Thursday, May 31, 2007

Malaysia Sucks!

As ever, the BBC news website provides me with a steady stream of reports that inspire my anger and frustration. My outrage du jour comes from this article about a Malaysian woman who was raised as a Muslim named Azlina Jailani, but who for the last six years has tried to change her legal name to Lina Joy and her registered status from Muslim to Christian. Malaysia permits freedom of worship, but Malaysian citizens have to designate their religion, and ethnic Malays are predominantly Muslim.

After the Sharia court predictably rejected her request, Lina Joy appealed to Malaysia's High Court for relief. Unfortunately, the High Court "endorsed legal precedents giving Islamic Sharia courts jurisdiction over cases involving Muslims who want to convert."

The article quotes a Muslim protestor who stood outside the court as saying "You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another."

Oh really? Why not? But in any case, the fact that Lina Joy has been attending church since 1990 and was baptized in 1998 clearly demonstrates that her conversion to Christianity has been neither fanciful nor whimsical.

Many of my fellow atheist readers might dismiss Lina Joy's conversion from Islam to Christianity as simply trading one delusion for another, but what is important about this case is the principle that a person should be free to worship or not worship as he or she pleases. That is something very worthwhile that we should all have an interest in promoting.

Here is the website for the Malaysian Embassy in the United States. Send them your e-mails filled with righteous indignation at

Santhosh Paul Revisited

Longtime readers of my blog might remember this post I wrote last January about an Indian-American man named Santhosh Paul who tried to hire a hitman to kill his wife Tina Paul.

Ever since I added a sitemeter to my blog several weeks ago, I have noticed that I have been getting a lot of hits from people who search for "Santhosh Paul" in Google. So, a short while ago, for the sake of curiosity, I decided to search on and sure enough there were two articles that appeared today.

Newsday reports that Santhosh Paul pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and three counts of criminal facilitation. He was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison. In a related article, Tina Paul was able to get the restraining order lifted so that she can visit her husband in jail.

My favorite line from the second article was when Newsday reporter Ann Givens wrote, "The North Bellmore couple's marriage was strained last year when Santhosh was arrested for trying to hire a man to stab Tina to death." (Italics mine.)

Strained? STRAINED? A spouse gets caught cheating. A couple falls on hard times financially and has trouble paying the bills. Those are the kinds of things that put a strain on a marriage. Trying to hire someone to kill your wife? Somehow the word "strained" just doesn't seem to do justice to it.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Santhosh and Tina Paul after he gets out of prison, which will probably be within five to ten years. I just hope they don't have anymore children once they are reunited again. A husband who tries to have his wife murdered and a wife too stupid to leave that husband simply should not be allowed to breed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Exercise in Futility Meets Michelle Goldberg

As I posted last night, Michelle Goldberg was featured tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. It was the last appearance in her tour to promote the paperback edition of "Kingdom Coming," and as she is a Brooklynite, it only made sense to end the tour in her home town with a friendly local crowd.

Unfortunately for me, the babysitter for my kids got stuck in traffic and did not get to my house until 6:45 p.m. I had ahead of me a 20 plus mile drive from eastern Nassau to western Brookyln in rush hour traffic. At first, though, the traffic on the west bound Long Island Expressway (more popularly known as the LIE) flowed rather smoothly. But once I passed the border into Queens, the traffic slowed down frequently, and by the time I reached the Koszciuzko Bridge on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (the BQE), it was already 7:30. Still, I doggedly pressed on, and around 7:45 I found a parking spot several blocks away from the Barnes & Noble.

I ran the last couple of blocks and when I finally made it down to the lower level of the store where Michelle was giving her talk to the audience, I had to spend a few minutes catching my breath. But enough about me!

The audience probably numbered about twenty people. Michelle sat facing them from behind a table taking questions from the audience. Since I was about twenty minutes late, I don't know if she had read any excerpts from her book. Because of the small size of the crowd, it allowed for a more informal conversation between Michelle and the audience, which I liked. Several members of the crowd, including myself, were able to ask questions or raise comments throughout the course of the discussion instead of getting to speak only once.

During the course of researching "Kingdom Coming," Michelle would converse with people she would meet in the churches she visited. I asked her if any of them ever would make an argument to her that the cities where liberals lived had problems with out-of-wedlock births, crime, AIDS and other problems, as this was an argument I would hear a lot during my past lifetime as a right winger. To my surprise she said none of the people she spoke with brought that up, and that she wished they had. She said her response to that was that a lot of these problems are more prevalent in the conservative red states. She addresses this in page 67 of her book.

The conversation continued until around 8:30, whereupon the Barnes & Noble staff person announced that Michelle would sign copies of her book for those who were interested. I made my way around to await my turn, and as the Barnes & Noble staffer was standing near me, I asked her if she could be so kind as to take my picture with Michelle. She asked Michelle, who to my pleasant surprise, graciously agreed. I handed the lady my camera and stood behind the table next to Michelle. We posed, and the flash went off, but the Barnes & Noble lady said that we looked blurry in the camera lens, so she tried again. And again she cautioned that we were not focused properly in the lens. She did not seem inclined to try to position herself further back or to adjust the lens, and as it would be rude to try to take up any more of Michelle's time trying to get a crystal clear photograph with her, I left it at that. I should have the roll of film developed and on disk sometime next week.

I chatted with Michelle for another couple of minutes while she signed my book. I told her to write whatever witty phrase she liked the most, and she wrote: "TO TOM, SO GLAD YOU BECAME A CONVERT." I told her about my conversation with Republican Senator John Sununu at the Cato Institute event at the Waldorf Astoria, where I told him that fiscally conservative/socially liberal voters like myself felt alienated by a Republican Party dominated by the Religious Right.

All in all, despite getting there so late, I was glad I made it and had the opportunity to meet Michelle Goldberg. She was very friendly and approachable, and she strikes me as the kind of person you could enjoy spending all night with at a coffee shop talking about the issues of the day. On behalf of those of us who believe in the importance of secularism, pluralism and tolerance, I for one am very grateful that we have this wonderful lady on our side.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Michelle Goldberg Book Signing in Brooklyn - May 30

Michelle Goldberg, author of the book "Kingdom Coming," will be at the Barnes & Noble in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn on Wednesday, May 30, at 7:30 p.m., to read from sections of her book and to sign copies afterwards.

Michelle's book is an invaluable look at the Christian Right in this country. If you have not read it yet, I urge you to do so. And, if you are an atheist or secularist who lives in the New York City area and have some free time, come on down. I was fortunate enough to be able to secure a babysitter for my kids so that I can make this event. If you plan on being there and would like to say "hi," just look for a tall, skinny guy with brown hair, blue eyes and a Philippines t-shirt. However, be prepared to be drafted to take a picture of me with Ms. Goldberg.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Talk About An Exercise In Futility

I always liked the phrase "an exercise in futility," which is why I chose it as the name of this blog. As a bit of a history buff, I have noticed that the history of humanity is filled with exercises in futility. By that, I don't mean, as Christians often claim of atheists, that our lives are pointless. Life has whatever meaning we choose to give it. What I am referring to are great enterprises that are undertaken which often end up failing utterly in spite of the tremendous amounts of time, manpower, resources or expenditures expended to carry them out. Two big examples of this are the Great Wall of China and the Maginot Line. Both of these projects were conceived as impregnable defensive barriers to keep out enemies, which were barbarian tribes in the case of China and a resurgent Germany under Hitler for the French. In both cases, these defensive systems completely failed to achieve their purpose.

As for myself, today I experienced what could be described as an exercise in futility, pun included as it turns out. To put things in context, this coming weekend we will be having a birthday party for my son. Now, my boy, who will be turning six, is a big Spiderman fan, so of course his cake must have a Spiderman theme.

Yesterday, I drove to a Friendly's a couple of miles away on Jericho Turnpike in Syosset to see if I could order a Spiderman cake. To my disappointment, they did not offer Spiderman themed cakes and the man who appeared to be the shift manager candidly confessed to me that he did not believe that any of the restaurant's employees were skilled enough to custom make one. He recommended that I go to the Carvel's about a mile east on Jericho Turnpike. So, with my son in tow, I drove to the Carvel's to try my luck. When I got there, the only person on staff at the moment was a teenage boy who told me that they did not have any Spiderman themed cakes either. However, he offered that if I could provide an image of Spiderman, even a napkin, then they could create an edible design based on that image and put it on the cake.

I was very encouraged by this, as later in the day I was planning to go to this party store I knew of in Levittown, where I was going to buy the Spiderman plates, napkins, cups and other knick knacks for the party. After I had purchased these items, I remembered that another Carvel had reopened on Old Country Road in Plainview which is much closer to my house. I thought to myself, why bother driving back to the Carvel's in Syosset, given the price of gas, when tomorrow morning I can ride on my bicycle to the one in Plainview? I would be helping, however minutely, to lessen the demand for oil and to cut back on pollution.

So, this morning, I made ready to ride on my bike to the Carvel's on Old Country Road. But as I mounted my bicycle, which I had not ridden since last autumn, I realized that the tires were badly deflated and were in need of air. I knew that a nearby gas station had an air pump where I could fill the tires, so I decided to ride there first. A few minutes later, I was stopped at the southwest corner of the intersection of Woodbury Road and South Oyster Bay Road, waiting for the traffic light to turn red for the cross traffic on Woodbury Road, so I could make my way across to the gas station on the north side.

I looked up at the traffic light and saw it cycle from green to yellow and then to red. A car came to a stop in the left hand lane of the eastbound side of Woodbury Road. Feeling sufficiently safe, I started to move out onto the right lane at the stop lane. Instinctively, as I began to move off the sidewalk onto the street, I glanced to my left and saw to my shock and horror a car rapidly approaching in the right lane that was not slowing down.*** I immediately stopped and watched as the car sped past me and the traffic light, which had been red for several seconds, and contined eastward across the intersection.

"What the fuck is the matter with you!" I shouted at the top of my lungs at the woman driving the car, who based on my glimpse appeared to be in her late 30's, around my age. I then looked at the passengers in the car that had stopped in the left lane for the light. They were an elderly couple, with the lady being the passenger. They both had a shocked expression on their faces and they expressed their solidarity with me by shaking their heads in disapproval at the car they had also witnessed blow through the red light. "I'm sorry about the use of profane language!" I called out to them, but I don't think they heard me.

I then turned my attention back to the car driven by the thoughtless bitch who could have killed me had I not looked before fully committing myself to crossing the road. I watched as she drove a little further east on Woodbury Road and then turned right into the parking lot of the Woodbury Plaza shopping center on the east side of South Oyster Bay Road.

"I can't let this go," I thought to myself and resolved to confront her. I turned my bike around and alternated between watching her car and looking out for a window of opportunity to open up amidst the cars that were driving back and forth on South Oyster Bay Road.

I finally caught my break and made my way across the road, over the sidewalk and into the parking lot of Woodbury Plaza. By this time, the lady had parked her car and was walking towards the stores. She was heading for the entrance of the toy store. "That's nice!" I thought, "this stupid fuck blew through a red light and nearly hit me to go a toy store!"

I saw that I would not be able to close the distance between us before she made it inside the toy store, so just before she set foot on the curb, I called out "Hey lady, don't you know what traffic lights are for?" or something along those lines. She turned around to face me, from about fifty yards away, and said "I'm sorry! I'm really sorry!" Her tone, to my surprise, seemed genuinely remorseful. If there is one thing I really hate, it is when people who are called out in situations like that get all defensive and have an attitude. I can't remember what I said back to her. I think I told her to be more careful from now on. My tone was not hostile but rather like that of a moral lecturer. She repeated that she was sorry and I decided to leave it at that and continued on again to the gas station.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. After filling my tires with air, I rode to the Carvel's on Old Country Road and started explaining to the lady behind the counter what I had in mind. I showed her the Spiderman napkin I had and explained to her what I was told at the Syosset Carvel's. "Oh, I'm sorry, but we don't have the capability yet to do that here," she informed me. I felt tremendously disappointed. I came close to getting hit by a car ignoring a traffic signal on my way to fill my bike tires with air, and then the whole raison d'etre for doing so, to order a Spiderman cake for my son from a Carvel's that was within bike riding distance of my house, ended up not being possible. My noble intentions, to help cut down on gasoline usage and pollution, were thwarted. I would have to drive my car back to the Carvel's in Syosset to order the cake anyway. As I rode my bicycle back home, I managed to console myself that at the very least I did get some much needed exercise.

*** By the way, this is the same intersection I complained about to the police officer I blogged about in my Public Enemy post who ticketed me because he claimed I had made a right turn on red.

The Fruits of Homophobia

This article on the BBC web site about an attack by extremists on a peaceful gay pride march in Russia is a stark example of what happens when gays are demonized by those who cloak their bigotry in the mantle of religion and public morality.

While I am grateful that such brazen acts of mass violence do not happen here in the United States, when gays are vilified as freaks, perverts, and threats to traditional families, it contributes to a climate where violence against gays is viewed by some as not only acceptable, but necessary. And that is why I, a happily married straight guy, in case anyone is wondering, feels duty bound to speak out against homophobia.

Thank You For Not Provoking My Uncontrollable Lust

Lucien, a frequent commentator on uses the amusing image above as his avatar. It is also available for purchase on a t-shirt at, and I am seriously thinking of buying a couple of them.

I thought about this when I was at my dentist's office on Thursday morning getting my teeth cleaned by a female dental hygienist. In some Muslim countries, the idea of a young woman being alone in a room with a man who is not her husband or relative is haram, and to have that same woman educated and working as a dental hygienist cleaning that man's teeth is even more unthinkable.

The hygienist, who has cleaned my teeth a number of times over the past couple of years, is a modestly attractive raven haired young lady, probably in her early to mid-twenties. And yet not once during any of these sessions did I have so much as a single fleeting sexual thought about her. I was thinking how absurd it is that fundamentalist Muslims consider it scandalous for men and women to interact in such a way, and how we often take this freedom here in America for granted.

The image of the two niqab wearing women and the message that accompanies it demonstrates in a funny but sad way the misogyny that prevails in fundamentalist Islam, where it is assumed that unless women are adequately covered the men will be helpless to restrain themselves in their presence. An extreme manifestation of this perverse form of thinking occurred in Saudi Arabia in March of 2002, when the Saudi religious police prevented some girls from fleeing a fire in their school during the night because they were not wearing proper Islamic dress.

When it comes to dress codes, I'm a libertarian. I disagreed when the French government several years ago changed its policy to ban female Muslim students from wearing headscarves in French schools. If Muslim girls want to wear a headscarf because it gives them a sense of modesty, then I say they should be allowed to do so. At the same time, it is even more offensive when conservative Muslim societies seek to punish women who do not want to abide by strict Islamic dress codes. It reinforces primitive chauvinistic attitudes that the women are to blame for the misbehavior of men and turns a simple public expression of friendship into something scandalous and immoral. By treating the interaction of men and women in the workplace and the public square in this way, some Muslim countries retard their development because such attitudes effectively make it impossible for women to participate in the work force.

Unfortunately, there is probably not a hell of a lot that those of us who are freedom lovers can do about it. The Muslim world is not a monolith, and in some countries the trend will drift towards stricter dress codes, while in others the pendulum will swing towards liberalization. Meanwhile, there is nothing to stop us from at least making fun of it!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Sad Anniversary

This night last year, my father died. It had not occurred to me to blog about it, but earlier this evening I paid a visit to the Jolly Nihilist's blog. He has a new post up where he writes about his grandfather being diagnosed with terminal cancer. I decided to write about my father's death in the comments section, and then I thought, why not do a post about it on my blog?

My father was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. His doctor told him he would need to undergo surgery to have a stent put into the affected area. Here is a description of the procedure on the Mayo Clinic's web site. Dad had held off on getting the operation done because my mother had, and continues to have bouts of depression and anxiety. She would spend days on end in bed watching tv or sleeping, getting up only to use the bathroom or to get a drink or a bite to eat. Late in 2005, it had gotten so bad, that my dad had her admitted to a facility for electro-shock treatments.

Mom's condition did not improve much this time. In the past she would have periods of depression and then she would snap back to normal and be fine for months, and in some cases, years. In recent years though, her good streaks grew shorter and shorter. But dad's aneurysm had widened, so last May he finally resolved to undergo the surgery.

Very early on the morning of May 25, I rode with my father and mother to North Shore Medical Center in Manhasset. I initially thought I would be the one to drive, but dad insisted on driving to the hospital. Mom was very nervous and had hoped that I would be able to stay with her, but I had to work that day, though if memory serves I had scheduled to take the afternoon off. I said goodbye to dad, and I was struck by how carefree he seemed about everything in contrast to my mom.

Later that day, I drove back to the hospital and met with my mom in the waiting area. A short time later, the surgeon came out and told us that the surgery went well, though there were some problems with the artery in his left leg having hardened, so they had to perform a procedure to bypass to the artery in the right leg, or something like that. But apart from that, we were given the clear impression that my father was going to be alright.

I had to leave soon afterwards to pick my children up, but later that evening I returned to the hospital with my son to pick up my mom and take her home. When I got to the hospital, my mom told me that dad was not doing so well. He was barely cogent and visible in pain, with all kinds of tubes in him. I went in to see him and was shocked at the condition I saw him in. Still, I thought, maybe it was just normal for him to be like that after the surgery. I spoke to him reassuringly and told him to hang in there. He talked very little between groans, and I do not recall anything he might have said. When I left, I did not know then that I would never see him alive again.

The next day at work, my wife called me about 3 p.m. crying. She told me that my mom had called her from the hospital and told her that my dad was dying. I was stunned. I left work early and made my way to the hospital as fast as I could after I took the train back to Hicksville. I can't remember if I drove my brother Bobby with me or if he was already at the hospital when I got there.

When I got to the room where they had my father, he was on life-support. Apparently, the stent had gotten loose and caused massive internal bleeding that the doctors could not stop. His sheets were stained from the blood that had seeped out of him. It was hard to square the bloated and unconscious body that lay on the hospital bed before me with the the seemingly upbeat man I had said goodbye to the morning of the day before.

Bobby told the hospital staff that since dad was a Catholic that a priest should be summoned to give dad his last rites. The staff member told us they would make the arrangements.

As I described in a post months ago, my dad was an obedient church-going Catholic, though I never saw him read a Bible. He was raised Irish-Catholic, and I got the sense that he went to church because it was ground into him at an early age that it was the way things were supposed to be.

Dad knew I was an atheist and clearly was not happy about it, but he never actually asked me why I was an atheist. But as much as it may have displeased him, I was also the only one of his three sons who was a responsible person in a stable marriage, so I guess it was something he felt he had to begrudge to me. On the other hand, as much as I loved my father and all the generosity he showed to me and my wife, I was always troubled by his racist attitudes, particularly towards blacks. When I was growing up, he would casually use derogatory terms like "nigger" and "porchmonkey." I am sure he was raised to think that way by my grandfather, and his job as a New York City police officer probably did not contribute to enlightened feelings of interracial harmony. For some reason, the racism that he and my two older brothers expressed never rubbed off on me. At an early age, the idea of being prejudiced towards people because of their race struck me as wrong. Maybe it had to do with watching "Roots" when I was 8 or 9 years old, or that I had a major crush on Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek.

While Bobby had wandered off to smoke a butt and get a bite to eat, the priest finally arrived. And to my intense amusement, the priest was black. Judging by his accent, I think he was from Africa. As sad as I was about my dad's death, I couldn't help but find humor in the fact that my Archie Bunker-like father was getting his last rites read to him by a black priest. I wondered, if my father was able to look down upon the scene, what he would have thought of it. "Ahhh, why couldn't they get me an Irish priest?" he might have remarked.

I went off to look for Bobby and saw him coming towards me from down the hallway. I called out to him that the priest had arrived and acknowledged with a "Good." Then I said to him, with a knowing smile, "And wait until you see him." Bobby understood what I meant and made a slight chuckle.

While the priest spoke to my mom and read out the last rites, I stood apart from them with a sort of remote detachment. After the priest was finished and left, we instructed the staff to take my father off of life support. Then, for probably the next ten or fifteen minutes, we watched the lines and measurements on the displays grow slower and flatter until finally they had all flatlined. My dad was gone. My life would not be the same again.

God Is Running Out of Gas

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my best sources of inspiration for topics to post about can be found in my mail box.

I received a solicitation in the mail from an organization called Wycliffe Associates, which was founded in 1967 to "support and encourage Bible translators."

According to this organization, there are several hundred Bible translators living in isolation on the island nation of Papua New Guinea. These translators "must cope with... treacherous landscapes, hazardous mountain trails, earthquakes, and 400 inches of rain per year! And they must work for years to complete a translation. How do they do it?"

"Obviously by the prayers and support of Christians. But there is one tool that has probably done more to keep them on the field than any other: the airplane. I am writing because the use of that tool is now threatened. The reason is "avgas," aviation fuel, is getting scarce and expensive. And the situation is getting worse, now affecting more than 20 piston-driven aircraft - the primary aircraft that serves these Bible translators in remote locations."

The answer to their prayers is a new aircraft called the KODIAK, which unlike the Cessnas currently in use, can be fueled with jet fuel rather than avgas. But in order to purchase a KODIAK, the Wycliffe Associates need to raise $880,000 as soon as possible or else there might be "a delay of perhaps years when Bibleless people will have the Word of God."

Hurry up and donate now, or else the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the Universe will be unable to have its truth revealed to the last few redoubts of pagan heathenism left in the world.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Friday Funnies - Shaq and Dr. Phil Get Sawed

I thought "Scary Movie 4" was pretty lame, but there were a few scenes that were pretty funny. This opening scene with Shaquille O'Neal and Dr. Phil doing a spoof of "Saw" was one of the better parts of the movie.

Atheist Gives Millions to NYC Catholic Schools

On the train ride home tonight, I was reading today's edition of The New York Daily News and this article caught my attention.

Robert Wilson, a wealthy philanthropist (is there any other kind?) and self described atheist, gave the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York City $22.5 million to help Catholic schools. According to the article, "Wilson decided to give so generously after hearing that many seats in Catholic schools go unfilled because parents of deserving kids can't afford the cost."

The press release by the Archdiocese in response to the donation is here. Cardinal Egan thanked Mr. Wilson for his generous gift but said that Wilson was still going to burn in hell when he dies.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pew Research Survey on Muslim-Americans

Here is the report. It is over a 100 pages and I have not had a chance to read it yet. I will update and add comments along the way.

Newt Gingrich Wants To Convert You To Christianity

For your reading displeasure, here is the text of the commencement speech that former Speaker of the House and undecided Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich gave several days ago to the graduating class of 07' at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

While I would certainly agree that not every expression of religious belief should result in a knee-jerk reaction, such as a public school student or teacher sporting a crucifix necklace, why is it that Newt Gingrich does not seem to have a problem with the late Falwell making public pronouncements such as AIDS being God's just punishment against homosexuals. Not only are such statements insulting to gays, but they also promote a climate of intolerance towards gays. If Newt is fine with that, then maybe his two divorces should be rubbed in his face in every public appearance he makes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

World War Two Myths and the Apocalyptic "Pro-Family" Right

Max Blumenthal here at the Raw Story reports about James Dobson and other "pro-family" evangelical leaders meeting with President George Bush to discuss Iraq, Iran and international terrorism. The first thing that occurred to me is "Why the f--k is President Bush speaking to James Dobson about these issues?" I want President Bush to talk to people who are knowledgeable in combating terrorism, dealing with the violence and security problems in Iraq that are spiraling out of control, and engaging with Iran about its nuclear program. What the hell is James Dobson going to tell him, except maybe spout Bible quotes.

And how is continuing the war in Iraq a "pro-family" issue? When you look at all of the wives who have lost husbands, children who have lost mothers and fathers, and parents who have lost sons and daughters, it would seem to me that the Iraq war is anti-family. Or put it this way, it is hard to take seriously the hysterical claims of the Religious Right that allowing gays to marry and adopt children is a threat to "traditional families" when you consider how many American families, those military families that Evangelicals profess to love so much, have been damaged by IED's in Iraq.

What also caught my interest is near the end, when Dobson tried to draw a parallel between Adolf Hitler and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Like so many of the historically ignorant, he claims that "if we didn't stand up to Hitler, we'd be speaking German today."

America stood up to Hitler because he declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, just a few days after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It's not as though FDR was like some gentle giant who suddenly decided to step in and stop a bully boy Hitler from beating up the other kids in the school playground. It is also often overlooked by those who spout misinformed World War Two analogies that for all the talk of Britain standing alone against Hitler until the Americans rode in like the cavalry to save the day, it was the Soviet Union that absorbed the brunt of the German Wehrmacht during that fateful year in 1941. Two days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Soviets had halted the German advance at the outskirts of Moscow and were beginning their counteroffensive. There was never any chance of Hitler forcing the American people to speak German because by the time Hitler had declared on the United States, the tides of war had already started to shift against him.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

More On Mitt Romney

Since my prior post about Mitt Romney's campaign to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, I have been perusing his campaign web site to learn more about him. In retrospect, I should have done this before the earlier post, but hey, nobody's perfect!

Well, it turns out that on social issues, Romney is worse than I thought. In press release after press release, he is quoted touting his opposition to same-sex marriage and civil unions, to abortion, and to Plan B emergency contraception. In his January 11, 2007 press release, he is quoted in one paragraph that he "led the fight to preserve traditional marriage. I've taken every legal step I could conceive of, to prevent same sex marriage." And then, in the last sentence, Romney is quoted, apparently without any sense of irony, "I've fought discrimination. I believe every American deserves equal opportunity."

But the hypocrisy gets even better. A couple of days earlier, a January 9, 2007 press release announces that South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint was going to serve as Mitt Romney's Senior Advisor. As I wrote in my May 9, 2007 post "Exercise In Futility At The Waldorf Astoria," Senator DeMint supports banning gays and unmarried pregnant women from teaching in public schools.

While I support abortion rights for women, I can understand reasons why people are against abortion. I don't necessarily agree with their reasons, but I understand where they are coming from. But what I absolutely cannot accept is that if an unmarried female public school teacher gets pregnant and decides to keep the baby, that the Jim DeMints of the world want to then deny her the right to work in her chosen profession. You see, it is vile hypocrisy to describe the restriction of abortion by couching it in lofty terms like "promoting a culture of life" and then preventing the child's mother from earning a living to provide that child with a decent place to live and medical care. What if the pregnancy was inadvertent? Or, what if the woman intended to marry the father but then the man left her or they realized they were not right for each other?

And what is up with barring homosexuals from teaching? Are these homophobes afraid that gay teachers will prey on their students? Funny that most of the cases I read about in the news involved married women sleeping with their male students. Maybe we need to ban married women from teaching in public schools if we want to be consistent. Or, as Mitt Romney is quoted again in a February 2, 2007 press release, "And I believe in treating all people with respect and dignity and tolerance despite our differences." Bullshit Mitt! All people should be treated with dignity and respect, according to you and your supporters, except for people you do not approve of. We can't let school children see gays and single moms as flesh and blood human beings, so we as a society have to wall them off and make them pariahs in order to make it easier to hate and judge them.

Back to the gay marriage issue, in his address to the Massachusetts Citizens for Life on May 10, 2007, in discussing the Massachusetts Supreme Court's 4-3 decision in support of gay marriage, Romney asked rhetorically in response to the decision, "No rational reason? How about children? Isn't marriage about the development and nurturing of children? And isn't a child's development enhanced by access to both genders, by having a mother and a father?"

Taking Romney's argument to its extreme, if marriage is about children, then heterosexuals who do not intend to have children should not be allowed to marry either. Let's be consistent then and ban women who are past child bearing age from getting married. But what I really find repugnant about "the welfare of the children" argument is that the Romney viewpoint automatically gives a pass to a man and woman getting married regardless of whether their motivations are pure or if they are emotionally or financially able to care for children.

Back in January of this year, I did a series of posts about my brother Bobby, who is an alcoholic and is twice divorced. It is my understanding that after he and his first wife split, she gave birth to a baby girl that might be his that he will never see. He also is divorced from his second wife Chris, and she is currently living in the Poconos with their three children. Last year Bobby's eldest son was arrested for selling drugs in Chris's apartment and the middle child, the daughter, had truancy problems with school. If my brother Bobby managed to charm another woman to fall for him and want to marry him, Mitt Romney would be okay with that, but if two gay professionals want to get married and raise a child, Romney would have us believe it will lead to the breakdown of American society. Do any "tradishnul' valyas" visitors to this site care to tell me what I'm getting wrong here?

So in conclusion, I would not support a Mitt Romney candidacy for president.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Funnies - "Have You Met the Poor?"

"Time Bandits" was one of my favorite movies when I was a teenager growing up in the Eighties. This is the scene when Kevin and the midgets meet Robin Hood.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Political Dynastification of America

Here is an interesting article from the "Lexington" column in the current issue of The Economist.

With the very real possibility that Hillary Rodham Clinton might be elected President of the United States in 2008, a lot of people are starting to take notice that if she does win, then every president who has served since 1989 will have either been a Bush or a Clinton.

An important observation made in the article from The Economist is that "the dynastification of [America's] political life also points to a deeper problem: the fact that America is producing a quasi-hereditary political elite, cocooned in a world of wealth and privilege and utterly divorced from most people's lives."

Not to keep picking on Hillary Clinton, but the sentence I quoted above made me recall her first campaign to represent my state of New York in the United States Senate. The Clintons purchased a house in Chappaqua, in Westchester County north of New York City, to establish their residency in the state. I remember reading, in The New York Times I believe, where she expressed shock at how high the property taxes were in Westchester County. "Thanks for pointing out the obvious!" the rest of us could have told her. But why were astronomical property taxes such a shock to the then First Lady? The answer is simple, from 1983 until the purchase of the house in Chappaqua in 1999, Hillary Clinton lived in either the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock, Arkanas, or the White House in Washington, D.C. She did not have to contend with paying property taxes, electric bills, or a monthly mortgage.

Of course, this does not mean that a politician such as Hillary Rodham Clinton or anyone else from a politically prominent family such as the Bushes or the Kennedys is incapable of understanding the lives and problems of ordinary folks (though one can't help but remember episodes like George Bush Sr. expressing fascination with a barcode scanner when he visited a supermarket during his presidency) or of crafting good policies to help better the lives of low income workers and middle class Americans. Neither should the spouse or relative of an elected official have their background used against them if they can demonstrate that they are qualified and competent candidates.

Still, I don't believe it is a healthy thing for political life in America to be increasingly dominated by a handful of political families. One need only read this article on the BBC website about how many powerful families in the Philippines often obtain a lock on provincial elected offices and the violence that can stem from it. The article closes with the BBC correspondent asking a Filipino worker how he feels about the same families dominating the provincial government of Masbate province for so many generations. "What can we do?" he tells the correspondent, "No-one else but the big families will run because no-one else has enough money."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Has Anyone Here Ever Eaten in an Afghan Restaurant?

The reason I ask is because in Hicksville, there are three Afghan restaurants within several blocks of the train station. There is a large Indian community in Hicksville, and a plethora of Indian restaurants along a stretch of Broadway south of the train tracks. I'm guessing that Afghan cuisine must be somewhat similar to Indian food. Have any visitors here dined in an Afghan restaurant? If so, what did you eat and how did you like it?

Buddhist Cravings in Thailand

I may not be an expert on Buddhism, but I'm pretty sure this is not in accordance with The Four Noble Truths.

Satan on God

The Supreme Evil One, played brilliantly by David Warner in "Time Bandits", discusses what he believes to be God's shortcomings with respect to technology.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Considering the Candidates - Mitt Romney - UPDATED

As the presidential campaign kicks into high gear a year and a half before the actual election, we here in America can look forward to opening our mail boxes every week or so and finding solicitations from the various candidates asking us to contribute to them. Several days ago I received one from Republican candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Just as one would expect from any Republican presidential candidate, Romney's appeal letter is sprinkled throughout with obligatory praises to Ronald Reagan. Romney touts his success in founding Bain Capital, his "rescuing" of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, where he boasts that after taking office at a time when "the state was in a dire financial crisis," he took "dramatic steps" and "presided over a dramatic reversal of state fortunes and a period of sustained economic expansion." If Romney's term as governor had been any more "dramatic" it would have been made into a Martin Scorsese film.

I had known about Mitt Romney since he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy back in the early 1990's. He had a reputation as a liberal Republican, and if memory serves, not a few conservatives labelled Romney as a RINO, or Republican In Name Only. But now that Romney is seeking nationwide office, he has to appeal to a more conservative electorate than that of the relatively liberal New England state of Massachusetts. And that of course means courting the Evangelical base of the Republican Party, which entails disavowing past support for abortion rights, gay rights, and embryonic stem cell research. And, if that were not bad enough, it apparently also means that Mitt Romney feels compelled to suck up to this guy:

As much as I don't like it, I understand that evangelical Christians are a large and influential voting block in this country and that any serious candidate for the presidency, or at least the Republican nomination for the presidency, has to appeal to them. But it sickens me when Republican candidates feel obliged to appear chummy in public with the likes of Pat Robertson or the recently departed Jerry Falwell, because when they do they legitimize these mean-spirited and bigoted preachers as legitimate standard bearers for moral values.

And, as this Washington Post article points out, there is at least a segment of Evangelical voters that are not too thrilled with Romney's Mormon background. As Christopher Hitchens has quipped several times on his recent television appearances, "don't you always love to see how the Christians really love one another?"

Personally, I care not a whit about Romney's Mormon faith. As an atheist, it is bizarre to me how any sane thinking person can take the claims of Mormonism seriously. But then again, it is probably only zanier than Catholicism and the various other Christian denominations by a matter of degrees. I actually think that being a Mormon could be a plus in Romney's favor, because as a member of a religion that is still not quite considered mainstream within the United States, I should like to think that Romney would have a greater appreciation for tolerance and pluralism. Maybe I am wrong, but the Religious Right would not carry the same clout in a Mitt Romney administration as it has with the current administration of George W. Bush.

My take on Mitt Romney at the present time is that he is a man of some accomplishment, and unlike the current occupant of the White House, Romney actually succeeded in the business world. But as a politician, Romney is not solidly grounded, and he seems to sway either liberal or conservative depending on the direction of the prevailing winds. He also lacks a dynamic personality or rhetorical flair that could inspire a large turnout for him. That being said, I believe that his background makes him qualified to be President of the United States and I could probably live with it if he ended up being elected. He certainly has the potential to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination, though it remains to be seen if his candidacy will develop any traction.
Well, Romney's remarks on the death of Jerry Falwell certainly lessen any appeal that Romney might have had for me:
"An American who built and led a movement based on strong principles and strong faith has left us. He will be greatly missed, but the legacy of his important work will continue through his many ministries where he put his faith into action.
"Ann and I have had the honor to talk and meet with Reverend Falwell and get to know him as a man of deep personal faith and commitment to helping those around him. He will be forever remembered."
Here's a column by Max Blumenthal at The Nation about Falwell, and any candidate who praises his legacy should be specifically asked to respond to Falwell's anti-segregationist background.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Night Funnies

This is a funny clip from one of my favorite movies of all time, "Shaun of the Dead".

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Exercise In Futility At The Waldorf-Astoria - Part 2

After the Cato speakers were finished, it was time to head across the lobby lounge to the dining area where Ayaan Hirsi Ali would address the attendees. As I was making my way across, I felt a tap on my right shoulder. I looked back and a rather attractive blonde lady who looked to be in her late 40's or early 50's said to me that she appreciated that I spoke up on behalf of reproductive rights for women.

I settled down at a table that was to the far left of the speaker's podium. After lunch and dessert had been served, it was time for Ms. Ali to address the audience. She spoke for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then took some questions from the audience. I noticed her bodyguards, two tall and stocky African-American men. One stood by the doorway, while the second paced the wall at the end of the room to her right. Ms. Ali speaks with a soft voice and has a pleasant accent, and she comes across as having a very sharp intellect. See here a clip of her recent appearance on Bill Maher's Real Time.

I don't recall much of her main remarks (click here for another blogger who attended the event and provides a good summary of Ms. Ali's remarks), but I remember several things she said during the question and answer segment. In response to a question from one audience member about whether she had any concerns about fundamentalist Christianity in the United States, she answered that she had not been imposed upon, and added that since in America she has the freedom to choose who she associates with, she does not associate with religious people. Ms. Ali also condemned those who would try to teach Biblical creationism in our schools and promote the indoctrination of our children with religious superstition. As she spoke, I managed to snap several pictures of her.

At the end of the Q&A, Ms. Ali was given a big round of applause and made her way out the door of the dining room with her bodyguards and a Cato Institute staff member. With my camera and my copy of "Infidel" in hand, I had already started heading for the door. But as fast as I was trying to go while trying to navigate my way through the crowd, a young lady behind me pleaded with me to go faster. Ms. Ali, her bodyguards and the Cato staffer had stopped at the steps outside the dining hall entrance and were talking amongst themselves. The Cato staffer was asking if Ms. Ali could stay to sign some books and the bodyguards indicated that she had to leave soon but assented to allow Ms. Ali to stay for a moment. They descended down the steps to the lobby area. As I approached Ms. Ali, the young lady who had been eagerly pressing me on in the dining area went up to Ms. Ali and introduced herself as a Turkish woman. She had some issue with Ms. Ali's remarks about Islam, but her tone was not hostile but rather friendly and pleading. The Turkish woman gesticulated with her hands as she conversed with Ms. Ali, prompting one of the bodyguards to tell her to keep her hands down.

Ms. Ali signed the Turkish woman's copy of "Infidel" as she spoke with her. During a brief lull in their conversation, I handed Ms. Ali my copy of her book, and as she signed it, I told her that my wife really enjoyed the book. She cracked a quick smile but did not make eye contact with me. The Turkish woman continued to converse with her and a crowd began to gather around us as more people sought to get their copies of the book autographed. I stepped back a bit and took a few more pictures of Ms. Ali, as the lighting was much better than in the dining room, plus I was closer to her as well. Seeing Ms. Ali up close, I thought she looked younger than her 37 years. If I were not already a married man, I think she is someone I definitely would liked to have taken out on a date.

At one point, there was a gap in the crowd just a little bit to her right side and behind her. I asked a guy standing near me if he could take a picture of me standing next to her, but he declined, citing his concern about the bodyguards. He chuckled a bit when I asked him, and I said, "Yeah, I know, it's pathetic." Realizing I would not achieve my goal of being photographed with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I held up my camera and pointed it towards me, positioning myself so that she was behind my left shoulder, and pressed the button. Unfortunately, I still have not invested in a digital camera, so I will have to wait until I use up the roll of film in my camera and get it developed to see how the picture came out. I don't have high expectations.

As time went on, one of the bodyguards urged Ms. Ali to wrap things up. She started signing the books faster, and unlike her earlier signings, including mine, she stopped writing in the date. Finally, it was time to go and she was on her way. I should have the film developed by some time next week and if any of the pictures came out alright I will post them here. All in all, I felt it was a worthwhile experience. I did not achieve everything I set out to accomplish, and to borrow from former president Jimmy Carter, it was "an incomplete success."

Exercise In Futility At The Waldorf-Astoria - Part 1

Today I attended a luncheon seminar presented by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, in conjunction with the Donald and Paula Smith Family Foundation at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

My interest in attending was twofold. First, John Sununu, the Republican Senator from New Hampshire, was slated to give the keynote address on the topic "Restoring the Republican Revolution". I anticipated that Senator Sununu was going to be talking about how the Republican Party lost its way by abandoning its limited government principles for the sake of pork-barrel spending. In the event that he would be taking questions from the audience at the end of his talk, I wanted to address an entirely different concern I have about the Republican Party.

But the highlight of the day's events was a luncheon address to be given by Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I had been familiar with Ms. Ali since the murder of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a Moroccan immigrant. But my interest increased when I recently saw her on TV, either on Jon Stewart's show or Steven Colbert's, in which she said that she considered herself to be an atheist. "Yeah, way to go!" I said to myself. In anticipation of attending the luncheon, I purchased her new book "Infidel", and made it my goal to (1) get her to sign my copy of her book, and (2) try to get someone to take my camera and snap a picture of the two of us.

After some brief opening remarks by Ed Crane, president of the Cato Institute, Senator Sununu took the podium to deliver his speech. As I expected, Sununu focused on the importance of the Republican Party standing on principle for limited government and low taxes. He referred repeatedly to late President Ronald Reagan with regard to presenting the American people with a vision of liberty and prosperity instead of constantly trying to appeal to voters with grab bag pieces of legislation or initiatives for the sake of winning elections. Senator Sununu was a decent, if not terribly charismatic speaker. With his eyeglasses, he comes across as a likeable nerd. He also has a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, so he is clearly a bright guy.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Senator Sununu agreed to take some questions from the audience, which by my estimate numbered about 150 people. I raised my hand sharply, as in line with my expectations, he did not address social issues or the influence of the Religious Right on the Republican Party. After being passed over several times, Sununu pointed to me, and one of the Cato staffers brought the microphone over to me. Being a bit of a nervous speaker in public, my comments and question were less sharp and more open-ended than I originally intended. While I cannot recall what I said word for word, my remarks were basically along the lines of "Senator Sununu, like yourself, I believe in things like limited government, pro-growth economic policies and good stuff like that. However, I am very concerned about the growing influence of the Religious Right on the Republican Party. I consider myself to be liberal on social issues and support gay rights and reproductive rights for women. Is there room for someone like me in your party?"

"Absolutely!" Senator Sununu replied. He basically said that as long as there was agreement about limited government principles, then we were all Republicans. But then he took a verbal tack, and to my annoyance, inverted the point I raised. He said that the Republican Party was the party that accommodated differing opinions about issues like abortion, and that it was the Democrats that had little tolerance for "pro-life" candidates in their party. That was when I figuratively kicked myself for botching the question. I wanted to throw at him some specific examples of what turned me off from the Republican Party, such as Sununu's Senate colleague Jim Demint of South Carolina, who according to Michelle Goldberg in her book "Kingdom Coming", wants to ban unmarried pregnant women from teaching in public schools. Then there is the sucking up of Republican presidential candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney to villains of the Religious Right such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Needless to say, I was disappointed in myself.

I stepped out of the room to use the bathroom. After I was done taking care of business, I walked back to the room and as I was starting up the stairs, there was Senator Sununu coming down the same stairs, followed by someone who might have been one of his staff members. The senator looked at me and stretched out his right hand to me. I took his hand for a quick shake and he said, "That was a good question you asked," and then was on his way. I felt a tad better, because as weak as my jab was, I did at least succeed in getting across to the senator that there were voters who agreed with fiscally conservative policies but felt alienated from the Republican Party because of their liberal social views.

The next two speakers at the seminar were a couple of Cato research fellows discussing topics that did not interest me very much, so I stepped outside for a few minutes to call a friend on my cell phone and catch some fresh air. While I stood on the sidewalk outside the Park Avenue entrance, I observed Cato Senior Fellow Jerry Taylor emerge from one of the revolving doors and whip out a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. Taylor is a noted critic of government energy policies and global warming alarmism, so as he lit up his Marlboro, I said to him jokingly, "Aren't you contributing to global warming?" We chatted amiably for about five minutes or so, and I was pleasantly surprised when he expressed his agreement with me about the Religious Right's influence on the Republican Party and confessed that he had voted for John Kerry in 2004, as I did. Taylor also expressed his disgust with the Iraq War and for what he considered to be the incompetence of the Bush Administration in general.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Slippery Slope

What does it say about the values of Iranian religious culture that finds it perfectly acceptable for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to publicly call for the wiping out of Israel and denying the Holocaust, but condemns him when he does this? I almost feel a slight shred of sympathy for the bastard.

Most of us are probably familiar with the "slippery slope" argument. It is the argument used by dogmatic conservatives and reactionaries to deny granting someone the freedom to do a particular thing, because then it will result in the breakdown of the very fabric of society itself. For example, Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly has argued that if gay marriage is legalized, then eventually it will lead to people wanting the legal right to marry goats! Yeah, sure Bill, as if a goat can consent to marriage with a human. I can picture the ceremony. The justice of the peace asks, "Do you, Sally Goat, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?" Then the groom shouts, "You hear that, that 'bwahahahaha!', that was a YES!"

So of course the theocrats of Iran have to condemn President Ahmadinejad. Otherwise impressionable young Iranian boys will start getting woodies in their pants at the mere sight of elderly ladies in headscarfs and black coats. Young men will start marrying 80-something old hags instead of nubile young women of child bearing age. Iran's population will plummet to below replacement level, it won't be able to field an army to defend itself, leaving the country vulnerable to invasion and colonization by Israel. So that is why, folks, that President Ahmadinejad should not kiss the hands of kindly old ladies in public, because ultimately it is a matter of national security.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Return of Exercise in Futility

Posting will resume again shortly. I had some tech people work on my computer this evening and the hated Netscape browser is gone. For now I am using Internet Explorer 7.0. I know IE is not popular with tech savvy people, but it is an improvement over Netscape. For one thing, I can now create posts at home in Compose mode, whereas before I had to do it at work. This cut into the time I had to create substantive posts.

Hopefully I will have some posts up before week's end. And I expect to be able to pull off a big coup next week. Stardust already has the privilege of knowing what it is going to be. I won't say yet what it is, but suffice it to say it would make Anthony Michael Hall's character in the movie "Sixteen Candles" proud.