Life and Living: The Commonalities Between Snakes, Knives, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Flirting with death? From l. to r. - Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

Flirting with death? From l. to r. – Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

     Now, they say that Blondes have more fun, but personally, I don’t think that’s true. In fact, it appears that some rural Kentuckians are having far more fun than even Blondes do; (ready for it?) indeed, more fun than they can shake a snake at! (Cue sad trombone.) Why else would someone want to risk their life doing something, even after their own father has lost his life in the very same way?

     That’s what Cody Coots, the new pastor of the Middlesboro, Kentucky “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name” church, says that he’s prepared to do. (1) For those of you, my fine young readers, that aren’t familiar with the story, we’ll climb into the proverbial Chronosphere, and like Jonathan LaPaglia on the late-nineties show, jump back seven days…

     Last Saturday, Middlesboro, Kentucky pastor Jamie Coots lost his life, having been bitten by one of the poisonous snakes that he and fellow attendees of the Full Gospel Tabernacle are so fond of messing with in the “name of Jesus.” (2) They believe that, according to bible passage Mark 16:18, if their faith is strong, that those pesky little snakebites won’t hurt them at all;

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
(Mark 16:18, KJV)

     Now, I’ve suggested in the days since that either the Bible is wrong, that Pastor Coots misinterpreted it, or that he wasn’t “anointed” in the first place. Indeed, during my initial flirtations with this topic on Facebook, one of my friends even suggested that the elder Coots had been “released from his calling,” to which I responded with a reference to Romans 11:29, which basically states that God doesn’t “issue recalls.” The debate, though, isn’t quite about that. The true crux of the issue here, in my own not-so-humble opinion, is once again, where faith meets religion, and religion’s never-ending propensity for the misapplication of faith…or does the “rabbit hole” go even deeper?

     Another friend once told me that the Bible is a “scary” thing. I don’t think so. The Bible, in and of itself, is just a book. This book cannot act of its own volition, can it? No. It requires a human element to use it, whether that be for good or ill. In that discussion, I likened the Bible to a kitchen knife. As everyone knows, a kitchen knife is a tool, designed and purposed to aid in the preparation of food for consumption. We don’t fear kitchen knives, do we? If I take a paring knife out and set it on the counter next to an apple, will that knife jump up, and cut my apple into several neat, little slices for me to eat? Likewise, will it jump up and stab someone? No, but it can be used to those ends! Once again, it requires the interaction of a person. In my opinion, some degree of accountability must be assigned to the person or people who are using the tool.

     Cody Coots has said that if he gets bitten by the snake, then he, like his father, will decline emergency treatment. He states that if he dies, then it must be “God’s will.” (Question: if there is a gun on the table that one knows is loaded and has a round in the chamber, and one picks up that gun, points it at their head and says, “If I die when I pull this trigger, then it’s God’s will,” and then pulls the trigger and dies, whose will was it actually that this person died?)

     Personal accountability. It’s something that, quite honestly, is fading fast in America. In 1968, then-Governor Ronald Reagan mused on this concept during a speech to the Republican National Convention when he stated;

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

     So, at what point do we hold a person or group of people accountable for their actions? In the course of asking this question, I’m reminded of the recent, tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, before anyone starts accusing me of trying to “capitalise on the death of a good and decent man,” please read on a bit.

     As a lot of you know, Hoffman was found in his West Village, Manhattan apartment back on the 2nd of this month, dead of a Heroin overdose. Several small bags were found, and Hoffman died with a needle in his vein. (3) Since that day, those following and commenting on the sad story, have done what people often do; play the “blame game,” and attempt to find some kind of meaning in an otherwise meaningless death. They blame the drug. They blame the pusher. They blame the stresses of celebrity life…but does anyone ever place even a smidgen of the blame for Hoffman’s demise…on Hoffman?

     This needle, like any other needle I suspect, would not have been able to simply jump up and enter Hoffman’s arm. His supplier didn’t dose him, nor did any other Tinseltown actor or agent. No, Philip Seymour Hoffman did this to himself, knowing full well the dangers of what he was doing. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better we’ll be at viewing things like this objectively. Of course, there will still be those select few who, like Coots and progeny, will blame their own and others’ ill-fated actions on everyone else, including their God.

 

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Faith and Religion: Does Catholicism Plus Health Care, Equal Government Shutdown?

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l - Cardinal Sean O'Malley, r - ArchBishop William Lori.

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l – Cardinal Sean O’Malley, r – Archbishop William Lori.

     Fade in, Uncle Sam is lying on the ground, partially incapacitated. He’s been shot multiple times, by John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the GOP House leadership. While Cantor stands in the road and attempts to block the ambulance’s arrival, (1) the “CSI” of public examination and opinion is looking over the crime scene, trying to piece together what exactly has happened. As it turns out, one of the bullets can be traced…back to the Catholic Church! (This is the point where Horatio Caine dons his sunglasses, and utters a one-liner about the crime not being exactly…holy.)

     It’s an intriguing story, lacking only the beginning strains of The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” to complete the scene. The story is based on actual events, with origins tracing back well beyond the passage of PPACA in 2010. Given enough time and page space, I could regale you with a long treatise on the church’s history of government entanglements, however I’d like to keep your attention, while not taking up too much of your time, my fine young readers! So, we’ll just get right into the substance of the story, starting with 2010 and PPACA. (2)

     Although the specific text regarding the coverage of contraceptives, known as the “Contraceptive Mandate,” cannot be found within the 906 pages of Public Law 111-148, section 2713 does contain a general mandate for insurers to cover, with no cost-sharing requirements, the following items:

‘‘(1) evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force;
(2) immunizations that have in effect a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with respect to the individual involved; and
(3) with respect to infants, children, and adolescents, evidence-informed preventive care and screenings provided for in the comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
(4) with respect to women, such additional preventive care and screenings not described in paragraph (1) as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration for purposes of this paragraph.”

     Pursuant to item (4) in the list above, in January of last year, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling requiring insurers to “…cover these [recommended contraceptive] services without cost sharing for women across the country” beginning on August 1st, 2012. The ruling made an exception for what it referred to as, “Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan,” granting them an additional year to comply with the new law. (3) As a result of this ruling, the Catholic church commenced an offensive against what it considered an “attack on freedom of religion.” (4)

     The opposition from the Catholic church hasn’t waned in the past year and a half. With the help of certain members of congress, two bills (one in the House,(5) the other in the Senate(6)) have been introduced, in an attempt to attach a “Conscience Clause” to the new health care law. Both bills are currently stalled in committee, with little to no prognosis for passage.

     It is at this point in our sordid tale, that the “bullet” comes in to the picture. On September 26th, a letter was sent to Congress by two committee chairmen from the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Within the text of this letter, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Archbishop William Lori, urged congress to commit to the following course of action:

“We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such “must-pass” legislation.(7)

At odds.

At odds.

     Indeed, two days later the House Republican majority inserted language to these ends, into the tail-end of section 131 of House Joint Resolution 59,(8) and sent it back across the hall to the Senate, which rejected it and sent it back, during the to-and-fro volleying leading up to the current “Partial Government Shutdown of 2013.”

     So, did the Catholic church cause the current government shutdown? No, but they did “supply the shooters with additional ammunition, knowing what that ammunition would be used for,” and that makes them complicit. (Right about now, some would love to see Calleigh Duquesne (ah, Emily Procter!) walking into the offices of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and placing O’Malley and Lori in cuffs, I suspect!) Will the victim survive? We’re sure to find out within the next few days, as we bump up against Thursday’s debt limit deadline. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to…stay tuned! (Cue the Roger Daltrey scream…)

__________________________________________________

In The Aftermath: Canonising Christopher / Demonising Dorner

aftermath_waste_cabin

“At last Don Quixote’s end came, after he had received all the sacraments, and had in full and forcible terms expressed his detestation of books of chivalry.”
(Miguel de Cervantes, from “Don Quixote” c1615.)

     In amongst the charred remains of what was once a cabin in Big Bear, lay the body of a murderer. That murderer was once an honorable man, who served his country with dignity in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and dreamed of joining one of the most high-profile law enforcement organisations in America; the LAPD. Christopher Dorner realised that dream, but then his dream turned into a personal nightmare.

     Christopher Dorner, in the process of performing his duties, was confronted with difficult choices. One of these choices brought him up against something that he wasn’t prepared for; the “blue line”. It’s an unspoken, undocumented line that officers dare not cross in their interactions with each other. Chris Dorner however, later stated in his “manifesto” that what he witnessed forced him to step perilously but purposefully over that line, in an effort to keep other officers honest. (1) As a result, Chris Dorner’s life and career were turned on their ear by the very same organisation that he had dreamed of being a part of, and Christopher Dorner…was driven over the edge.

     Dorner was terminated from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008, and pursued a five-year battle within the system to try to get his termination overturned, being represented by retired LAPD officer Randall Quan. This process proved unsuccessful, and in the end, something in Chris Dorner snapped. His answer to the “blue line” would now be to draw his own line, where lives would become collateral, vendettas would be outlined, and plans would be made for all-out, “asymmetrical” warfare on the police force that he had once revered.

     In the days following Dorner’s posting of his manifesto on the internet, three people would lose their lives, and another two would be injured. Randall Quan’s daughter Monica, and her fiance Keith Lawrence were shot and killed in Irvine, one officer in Corona was injured, and two Riverside officers were also fired upon by Dorner, one fatally.(2)

     Law enforcement caught up with Chris Dorner on Tuesday, February 12th at a cabin in Big Bear where, after officers fired incendiary devices into the structure, (3) Christopher Dorner, once a decorated veteran and aspiring LAPD officer, and now a hunted fugitive from justice, met his maker. (4)

can·on·ise: transitive verb /ˈka-nə-ˌnīz/

1. Treat as a sacred person.
2. Declare to be a saint.

de·mon·ise: transitive verb /ˈdē-mə-ˌnīz/

1. To represent as evil or diabolic.
2. To mark out or describe as evil or culpable.

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Did Christopher Dorner actually “meet his maker”? What I mean to say, my fine young readers, is who made Christopher Dorner the man he was at the time of his death? Granted, the cheese had slid off of the cracker at the moment in which he claimed his first victim, but what drove him to it? While the recriminations might seem simple, they are in point of fact anything but. Exactly how much culpability are Randall Quan, Teresa Evans and the LAPD willing to accept for what has happened? Should they even be held culpable?

     Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not trying to turn Chris Dorner into some kind of saint, or a “modern-day Robin Hood”. Anyone who would take innocent lives and make terrorist threats against people’s families, especially their children, is a monster. There are however, those on the fringes and on social media sites including Facebook that would view him in this light. (5) (To those people, I would suggest that anyone who would support a murderous traitor to their country, needs to seriously reexamine their own values system!) No, Dorner strikes me more as a twisted, macabre kind of Don Quixote, tilting at the creaking windmills of a police force that indeed, is still in dire need of repair and further reform.

     Yes, I’m inclined to agree with Chris Dorner on that point of fact, especially when in the course of hunting for him, officers from the Los Angeles and Torrance police departments opened fire on three innocent people, just because they happened to be driving around in vehicles that resembled Dorner’s! These are a stark reminder of an issue that plagues not only the LAPD, but other large metropolitan police forces as well; a lack of discipline. These two “shoot first, ask questions later” incidences were largely the result of a police force that was, at the time, on the edge. Chris Dorner had placed the entirety of the L.A. basin’s law enforcement community on the defensive, and they in turn had itchy trigger fingers. Something was bound to break, the already brittle rubber band had been stretched, and it was primed to snap…and snap it did, to the detriment of three civilians. (6)

     Some will say that it was Chris Dorner’s fault that the three civilians were shot by the police, that had Dorner not gone on his short-lived, one-man war against the police, this wouldn’t have happened. While this may be true to some extent, I would also posit that had the LAPD not held their sacred “blue line” in higher esteem than doing the right things, then Chris Dorner may never have had a cause to lose his marbles in the first place. Those firmly ensconced on the side of law enforcement will continue to point their fingers squarely at Christopher Dorner…while at the same time remaining blissfully unaware, or willfully ignorant of the three other fingers on the same hand, pointing back at themselves.

     In the aftermath, the saddest part of it all is that no one will discuss the real issues. The entire episode will fade from the social consciousness, and our society will be no better or worse for the wear. I guess that’s the one word that truly sums up the whole thing; a waste.

The Homefront: My Milkshake Brings All The Mayors To The Yard…

"Damn right, it's better than yours..."

“Damn right, it’s better than yours…”

     Can I ask my readers an honest question? What is it with these elected officials, servants of the public that don’t know how, or simply aren’t able to comport themselves as leaders? Don’t we elect these individuals to their positions in government to lead, and to do it with at least a modicum of dignity and respect?

     Some time ago, I wrote an article about Madera County Sheriff John Anderson, and his unfortunate decision to drive drunk in our state’s capital back in November of 2000. Now, yet another local official has gone and made a complete arse of themselves in a very public way. Atwater Mayor Pro Tempore Craig Mooneyham has been charged with misdemeanor “disturbing the peace by fighting”, over something as trivial as…the price of a milkshake. A milkshake that, might I add, he ordered with extra toppings and accoutrements. The incident, which occurred back in late January, has now made local news. (1)

     It seems that, upon being informed of the price of this cold and tasty treat, the mayor was evidently overcome with angst over the price, and began berating the cashier at the local eatery where this order was placed. In short, he threw a temper tantrum. Other customers chimed in, attempting to assist the mayor in regaining some perspective, to no avail. Now, charges have been filed against him by the Merced County DA’s office. (2) (3)

     Honestly…a milkshake? What have we done to this society of ours, what kind of nation have we become when an elected official throws a hissy fit over the price of desert? When did behavior like this become acceptable? To paraphrase the words of Henry II of England in 1170; what miserable drones and traitors have we nourished and brought up in our household, who let their electors be treated with such shameful contempt? What’s even more ironic about this, is that mayor Mooneyham is also named as being assigned to the city’s “USP/Atwater Community Liaison Group”. (4) Isn’t a “community liaison” supposed to be able to work well with and within the community?

     In my honest opinion, the people of Atwater should seek this man’s ouster. I know that Atwater is a pretty small town in a much larger area of California, but I feel for them. I feel for the citizens of this town, a mere five minutes’ drive north on highway 99 from where I live. It has to be pretty embarrassing having a mayor who acts with less maturity than some junior high school students I know. If I was mayor Mooneyham, I would step down.

     I also realise that this mayor is far from the first elected official to make an arse of themselves in a public venue. In fact, it seems that this is happening with greater frequency as time goes by. From former congressional representative Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” faux pas (5), (which quite probably cost him the election!) to recent Twitter posts from senator John McCain (6) and former congressional representative Ron Paul (7), our politicians have been letting their mouths, their typing fingers and their attitudes run amok. My fine young readers, I think it’s time that we start expecting better of the people we elect to lead us. In the meantime, maybe the mayor of Atwater would like to invest in one of those neat blenders they’re always hocking down at Costco…

Faith and Religion: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished…

They say a picture is worth 1k words; that means I'm giving you abut 58% here! :-)

They say a picture is worth 1k words; that means I’m giving you about 58% here! 🙂

     As an ever-increasing number of Christendom’s faithful begin to wonder just why it is, that an ever-increasing number of people are falling away from Christendom, yet another prime example has reared its horrid head. In St. Louis, Missouri, a faith-based snide comment has been penned, a receipt has been posted online, a waitress has been fired and a pastor has been outted…and the furor grows.

     A number of my fine, young readers know exactly to what and to whom I am referring. For those that don’t, her name is Pastor Alois Bell, of the Truth In The Word Deliverance Ministries, of Saint Louis. As the story goes, Pastor Bell was part of a large party dining at a local Applebee’s restaurant, with each person in the party paying a portion of the bill. When presented with her copy of the bill, Pastor Bell was evidently “overcome with a spirit”, and expressed this state of being in writing, on the receipt, with the following words;

“I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” (1)

     Because there were a lot of people in the group, the receipt included an automatic gratuity (an “autograt”) of 18%, or as applied to Pastor Bell’s portion of this particular meal, $6.29. The gratuity amount was scratched out, and the additional gratuity line filled in with a nicely written “0”. It was even signed “Pastor Alois Bell”. Evidently, another server was somehow able to capture a copy of this receipt, and it was subsequently posted online. In the ensuing efforts to verify the veracity of the story and the progression of the posting into “viral” status, the pastor was informed of the receipt’s posting. She in turn, has contacted Applebee’s, which has resulted in the dismissal of the server. At the same time, the pastor has stated to various media outlets that she “used bad judgement”, but did in fact leave a tip on the table. (2) (Uh huh, as comedian Bill Cosby said in his 1963 “Noah” routine, “riiiight!”)

     Ladies and gentlemen, servers traditionally do not make that much in wages, and in today’s depressed economy, don’t take away that much in tips either. They do their best to eke out a meager existence in this “land of plenty”, often working two or three jobs in total just to make the ends meet and keep the bill collectors at bay. They are quite honesty, some of what the Bible refers to as “the least of these.” (Oh yes, my fine young readers, the Cybersattva is ’bout to pontificate up in this hizzy, because the “pastor” has it coming!) In Matthew 25:34 through 46, it states that; (3)

(34) “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
(35) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
(36) Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
(37) Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
(38) When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
(39) Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
(40) And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
(41) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
(42) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
(43) I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
(44) Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
(45) Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
(46) And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

     I’m sure that pastor Bell knows what it’s like to be among the “down and outters”, at least she purports to. According to the ministry’s website, Alois Bell “..gave her life to Christ in 1997 while she was pregnant and homeless with her youngest son. She was living in a Catholic homeless (sic, shelter).” (4) One would think that, having come from this type of “hard-up” situation, getting a hand up and now being better off, a pastor would pass on what she has been blessed with; that she would “pay it forward”. Nope, not in this instance.

     Pastor Bell was further quoted in the Blaze article that I cited above, as having stated that “…although her comment may have been in poor taste, she and her ministry do good work in the community and “would never want to tarnish the light of Christianity.”” (“Tarnish the light of Christianity”? Hmm, I’d say that someone definitely has their hand on the dimmer knob!) If I’m not mistaken, the Bible also counsels against being boastful about your works and worship.

     It would therefore appear, at least on the face of things, that the “ten percent” that Pastor Alois Bell is giving her God (and Christendom) should be counted in grief, because she has definitely proffered at least eighteen percent of that upon her (now former / dismissed) Applebee’s server(s). For shame.

AUTHOR’S UPDATE:

     It does bear mentioning here, that the waitress did overstep her bounds in causing the receipt to be photographed, which then led to its subsequent posting by yet another waitress from what I gather. The fact remains however, that but for this pastor’s pithiness and actions, coupled with the fact that she is a pastor, this entire imbroglio would never have occurred. Cause and effect is a pain.

     As of today, 01 February, the ministry’s website has apparently been hacked. Pastor Bell’s bio has been removed, therefore the link for that citation in the article (source item 4) no longer displays the proper content.

More on this viral news item:

1) “Applebee’s fires waitress who posted receipt from pastor complaining about auto-tip” // Yahoo News

2) “Waitress Who Posted No-Tip Receipt From “Pastor” Customer Fired From Job” // The Consumerist

3) “Pastor Apologizes For Snide Remark On Meal Receipt” // The Smoking Gun

News and Opinion: Fox News Spins The Top

Long may she wave

     It’s nice to see that the people over at Fox News haven’t lost their touch for spin. Like other news outlets, they have a knack for wording the title of an article to place a person in a certain frame of mind, ready to form an opinion even before reading the entire article, parsing and analysing the details and making an informed judgement.

     Earlier this evening, one of the headlines on the Fox News website read, “Maryland State Workers Say U.S. Flag Violates Law.” Clicking on the link takes the reader to a Fox News and Commentary article by Todd Starnes, entitled “State Says American Flag Violates Law.” The story details the removal of a U.S. flag by state highway workers, that was placed in the middle of a traffic circle by Woodbine, MD resident Rhonda Winkler and her family. As Winkler states in the article, the flag was placed there to honor the brave men and women that are safeguarding our liberties at home and overseas, in particular her nephew, a servicemember being deployed to Afghanistan at the time of the flag’s installation three years ago. In the intervening time between then and now, a vehicle ran over the original flag, and another one was raised in its place by Mr. Winkler, accompanied by World War II veteran Jack Baker.

     According to the article, Winkler received a call informing her that state highway workers had taken down the flag and flagople, and thrown them both into the back of a dump truck. When contacted for comment on the matter, state highway department spokesperson David Buck said that the flag should not have been placed in that location due to safety concerns, stating to a local newspaper that “They don’t have traffic control out there, and they don’t have (road work) vests on.” Likewise, when the Winklers inquired as to the reason for the flag’s removal, Rhonda Winkler relates that “They told us it was against the law to erect a flag on the traffic circle…they told my husband that whoever put up the flag could be arrested for trespassing.”(1)

     The “spin” in this instance was in Fox News erroneously stating that the highway department was claiming that the flag itself was a violation of the law. That my fine young readers, is a flat-out lie. It was the unauthorised placement of the flag on state property that was in fact against the law, and I wholeheartedly agree with the state highway department in that respect.

     What I don’t agree with, and actually find unconscionable are the way in which Old Glory was handled by the highway workers, (being simply tossed into the back of a dump truck, like so much trash on collection day) and the fact that they refuse to return the flag to the Winklers. These are public employees, whose wages are paid with our tax dollars. (Actually, the tax dollars of the good people of Maryland.) It is by means of the government that they get paid. In essence, by treating our nation’s flag so disrespectfully, and as a result angering the very people who they serve, they’re biting the hands that are feeding them!

     I would urge everyone who cares about this issue to e-mail, write and / or call the Maryland State Highway Administration, and tell Mr. David Buck to respectfully return the Winklers’ flag to them. (I don’t usually do this, but I am including the contact info below, as it is a public entity and the information is a matter of public record.) While we’re at it, we might also want to tell Fox News to stop lying to us. (Or at least, try putting less spin on article titles, so they more accurately reflect the facts!)

________________________________________

Maryland State Highway Administration
707 N. Calvert Street
Baltimore, MD  21202
(410) 545-0300

American Rhetoric: Playing Political Twister

(Clockwise, from upper left:) Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

    The GOP race is taking on a circus-like atmosphere it seems, ever since early allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain, who as a result of these allegations, recently suspended his campaign for the GOP nomination. The remaining nominees are now poised to take this circus act into its final stages. Enter “The Donald.”

     Donald Trump, the “Daddy Warbucks” behind such things as NBC’s “The Apprentice” and the Miss Universe pageant, is hosting a GOP debate on the 27th of this month in Iowa, just one week before the Iowa Caucuses.(1) Right now, the stage is being set on exactly who will be participating, and who will not. Already, GOP candidates Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney have (smartly!) stated that they will not be attending, with Ron Paul going so far as to state during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “I don’t quite understand the marching to his office. I didn’t realize he had the ability to lay on hands and anoint people.”(2)

     Like Ron Paul, I don’t quite understand just why any GOP candidate would even want to be associated with Trump. The Donald has the stableboy’s touch; everything this man lays his hands on turns to sensationalised horsehockey. If anyone has any doubts about this, just look at the Miss USA pageant. Come on…Perez Hilton as a judge? (You might remember back in 2009, and the whole pissing contest between Hilton and Carrie Prejean…)

     Last Friday, Michele Bachmann stated that she would consider Donald as a running mate, which is not surprising.(3)  Both have close ties to the “Birther” movement and its key participants, including Orly Taitz and former GOP Vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Point in fact, Palin apparently doesn’t quite know where she stands on the Birther issue, vacillating between referring to it as a “distraction” in mid February of this year, (4) to endorsing Trump’s support of it a mere month and a half later.(5) Bachmann is currently trying to decide on attending The Donald’s Iowa debate.

     In amongst all of this, it’s important to remember that we have millions of people unemployed, and sympathetic to the cause of Occupy Wall Street; get big money out of government. What does an alignment with “The Donald” say to these disenchanted millions? In short, it’s akin to giving them the big green finger, and probably won’t help them garner any votes from that particular demographic.

 

Schools and Education: Stockton Humbugs

What!? No Santa?

     What is happening in Stockton, California elementary schools? Is there something in the water up there in San Joaquin County that is cramping everyone’s bowels? If you recall, we just had an instance at Rio Calaveras Elementary School, where little Michael Davis was put through a lot of unnecessary nonsense and had his federal rights violated. Now another news item, this one out of Claudia Landeen Elementary School, a K through 8 facility which is part of the Lincoln Unified School District system of schools.

     It seems that a memo has come from somewhere within the school system, stating the following limitations on Christmas decorations in the classrooms:

     “District office would like to remind everyone when displaying holiday decorations in and around school to be mindful no association to any religious affiliation i.e. Santa, poinsettias, Christmas trees, etc. Safe: snowflakes, snowmen etc. If you have any questions please ask the office staff.”

     A copy of the document was obtained by KXTV News 10 in Sacramento, which presented the initial news report.(1) The school district was contacted by News 10 and other various news agencies and, while district superintendent Tom Uslan reiterated the contents of the memo, another spokesperson for the district has stated to Fox News and Commentary that no such memo was issued by the district:

     “There has been no letter from district administration… There has been no policy edict from our school board. There was a conversation to encourage administrators that each of our employees should enjoy their religious freedoms but we don’t want to have a pervasive theme of a classroom or public office to represent a specific religious affiliation unless we are formally teaching topics regarding those affiliations.”

     The school district also stated that they have been frustrated by what they characterized as “sloppy” reporting on this issue.(2)

     (SOAPBOX=ON) First of all, I agree with the spokesperson for the school district, insomuch as the reporting on this has been pretty sloppy. Did the memo in fact come from the district office, as News 10 in Sacramento is reporting? If not, and News 10 knows it didn’t, then shame on the folks at KXTV! That would not only be sloppy reporting, but falsifying facts in a news report. Now, there’s also the question of Tom Uslan’s and the district spokesperson’s reiterations of the contents of the memo, which would seem to indicate that the memo, or at least its contents did come from somewhere within the Lincoln Unified School District office. If that’s the case, then the district is lying. If not, what I suspect is that someone in the district office called the school, and either directed or suggested that “good ol’ Marge in the office” type up a memo for the teachers that basically conveyed the idea that, “Hey guys, the folks up at district level would like to remind us…” Either that, or the school office staff took it upon themselves to type up the memo.

     At any rate, the basic idea here is that this school, and quite possibly the school district is / are so wrapped up in trying to be “PC” that they’re tripping over their own two left feet. In my not-so-humble opinion, they should be way more concerned with meeting the instructional needs of their students. Just enjoy the holiday season, and every influence that contributes to its rich heritage of joy and giving. (I will agree with one little caveat of the memo though, I’m allergic to Poinsettias, so I personally wouldn’t mind seeing fewer of them!)

Santa Cross? smh.

    In a semi-related note, one particular Santa display in Leesburg, Virginia had a lot of people up in arms, so much for one vigilante defender of the “Christmas Spirit” that they tore it down. Apparently, one Jeff Heflin of Leesburg applied to, and was granted permission by the Loudon County Board of Supervisors for permission to erect a display on the front lawn of the county courthouse, which Mr. Heflin states was supposed to depict “…society’s materialistic obsessions and addictions and how it is killing the peace, love, joy and kindness that is supposed to be prevalent during the holiday season.”

     The display was again, torn down by a local resident. Loudon County Sheriffs state that no arrests have been made in the case. (Nor will there be, I suspect!) (3)

American Heroes: Emma Sullivan

Emma Sullivan; a true American Hero.

     I simply love it when one of our young people displays courage in the face of adversity. I love it when they stand up to authority, give them the finger and say, “No, I’m not going to be cowed simply by virtue of your position over me.” Instead, they take a stand for what they know and believe to be right, and come out winning. That’s eighteen-year-old Emma Sullivan, of Prairie Village, Kansas.(1)

     It seems that Miss Sullivan does not like the current governor of Kansas, Republican Sam Brownback. As a matter of fact, not a lot of people like Governor Brownback these days. His approval rating stands at just forty-seven percent as of four months ago, according to a SurveyUSA poll from that timeframe.(2) But I digress. Last week, Miss Sullivan was among several from her school that went on a field trip to Topeka, as part of the “Youth in Government” program. During the trip, she tweeted back to her sixty-or-so followers that she had, “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Emma's original tweet

     It also seems that Governor Brownback has his own little version of “Big Brother” working for him. An aide to the governor, one Sherriene Jones-Sontag serves as his Director of Communications. One of her job duties is to monitor the internet for anything referring to the governor that would cast him in a negative light. Ms. Jones-Sontag came across Emma’s little fifteen-word tweet, and sprang into action. She phoned the organisers of Youth in Government, they in turn phoned the administration at Shawnee Mission East High School back in Prairie Village. Once Emma Sullivan returned to the school, she was called to the principal’s office, and chided for almost an hour. The chiding culminated in the principal demanding that Emma write a letter of apology to the governor, by the following Monday (yesterday.) Sullivan announced her refusal on Sunday, citing her right to free speech under the First Amendment.

     Now, I’m not at all sure how the wider media became aware of this situation, but on Monday afternoon the governor’s office backed down, and so did the school.(3) 

     (SOAPBOX=ON) If I were a Kansas voter, this would kill any chances that I would ever vote for this joker again. Any government entity that would while unchecked, seek to stifle free speech is a danger to Democracy. I would also press for greater oversight of the principal of the high school. Evidently, he also thinks that he can intimidate students and stifle freedoms. Someone needs to school that man on In re Gault (387 U.S. 1, 1967) and Tinker v. Des Moines ICSD (393 U.S. 503, 1969). (Not that it would do much good, my own kids have also had their free speech rights challenged by the schools here.)

     In any case, freedom and justice won. Emma Sullivan won. She stood up to the “establishment” in fine form, and came out smelling like a dozen roses. To Emma Sullivan, I give my official Cybersattva “Komapsumnida!” for keeping freedom alive.

Single-digit freedom widget

     To Sam Brownback and his staff, I present a different mode of “digital communication,” the Freedom Salute: (and since Ms. Jones-Sontag is monitoring the internet for Governor Brownback, I’m sure the message will reach its intended recipients!)

American Rhetoric: Bachmann’s Bellyache

 

Michele Bachmann (l.) with late night host Jimmy Fallon on Monday night's show.

    It really says a lot about where we are as a culture, and what we devote our attentions to that people are actually taking Michele Bachmann’s candidacy seriously. It would seem to me that the more reasoned among us would have discounted her by now, due to her alliances with Tea Party neo-conservatives, her ignorant stance on waterboarding, her misconceived notion that she can fund government on little to no taxation and her penchant for the “dramarama.” Now, another in a long laundry list of played-up situations sees Michele whining about something which to her, is “no laughing matter.”

     Michele Bachmann it seems, was the unwitting victim of some Monday night shenanigans on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Now, everyone who has been following the news already knows what happened, but for those who do not, I’ll do my best to give you, my fine young readers, the “long and short of it.” When Ms. Bachmann was introduced by Jimmy Fallon, the house band, led by drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, “played her in” with the refrain from a song by a group named Fishbone. The name of the song? “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” Of course Michele, not being a fan or listener of Fishbone, was completely unaware of the lyrical content or title of the tune that was being played until after her appearance on the show.

     Since this stunt was pulled, host Jimmy Fallon has issued a short apology via his Twitter account. (1) We, ever the news-hungry populous have now become aware that this stunt was cooked-up sometime before Ms. Bachmann walked on-stage, as this was “tweeted” by the drummer to his fanbase before the show went to air. (2) Now, Michele Bachmann is demanding an apology from NBC, stating that if this had happened to Michele Obama, that she’d have received one by now. (3) (As of this writing, we haven’t heard anything from the network.) A few politicians have also weighed in on this, with congresswoman Nita Lowey (D, NY) stating that while she does not share Bachmann’s political views, “she deserves to be treated with respect. No female politician – and no woman – should be subjected to sexist and offensive innuendo like she was last night.”

     (Soapbox=ON) In my not-so-humble opinion, I think Michele needs to just let this one lie. The argument “if this had happened to the First Lady” is moot point. She’s the First Lady, while Michele Bachmann is just a candidate, therefore subject to far more scruitiny and vetting in the media. Aside from that fact, Bachmann’s far-right allegiances and leanings, and stances on such things as waterboarding are bound to bring some very intense ribbing from those on the other side of the political aisle. I think it would look a lot better for Michele to take the approach of, “It would be great if NBC would issue an apology, but I’m not going to sweat it excessively, this is politics and things like this, while regrettable and distasteful, are bound to happen sometimes.”