Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Atheist's Christmas in the Bronx

Even though my relatives and I were atheist Jews in a predominantly Christian country, I rarely felt as if I was out of the mainstream. Mom, Dad, and Nanny were just as American as anybody else, although maybe just a little louder. OK, a lot louder.

Up until the time I was six, I even imagined that I believed — as much as any fundy kid did — in Santa Claus. I had already dismissed the idea of god, because it just didn’t make any sense. But Santa Claus was different. I mean, the guy was all over the TV screen. He prattled on and on about good conduct with Pinky Lee and Rootie Kazootie, paid surprise visits on cowboys and spacemen and cartoon animals, and even joked snidely about Mrs. Claus with Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason. From the comfort of my living-room, I'd actually seen him ride down Broadway in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; every kid in New York knew that he was on the way to his big throne in the world's most famous department store. And he never said, "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas — except for atheist Jews." He greeted us all, boys and girls of every persuasion. Santa's sole criterion for toy-distribution was a kid's behavior, not his heritage.

Mom, who was always a sucker for family togetherness as depicted in Norman Rockwell illustrations, encouraged my belief. She made a small bow to Chanukah by giving us chocolate gelt, pieces of candy money wrapped in "gold;" sometimes we even lit the menorah. But her obvious opinion, one which we kids shared, was that Chanukah couldn't hold a candle to Christmas. If it had been entirely up to her, we would have all gathered together like a perfect television family, to sing carols and drink eggnog under the mistletoe. Santa Claus was coming to town, and our household was on his itinerary.

Dad went along with her, but only because he didn't have the energy to fight. As a mailman, he worked particularly hard during the holidays when the post office was flooded with thousands of cards from those “meshuga goyim.” I think he reluctantly enjoyed the message of peace on earth, goodwill to men: "Do me something, but that Jesus must have been a real mensch. He was a Jew, d'ja know that?"

Still, Dad could never resist reminding us that we were strangers in a strange land.

"If some fat Christian in a red suit ever snuck up on my grandparents during the night, they would have thought it was a pogrom. But go ahead and believe what you wanna believe. Just remember, Santa Claus is poor this year."

In our house, we never had a Christmas tree. A few families in the community had Chanukah bushes, but not us. Dad hated Nature, and complained constantly that Mom's snake plants were stealing his air. He was sure that bringing a whole tree into the apartment would make it impossible for us to breathe. His main objection, though, was that it would be too much trouble.

"And who's gonna put it together? You?"

"There's nothing to put together, Dad. It's a tree."

"Listen, Sonny Boy, I work hard all day. I don't need to be monkeying around with all those momzer lights and doodads and that shiny stringy stuff—what do the goyim call it?—and having to remember to water the damn thing and not knock it over when I wake up in the middle of the night to pish. You want a tree, move to the forest."

Mom, who took on more and more of a "Babes in Toyland" persona the closer we got to the holidays, who walked around the apartment singing Hit Parade carols like "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," would have loved having a Christmas tree. And she probably could have prevailed easily over Dad if she'd insisted. But she worried about how she could smuggle it in without the neighbors seeing.

"Mom," I'd reason, "who cares? You buy ham and bacon at the store all the time, and we never go to shul."

"A Christmas tree is different."

"What's different about it?"

"Well, bacon is not about Jesus. But a Christmas tree ... that's a very, very Christian thing. It's a whole big megillah about stuff we don't believe in. Mrs. Tannenbaum downstairs would have a conniption if she saw us. I'll hang a stocking and we'll put out a little table for Santa to leave toys on. Nobody has to know."

And that's what she always did. On Christmas Eve, she'd tape two of her nylons, one for Risa and one for me, to the window of our bedroom. We had no chimneys in our project, which worried me. But Mom swore that Santa would ring the doorbell once we kids were asleep, and that he'd give all our toys to her. It never occurred to me to ask why we bothered going through the whole rigmarole with the stocking if he was just going to show up with the stuff at our door like an overweight version of the Seltzer Man.

What I did think to challenge, however, was the plethora of Santas. Everywhere I looked, there he was. He chatted with millions of children in every single department store in New York City. Mom's explanation, which worked for a few years, was that the guy kept running back and forth across the street between Macy's and Gimbel's, stopping this relay only occasionally to take the subway uptown to the Bronx for a stint at Alexander's. And, she added, when he wasn't holding court in some toy department, he was hopping from street corner to street corner to ring a bell for the Salvation Army, or racing to a TV studio to sit for a few minutes with Arthur Godfrey.

But by the time I was six, I was already well on the road to skepticism. I tallied up all the Clauses and thought: How can this be?

It was Nanny who came up with an intricate Santa Claus Classification System, an organizational hierarchy that sounded reasonable. She explained that the real, honest-to-goodness Santa Claus was the one at Macy's, except during the week she had a falling-out with the store because it had run out of My Sin perfume, during which time the Genuine Article had moved briefly to Gimbel's. He was also the one who appeared on prime-time television shows, as long as the star was somebody she liked.

"Oh, yeah," Nanny said, "the Jack Benny Santa Claus is definitely the real one."

"But who's at Macy's while he's on TV?"

"He puts up a sign: Out to Dinner. What, you don't think he has a nice supper every night, with that belly?"

"But if he was on with Jack Benny," I asked, "when did he eat?"

"Always with you it's questions. Listen, they gave him a tongue sandwich and a cup of red Jell-O backstage."

"So that's what happened when he visited Ed Sullivan, too?"

"No, no, use your head. That was an Actor. The real Santa Claus is gonna go on with that shmo? What are you talking?"

"What about the Santa Claus at Alexander's?"

"A Substitute. Santa has a big family, they all look like him. Y'know, like me and my sisters. His brothers go to all the stores, the managers never know the difference."

"Oh, so the one at Klein's is also a substitute, right?"

"Klein's? Feh? That one's a Faker. You'll sit on his lap, he'll try to sell you some shmatta. They're gonna get the real Santa Claus when they can't even clean their bathrooms properly? Who fills your head with such nonsense?"

"So what about the guys who ring the bells?"

"Helpers. Santa gives them a couple of bucks and they work for him."

"But they all look just like him."

"Yeah, so what? Santa's dumb? He advertises to hire, and it says they have to be fat. Except that skinny zhlub standing there by the subway entrance with his beard falling off. Listen, stop hocking me with Santa Claus and help me pick out a Chanukah present for your cousin Marty."

It was a lot of work using Nanny's elaborate taxonomy, and sorting each Santa into his proper slot nearly drove me nuts. But I was good at puzzles and games, and enjoyed the challenge of figuring out who was who. The Santa who had posed for the Coke ad in Life Magazine was, obviously, the Genuine Article; the one who had posed for Pepsi was an Actor. Canada Dry Ginger Ale's Santa was an acceptable Substitute, particularly when I'd had an upset stomach one day, but 7-Up's was a blatant Faker if I ever saw one.

* * *
Regardless of who stood in for Santa on other occasions, I knew that he, himself, was gonna be the one to show up with the loot. That Christmas Eve when I was six, my sister and I were ushered to sleep in a state of near-delirium. Mom had been unusually Christmas-y all night, coyly crooning a medley of the great Yuletide standards written by Jews: "White Christmas," "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," and her own version of a Jerome Kern classic:
They asked me how I knew
Santa Claus was true.
I of course replied,
"Santa has to hide —
Toys get in your eyes."
Even Dad joined in the festive spirit, using a lit cigarette to conduct Mom. My sister, who was only a year and a half old, had caught the excitement, and kept screaming "Santa Claus, Santa Claus," a mantra that eventually conked her out in mid-shout. Shortly thereafter, she was nestled all snug in her bed, dreaming, no doubt, of sugar plums, even though no one in my family had any idea what they were.

But I stayed wide awake, now and then ducking under the covers to check my glow-in-the-dark watch, a practical Chanukah gift I had received from an uncle with connections in the jewelry business. A half-hour eternity must have passed while I waited and waited and waited for the sound of the doorbell announcing Santa's arrival.

Mom peeked her head into our room. "You kids asleep?" she whispered.

I had recently learned that my fake snoring fooled no one, so I just lay there, perfectly still. Mom and Dad tiptoed quietly in. Mom was frequently subject to fits of giddiness, and was evidently in the throes of one. She couldn't stop tittering. Dad banged his knee on the little table they'd put in the center of the room, dropped what sounded like a 20-megaton toy, and yelled out


Stifled snickering from Mom, who tried unsuccessfully to turn serious. "Did it break, Hon?"

"How the hell do I know? It's wrapped."

"I mean the table. It sounded like it went flying."

"Nah. It just slid along the floor a little."

"Do you think it scratched the wood?"

"It scratched my leg, I'll tell you that."

"You're not bleeding on the toys, are you?"

"Who cares about the goddamn toys, f'cryinoutloud? I'm wounded here. You and your farkockteh Christmas."

"Sha. Die kinder."

The next thing Dad did was to pull down a curtain rod on the window when he went to fill the stocking.

"Agghhh. Shit."

"Sha." Uncontrollable giggling. "What happened?"

"I got caught on the drapes."

"Don't break the window."

"Do you wanna do this, Babe? Do you wanna do this?"

Mom made a noise that sounded like she was being tickled unmercifully.

"Don't put a run in my stocking."

"Just tell me if you wanna do this. What are you, some secret shikseh, the Christmas maven? Owww. Goddamn radiator. It's hot, f'Chrissake! These chocolate cigarettes are gonna melt before the kids wake up."

"Gimme them. I'll put them on the table."

"What else goes in here?"

"The yo-yos and the sock puppets. Can you squoosh the puppets in?"

A ripping sound revealed that he couldn't.

"What'd you rip?"

"Your stocking. Relax."

Hysterical cackling. "That's a good stocking."

"Oh, and my knee wasn't a good knee?"

"Your knee, you can cover up. My stocking, everybody sees."

"So do me something. Next time we go out, you can wear the sock puppets. Are we done with this mishegoss?"

“I think the kids are up. Are you up?”

Aha! A trap. Mom expected me to say “no,” like I usually did. But I just lay there. Miraculously, I had managed to keep totally quiet through all the mayhem. I hoped I could resist the urge to get up right away and check whether all my new toys were still intact.

Mom whispered, "Well, I guess they’re sleeping. Gut yontif" — "Happy holiday" — and I could hear kissing. I hoped it was happening far enough way from my toys that they didn’t get any lovey-dovey cooties on them. I knew that in the morning, the room was going to look like it had been attacked by an army of Subs and Zhlubs, Helpers and Actors and Fakers. But as my parents walked through the door, both chuckling now, I lay there in my bed, a real atheist at last, proud of my discovery: Mom and Dad, and they alone, were the Genuine Article.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Puzzling Atheists #8: You Are Not Alone

Some alleged humanists have been whining that "agnostics, atheists, and other types of nontheists" feel "a little alone" during "the holiday." Why? "Because of its association with traditional religion." (Read this dumb story, if you don't believe me.)

Duh. It's fucking Christmas. It's not "associated" with traditional religion, it's a holiday rooted in religion. That holds true whether one celebrates Christ's birth, the coming of Mithra, a visit from a fat saint, the barbaric Maccabees' victory over civilized Hellenistic culture, the hedonistic pleasures of Saturn's rule, or the rebirth of the sun. Religion, religion, religion. Accept it, you numnuts.

In any case, most of the atheists I know don't need any excuse for having a damned good time. So I'm jumping the gun a little on Christmas to prove my point.

The following pictures can be combined, in groups of three, to form the names of eight characters whom we'll either hear from or about this Yuletide. The images are scattered around. Your job is to figure out which ones go with which. Some of the combinations are straightforward. For example: a picture of (1) a knee, (2) Tim Russert, and (3) a necktie could be combined to form: tie+knee+Tim = Tiny Tim. Other combinations require both your indulgence and your ability to hear yourself as you read aloud. For example: A picture of (1) a gull, (2) a can of Crisco, and (3) a wedding band could be combined to form Crisco+ring+gull = Criscoringull = Kris Kringle.

Please do NOT put your answers in a comment. Send them to me via email. Show your work. Anyone identifying six or more of the clued personae will get an honorable mention. That ought to make you feel less alone, huh?

[Honorable Mentions:
The team of Oobie Doobies - Ubi Dubium & Ubi Dubius (8 correct)
Laurie (8 correct)]

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Forget Remembering Hypatia

I love reading about history, but I hate most historical fiction.

For me, fictionalizing history is justified only under three circumstances:

  1. The book, story, or play is terrifically written, and great art in and of itself. It’s full of memorable characters, vivid scenes, and lip-smacking language. Examples: Shakespeare’s “History” and “Roman” plays, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
  2. The fictional work is set in a past time as an excuse for the author to examine universal ideas. Examples: The Name of the Rose, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
  3. The fictional work shines a new light on allegedly “familiar” history. Examples: Gore Vidal’s “Narratives of Empire” series, Philip Kerr’s “Berlin Noir” trilogy, Doctorow’s Ragtime.
Obviously, there’s quite a bit of overlap among those categories. All the works I mentioned could easily fit into any of the three. I have no idea where to place T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, or Scott’s Ivanhoe, or even the spy novels of Alan Furst. But I like them.

Remembering Hypatia, on the other hand, is a book best forgotten. It’s written in such a lackluster fashion, by an author (Brian Trent) with a tin ear for language, no sense of drama, nary a deep thought, and, basically, a clear disrespect for the intelligent reader. I’m not going to justify my broad assertions with details here; I don’t have time to waste on that drivel. You can either trust me on this, or you can say “fuck you” and vote for four more years of the same illiterate Bush literary policies.

Now a word about the future of Nonbelieving Literati. I’ve tried to nurture this “club” for about a year and a half, and I’ve enjoyed doing so. We’ve had some interesting inter-blog discussions, and some of us have read books that we might not have otherwise picked up. But I’m unable – and unwilling – to continue being the energy source behind the scenes. It would be great if one of the members could take the initiative and choose the next book, bearing in mind that it should be a work of real literature that will have wide interest, rather than a simple atheist screed. If it were up to me, which it’s most definitely not, I’d pick Huckleberry Finn, the title character of which is a real free thinker whose ideas soar above those of so-called “civilized” society. But perhaps the new leader will have a better idea; I’m game to start reading anything, although I can’t promise I’ll finish it.

As far as No More Hornets is concerned, I will continue to post, but only sporadically. Economic exigencies have made it impossible for me to spend as much time writing for my own – and, I hope, your – entertainment. I, for one, have never needed any convincing to be an atheist, and I’m no longer interested in reading, writing, or commenting on poorly limned arguments against the existence of any gods. We’ve heard them all, dozens of times. The concept of gods is so stupid as to be beneath contempt; I’m tired of pretending to have rational “debates” with idiots who think there’s a higher power somewhere. My little blog is not going to convince the smug theo-thugs that they’re wrong. I’m hoping that my writing ability, however good or bad it may be, can be put to better use than spewing nonsense to flit around the ether.

Thanks for visiting here. I look forward to amusing you again soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Cynic's Endorsement of Obama

I don’t mean to upstage Colin Powell or Warren Buffett or Matt Damon, but Barack Obama has now earned perhaps the most important endorsement of his political career. After a long and agonizing debate with myself, in which I’ve employed every dirty trick in the book to win me over, I’ve decided to end my campaign for the presidency. I’m releasing all my delegates as soon as I can find the key to their leg irons. In addition, I’ve decided to stop urging my readers to vote for a third-party candidate or, for those who can spell, to write in their own names. I hope that, like me, they’ll lend their support to Barack Obama.

I’m not completely happy about this decision. Obama strikes me as a spineless Machiavellian liar, not unlike almost every other person in Congress, particularly the current breed of Democrats who, for political expediency, chose not to try to impeach a pair of known dangerous criminals. As I’ve written here often, many of Obama’s ideas and policies make me gag. I’m disgusted by his intertwining of religion and politics, and I’m dead-set against faith-based initiatives, which he gleefully supports in flagrant disregard of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. I’m still pissed off about his vote giving telecoms immunity against prosecutions for the spying they did on American citizens, acts which flout the Fourth Amendment. I’m frightened by his saber-rattling against Pakistan, an alleged “friend” of the United States, and his knee-jerk support, without any substantive explanation, of Georgia against Russia. I’m uncomfortable with his wishy-washy stands on abortion, gun control, and the death penalty. And I hate that he was one of the loudest voices in favor of the sucker-punch known as the “bailout.”

But, in the total picture, I think that Obama is at a moral level so far above John McCain as to make it imperative that he win. For one thing, a world increasingly at odds with – and afraid of – America will breathe a sigh of relief if the “Country First” candidates fail. The McCain/Palin campaign, with its constant thuggish chant of “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” has been exploiting the worst crypto-fascist instincts in the jingoistic portion of our citizenry. And, while Obama’s overwhelming support among blacks is an indication of a kind of racism, it’s definitely not the same kind to which the Republicans have been playing. With its demonization of Obama, right-wing speechifying often sounds, to my ears anyway, like a veiled encouragement of lynch-mob mentality: He’s not one of us. They can throw hundreds of cute winks, adorable smiles, and thumbs-up gestures into that rhetoric; they can intone, over and over again, the falsely amiable my friends and the phonily homespun doggonit, youbetcha all they want; they still convey one message: He’s not one of us. The implication? Run him out of the neighborhood.

After eight years of monkey government, we clearly need a leader now. One of the best yardsticks we have for measuring a candidate’s ability to lead is the kind of campaign that he or she runs. McCain’s campaign seems as if it’s being conducted by people who have ADD; it lacks focus, and constantly shifts its tactics in reaction to the polls. Obama’s campaign, on the other hand, has stayed on-target since the first: It’s my time, now. That was the strategy when he announced his candidacy, and it hasn’t wavered. His people have been throwing around that extremely effective bullshit for almost two years, and it has resulted in unheard-of contributions – both from the usual favor-shoppers and the so-called “little guys.” A seeming nobody has successfully taken on the power brokers in both parties; can anyone doubt that he knows how to lead?

Normally, that kind of leadership, built on empty promises, would be chilling. Under usual circumstances, I’d look at it as potentially dangerous, the bedrock of a tyranny. But Obama’s calculatedly anti-divisive speeches have taken off some of the edge. With the exception of the Democrats’ usual bugbear, big business – and, of course, the obviously crooked and incompetent Bush administration – he singles out no group for scorn, blames no one for our two wars (three if you count the bogus “war on terror”), our economic fiasco, our catastrophic energy policies, and our infrastructure disasters. In America, big business can always take care of itself; it needs no help from presidents, or the congress, or my wallet. I don’t have to protect it through my vote. And the Bushies, as far as I’m concerned, should be brought to justice for their crimes against the state and humanity.

My final reason for throwing my admittedly trivial support behind Obama is the specter of a Sarah Palin presidency. John McCain’s age, in and of itself, doesn’t put me off. But, clearly, he has health issues; anyone who has watched his performances during the entire campaigning process can’t fail to be aware that he’s not as well as he should be. He dodders, hems and haws, spouts words that he has to weasel out of sometimes only hours later, exhibits an impatience that may well be generated by the slowly failing workings of his body. If he’s elected, and if he dies or becomes unable to perform the duties of his office (two possibilities that seem unnervingly likely to me), a proudly ignorant, unworldly, religious fundamentalist hockey mom will take over in the White House. She’ll bring her “go team” sports mindset with her. Everything she does will be filtered through her glib us-against-them vision. When issues arise that can’t be divided simplistically into two sides, she’ll do so anyway, and take one of them quicker than you can say “Joe Sixpack.” She wouldn’t be a president to inspire national trust at a time when we so badly need to feel that; she’d be a hometeam fanatic, rooting unreasonably for Americans who are “one of us.” I’m not – and neither are you. By definition, no freethinker is.

Do I agree with everything Obama says? Nope, not by a long shot. Do I believe that he’s honest? Hardly. Do I think that he’ll solve all our problems – or even most of them – in four years? Give me some credit for not being a moron.

But the alternative is so horrific, so unthinkable to me, that I will vote for him. I hope you will, too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Solutions to Non-Existent Puzzles

  1. The Hindu drank the chai, the Christian had the iced tea, the Wiccan purchased the pumpkin frappuccino, the Muslim ordered the nonpork vanilla latte, and the Jew asked for just a free glass of water. Therefore, it was the atheist who stole the caramel macchiato.

  2. The two words are “numnuts” and “fuckwad.”

  3. 666 [number of hypostases of God (3) x total number of episodes of Highway to Heaven (111) x number of brachiosauruses that Noah invited onto the ark (2)]

  4. Graham, Robertson, and Warren are the liars.

  5. Buchanan = c. (homosexual); George W. Bush = b. (moron); Jefferson = f. (atheist); Kennedy = a. (womanizer); Madison = e. (midget); Obama = d. (Muslim terrorist liberal)

  6. SNEEZUS has a runny nose, PLEASUS is winking his left eye, TWEEZUS has no eyebrows, BREEZUS has unkempt hair, FREEZUS has an icicle hanging from his right earlobe, and CHEESUS is grinning. So, SQUEEZUS and JESUS are the two who are exactly the same.

  7. God [Note: Other solutions may be possible.]

  8. seven [one to notice that it’s dark, one to ask the Lord to show them the way to the light, one to collect donations to buy supplies for doing the Lord’s work, one to drive the truck that says “Jesus Loves You” to WalMart, one to preach the gospel to other shoppers, one to change the lightbulb, and one to shout “Hallelujah.”]

  9. In order, from left to right: Deuteronomy, Revelation, Leviticus, 1 Chronicles, Casey at the Bat, 2 Chronicles, Bambi, and Wasilla

  10. a. (none of the above)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Do Words Matter?

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

George W. Bush
The only thing we have to fear is ... you know ... being scared. In other words, don’t be scared.

Nancy Pelosi
I've said it before and I'll say it again. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, fear will be off the table.

Barack Obama
Well, so here’s. What I would say. The only thing we have to fear. Is four more years. Of the same. Failed. Uh. Economic policy. And fear. Uh. Itself.

John McCain
The point is, the only thing we have to fear, my friends, is — as I found out years ago in a prison cell — fear itself.

Joe Biden
When I walked through the streets of Scranton, a senior citizen, an ex-millworker named Bob Pastaverde, living on social security and a small pension, he stopped me and he asked, “Senator Biden,” he asked, “do we have anything to fear?” And I told him, “No, Bob, nothing. The only thing we have to fear, you and me, is, as my mother would say, God bless her, fear itself.”

Sarah Palin
With a team of mavericks like John McCain and me, and also the strong American workers in those small towns just like Wasilla all over this great country of ours, also, well, doggone it, the only thing we have to be afraid of is just plain ol’ bein’ afraid, youbetcha.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Questions for Obama – or His Cheerleaders

Although, I would never even consider voting for the intolerable and untenable McCain/Palin ticket, I’m finding it extremely difficult to work up any enthusiasm for – or trust in – Obama/Biden. I’m trying to do so, though, because I live in Florida, where my vote will matter much more than it would if I still lived in New York.

Yes, the Democrats’ platitudes are articulated better than the Republicans’, and, superficially, sound far more appealing. But even a cursory reading of the transcript of last night’s tea party (only an idiot would refer to it as a “debate”) demonstrates that Obama’s words are just as meaningless and empty as McCain’s.

So the following, organized by category, are some questions that I’d like to hear Barack Obama answer. I even invite any reader who's a member of the "We Love Obama" fan club to stand in as his proxy, as long as you can provide some cogent evidence that you're speaking for him. Please don't waste your time telling me how bad McCain would be; I already know that.

Economic Policy

  • You’ve spoken a lot about wanting to “fix” our energy system. Can you tell us about five specific actions toward such an end that you would either take directly as president or push Congress to adopt? Can you give us an estimate of the cost of these actions, and give us particulars about where the money and manpower would come from? If any of these actions would require a degree of government administration and/or oversight, can you explain in detail how that would work?

  • Same questions about fixing our health care system. Again, please be specific rather than speaking in generalities.

  • Same questions about our educational system, with the same requirement for details.

  • How, exactly, do you plan to prevent lobbyists from influencing government actions? What do you mean when you refer to “special interests,” and can you name any interests that aren’t special?

  • You’ve said over and over again that you would cut taxes for the middle class, and raise taxes for those making more than $250,000. Are you talking about gross or net income, and how would you specially ensure that there isn’t a huge loophole disparity between those amounts? What kind of dollar figures are you talking about for those cuts and those raises, and what will be the end result in total revenues collected each year through federal taxes?
Constitutional Issues
  • How will you go about deciding whom to appoint as a Supreme Court justice, should a vacancy occur. Without speaking in vagaries, what criteria will you use?

  • Assuming that a pregnant woman is healthy both mentally and physically, at what point does her fetus’s potential future trump her right to choose? How would you justify, constitutionally, ever denying a woman the right to make decisions about processes occurring within her own body?

  • Can you explain, exactly, how the faith-based initiatives you’d propose would work? Can you also explain how such initiatives would not conflict with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

  • You voted to give telecoms immunity from prosecution after they had colluded in spying on American citizens. Can you explain how you justify that vote? If your answer is related in any way to realpolitik, can you clarify why that should take precedence over the Fourth Amendment?
Foreign Policy
  • What specific advantages in “the war on terror” do you think will be gained today by killing bin Laden? What specific advantages will be gained by capturing him and not killing him? Are there any other persons whom you would like to kill or capture? Why or why not?

  • Which countries do you currently consider America’s friends? Explain. Which countries would you like to bring into America’s circle of friends, and how would you do that? Explain. Which countries are most dangerous today to America, and how would you make them less dangerous? Using specific details, please explain that answer as well.

  • How do you envision an Iraqi democracy working? Can you support your ideas with examples drawn from Iraqi history, culture, or religious beliefs.

  • The Palestinians democratically empowered Hamas. Is that OK with you? Why or why not? Should the United States be more committed to worldwide democracy or worldwide freedom? Can you elaborate on the distinction between democracy and freedom?

  • Do you believe that all Jews worldwide are represented by Israel? If so, how? If not, then given that Israel is a quasi-theocratic state and not representative of an entire ethnic or religious group, how can you justify using the loaded phrases “never again” and “Holocaust” in statements supporting that country?

  • Do you agree that many of the problems in the 21st century world are caused by religious extremists? Why or why not? In what way are the beliefs of religious extremists different from the beliefs of other theists? What steps would you take to curb religious extremism around the world and in our own country?
Other Relevant Matters
  • Using as an example at least 25 votes during your years in the Senate, in what ways have you personally stood up to the Bush Administration? What was your own reasoning for casting those votes? Again, using as an example at least 10 votes during your years in the Senate, in what ways have you personally stood up to the majority of your own party? What was your own reasoning for casting those votes?

  • Under what circumstances would it be all right for a president to lie to, or mislead, the American public? If you answer “never,” then under what circumstances would it be all right for a presidential candidate to lie to, or mislead, the American public? If again you answer “never,” then can you explain your pro-FISA vote and your decision to bow out of the public campaign financing system, both of which you'd promised not to do.

  • As president, will you represent atheists as well as theists? If you agree to get advice from, and/or speak privately to, religious leaders, will you also seek advice from, and/or speak privately to, avowed atheists? Have you consulted on public policy with any representatives of atheist groups, or appeared at any atheist functions? If so, with whom, where, and when? What was your rationale for agreeing to appear at a public circus sponsored by Saddleback Church and hosted by its pastor, Rick Warren?

  • Whom are you thinking about for various cabinet and advisory positions, and whom are you considering for your presidential staff? Again, without speaking in vagaries, what criteria will you use to select these men and women?

  • Under what circumstances should a president seek evidence from experts rather than consulting opinion polls? Do you think the majority of the American people have ever held "wrong" opinions? What opinions are those, and why, in your view, were they wrong?
Those are 20 straight-talk opportunities. I’d be satisfied if Obama addressed himself to any four of these items — a mere 20% — in the next month. But I’ll bet he won’t. Any takers?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sarah Palin Haiku

Sarah’s running against the Democrat’s highfalutin eloquence by speakin’ in homespun haikus.
Maureen Dowd, "Sarah's Pompom Palaver"
The New York Times, October 5, 2008

So nice ta meetcha.
I heard a lot aboutcha.
Can I call ya “Joe”?

Are things bad or good?
I went to a soccer game
to find out from moms.

You know what I heard?
Fear about their investments.
“Goshdarnit,” I said.

Did I mention yet:
John McCain is a mav’rick.
I’m a mav’rick, too.

I’m from Wasilla,
in middle America!
It's right near Russia.

Some of my best friends
Are homos or Democrats.
Don’t let ‘em marry.

Global warming’s bad,
but don’t blame Americans.
It's Roe v. Wade's fault.

Corruption, darn it.
I saw that in the paper.
Don’t ask me which one.

Our third-grade students
are the strongest in the world.
Too bad they can’t vote.

Two years ago, there,
John McCain sounded a bell.
What a mav’rick, hey?

He carries that bell,
ringin’ it real loud for change
wherever he goes.

May I say something
more about bells and taxes?
Is that all right, Gwen?

If I had a bell,
I would never ring it for

And we must make sure
Eye-ran doesn't get a bell,
'cause they're not mav'ricks.

As for Israel?
I won’t second-guess my friends.
Jesus will do that.

Gen'ral Petraeus.
Have you ever heard of him?
Well, I have also.

I’ll say it again:
We are a team of mav’ricks.
I’m from Wasilla!

Just remember that.
Youbetcha, America.
Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Sometimes my eye hurts
from all this winkin’ I do.
Mav’rickin’ is hard.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Lend Me Your Earmarks: A Quiz

The 451-page bailout bill is loaded with earmarks. Earmarks are governmental gifts, either through the direct dispersal of funds or the granting of tax exemptions. Even our simplest bills are chock full of these little presents to companies, states, and groups of people.

In a more honest country, the insertion of earmarks would be seen for what it is: blackmail. A senator or representative says to his or her colleagues: “Gee, I’d really like to vote for the bill authorizing the funds needed to explode that asteroid hurtling towards Earth. But, golly, I can’t do so unless you let my friends in the toilet bowl industry get a tax break on their kids’ Halloween costumes.”

All of our congresspeople claim to despise earmarks. But the extortion continues. Why?

I think it's because references to earmarks permeate our culture. In the following quiz, for example, I’ve isolated ten products, services, places, or groups for whom earmarks were sneakily entered into the bailout bill. Your job is to correctly identify the earmark recipient in each quote. As an extra help, I’ve given the source of each item, plus the page number on which the earmark appears in the bill. (Warning: not all the earmarks in the bill are referred to in the exact same words I’ve used.)

Just one answer per comment, please. And no more than two answers in total per commenter.

  1. Bring me my earmarks of desire!
    (William Blake – p. 300. Sec. 503)

  2. If such as came for earmark, sir, went home shorn,
    Where is the wrong I did them?
    (Robert Browning – p. 295, Sec. 325)

  3. De Camptown earmark five miles long
    Oh doo dah day.
    (Stephen Foster – p. 290, Sec. 317)

  4. There’s nought, no doubt, so much the spirit calms
    As earmark and true religion.
    (George Gordon, Lord Byron – p. 279, Sec. 308)

  5. No one ever went broke in earmark underestimating the intelligence of the public.
    (Elsa Maxwell – p. 298, Sec. 502)

  6. In a cavern, in a canyon,
    Excavating for a earmark
    (Traditional – p. 280, Sec. 310 & 311)

  7. The earmark [2 words] is miles away,
    And the day is loud with voices speaking
    (Edna St. Vincent Millay – p. 289, Sec. 316)

  8. I could never tell for sure whether I was in America or Earmark.
    (Paul Theroux – p. 279, Sec. 309)

  9. One little, two little, three little earmarks
    (Traditional Children’s Song – p. 288, Sec. 314 & 315)

  10. She stood in tears among the alien earmark
    (John Keats – p. 182, Sec. 202)
I'm hoping you don't bail out on this quiz. So, I'm promising all correct answerers a tax exemption — as soon as I'm elected to Congress.

[Update (as of 10/06/08, 1:15 p.m. EDT): Fictional Treats from the Federal Treasury for — Gareth McCaughan (#1); DB (#3); yinyang (#4); yunshui (#5); Chicken Girl (#6); yinyang (#8); 1minionsopinion (#9); Gareth McCaughan (#10)]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Not-So-Live Blogging the Debate

9:00 p.m.
Jim Lehrer greets the audience and explains the rules of the debate. Basically, he will ask questions and the candidates will then be free to talk about anything they choose in response. They lose points if they actually refer to the question posed. Obama and McCain step to their respective podiums. Jim Lehrer calls out “Hey, Exterminator, where are you?” The Exterminator enters with a mouthful of Good ‘n’ Plenty and says “Mffff mfffnfm mffn.”

9:01 p.m.:
Lehrer asks about the financial recovery plan. Both Obama and McCain are for and against it. The Exterminator pledges to help Main Street through this crisis, and also gives a shout-out to Elm Street, Oak Street, and Chestnut Drive. He reaches into his back pocket, pulls out his wallet, and shows the audience its contents: $5.67 and a snapshot of his cat who died in 1983. When asked to explain, he offers to split his funds with the American people and urges Obama and McCain to show “What’s in your wallet?” When neither of the other candidates take him up on his magnanimous offer, he looks at Lehrer through a piece of Saran Wrap and says “I’m for transparency.”

9:07 p.m.:
Lehrer urges the candidates to talk to one another about the recovery plan. Obama pulls up a chair and begins to chat with McCain, who rudely takes a phone call on his cell. The Exterminator tells a few jokes to himself and laughs uproariously.

9:13 p.m.:
Jim Lehrer asks the candidates if there are any “fundamental” differences between them on their reactions to the bailout plan. McCain points out that Obama is black, and Obama retaliates by stating that McCain is old. Then they trade made-up figures. The Exterminator demonstrates conclusively that he’s the only one on stage who’s wearing a Bugs Bunny tie.

9:16 p.m.:
Lehrer reminds the candidates that there’s a fiscal disaster happening and asks them what programs they would be willing to give up if they’re elected. The Exterminator unhesitatingly vows to stop spending the taxpayer’s money on repeats of The King of Queens. Obama says he’s willing to give up some programs, and then proves it by rattling off a string of initiatives that will apparently be paid for only by the richest 5% of Americans. McCain promises to cut wasteful spending, and immediately calls his real estate broker to put Obama’s and the Exterminator’s houses on the market.

9:40 p.m.:
The economic portion of the debate is over. Both Obama and McCain rush to get in touch with their accountants. The Exterminator bends over to pick up a dime he dropped. Lehrer polls the audience to see which candidate should be given the Miss Congeniality award, and McCain loses.

9:41 p.m.:
Lehrer asks the candidates about the “lessons of Iraq.” McCain praises the surge and sings “You Light Up My Life” to David Petreus. Obama wonders why we haven’t yet killed bin Laden, and carefully avoids saying “Osama.” The Exterminator calls for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from the United States.

9:44 p.m.:
McCain raises a number of points and Obama responds by praising Joe Biden and the surge. McCain and Obama get into an argument about the difference between strategy and tactics, and Lehrer suggests that they play a game of chess while millions of Americans watch. The Exterminator counts his money again.

9:48 p.m.:
Lehrer asks about Afghanistan, so the candidates retire briefly to watch a screening of The Man Who Would Be King. Obama talks smack about Pakistan and worries about the exploding flower trade in that part of the world. McCain reviews the entire history of the region, and pronounces “Waziristan” correctly. He also urges Obama to keep his mouth shut about U.S. plans to invade Pakistan. The Exterminator does a pretty good Sean Connery impression, but can’t seem to master Michael Caine.

9:55 p.m.:
McCain points out that he voted against James K. Polk’s war with Mexico. Then both McCain and Obama show off their jewelry. The Exterminator explains why bracelets give him a rash.

9:56 p.m.:
Lehrer tells the candidates that they’ve both wasted exactly the same amount of time, but laughingly chastises them for taking too long not to answer the questions. The Exterminator wonders aloud whether that’s a strategy or a tactic.

9:58 p.m.:
Obama and McCain are both worried about an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and they both enunciate “nuclear” perfectly to distinguish themselves from George Bush. The Exterminator suggests that we start calling the country “Persia” again, and fuck ‘em if they don’t like it. McCain would not sit down at the table with Ahmadinejad. Obama, on the other hand is willing to send someone to sit down at a different table with a different person, but acknowledges that he doesn’t expect anyone to serve matzo ball soup. The Exterminator reserves judgment until he sees what the meal is, and hints that he might be willing to eat standing up.

10:09 p.m.:
McCain and Obama argue about what Henry Kissinger said when he was drunk the other night. The Exterminator amuses no one by speaking in a thick German accent.

10:16 p.m.:
Lehrer asks the candidates about Russia. All of them know where it is. The Exterminator volunteers that he once read The Brothers Karamazov and has eaten borscht many times. Henry Kissinger calls Lehrer and asks him to come over for some caviar and infused vodka after the debates.

10:22 p.m.:
For the 147th time, Obama says that McCain is absolutely right about everything and then calls him a liar. McCain accuses Obama of not understanding anything, and to be fair, demonstrates his own lack of understanding. The Exterminator tallies his change one more time.

10:27 p.m.:
Obama informs America that his father was from Kenya. McCain reminds viewers of his own history: apparently, he was once a P.O.W. The Exterminator tells a long, pointless anecdote about Nanny.

10:30 p.m.:
Obama and McCain hug their wives. The Exterminator searches the audience in vain for Mrs. Ex, who has fled the premises in embarrassment after noticing that her husband’s fly was open throughout the entire debate. Lehrer calls Kissinger to accept his invitation, but only on condition that Ahmadinejad will not be there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Comment Thread from Hamlet's Blog

Confused said ...
I don’t really get what you’re asking here. To be WHAT? Or not to be WHAT?

Englishteacher said ...
I hate to be a punctuation nazi, Hamlet, but if you’re asking a question, it should end in a question mark.

Sirsleepsalot said ...
Are you saying that dying and sleeping are THE SAME THING???? Sheesh!

Hamlet said ...
No, I’m just saying that in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffel’d off this mortal coil must give us pause. Dying and sleeping are alike, but clearly they’re not the same. You wake up from sleeping but you don’t wake up from dying.

Sirsleepsalot said ...
Unless you die IN YOUR SLEEP!!!! LOL.

happy dane said ...
i do’nt think you shoud worry so much about being nobel in the mind. you sound like a graet princ. just go with what feels rite :)

Scienceprude said ...
We don’t sleep or dream when we’re dead. Learn some biology, jerkoff.

Horatio said ...
IMHO, this whole “to be or not to be” thing sounds like a big whine. Are you crazy, or are you just making believe?

Hamlet said ...
What ho, Horatio! LTNS! Listen, how strange or odd I bear myself — as I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on — don’t ask me about it, OK?

Rich3 said ...
I know this is a little off-topic, but does anybody have a horse for sale?

Grumble Bunny said ...
Great post! You’re soooo right! Fortune IS outrageous! The guy up the street won the lottery twice and I never won it at all! How is that fair?!!!!!

Zeen0f0Be said ...
Anybody who goes to an undiscovered country doesn’t deserve to return from its “bourn,” as you put it. I’m willing to bet that you haven’t even seen all of Denmark, but you’re in a big hurry to go elsewhere and spend good kroner in other places. How about supporting our workers here?

Hamlet said ...
@ Zee:
A friend of mine thinks that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but I also don’t mind picking up decent products from foreign manufacturers once in a while.

Wide Awake said ...
I have read your blog and find it both entertaining and informative. If you have problems waking up with that fresh and rested feeling, click the link below to learn about the personal benefits of YawnAway™.

Zeen0f0be said ...
@ Hammy:
Yeah, try buying some of that poisoned toothpaste in Sweden.

Hamlet said ...
@ Zee:
Well, the Swedes say the same thing about stuff made here. They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase soil our addition.

Englishteacher said ...
Sorry to nitpick again, H, but, honestly, who says “clepe” any more? What are you, like 50 years old?

Grumble Bunny said ...
Hamlet, I’m reading more of your fantastic post and you’re soooo right again! How’s this for the proud man’s contumely?! My brother is a English teacher and he keeps correcting my grammer! Between you and I, I could care less!!!!!!

Trollonius said ...
Can you provide any evidence whatsoever that conscience makes cowards of us all? I’ve got a conscience, and I’m not afraid of anything. I think you’re just talking out of your behind.

Zeen0f0be said ...
@Hammy, you said: Well, the Swedes say the same thing about stuff made here.
Is that why they keep crossing our borders illegally to look for better toothpaste? Get your facts straight.

Hamlet said ...
Well, I do have my facts straight. You can read any magazine and find out how corrupt Denmark is. This three years I have took note of it: the age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier he galls his kibe.

Englishteacher said ...
I don’t mean to be a pain, H, but it’s not “I have took note of it.” It’s “I have taken note of it.” When using the present perfect tense, “have” should always be followed by the past participle. Also, did you realize that the antecendents are unclear for both “he” and “his”?

Grumble Bunny said ...
Hamlet, this is the best post you’ve ever written! And you’re soooo right about the insolence of offices! Yesterday, I made a simple mistake and filed an email from Rosencrantz in the Guildenstern folder! My boss called me a rogue and peasant &#^%*! Now that’s insolent!!!!!

happy dane said ...
did you decide what to do yet? i know its nun of my busness but heres my too sense. i think you shoud “be” :)

Hamlet said ...
I’m cutting off all comments on this post. Sorry, you guys, but the rest is silence.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Haven't I Read This Somewhere Before?

Having been a denizen of the Atheosphere for nearly two years, I’ve learned a lot of things. Some of those things I’ve been told over and over and over, as if I’m in the dumb class. But I finally think I understand them now.

I’ve also accumulated a shitload of old posts which I’d like to urge my newer readers to check out. You'll find that the ideas expressed in them, as is so often the case with posts written in the Atheosphere, are all completely original. I know you won’t want to miss any of the great things I’ve written. (Sorry, but I haven’t yet completed my promised posting of all my high school compositions.)

So here’s a list of stuff I’ve learned, along with the titles of relevant posts of mine that you might have missed.

  • All atheists are always rational. When an atheist forms an opinion about anything, he or she weighs the facts carefully. That’s why we all walk around with scales in our pockets. If challenged, we atheists can even provide irrefutable evidence for our preferences in politics, sports, pop culture, and cuisine. (See my previous post: “French-Cut Canned Stringbeans Are Creationist Bullshit.”)

  • Everything important in life can be subjected to the scientific method. Great music, art, and literature can’t be analyzed or proven, so atheists don’t need to know anything about those subjects. Sorry, but the beginning of the universe affects us much more than some trivial Beethoven tune, Monet sculpture, or Shakespeare novel. Being educated about history is commendable, but only insofar as we can use our knowledge to disprove religious interpretations of past events. (See my previous post: “Ancient Mesopotamia was not a Christian nation.”)

  • Electing Democrats will change America for the better. Here’s the proof: Republicans will not change America for the better. That’s why Barack Obama has stronger qualifications to be president than those of any other person who has ever lived, except, perhaps, for Abraham Lincoln. I say “perhaps” because we can’t know for sure; Lincoln’s looks were never judged by the women of “The View.” (See my previous post: “Whoopi and Joy Go Ga-ga Over Abe’s Beard ... but Elisabeth Hates His Wart.”)

  • It’s crucial for us atheists to keep reminding one another that creationism is not only stupid, but a big lie. If we don’t keep telling each other about this, some of us will forget, and start believing in Genesis. (See my previous post: “Creationism is Creationist Bullshit.”)

  • Any atheist who criticizes other atheists about anything is not a true atheist. He or she hurts the cause. (See my previous post: “The Cause Says Ouch.”)

  • If elected vice president, Sarah Palin will bide her time until John McCain dies (or is killed by her secret minions), and then turn the country into a theocracy. It’s fair to judge her by her church affiliation, which is obviously a strong indication of her beliefs. But woe betide theocrats under an Obama/Biden administration. The Democrats’ god-pushing is merely for political expediency; those secularists who are sharp enough to read their minds know that both Obama and Biden are totally commited to separation of church and state. It’s unfair to each of them to judge him by his church affiliation, which is obviously no indication of his beliefs. In any case, Obama’s and Biden’s personal beliefs can be easily distinguished from their non-personal ones. (See my previous post: “Personal Beliefs Are Clearly Different from Just Plain Ol’ Beliefs.”)

  • Anything that’s written or video-ed from a freethinking point of view is extremely interesting, and must be passed along to as many other freethinkers as possible. (See my previous post: “You’re an Idiot if You Don’t Watch This.”)

  • No one ever blogs just for the hell of it. We’re all on a mission to spread only the most credible information, and to refute ridiculous claims perpetrated by those who don’t agree with us. There’s something noble and important about that, even though most of us are way too humble to come right out and say so. Instead, we keep trying to change the mind of that poor, wishy-washy “one person in a thousand” who reads every single blog every single day. (See my previous post: “One Person in a Thousand Now Hates French-Cut Canned Stringbeans and Creationism.”)

  • Most skeptics have great senses of humor. Spelling “the” as “teh” is the height of wit. Any picture of Jesus, Mohammad, or John McCain is also hilarious. But poking fun at other skeptics is frowned on, because we’re all in “this” together and should be respectful of one another. Otherwise, we hurt the cause. (See my previous post: “It’s Not Funny When the Cause Says Ouch.”)

  • People who read and/or write liberal blogs are extremely well-informed about current events. If they also watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, their political acumen is unquestionable. When you read the same fact on more than one progressive blog, it must be true, so you can feel free to repeat it without seeking out any corroborating evidence. (See my previous post: “You’ll Never Guess What I Heard.”)

  • The only reasons that an atheist blogger might choose not to publish new posts are (1) he has died or is gravely ill; (2) worse, he has suddenly started believing in a god, or (3) worst of all, his computer has broken down. In any case, no one will ever read his blog again unless he publishes a long post explaining why he’d spent more than 72 hours without stating his opinion of (1) creationism, (2) Sarah Palin, or (3) French-cut canned stringbeans. (See my forthcoming post: “Creationism, Sarah Palin, and French-Cut Canned Stringbeans Are Responsible for the Current Fiscal Crisis.”)

  • Lurkers are the blue-collar workers of the Internet, waiting to hear the most intelligent argument to help them decide whom to support. They’re the impulse shoppers in the free market of ideas. Atheists and theists know that it’s worthwhile debating one another because you never know whose mind you might change. (See my previous post: “Are You There Lurkers? It’s Me, Exterminator.”)
Lurkers and others are invited to comment.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bullshit Dressed Up

This is supposed to be a post about The Flight of Peter Fromm, the latest selection of Nonbelieving Literati. And I will eventually get to a very short discussion of the book. But first, I need to tell readers a few facts about myself.

I’ve been an atheist for as long as I can remember. When I was four or five years old, it dawned on me that the concept of a god was ridiculous. It didn’t make any sense. I had no need of any deep philosophical or scientific arguments to help me arrive at that position, though; I wouldn’t have been capable of following them if I had. I just felt – “knew,” really – that the idea was silly.

As I grew to adulthood, I learned something about science, something about history, something about sociology, something about comparative mythology. I studied philosophy, even though, as I’ve said dozens of times, I think it’s mostly mental masturbation. I read the bible as a historico-mythical tract, from cover to cover a few times. I can now argue against the existence of god about as well as anyone can.

But, within myself, I don’t need to do that. The skepticism that first bloomed back when I was a sprout is still my primary reason for dismissing supernatural claims. They don’t make any sense.

So it should come as no surprise that I see the “study” of theology as a lot of pseudo-intellectual babble. Yes, it’s occasionally fun to read so-called “literary” exegeses of the bible, but the truth is: I don’t accept most of the bible as having any merit as great writing. Did you ever struggle through Leviticus or Deuteronomy? Or either book of Chronicles, f’Chrissake? From a literary standpoint, quite a few of the epistles are sheer crap. The writing in the Gospel of Mark is comparable to that of a simple-minded sixth-grader. And who can wade through the minor prophets without admitting to himself: This is junk compared to the works of Homer or the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Eddas or the Mahabharata.

But the study of theology is not about literary merit. It’s about ... what the hell is it about? Ostensibly it’s the study of god’s ways, of the relationship between humans and their deity. It’s loaded with nonsense masquerading as logic, twaddle pretending to be deep thinking, baloney passing as critical analysis. Theology is the justification of claptrap in the guise of rational discourse. It's bullshit dressed up. The child in me flips through a few pages of “theological” philosophy and whispers: This doesn’t make any sense.

And that brings me to The Flight of Peter Fromm. The author is Martin Gardner, whose writings I’ve been devouring since I was a teenager. Throughout my life, I’ve joyfully read dozens of Gardner’s volumes on mathematical recreations, science vs. superstition, even his entertaining annotations of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books.

But this Peter Fromm novel has no “soul.” Yeah, there are characters, or at least two-dimensional figures with characters’ names. But the book is mostly what, if it weren’t about theology, I’d call a novel of ideas. (How about: a novel of stupid ideas?) The title character seems to study every branch and sub-branch of 20th century theology he can, and Gardner describes them with varying degrees of insight and success.

After about 100 pages, I’d had enough. I just didn’t care at all about why Peter Fromm had had a fit while preaching an Easter sermon in 1948. Why bother wading through pages and pages of theological hogwash? Not having finished the book, I still don’t know why he had his breakdown; nor am I curious. Maybe the guy got pissed off at himself for having wasted so much time studying a non-subject. Whatever. I saw no reason why I should join him.

[Note: The next book we will be discussing, beginning on November 1, is Remembering Hypatia. See my sidebar for a link to the appropriate Amazon page.]

Saturday, September 13, 2008


All the political talk about abstinence education reminds me of something that happened when I was thirteen years old. After my mother and younger sister had left the kitchen table one night, going off to struggle once again with the Problem of Evil Homework, my father lobbed a three-pack of Trojans into my lap.

“You know what those are?” he asked.

Schoolboys didn’t use the word “condoms” in those days. “Yeah. They’re ... um ... scumbags, right?”

“Exactly. Carry those with you wherever you go,” he said.

“I don’t think I need them yet.”

He rolled his eyes. “F’chrissake,” he said. “By the time I was your age, I’d been laid, relayed and parleyed.”

“Did Mom say it’s OK for me to have these?”

“What are you, a sissy? Why would I ask your mother?”

That made me laugh, because I remembered how he’d acted five years before. Here’s the story.

* * * * *

I was about halfway through third grade, and I had come to the realization that my parents were never going to show me where the seed store was.

Mom had repeated the story to me dozens of times: Dad had planted a seed in her belly. Eventually, that seed, which I envisioned as a kind of pink and slimy Chocolate Baby, became me.

We lived in an apartment in the Bronx, so I knew very little about gardening. The only flora we had in the house were Mom's snake plants, about ten of them, which migrated from one knickknack shelf to another every few weeks. Mom called it "redecorating" every time she moved a snake plant and rotated her figurines. Sometimes the snake plants were surrounded by dancing porcelain elves; at other times they formed the background for a Bo-Peep scene. I once cajoled her into letting me use one as a cactus in a mini-drama that I was acting out for myself with plastic cowboys. The idea was that the bad guys would keep shooting the cactus instead of the hero hiding behind it. Bang, blam, p-shoing! The cactus would fall over dead. After its third demise, my mother confiscated it, and placed it back where Nature intended it to be, between Madame Pompadour and Neptune.

What I did know about gardening, I had learned from a children's record popular in the '50s. An unctuous boy's voice sang: "Carrots grow from carrot seeds." I couldn't imagine a child that I identified with less than this gooey paragon of stick-to-it-iveness. His story took up two sides of a big orange 78, but the gist of it was that he insisted on planting a seed even though his whole family told him he was full of crap. I often wondered why he would go to all that trouble for one lousy carrot, when he easily could have bought a whole can at the grocery. Still, he bragged: "I watered it; I pulled the weeds."

But who watered me and pulled my weeds?

Certainly not Dad, despite what Mom told me. He just wasn't a planting kind of guy. I tried to picture him as a farmer, in overalls and a straw hat. I'd see him standing in the middle of a field of corn, removing a piece of straw from his mouth, and, with the other hand, taking a puff of the Pall Mall that he always held between his index and middle fingers. The rest of his cigarette hand would be balled up in a half-fist, carrying a few seeds, about 20 Green Giant niblets drenched in butter. That's what corn seeds looked like in my mind. Every now and then, Dad would bend over and dig a little hole, move his pinky to let loose one of the niblets, and cover it up again, stray ashes and all. He'd pull a green plastic drinking glass full of water from his back pocket, and dribble a few drops on the seed the way Mom watered her snake plants at home. Then he'd stand up and scratch the back of one leg with the toe of his opposite foot, as he frequently did when he was trying to get his bearings. After a few seconds, he'd replace the glass in his pocket, take a drag on his cigarette, and then put the straw back in his mouth and chew it the same way he worked a toothpick.

"How come Dad never planted anything else?" I asked Mom.

"Well, he also planted your sister."

"No, I mean flowers. Where did Dad learn to plant seeds?"

"I think when he was in the army."

If Dad was in earshot of this conversation, he would call out, "A lot before that." But he was always suspiciously noncommittal about the rest of the story.

"Where'd you get the seed for me, Dad?"

"Ask your mother."

"I thought you planted it."

"Well, we kind of did it together. But she remembers better. Ask her."

"Did you get the seed for my sister at the same store where you got me? Who cost more?"

"I think you might have been on sale. Your mother remembers."

But my mother's recollection was hazy, too.

"Where's the seed store? Is it on Fordham Road near Alexander's? Can you show me it next time we go shopping?"

"You know, I must have forgotten where the store is. Isn't that funny? I just ... I just can't think of it."

Yeah, right. This was beyond credibility. Mom never forgot anything. She knew the words to almost every song ever written.

It was clearly time for eight-year-old sarcasm."Oh, right," I said. "You got your kids there, and you can't remember? Come on, Ma. Where is it? What's such a big deal about a store? Just tell me where it is. I promise I won't buy any seeds. "

Finally, in desperation one evening when I was particularly determined, Mom and Dad waited until my sister had gone to sleep. Then they went and powwowed in a corner of the kitchen while I half-heartedly watched Father Knows Best and sulked. I knew that they knew that I was trying to listen to their conversation because they were speaking in Yiddish. Yiddish had been Dad's only language until he was six years old, and he was completely fluent. Mom's Yiddish, on the other hand, consisted of only about a hundred words, most of them either names of foods or synonyms for "shmuck." I could tell whenever she started having language difficulties, because she'd suddenly resort to whispered English. Then Dad would say, emphatically, "Sha, Honey. Sha. Die kinder! Shvubb'm hubb'm tsubb'm." At least that's what it sounded like to me.

The next thing I knew, Mom was rushing upstairs to a neighbor. "I'm going up to Barb's to borrow a book for you. We'll read it together when your program is over. Did you finish your math?"

"What kind of book?"

"We'll read it together when your program is over."

"You just said that. What's the book about?"

"You'll see."

Dad retired to the living-room couch. In his own way, my father knew best, too, and what was best for him was to lie there making believe he was taking a nap. Many years later, he confessed that he’d spent the next hour staring into the armrest, listening and giggling.

It wasn't long before Mom burst back through the door, carrying a thin book against her chest. Her arms were crossed around it, shielding it from my vision. The message was clear: something in that book was dynamite. She summoned me from the television and led me into the bathroom. She lowered the toilet seat lid, and sat on it, gesturing for me to sit on the edge of the bathtub.

This was not as odd a place for an intimate chat as it sounds, because it was the only private area in the entire apartment. In the one bedroom, my sister was already snuggled in for the night, snoring contentedly. In the living-room, where Mom and Dad slept on a fold-out high-rise, Dad was supposedly taking his undisturbable snooze on the couch. The uncleaned detritus from dinner still filled the kitchen, and, anyway, the room's acoustics made noises echo throughout the house; we didn't want to disturb Dad while he was feigning sleep and having a giddy panic.

Mom opened the book. I suppose it was something like What to Tell Your Precocious Nuisance About Sex. But I never knew, because she didn't show me the cover. Nor did she read it directly to me, or even hold up any of the pictures. Instead, she silently skimmed each page, and translated it into Idiotese. After every few pages, she'd add: "Remember, you can only do this if you're married."

I didn't see why I'd want to do it at all. The whole thing struck me as pretty messy. The book — or Mom's rendition of it — suppressed discussion of pleasure or love or emotional gratification of any kind. And that's not the only thing I didn't get. For a long time thereafter, I was under the impression that the man peed into the woman. I suppose the surroundings in which I had learned the information subliminally planted that seed in my head. In any case, the entire procedure sounded pretty inconvenient for both parties.

"You and Dad did that?"


"There's no seed store?"

"No. The seed was in his body."

"So are you telling me there's no seed store anywhere? Anywhere? In the whole world?"

"Uh-huh. This is what married people do here, and in Europe, and in Africa, and all over."

That sounded like baloney to me. "Nanny did it, too?"

"Yeah, Nanny, too. Everybody. But remember, you have to be married." The skeptic in me kicked into high gear. There was no way that Nanny ever did that. "I can't believe there's no seed store. Are you positive?"


"What a gyp."

But it wasn't enough of a gyp to keep me from passing it on to all my friends. The very next day, I began holding forth to any kid who would listen. "Hey, guess what? There's no seed store." For a while, I had the reputation among my friends' mothers as the worst influence in the entire neighborhood, the pervert of the playground.

Most of the kids didn't believe me; about six of them grabbed each other's hands to form a circle, and danced around me, chanting "penis and vagina, penis and vagina." Jerry reached into his pants, felt himself carefully, and screamed at me, "You're lying. There's no seeds in it." Shelley’s mother never forgave me. She’s convinced to this day that he still wouldn’t know the facts of life if I hadn’t spilled the beans to him while we were riding on the seesaw.

Weeks went by, and Dad didn't say anything at all to me about my lesson. Then one night, out of the blue, he asked, "So Mom wised you up? About the seeds?"

"Yeah," I answered.

"There's more," he said, and winked. "Remind me to tell you when you're older."

"After I'm married?" I asked.

"Maybe a little bit before," he replied.


"Not today, OK? I need to take a nap."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thru the Night with a Blight from Above

Even on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a cynic can’t help but be cynical. In fact, I can still remember my cynicism, glowing like a beacon of reality through my tears and fears on that surreal day itself.

As was everyone else in the country, my wife and I were glued to the television all day. We watched the towers fall, again and again and again. Frantically, we tried and tried to reach my sister on the phone; she worked just a short distance away from the World Trade Center. I attempted to call some good friends, who lived or worked only slightly further away. No luck there either.

So we watched TV. What else could we do? In the evening, briefly, the cameras left the devastation of lower New York City and the Pentagon, and focused on the steps of the Capitol, where U.S. Senators and Representatives had gathered together to show solidarity in the face of ... what? We didn’t know yet, although most of us suspected that Islamic extremists were the perpetrators. My wife and I had spent a lot of the day spouting off about the evils of religion. We had no evidence, of course, but we needed to rant about something.

Spokesmen for both major parties (Hastert for the Republicans, Daschle for the Democrats) tried to reassure Americans by promising that we’d identify and find those responsible for the heinous acts of that morning, and make them “pay the price.” As if reparations were possible.

Then, in a seemingly spontaneous act of unity, the congressional crowd began to sing “God Bless America.” I’m sure for most of the country it was a moving moment.

For me, though, a transplanted New Yorker, who had spent many, many hours working and playing in the buildings so recently destroyed, the song was a disgusting display. My wife and I looked at each other, and shook our heads in astonishment.

“Perfect solution,” she said. “Let’s ask Jesus for help. If they'd only known, they could have given him a buzz yesterday.”

“Yeah,” I added, “maybe next they’ll sing ‘If You Believe in Fairies, Then Clap Your Hands.’”

Then we both laughed at nothing funny, as I dialed the phone again.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Puzzling Atheists #7: Christian Zombie Poem

Isaiah 26:19
Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:52
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
A few atheist bloggers seem to think it's clever to post famous poems, as if the rest of us would never deign to look at literature unless it's transmitted on a freethinker's Web site. I decided that I'd join in their fun, and publish a well-known masterpiece for my readers to learn. However, my memory not being what it used to be, I couldn't manage to recite an entire poem, no matter how hard I tried. All I managed to wind up with was a brand new example of doggerel, cobbled together from lines that originally appeared in other pieces of verse. Your simple job is to identify, by line, each work and its author.

Christian Zombie Poem
  1. The grave’s a fine and private place,
  2. all by all and deep by deep,
  3. And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
  4. Tossing their heads in sprightly dance,
  5. That sleepen al the night with open ye —
  6. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight,
  7. In the forests of the night,
  8. Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
  9. They took some honey, and plenty of money,
  10. For ever warm, and still to be enjoy’d,
  11. And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
  12. “Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
  13. Food, glorious food!”
  14. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world,
  15. “Surely the the Second Coming is at hand!
  16. I’m afraid you must wait and have dinner tomorrow."
  17. Because I could not stop for Death,
  18. I go, I go; look how I go.
  19. Run, run, run, run, runaway.
  20. I doubted if I should ever come back.
  21. You might as well live.

Please identify only one line and its author per comment. And no cheating by resorting to Google; you're on your honor.

[Update: Correct answers (as of 09/11/08, 3:15 a.m. EDT) — 1. Gareth McCaughan; 2. Lynet (title), yunshui (author); 3. Evo (title), Gareth McCaughan (author); 4. Gareth McCaughan; 5. yunshui; 6. Lynet; 7. Eric Haas; 8. yunshui; 9. Lynet; 10. Lynet; 12. Eric Haas; 13. chappy; 14. yunshui; 15. yunshui; 16. Lynet; 17. Gareth McCaughan; 18. yunshui; 19. Eric Haas; 20. yunshui (title), Lynet (author); 21. Gareth McCaughan (author only)]

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Teach the Controversies

Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has gone on record as saying that she believes public schools should “teach the controversy.” Normally, most people would understand that phrase as referring to the bogus debate between Scientists and Creationists. But the press has so far failed to uncover an amazing fact: Palin believes that there are other disputes in which the theories of Fundamentalist Christians have been unfairly banned from the classroom. Because of my skill and dedication, I’ve managed to dig up some important news for my readers. Believe it or not, I’ve learned of eight other controversies Governor Palin would like to see addressed in the schools.

Controversy One: The Light Bulb
Atheists say: Thomas Alva Edison invented the light bulb.
Fundamentalists say: God invented the light bulb.
Rationale for Teaching the Controversy: The history books say that Edison purchased the patent for the light bulb from one Henry Woodward, and then perfected it. However, Edison was a well-known fraud who falsified records. It wasn’t Woodward or Edison who said “Let there be light!” — it was God! Therefore, He’s responsible for all indoor and outdoor illumination, including light bulbs, the sun, and fireflies.

Controversy Two: The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
Atheists say: Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Fundamentalists say: God painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Rationale for Teaching the Controversy: No human since Biblical Times has seen the face of God. Yet, the portrait on the ceiling is a perfect likeness of the Lord. Only God himself could have painted that, because He’s the only one who knows what He looks like. Plus, do you know how high up that thing is? It’s impossible that Michelangelo could have reached it.

Controversy Three: The English Dictionary
Atheists say: There are many versions of dictionaries in English. Some of the earliest ones were compiled in the 17th century. As the language evolves, dictionaries change, adding new words, and omitting old ones.
Fundamentalists say: There is only one True English Dictionary and God compiled it.
Rationale for Teaching the Controversy: The Gospel of John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So even as far back as a few days before Man was created, God knew English. When He gave language to His beloved Children, He must have already known beforehand what every single word meant. It stands to reason, then, that He presented Adam and Eve with a dictionary. Since He gave Man free will, He allowed Adam to name the animals. But because Adam believed so sincerely in Jesus, the Lord spoke to him, and whispered the correct names. That’s how dictionaries are still compiled today. God speaks to the faithful, and they add new words that have existed since the Beginning of Time.

Controversy Four: The Calculus
Atheists say: Either Isaac Newton or Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz, or both, “discovered” the Calculus. But it could also have been developed by Indian, or Islamic, or Japanese mathematicians.
Fundamentalists say: God discovered the Calculus.
Rationale for Teaching the Controversy: The atheists’ explanation involves too many variables, and it’s impossible to prove whether Newton or Leibniz came up with this great mathematical advancement. However, one well-known fact about Newton and Leibniz is usually ignored: Each one of them loved God with all his heart and soul. Therefore, God created the Calculus, and gave it to these two loyal servants. The claims of Indians, Muslims, and Japanese are obviously erroneous.

Controversy Five: “Casey at the Bat”
Atheists say: Ernest Lawrence Thayer wrote “Casey at the Bat” in 1888 as a column for the San Francisco Examiner.
Fundamentalists say: God wrote “Casey at the Bat” and dictated it to Ernest Lawrence Thayer as a lesson for potential sinners.
Rational for Teaching the Controversy: It’s not commonly known, but Mudville was a small town in liberal Massachusetts, populated by secularists, feminists, and homosexuals. God tested the local fans by allowing Flynn and Blake to reach base, and gave the populace ample opportunity to pray to Him for a win. Instead, they pinned their hopes on Casey, a famous agnostic of the period. At the end of the poem [Spoiler Alert: Casey struck out], “there is no joy in Mudville.” This is because the people there had failed to be saved, and they realized that they would shortly be watching losing game after losing game in Hell.

Controversy Six: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Atheists say: Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony.
Fundamentalists say: God composed “Beethoven’s” Ninth Symphony.
Rationale for Teaching the Controversy: Everyone who has any familiarity at all with classical music has heard that Beethoven was deaf for many years of his life. How could a deaf person compose music? That’s just absurd. Could a deaf person have written “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” or “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”? Think about how ridiculous that idea sounds. So imagine how much harder it would have been for Beethoven, who wrote for about a zillion instruments and a gigantic chorus and four soloists. God must have sung into Beethoven’s ear, and the man just wrote down what he heard. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.

Controversy Seven: Cookies
Atheists say: Elves make Keebler cookies.
Fundamentalists say: Jesus makes Keebler cookies.
Rationale for Teaching the Controversy: There’s absolutely no evidence that the Keebler Elves exist. But the Bible tells us how great Jesus was at preparing food. In the Gospel of Mark 6:30-44, we learn that the Savior fed the multitudes with loaves and fishes. Not only that, but John 2:3-10 tells us how Jesus turned water into wine. Compared to those great miracles, baking up a batch of cookies would be a snap. Clearly, Jesus makes Keebler cookies.

Controversy Eight: This Post
Atheists say: The Exterminator wrote this post.
Fundamentalists say: Satan wrote this post.
Rationale for Teaching the Controversy: In the Name of All That’s Holy, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain's Hate Speech

In case you didn't get a chance to see it, and because I'm always willing to take one for the team, I watched the entire "acceptance" speech of John McCain. The words from beginning to end were repugnant. The crowd was bellicose and mean-spirited, and if McCain had told them to go out and beat up fags or evil atheists or kikes or niggers or whatever, they would have goose-stepped out of the hall and done it. The assembled Republicans were like a small ugly army of belligerents who wore their hatred on their sleeves, and the "U.S.A." they kept shouting about is a completely different place than the America I inhabit. When McCain grudgingly talked about Obama's achievement, and how he admired it, the crowd applauded limply; but they were in "fuck them" mode from the very first words to the final chantings by their candidate of "fight for" this, "fight for" that, "fight for" the other. That's what they wanted: to go out and knock someone's block off.

Of course, there was plenty of god, god, god. At one point, McCain mentioned that he had been a servant ostensibly to the country but as I learned from Evo yesterday, that word "servant" is code for "servant to god." And sure enough, when he said "servant" the second time, the camera zeroed in on a face in the crowd, lifted to the ceiling and mouthing the word "god," as if he actually saw somebody waving to him from overhead and urging him to go kick the shit out of a liberal.

Early in the speech, a couple of female protestors in the crowd how the fuck did they get in? were physically dragged from the premises, all of which was caught on camera. McCain asked the crowd: "Please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static." That may have been a good thing, because some strong macho war-machine otherwise might have decided to save America right there.

At one of the many times that McCain was crowing about what a reformer he'll be, one person in the hall held up a sign that said: "Mavrick." That misspelled word sums up exactly what I thought of the crowd's intellect.

I also learned something I hadn't been aware of before. McCain was once a Prisoner Of War. Did any of my readers know that?

The one thing to be optimistic about is how ineptly the speech was delivered. Obviously reading from a teleprompter, the Mavrick stumbled over words, misphrased a few sentences, and even skipped something he started to say when the crowd interrupted him with applause; either he or the teleprompter or both couldn't figure out where he'd left off. Some of the time, he didn't seem to know where the beginning of a sentence was leading. Once or twice, he paused for what he must have thought would be applause, although there was none. A few other times, he seemed to be surprised when the audience did hoot and holler.

Obama seemed so much more like a leader in his speech. I'm not sure he can translate that on the stump and in the debates, but if he can, the race is over. If not, he probably deserves to lose.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

You Can't Tell the Players Without a Scorecard

Sarah Palin is a dangerous and crazy right-wing creationist fundy, who believes in abstinence education, opposes abortion rights, and thinks the “controversy” should be taught in public schools.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, is a liberal Roman Catholic with alleged respect for the non-religious, who believes in real sex education, supports abortion rights, and — while not on the record in the bogus creationism-evolution debate — most likely supports the teaching of only science in the science classroom.

So here’s the tally, in their vice presidential acceptance speeches:

Mentions of “God”
Palin – 2; Biden – 8

Mention of “religion”
Palin – 1; Biden – 0

Mention of “faith”
in its specifically religious sense:
Palin – 0; Biden – 1
in its sneaky, subliminally religious sense (viz., “faith in the troops”)
Palin – 1; Biden – 0

Mention of a “cross”
Palin – 0; Biden – 1

Clearly, the Palin speechwriters decided to play down her rabid religiosity, to make her more palatable. But ... ummm ... What the fuck is going on here?

Friday, August 29, 2008

What Obama Must Do

Sarah Palin is a very bad choice — for Democrats. The Obama campaign needs to reevaluate their stupid strategy and tactics immediately. Here are some reasons why Palin should be making Republicans salivate.

  • She's hardcore pro-forced-maternity. She’s anti-gay. She’s got that whole Christian thing imbuing her with a godly glow. That will mobilize the fundies and give "undecided" woo-ists a good reason to abandon Obama.
  • She can say, over and over again, something along the lines of: “The Democratic candidates talk a lot about what they've done in the past for women. But the Republican party is the one that really empowers women today." I predict that she'll mention Hillary's "18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling” many, many times throughout the campaign.
  • She nullifies Biden. Because of his age and potential "chivalrousness," he will not be comfortable attacking her with full vigor. Or else, he'll look like an asshole, and probably put his foot in his mouth. She, on the other hand, can lace into him freely — and, no doubt, will.
  • As a former beauty queen and sports anchor, she won't be too threatening to Republican sexists, who will be able to dismiss her — privately of course — as "window dressing," all the while talking publicly about how egalitarian their party is.
  • She'll be able to play on the just-below-the-surface justifiable anger of middle-of-the-road white women, who feel as if their gender issues have once again been forced to take a back seat to African-American issues. This has been going on since shortly after the Civil War, when the word "male" was added to Section 2 (which addressed voting rights) of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • She's young enough for Republicans to fantasize about her running for president eight years (or only four!) from now, after she has raised her national profile in the vice presidency.
  • She's a fisherwoman and hunter, and her husband is a sportsman. She has been a member of the NRA all her life, and her husband is a longtime union member. Those blue-collar workers, the electoral base that, apparently, must be pandered to, will eat that up.
  • She really can call herself a maverick because she stood up to Republican insiders in Alaska, and raised hell about corruption within her own party. Pat Buchanan characterized her as "a reformer with guts." In fact, she ran her gubernatorial campaign as an agent of change. So the Democrats can no longer claim sole ownership of that word. (Biden, on the other hand, is clearly a Washington insider, no matter how many times he took the train back and forth during the last thirty-six years.)
  • She cut property taxes when she was mayor of Bumfuk ... excuse me, Wasilla. Americans hate property taxes.
  • She has a son going to Iraq in September, just as Biden does. So all the before-the-fact presumptive heroism of Beau Biden is moot now. On top of which, the Biden kid is a privileged captain, while her son is an enlistee first private.
So here are some things the Democrats must do if they want to win:
  • Immediately give up on pandering to the evangelical fascists, and start trying to excite freethinkers and other secularists, who are embittered by the constant god-pushing of the primaries and the convention.
  • Cede the gun-lovers to the Republicans. Advocate, loudly and proudly, for gun control.
  • Stop being so wishy-washy about abortion and categorizing women’s rights by how many months have elapsed in a pregnancy. Say Roe v. Wade as often as possible.
  • Don’t keep telling us what a good man John McCain is, and how he served his country heroically. He’s not a particularly good man; he’s a fucking hustler. And it doesn’t take any courage — or military savvy — to get shot down.
  • Resist the temptation to praise Hillary at every goddamned opportunity. Mentioning her over and over merely pours salt on the wounds of her supporters. She and Bill know that. Instead of singling her out, talk about how women will be empowered in an Obama administration. Maybe even make a promise to appoint women to the Cabinet and/or the Supreme Court.
  • Avoid characterizing Michelle as a wife and mother, and give her free rein to open her effective mouth and speak out strongly on the issues.
  • Don’t fall into lockstep with the Republicans on the Russia/Georgia situation. Point out how the Bush White House helped to instigate a world crisis.
  • Refer as often as possible to the Bush family’s friendship with the ruling Saudi theocrats. If necessary, trot out some photos of their mutual hugfests.
  • Come up with a substantive alternative energy plan, and explain how that will ultimately help Americans save money.
  • Talk about an education plan that will keep our public schools out of the hands of fundamentalists, who discourage children’s interest in science, and by so doing, may hinder future scientific advancements. Excoriate states that propose bills or amendments (like Florida 7 and 9) that will publicly finance religious teaching at the expense of secular education.
  • Drop all support for faith-based initiatives, reading aloud, if necessary, the First Amendment to the Constitution and appropriate passages from the writings of the Founding Fathers (for example: Thomas Jefferson's "Act for Establishing Religious Freedom" and James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance”). Remind Americans, again and again and again, that one of the things that makes our country great — and separates us from the Muslim world — is our absolute refusal to bow to the authority of religious extremists.
I don't know how the rest of you feel about my suggestions. But if Obama does all those things, he might actually earn my vote.