cory Oliver) and has a mother in the final stages of dementia.  The sister is very pretty, kind, and patient.  She is also a Christian dating the aggressively atheist Radisson who tells her that he won't share her with a fictious God.   It's revealed that the sister was once Radisson's student, and that they dated after she finished his class.  He remarks how glad he was that she had a brain in her head since she was so pretty.  Radisson is having colleagues over for a wine and cheese gathering, most of whom are from the Philsophy department where Radisson is under consideration for Chair.  The topic of Josh's challenge comes up, and Radisson fully mocks  Josh while giving grudging respect to his willingness to commit "academic suicide".  The sister remarks that it doesn't seem fair to expect a freshman to fight him in a discipline that is Radisson's life's work.  Radisson basically tells her to be quiet, and when she continues, he icily says, "I asked you nicely to be quiet."  Radisson's colleagues are portrayed as being in complete agreement with him, slightly embarassed for the obviously intellectually inferior sister. 

The douchebaggery continues as dinner is served.  Radisson had sent the sister out to get a very specific bottle of wine, which she had then locked in the trunk of her car.  Apparently, she left it there because when they pour the wine, it is rancid.  As the horror of what happened sinks in, Radisson makes a few cutting remarks about his girlfriend to the point she is almost in tears and says it's time for "the help" to leave. 

There is also a subplot with the burnt out preacher who is hosting an African missionary who is amazed at the wonders of America and laughs at the preacher when he gets frustrated over minor things like a car not starting.   The African wants to see Disney World, but every time they get a car, it doesn't start.  The African thinks this is funny and message from God, while the preacher is just exasperated.  It is revealed that the preacher thinks his work has become routine and boring, while the African gets to do the "real" work of saving souls in Africa.  The simple faith (whenever something happens the African says "God is good" to which the answer is "All the time" followed by "And all the time" finished with "God is good") of the African is portrayed as an ideal that has been lost by the preacher as he is consumed with worries of this world.

Meanwhile, Josh has been studying hard to present the arugments that God exists from a philosophical standpoint.   Radisson had already presented a list of prominent philosophers, all of whom were atheists with the implication being that the world's greatest "thinkers" all believed God did not exist.   The movie here does not shy away from science, focusing first on the Big Bang theory of the universe.  Josh makes an argument that having the universe be created out of nothing spontaneously is illogical.  He then makes reference to Genesis, ignoring the whole timeline of Genesis where creationists argue that the Earth is about 6700 years old, and any evidence to the contrary is manufactured by godless scientists.  Josh's argument embraces the notion that Genesis is not to be read literally, especially the part about creation being finished in 6 days.  He does make an argument that it is possible that the Big Bang and Genesis's story of God saying "Let there be light" describe the same event of creation.   It is an argument that falls within my personal belief system.

Radissons answers this argument by quoting Stephen Hawking ("the greatest mind the world has ever known!") expressing his belief that the laws of physics make a spontaneous Big Bang inevitable.  Josh doesn't have an answer to that quotation until his next argument session (he has three) where he quotes an unknown academic's criticism of Hawkings circular reasoning.  The rebuttal makes sense, and presenting Hawking as infallible was an amateur mistake on Radisson's part anyway. 

Josh moves on during his second argument to the fossil record.  I was glad to see the character of Josh embrace what science tells us while making his God argument.  I have always found the argument that you can't believe in God and in the scientific method as ridiculous.  There are things science doesn't explain, and it may never explain.  Or maybe it will, who knows?  Either way, there's nothing in my years of scientific training that has precluded a belief in God.   After all, God gave us brains with which to think critically, to explore and discover the universe.   As long as belief in God doesn't preclude the search for answers (and in my belief, it does not...and in fact, encourages exploration and study), God and science have no need to be in conflict.   Yes, you can get into ethics and the use of science where faith plays a role, but the pursuit of knowledge in and of itself is God-neutral. 

Anyway, Josh brings up the Cambrian explosion, was the relatively rapid appearance, around 542 million years ago, of most major animal phyla, as demonstrated in the fossil record. This was accompanied by major diversification of other organisms. Before the Cambrian explosion, about  most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Over the following 70-80 million years, the rate of evolution accelerated by an order of magnitude and the diversity of life began to resemble that of today.  The Cambrian explosion has generated extensive scientific debate. Charles Darwin discussed it as one of the main objections that could be made against his theory of evolution by natural selection.  The long-running puzzlement about the appearance of the Cambrian fauna, seemingly abruptly and from nowhere, centers on three key points: 1) whether there really was a mass diversification of complex organisms over a relatively short period of time during the early Cambrian; 2) what might have caused such rapid change; 3) and what it would imply about the origin and evolution of animals. Interpretation is difficult due to a limited supply of evidence, based mainly on an incomplete fossil record and chemical signatures remaining in Cambrian rocks.   Josh's argument is that the Cambrian explosion proves Genesis was correct in saying God created all the creatures, and the "sudden" appearance is proof that it wasn't happenstance, but driven by an intelligent being, aka God. 

Josh could have made his argument without the benefit of Genesis, and his argument loses steam whenever he whips out scripture as proof.  Otherwise, his arguments are sound.  There is nothing that proves God created the Cambrian explosion or the Big Bang, but there is also nothing proving otherwise.  In other words, it is POSSIBLE that a higher being known as God caused these things to happen.  That's all Josh really needs to prove.

Radisson, of course, is pissed.  He announces that the last session will be different.  Instead of letting Josh lecture the class, it will be a real debate between him and Josh.  The movie plays this as Radisson's desperate move to counter Josh's sound arguments on behalf of God.  Radisson by this point has told Josh that he won't stand for Josh's attempt to "humilate" him in front of the class, and that he will make it his mission to make sure Josh never makes it into any graduate school program if he continues.  It was an unnecessary addition to the persecution theme, and reveals that Radission is driven by something more than intellectual snobbery. 

Josh finally asks Radisson what happened to him to make him so aggressively anti-God.   Radisson reveals that his mother died of cancer at age 12, basically leaving him an orphan.  When his mother got sick, she was a godly woman.  The young Radisson prayed that his mother would live, but she died.  Josh replies that sometimes God's answer is no, and Radisson responds that any God would orphan a little boy who prayed so hard for her to live was not a God worth believing in. 

In the climatic scene of Josh and Radisson's back-and-forth, Josh finally calls out Radisson's hatred of God as going beyond just mere non-belief.   He pushes Radisson to admit that he hates God and demands to know WHY.  Radisson finally explodes that YES, he does hate God for killing his mother when he was a child, and Josh sums up by saying, "How, then, Professor, can you hate something so much that you claim does not exist?"  It's a very good question, and one that Radisson does not have an answer for.   His hatred of God is a concession of God's very existance, for you can't hate something that doesn't exist.  There must be an object for hate, and that object must by definition exist.  At this point, the Chinese student stands up and declares, "God. Is. Not. Dead."  And slowly, the entire class stands up declaring the same.  Josh has won the argument and slain the atheist dragon!

There's a Christian rock band in town, and all the characters have tickets to it.  Josh takes the newly believing Chinese student since his second ticket is available after the Bitchy Girlfriend has dumped him for standing up for God.  The formerly muslim girl is there, and even the nasty feminist blogger shows up.  Of course, she shows up to confront the rock band about their beliefs.  They are calm, and ask her where she finds her hope.  At this point, the blogger admits that she's dying and scared and has nothing to give her hope.  The band prays with her in a very sweet scene, and we are left to hope she will convert.  The band is rocking the arena and giving a shout out to Josh for standing up for Jesus (the movie wisely doesn't get into the intricacies of the holy trinity), and asks everyone in the arena to text everyone in their phone the message: "God is not dead!"  Of course, they all do.

Meanwhile, Radisson is in  his office looking over the signed declarations of his students that God is dead.  He then pulls out an old envelope and reads a letter from his mother, written on her deathbed.  She expresses her sorrow that she won't see him grow up and become the man God intends him to be.  So Radisson, apparently having a change of heart, sees a newspaper article about the concert, calls his girlfriend to leave a message for her to call him, and heads toward the arena.  It starts to rain, and he's rushing ahead.  As he enters the crosswalk, a car runs a red light and hits him.  The car drives off, leaving Radisson broken on the pavement.  Luckily, the preacher and the African see this happen, and get out to give aid.  The African immediately says that Radisson's ribs are ALL broken and his lungs are filling with blood.  The preacher tells him that God has given him a last chance to believe, and that God could have let him die on impact.  Radisson has a conversion moments before he dies.  The movie ends with Radisson's phone lighting up with his girlfriend's text telling him that "God is not dead!". 

Cue credits, which contain something suprising after the list of cast and crew.  There is an extensive listing of court cases against universities across the nation that have been charged with persecuting Christians and stopped by the courts on the basis of the 1st Amendment.  The cases scroll by very quickly, but end with an exhortation that if anyone believes their school is persecuting them based on their Christian beliefs to contact a group of lawyers who can help.

What I could gleam from the cases they presented, they mostly dealt with funding of Christian organizations on campus from student activity funds on a neutral basis, OR with recognition of a Christian organization without requiring them to admit non-christians as members.  What had happened was state universities had begun denying faith groups funding from student activity funds on the theory that a state institution could be sued for promoting a certain faith if they funded explicitly Christian groups.  There weren't many explictly Muslim or other faith groups around asking for funding, so the prohibition mostly focused on Chrsitian groups.   The Supreme Court has held that universities may not actively discriminate against faith groups in funding.  As long as the faith-based group meets the neutral criteria for being a student organization, it must be allowed to seek funding on an equal basis with non-faith groups.  Further, the university could not force a faith group to change its membership criteria under the guise of non-discrimination policies.  So a Christian student group that required members to be Christians, and perhaps subscribe to a certain set of beliefs had to not only be recognized by the university but funded on equal basis of other student groups.  None of which I have an objection to.  Our courts are there to decide these questions, and it is wrong for a public university to make life harder for Christian groups than other groups.

This theme of persecution is where I have some issues with this movie.  I have a bachelors and a masters degree from a public university, and my law degree was from a private school once associated with Baptists.  As a result, I have a fair amount of experience in an academic setting, especially as it existed in the mid-to-late 1990s.  Academia is not full of frothing-at-the-mouth atheists looking to undermine Christian beliefs at every turn.  A professor like Radisson would not last long, and he certainly would not be allowed to conduct his classes in a way that demands signed statements of (non) belief from students in order to get a good grade.  I'm sure there are plenty of academics as smug as Radisson who look down upon any students who are devoutly religious.  The caricature of academia in this movie is simply false from my experience.  I could see a philosophy professor assigning a debate about the existance of God argued from a philosophical standpoint, but such an exercise would be carefully laid out and neutral.  It would have to be in order to not cause an uproar.  The criteria would be carefully laid out, and it would be on that basis the arguments would be judged.  A devoutly religious student would just as capable of receving an A as a devoutly atheist student. 

Yet, I think this movie gives us a keen insight into the evangelical, conservative Christian mindset.  The attempt to legislate "religious freedom" laws are based in this idea that Christians are under fire in America and that without action, persecution is inevitable.  It seems that losing the fight on gay marriage has created a seige mentality where faith is in danger unless that faith can be imposed upon others.   Somehow, providing service to gays is the equivalent of forcing a believer to sign a statement of faith that goes against his/her religion. 

Academia is not some monolithic entity of non-believers out to crush Christian belief wherever it may be found.  Liberals are not godless, angry, and anti-God.  There are plenty of us who have a faith system that includes a loving God, and our lives are not empty or meaningless.  Atheists are capable of holding moral absolutes like murder is wrong.  While they may  not believe in an entity creating or enforcing moral order, it is pretty evident that an "anything goes" philosophy is not only unworkable but would create utter chaos. 

The movie did touch on the very real pain that can be behind some anti-religious beliefs.  Yet, it's not true of all atheists.  Most of the atheists I know don't care, and just want to be left alone.  They also don't want to have the government force a certain set of beliefs on them that have little basis in public order or good.   To be sure, there are people who are aggressively anti-Christian, anti-God, etc.  Many of those people have good reason to hold those beliefs.   Christianity, in all its diversity, has done some real harm to people over time.  In the gay world alone, there are countless stories of little boys and girls who have been shamed and punished for being different.  They have been told that God HATES who they are, how they love, and who they love.  Too many have grown up being told their Creator created them to be something to be despised, ridiculed, and punished just for being who they are.  These largely conservative "Christians" have driven away these believers just as surely as the apostles tried to turn away children from Jesus in the famous biblical story. 

It is my belief that God exists, and that He weeps at the things done in His name.  His heart surely breaks over the souls who have been driven to hate his name in order to survive spiritual abuse.  Yet, you have a whole subset of people who are convinced that by losing a political argument, they are persecuted.  They look out at a world that isn't how they would have it, and they see nothing but hostility and secret plans to destroy them.    It's really quite sad, and more than a little pathetic.  It is, however, a reality with which we must deal as a society. 



Monday, February 13, 2012

Since You've Been Gone

It was about this time 11 years ago that you drew your last breath, arms tucked under several blankets, John Denver playing on repeat over your speakers, an allergy mask over your mouth and nose, and two garbage bags tied around your head secured about your neck with linked heavy duty rubber bands. You had left nearly 10 notes neatly laid out on your dining room table addressed to various people. You left a handwritten note on a sticky note by your bed identifying your physician and counselor, noting that neither one knew of your plans.

Usually, on this day, I remember everything that happened leading up to your suicide and my notification. I remember coming home, going through all the motions that one has to go through to bury a loved one. I remember not crying until that first night, after I had a shower, when it just hit me, and I sank to my knees in my mom's living room and sobbed uncontrollably over what you had done. I also remember my grandparents, YOUR parents, changing that day, and a light extinguishing inside them that has never reappeared.

Today, however, on the 11th anniversary of your suicide, I want to try something different. It's an open letter, if you will, to let you know some of the things you have missed by choosing to take your life on February 13, 2001.

FAMILY
  • My graduation from the dual degree program, which meant two different graduations on the same weekend.  Your parents showed, and Aunt Janie came with Bad Grandma.  You not being there was a wet blanket on the festivities.
  • I accepted a job at CDC in genomics.  I ended up transferring to Global Immunizations right before the two year Presidential management fellowship was up, but I've now been at CDC for over 10 years.  I currently work in the policy office of the Center for Global Health.
  • You missed my political activism take off. I've held several statewide offices in the Young Democrats, and a couple of national ones at the Southeast region level.  I was the first openly gay state president of young democrats in Georgia history. 
  • I started playing rugby last fall in a bid to take better care of myself.  I enjoy it, and I'm trying to learn to trust my physicality.  It would have been nice to have you see one of my games.
  • Your life insurance policies allowed me to immediately pay off my student loans, although for months afterward, I would have nightmares that you had faked your death, and the insurance company wanted its money back.
  • Your life insurance also allowed me to purchase a condo in Atlanta.  I still live in it.  I also have your bedroom furniture as my own.  Some think it's creepy to sleep in the bed that you died in, but I now look at it as MY bed, and it's not like I kept the mattress.  I also have your dining room table, where you left all the notes.
  • We followed your instructions fairly closely.  However, I felt you owed it to your parents to have a place where they could go and "visit" your remains.  After cremation, I had half of your ashes scattered as you asked, and half were buried in a plot next to where Grandma Ann and Papa will be buried someday.  It has been a great source of comfort to them.
  • You aged your parents overnight with your suicide.  They became OLD after you died.  The light in their eyes dimmed significantly.  I am convinced you shaved off at least 10 years of a life they would have lived.  The only positive thing to come out of your suicide is the family has become closer; we look out for each other better.
  • Mom still feels tremendous anger and guilt over your suicide.  She thinks if she just hadn't divorced you in 1998 you might have lived.  This, despite even your admission that the divorce was a good thing.  She dreams of you when she's sick, and often it involves her yelling at you about how you could do this to all of us.
  • Pretty much every year between Christmas and this day, a pall is cast over all of our lives as we become more moody, sometimes depressed, about the coming anniversary of your suicide.  You foolishly thought we'd just get over your death after a brief period of mourning.  It has not worked out that way.  Movies that have suicide as a plot point, especially ones that approach your method, are almost unwatchable.  You've made us all members of a horrible fraternity of suicide survivors.  I'm luckier than most because there was nothing left unsaid between us.  I just wish you'd had more faith in yourself to make it through the dark period. 
  • Even your friends aren't immune. They miss you terribly too, and your absence is something they notice.  I know that might surprise you.  No one who knew you and loved you has been left unscathed by your suicide.  We have all moved on with our lives, yes, but the memory of your death is never too far away. 
One thing that's amazed me is how much the WORLD has changed since you ended your life.  Here are some highlights of what's happened since that February 13.
CURRENT EVENTS/POLITICS

2001

  • FBI agent Robert Hanssen is charged with spying for Russia for 15 years (Feb. 20).

  • Balance of the Senate shifts after Jim Jeffords of Vermont changes his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. The move strips Republicans of control of the Senate and gives Democrats the narrowest of majorities (50-49-1) (June 5).  (A little birthday present for me!)

  • Bush signs new tax-cut law, the largest in 20 years (June 7).  This is the beginning of the end of the surplus.

  • Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh executed (June 11).

  • Terrorists attack United States. Hijackers ram jetliners into twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane crashes 80 mi outside of Pittsburgh (Sept. 11). Toll of dead and injured in thousands. Within days, Islamic militant Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network are identified as the parties behind the attacks.  Like most Americans, I watched this live on TV at work.

  • Anthrax scare rivets nation, as anthrax-laced letters are sent to various media and government officials. Several postal workers die after handling the letters.  CDC was at the center of this storm, and it resulted in the ouster of the CDC Director.

  • Beatle George Harrison dies of cancer on Nov. 29.


  • 2002

  • President Bush declares Iran, Iraq, and North Korea to be "an axis of evil" in his first State of the Union address.

  • Kenneth L. Lay, big buddy of Bush and chairman of bankrupt energy trader Enron, resigns; company collapses after it is revealed it hid debt and misrepresented earnings.

  • U.S. withdraws from International Court treaty. First of many "screw you" messages sent to the world from the Bush administration.

  • U.S. abandons 31-year-old Antiballistic Missile treaty (June 13). Oh look, another "screw you"!

  • Bush signs corporate reform bill (July 30) in response to a spate of corporate scandals: Enron, Arthur Andersen, Tyco, Qwest, Global Crossing, ImClone, and Adelphia, among others, were convicted or placed under federal investigation for various misadventures in fraud and crooked accounting.

  • Pennsylvania miners rescued after spending 77 hours in a dark, flooded mine shaft (July 28).

  • Bush addresses United Nations, calling for a "regime change" in Iraq (Sept. 12).  See, Bush is going to avenge his daddy by invading Iraq after getting the CIA to deliver fake intelligence on "weapons of mass destruction".  Sorry for the spoiler.

  • Snipers prey upon DC suburbs, killing ten and wounding others (Oct. 2–24). Police arrest John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo (Oct. 24).

  • After a nasty election where the GOP said Democrats were on the side of terrorists, Republicans retake the Senate in midterm elections; gain additional House seats (Nov. 5).

  • Department of Homeland Security is established (Nov. 25).

  • Boston archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law resigns as a result of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandals and cover-up of priest-child molestation. (Dec. 13).

  • Jimmy Carter wins Nobel Peace prize.  Timing is seen as a rebuke to President Bush's rush to war with Iraq.


  • 2003

  • Space shuttle Columbia literally dissolves upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, killing all 7 astronauts (Feb. 1).

  • U.S. and Britain launch war against Iraq (March 19).

  • Baghdad falls to US troops (April 9)

  • Bush signs ten-year, $350-billion tax cut package, the third-largest tax cut in U.S. history (May 28). First time ever that the country has cut taxes in a time of war.  Step 2 in financial ruin.

  • Iran is discovered to have been hiding nuclear activities (June 18)

  • California governor Gray Davis ousted in recall vote; actor Arnold Schwarzenegger elected in his place (Oct. 7).

  • Saddam Hussein captured by US troops, hiding in a spider hole. (Dec 13)


  • 2004
  • Bush proposes ambitious space program that includes flights to the Moon, Mars, and beyond (Jan. 14). Turns out to be nothing more than a cheap re-election ploy.

  • A. Q. Khan, founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, admits he sold nuclear-weapons designs to other countries, including North Korea, Iran, and Libya (Feb. 4).

  • Spain is attacked by Al Queda, killing over 200 people, and resulting in the government being voted out of office days later. (March)

  • U.S. media release graphic photos of American soldiers abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Images spark outrage around the world (April 30).

  • Gay marriages begin in Massachusetts, the first state in the country to legalize such unions (May 17). No pestilience, plagues, or other vengeance from God happens.  Massachusetts also doesn't slide into the ocean.

  • Summer Olympics held in Athens, Greece (August)

  • Bush is reelected president with a little over 50% of the vote.  Georgia (and many other states) officially ban all recognition of gay relationships in the state constitution.  Georiga's amendment passed with 76% of the vote.

  • Yassir Arafat dies (Nov 14)

  • Ukraine presidential election declared fraudulent (Nov. 21).

  • Hamid Karzai inaugurated as Afghanistan's first popularly elected president (Dec. 7).

  • Massive protests by supporters of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's lead to a new Ukrainian election; Yushchenko eventually declared prime minister (Dec. 26).  

  • Enormous tsunami devastates Asia; 200,000 killed (Dec. 26).

    2005

  • The Terry Schiavo case (right to die) becomes the focus of an emotionally charged battle in Congress (March 20).

  • Pope John Paul II Dies (April 2). Benedict XVI (former Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany) becomes the next pope (April 24).

  • Former Teheran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative, wins Iran's presidential election with 62% of the vote. He defiantly pursues Iran's nuclear ambitions over the course of his first year in office (June 24).

  • Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announces her retirement (July 1).

  • London hit by Islamic terrorist bombings, killing 52 and wounding about 700. It is Britain's worst attack since World War II (July 7).


  • Hurricane Katrina wreaks catastrophic damage on the Gulf coast, including the drowning of New Orleans; more than 1,000 die and millions are left homeless. Americans are shaken not simply by the magnitude of the disaster but by how ill-prepared all levels of government are in its aftermath. (Aug. 25-30).

  • Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court for 33 years, dies (Sept. 3). He is replaced by John Roberts.

  • Another major hurricane, Rita, ravages the Gulf coast (Sept. 23).

  • House majority leader Tom Delay is accused of conspiring to violate Texas's election laws. He steps aside from his House leadership position (Sept. 28).


  • A federal grand jury indicts Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, with obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with a White House leak investigation. (Oct. 28).

  • President Bush nominates arch conservative judge Samuel Alito to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court after failing to foist a random woman on the court from the White House Counsel's office (Oct. 31).

  • California Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigns after pleading guilty to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes (Nov. 28).

  • The press reveals that in 2002, Bush signed a presidential order to allow the National Security Agency to spy on Americans suspected of being connected to terrorist activity without warrants. (Dec. 15).


  • 2006

  • Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist with ties to several members of Congress, is sentenced to six years in prison by a Florida judge on fraud charges (Mar. 29).

  • The Supreme Court rules that military tribunals cannot be set up to try prisoners in the absence of Congressional authorization and that prisoners are entitled to fair trials under the Geneva Conventions (June 29).

  • Democrats gain control of both houses of Congress in the midterm elections (Nov. 7). HUGE surge of relief.

  • Saddam Hussein is convicted of crimes against humanity by an Iraqi court (Nov. 5), and hanged in Baghdad. A witness videotapes the hanging using a cell phone and captures the chaos that unfolds as Shiite guards taunt Hussein (Dec. 30). Of course, it goes viral on the internet.

    2007

  • California Democrat Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman speaker of the House and will preside over the 100th Congress. Democrats take control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994 (Jan. 4).


  • President Bush announces that a surge of an additional 20,000 troops will be deployed to Baghdad to try to stem the sectarian fighting (Jan. 10). 

  • Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is found guilty of lying to FBI agents and to a grand jury in the investigation of who leaked to the press the name of a covert CIA agent. The agent, Valerie Plame Wilson, is married to Joseph Wilson, who in 2003 questioned the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a nuclear weapons program by seeking to obtain uranium from Niger (March 6). Libby is sentenced to 30 months in jail (June 5). President Bush commutes his sentence (July 2), but he refuses to pardon him.

  • Bush and his Attorney General caught up in a mess about interfering with US Attorney investigations, and then firing US Attorneys who didn't take politics into consideration about which crimes to pursue.

  • President Bush signs law that legalizes government eavesdropping of telephone conversations and emails of American citizens and people overseas without a warrant as long as there is a "reasonable belief" that one party is not in the United States (Aug. 5).

  • Al Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.


  • 2008
    • Jan. 3: The presidential primary season begins with Iowa wins by Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee.
    • Feb. 5: Arizona senator John McCain emerges as the clear front runner among Republicans in the Super Tuesday primary races. On the Democratic side, New York senator Hillary Clinton wins big states such as California and Massachusetts, but Illinois senator Barack Obama takes more states.
    • March 8: President George W. Bush, saying intelligence officials must have "all the tools they need to stop the terrorists," vetoes legislation that would have outlawed all methods of interrogation that are banned in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits waterboarding and other harsh techniques that have been used by the CIA.
    • March 18: Sen. Barack Obama delivers a pivotal speech on race, denouncing the provocative remarks on race made by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., but explains that the complexities of race in America have fueled anger and resentment among many African Americans.
    • March 11: The government begins to intervene in the U.S. financial system to avoid a crisis. The Federal Reserve outlines a $200 billion loan program that lets the country's biggest banks borrow Treasury securities at discounted rates and post mortgage-backed securities as collateral.
    • March 16: The Federal Reserve approves a $30 billion loan to JPMorgan Chase so it can take over Bear Stearns, which is on the verge of collapse.
    • May 15: California's Supreme Court rules, 4 to 3, that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
    • May 20: Senator Edward Kennedy is diagnosed with malignant glioma, a brain tumor.
    • June 3: On the final day of the 2008 primary season, Sen. Barack Obama secures 2,154 delegates and becomes the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. He's the first black candidate to head a major party ticket in a presidential election.
    • June 12: The U.S. Supreme Court rules, 5 to 4, that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have a right to challenge their detention in federal court.
    • June 26: The U.S. Supreme Court rules, 5 to 4, that the Constitution protects an individual's right to possess a gun, but insists that the ruling "is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
    • Oct. 10: Connecticut's Supreme Court rules that a state law that limits marriage to heterosexual couples and a civil union law that protects gay couples violate equal protection rights guaranteed by the constitution.
    • Oct. 27: A jury finds Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) guilty of seven felony charges for lying on financial disclosure forms and failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts from the VECO Corporation, one of Alaska's biggest oil-field contractors.
    • Nov. 4: Democratic senator Barack Obama wins the presidential election against Sen. John McCain, taking 338 electoral votes to McCain's 161. Obama becomes the first African American to be elected president of the United States. Also in the election, Democrats increase their majority in the House and pick up five seats in the Senate.
    • Nov. 4: Voters in California narrowly pass a ballot measure, Proposition 8, that overturns the May 15, 2008, California Supreme Court decision that said same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
    • Dec. 19: President George W. Bush announces plans to lend General Motors and Chrysler $17.4 billion to survive the next three months.
    2009

  • Jan. 22: President Obama signs executive orders closing all secret prisons and detention camps run by the CIA, including the infamous Guantnamo Bay prison in Cuba, and banning coercive interrogation methods.

  • Jan. 31: Michael Steele is selected by the Republican National Committee to be its new chairman. He is the first African-American to hold the position.  Because, after all, who better to fight a black man than another black man, right?

  • Feb. 17: President Obama signs the $787 billion stimulus package into law. The president's hope is that the package will create 3.5 million jobs for Americans in the next two years.


  • March 2: Insurance giant American International Group reports a $61.7 billion loss for the fourth quarter of 2008. A.I.G. lost $99.3 billion in 2008. The federal government, which has already provided the company with a $60 billion loan, will be giving A.I.G. an additional $30 billion, making it the largest company loan the government has provided during the bailout. March 14: A.I.G. announces they will pay top executives more than $165 million in bonuses, despite having received $170 billion in bailout funds from the U.S. government. The company claims the bonuses were promised in contracts and are no longer negotiable. Nearly 80% of A.I.G. is now owned by the federal government. March 16: President Obama has asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to pursue all "legal avenues" in order to block the bonuses to A.I.G. executives.

  • March 6: Unemployment in the U.S., which has been steadily growing for several months, reaches 8.1% in February 2009. This is the highest rate since 1983.

  • April 2: Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois charged with attempting to sell President Obama's vacated senate seat to the highest bidder, is indicted on 19 charges, 16 of them felonies.

  • April 3: The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously rejects a state law banning same-sex marriage. April 27: Same-sex couples are granted marriage licenses for the first time in Iowa. Iowa is the third state to allow same-sex marriages, after Massachusetts and Connecticut.  Three of the judges are later thrown out in a retention election.

  • April 7: Vermont becomes the fourth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, just days after Iowa becomes the third. The legislature votes to override Governor Jim Douglas's veto of a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry, nine years after the state became the first in the nation to allow civil unions. Vermont is the first state legislature to legalize the practice; the other three U.S. states' approval of same-sex marriage came from the courts.

  • April 30: Justice David H. Souter announces he is retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court when the current term ends in June. He is replaced by Sonia Sotomayor.

  • April 30: Chrysler files for bankruptcy protection while entering into a partnership agreement with Fiat. It is the first time since 1933 that an American automaker has been forced to restructure under bankruptcy protection.

  • May 6: Gov. John Baldacci of Maine signs a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The law will not go into effect until summer 2009.  Voters overturn the law in a state election.

  • May 26: The California Supreme Court upholds the ban on same-sex marriage, solidifying the vote made by California residents last November. The 18,000 same-sex couples who were married before the ban went to effect are still legally married, however.

  • June 1: General Motors files for bankruptcy and announces it will close 14 plants in the United States.

  • June 4: In a speech during a visit to Cairo, Egypt, President Obama calls for "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," asking for new alliances based on mutual respect and common interests.

  • June 25: Michael Jackson dies at age 50. He is found unconscious in his home, then rushed to a Los Angeles hospital where he is pronounced dead. His physician is found guilty of the death.

  • June 30: Nearly eight months after the election and a long battle over a recount, the Minnesota Supreme Court rules that Al Franken (Dem.) wins the U.S. senate seat for Minnesota. The final recount gives Franken a 312-vote lead. His rival, Norm Coleman (Rep.) concedes. Franken's win gives the Democrats in the Senate the filibuster-proof 60-seat majority they have been hoping for.

  • Aug. 25: Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy, a fixture in the Senate for 46 years, dies of brain cancer at the age of 77.

  • Oct. 19: The federal government announces it will no longer prosecute those who use or sell marijuana for medical reasons, if they are complying with state law.

  • Oct. 21: The Obama administration orders pay cuts for the top-paid employees at those firms that received the most stimulus money. The top 25 earners at seven of the companies that received the most taxpayer money will have compensation cut up to 50%.

  • Nov. 5: A shooting at the Fort Hood army post in Texas kills 13 and injures 29. Ten of those killed are military personnel, while one is a civilian. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist, is the alleged shooter. He was shot four times by an officer on the scene, but he survived the attack.

  • Dec. 1: President Obama announces that the U.S. military will be sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, in an attempt to prevent further Taliban insurgencies. The troop surge will begin in Jan. 2010, and will bring the total number of American troops in Afghanistan to 100,000.

  • Dec. 25: A Nigerian man on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit allegedly attempted to ignite an explosive device hidden in his underwear. The explosive device that failed to detonate was a mixture of powder and liquid that did not alert security personnel in the airport. The alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, told officials later that he was directed by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group based in Yemen, takes responsibility for orchestrating the attack.

  • Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize basically because he's not President Bush.


  • 2010


  • Jan. 21: In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the government cannot restrict the spending of corporations for political campaigns, maintaining that it's their First Amendment right to support candidates as they choose.  Since corporations are people under the constitution, and all. This decision reverses 100 years of law on the speech "rights" of corporations. 

  • Feb. 2: Following President Obama's State of the Union Declaration that he wants an end to the military policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which forbids openly gay men and women to serve in the military, top officials at the Department of Defense look for a way to end the law. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announces that he feels repealing the policy is "the right thing to do." Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will follow through with Obama's orders.

  • Mar. 21: The House of Representatives passes a bill that will overhaul the American health-care system. The bill will be sent to President Obama to sign into law. Among other things, the bill will allow children to stay on their parents' health insurance plans until the age of 26, prevent insurance companies from denying coverage due to a patient's "pre-existing conditions," subsidize private insurance for low- and middle-income Americans, and require all Americans to have some sort of health insurance. The budget office estimates that the law will reduce federal budget deficits by $143 billion over the next 10 years. The government plans to earn money for the law with a tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans and a tax on the investment income of the wealthiest Americans. Mar. 23: President Obama signs the health-care overhaul bill, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, into law. Mar. 30: Obama signs the "reconciliation" bill, which outlines minor changes and additions to the new health-care act, coupled with the bill that overhauls the student loan industry. The health care revisions were drafted by the U.S. Senate as a measure to prevent Republicans from filibustering the original health-care bill.

  • June 23: After a controversial interview with Rolling Stone that included some demeaning remarks about President Obama and his administration, General Stanley McChrystal is fired as commander of the American Forces in Afghanistan and replaced by his boss, General David Patraeus.

  • July 15: Congress approves a landmark financial regulation bill, strongly supported by President Obama and by and large the Democratic Party. The bill increases the number of companies that will be regulated by government oversight, a panel to watch for risks in the financial system, and a consumer protection agency. Some Democrats and critics argue that the bill is not tough enough; Republicans claim it gives the government too much power in the business sector.

  • Aug. 4: A federal judge strikes down the voter-approved gay marriage ban in California, calling the law unconstitutional. Judge Vaughn Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court of the Northern District of California, claims that the law, which was voted into place with 52% of the vote in 2008 as Proposition 8, discriminates against gay men and women. Aug. 12: Judge Walker lifts the stay on the banning of gay marriage in California, allowing same-sex couples to marry while higher courts consider the matter. He delays implementation of the order until August 18, however. Aug. 16: A U.S. appeals court rules that same-sex couples cannot marry in the state of California while the court considers the constitutionality of the ban.

  • Aug. 5: The United States Senate votes 63 to 37 to confirm President Obama's most recent nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, as the newest Justice. Kagan is only the fourth woman to ever hold this position, and she'll be the third female member of the current bench, joining Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

  • Aug. 31: Seven years after the war in Iraq began, President Obama announces the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom with a withdrawal of combat troops. Obama emphasizes that U.S. domestic problems, mainly the flailing economy and widespread unemployment, are more pressing matters to his country. The U.S. will continue to be a presence in Iraq, mainly with civilian contractors but also with a smaller military contingent of approximately 50,000 troops. The remaining troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

  • Nov. 4: The Republican Party gains control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, but the Democratic party retains the majority in the Senate. Two members of the Tea Party also have victories, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mark Rubio of Florida. Senate majority leader Harry Reid wins his reelection in Nevada and his fellow Democrats win key Senate races across the country; therefore, Reid maintains his leadership position. Representative John Boehner of Ohio is poised to become the new Speaker of the House, replacing Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.

  • Nov. 24: Tom Delay, the former House Majority Leader from Texas, is convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering involving corporate campaign contributions. He faces up to 99 years in prison in his sentencing.


  • Dec. 18: The Senate votes 65 to 31 in favor of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Clinton-era military policy that forbids openly gay men and women from serving in the military. Eight Republicans side with the Democrats to strike down the ban. The repeal is sent to President Obama for his final signature. The ban will not be lifted officially until Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agree that the military is ready to enact the change and that it won't affect military readiness. Dec. 22: President Obama officially repeals the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy.

  • Dec. 22: After years of debate and compromise, Congress passes a $4.3 billion health bill for the rescue workers involved in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. The bill will cover $1.8 billion in health-care costs for the 60,000 rescue workers registered for monitoring and treatment; the City of New York will pay 10% of the bill's overall costs. The bill will also reopen the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund for five years, which provides money to compensate for job loss.


  • 2011
    Last year saw the Republicans drive the country to brink of bankruptcy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.  The hard right of the part is in control, and a "grand bargain" with Speaker John Boehner was derailed.  A super committee meant to find $1.5T in budget cuts failed miserably.  It's a weird time.

    Well, that's what you've missed.  The world is a very different place than when you were last in it.  I could have used your guidance and advice many times.  But what is done cannot be undone.  I just hope you are resting in peace.

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012

    Funny, I don't remember getting this particular email in 2004 or 2008! The emphasis on certain words is mine.

    Subject: "Did You Know?": Obama/Candidate Photographs and the Election

    POLITICAL ACTIVITY AND THE FEDERAL WORK PLACE – GENERALLY
    1. Q. Now that President Obama is a candidate for reelection, may federal employees display his picture in their offices?

    Answer: NO. An employee covered by the Hatch Act may not engage in political activity while on duty, in a government room or building, while wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle. 5 U.S.C. § 7324. Political activity is defined as activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for a partisan political office or partisan political group. 5 C.F.R. § 734.101.

    Thus, the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from, among other things, displaying pictures of candidates for partisan public office in the federal workplace. See 5 C.F.R. § 734.306, Example 16. Because President Obama is a candidate for reelection, the Hatch Act prohibits an employee from displaying his photograph in the federal workplace, unless one of the two exceptions discussed below applies.

    The first exception applies to official photographs of the President. The Hatch Act does not prohibit the continued display of official photographs of the President in the federal workplace, to include both public and employee work spaces. Official photographs include the traditional portrait photo of the President displayed in all federal buildings, as well as photographs of the President conducting official business (e.g., President meeting with heads of state). However, these official photographs must be displayed in a traditional size and manner and should not be altered in anyway (e.g., the addition of halos or horns). Pictures that are distributed by the President’s campaign or a partisan organization, such as the Democratic National Committee or Organizing for America, are not official, even if they depict the President performing an official act. Similarly, pictures downloaded from the internet or clipped from magazines or newspapers, screens savers and life-size cutouts are not official photographs for purposes of this exception.

    The second exception, which applies to all candidate photographs, concerns employee personal photographs. An employee would not be prohibited from having a photograph of any candidate in his or her office, if all of the following apply: the photograph was on display in advance of the election season; the employee is in the photograph with the candidate; and the photograph is a personal one (i.e., the employee has a personal relationship with the candidate and the photograph is taken at some kind of personal event or function, for example, a wedding, and not at a campaign event or some other type of partisan political event). An employee must not have a political purpose for displaying the photograph, namely, promoting or opposing a political party or a candidate for partisan political office.

    Questions?: Please contact the CDC Ethics Program Activity Office

    Monday, January 02, 2012

    Ok, Maybe I DO Get Overenthusiastic

    I wrote this essay in October and think it is worth sharing.

    I would recommend that anytime you stop seeing someone in a romantic sense that you sit down with that person and have a chat about it. The things you can learn are quite useful, and it goes a long way to soothing hurt feelings. Some of you are aware that in the past couple of months, I have felt terribly wronged, misled, and otherwise lied to by someone. Names are not important (and please do NOT call out any names in comments). Suffice it to say that this person finally agreed to sit down with me one-on-one and talk. I think the talk went very well, and had I had talks like that with previous exes (although this person didn't last long enough to be an actual "ex"), I could have saved myself a lot of self-torment and heartache.





    In this conversation, I was able to provide my perspective of what went on between us and to explain where my thought processes led me, even when the conclusions were in error. About a month ago, I had become pretty drunk and for the first time in my life, I was an ANGRY drunk. Never before had this happened, and I hope it never happens again. I don't remember what I said to him, but I do remember the overwhelming sense of rage. It's the kind of rage I've only felt a couple of times in my life, and never drunk. It's never been pretty. I'm fairly slow to anger, but when I do lose my temper, it can be volcanic, and I can say some of the most vicious things imaginable. That's why I try to always recognize when I'm getting angry and to deal with it immediately rather than let it fester or grow. It's a strategy that has worked pretty well for me. Apparently, Angry Drunk Jason unloaded on this guy for about an hour (via text no less). Then I switched to depressed, morose, self-pitying drunk Jason. Luckily, this guy deleted the whole ugly scene, as did I, before I passed out.





    Anyway, what led up to that unloading of venom does not in any way excuse it. I made that clear when I started asking him to sit down and talk with me after that incident. I wasn't sure he'd actually do it, even after he said yes. After all, he'd stood me up before, but to his credit, he did show up. I spent a lot of time talking, explaining things about my background, and why I thought the things that I did. It wasn't a monologue, thankfully, and he provided feedback along the way.





    What I learned is that I tried too hard, and made him feel like I was pushing him toward a certain "boyfriend status" ahead of the timeline he was comfortable with, so he just shut down and backed off, basically avoiding me like the plague. Why not just tell me I was being too intense to relax or back off? Good question. He says he didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. It's a bit of a cop out, but one that rings true to me. He knows that this course of action simply made things worse, and lead me to believe that he'd been telling me a pack of lies which infuriated me. Nothing will send me into orbit more quickly than giving my trust to someone and having them betray it.





    I have trust issues with men. There's no way to get around that fact. I've had therapy to work on it, but it's a very slow process. My first experiences with having my brain soaked in "love chemicals" which produce the unique sensation of falling in love with someone with it's euphoria, the sense of fireworks exploding in the sky, etc etc did not go well. In fact, they have NEVER gone well. After a particularly heinous period in my early-to-mid-20s, I simply vowed that I would never allow anyone to hurt me like that again, to rob me of my sense of self-worth and feeling that I was loveable and worthy of being loved. The result was that I built a particularly strong and effective wall around my heart so that a person could get pretty darn close to me, but not close enough to do real damage. Flash forward a decade or so, and this strategy certainly kept me from having my heart broken again, but it left me completely alone with no prospects of that changing.





    Over the last several years, I've learned that if I don't want to die alone (a thought which has haunted and frightened me since I came out of the closet in 1994), I have to be willing to take risks emotionally. I have to be willing to open my heart to being broken again if I expect someone else to do the same. The crappy thing about that idea is there are no guarantees that it'll work out. You expose your heart to pain, and you're likely to get hurt, even if you find love. The people we love can be the ones who hurt us the most sometimes. So I could either grow old and die alone, but heart not being risked again, or I could learn to tear down that wall I'd built and take a risk that could REALLY pay off or it could end up in heartache again. But if I didn't take "enter the game" there was no way I could win. Besides, *I* get sick of hearing myself complain about never having a man; I can only imagine what my friends think!





    Anyway, why this guy ended up being the person to unleash the love hormones in my brain, I don't know. He's not the type I usually go for, and had he not expressed interest first, I probably would have never paid him a bit of attention. But he did express interest first, and I was intrigued and then really liked what I saw. Next thing I know, by the end of the first date, my brain was pumping out dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin (the "love chemicals" of the brain) in apparently large quantities. Spending the night together soon after only put production of these chemicals into overdrive. What can I say? I don't share my bed often, but when I do, it's very much a bonding experience for me. It's why I don't do overnights casually in the sexual context. Sharing a bed on group trips does not have the same effect ;-)





    It had been over a decade since I'd experienced anything close to these emotions, and I have to admit it frightened me. Even though I'd been "in training" via therapy for such an event, when it arrived, the terror started to rise in me. Because I have never had a good experience when I have felt these emotions, my rational mind equates them with impending doom and heartbreak. I had to fight very hard against that fear when I spent time with him. I knew I had to force myself to remain emotionally open and completely honest, even though that felt like surrendering all the power. It was terrifying, but I managed to do it. What I found was that I became somewhat obsessed in making sure that I wasn't putting forth all this effort in vain; that I wasn't being "played" or used. I was so afraid that if this guy turned out to be a douchebag, that it would undo all the effort I'd put in to being willing to take a risk.





    So I definitely became over-enthiastic. I couldn't help myself. The ironic thing is that he wasn't the only person I was spending time with, getting to know. But he was definitely in the lead just based on brain chemicals alone. I did seek too much reassurance, tried way too hard. It would have helped me come back to earth had he just pointed that out and been honest about how much it was driving him nuts. When I started to get information that indicated he was playing me, that's when he chose to start avoiding me, which led me to conclude that my information must be correct since actions speak louder than words.





    There are other details that don't really matter, except for one. He admitted, and apologized, for lying to me about stupid things. The chief one being the night he simply stood me up when I was supposed to cook him dinner and then gave me some crap excuse about his phone dying being the reason he couldn't contact me until over 24 hours later. Had I had an ounce less of those damn brain chemicals flowing in my head, I would have never spoken to him again after that. It stands out as the single rudest thing that has EVER been done to me. He also lied about text messages not being delivered, all of which I knew. Not only did the lying anger me, the notion that he thought I was stupid enough to buy his pathetic excuses insulted me to boot. I was pleasantly surprised that he owned up to it, and that he apologized. I told him that empathy for other people is not a sign of weakness or a bad trait. The truth is always better than a lie, especially when your lie is so transparent.





    Another thing about this guy is his charisma. I've seen him work that charisma on other people, and it's pretty amazing to see him switch it on and off so quickly. His level of charisma rivals the best politicians I've met in my life, and I've shaken hands with Bill Clinton! This guy can, and does, turn his charisma on and off at will. When he's turned it on in your direction, he's very hard to resist or with whom to remain angry. Some of what he told me was probably self-serving, especially his misunderstood bit. What he told me about his experience of my behavior, though, was very useful. I *do* get over-enthusiastic when there seems to be a mutual attraction. I blame it on the fact that I'm basically starved of romantic love, so when the opportunity looks like it will arise for me to experience it, I'm like a starving man at a buffet. I'm sure it scares people off, like it did this guy.





    I'm not sure how to control that response. Do I warn future prospects that this is how I get, and to please tell me when I'm coming on too strong since that is not my intent? I'm not getting any younger. I need to find good answers, and a good man who will love me quirks and all. I'm still scared that such a man does not exist, and that if he does, it's certainly not in the metro Atlanta area. I don't know how to beat that fear down either.





    Where's a mail order husband when you need one?

    I'd like to leave you with this quote that explains perfectly why I have tried to tear down my inner wall and why I am so determined not to rebuild it:

    "Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum, p247