August 30, 2015

a healthy liverSeth and his wife and charliePlease donate to this cause.
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Seth is a good and generous man. I’d never met Seth before our daughter Leah’s wedding last year, but he was generous with his time and skill to help in preparation for the event. In speaking with him and seeing him interact with his wife and son it was clear that he had a good and caring heart.

Right now Seth needs our help. Please do what you can for this upstanding husband, father and friend. The world needs as many Seths among us as possible.
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The DONATE button will take you to Seth’s story. Please consider helping this fine young man regain his health.

Thank you, Jim

hereticWhen scriptures are worshiped all hell can break loose —although with the imprimatur of God. Religion has, historically, cut a bloody swath wherever it found infidels —Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and so on are all susceptible to and guilty of the abrogation of reason for the sake of some holy writing. For a compelling look at a contemporary, extreme case of this, (one that, like the Christian and other religious Inquisitions, spread fear, hate, war and death) read these few paragraphs from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Heretic.

When absolute unreason infects the human mind religion is frequently somehow involved.

REASON AND THE QU’RAN —excerpt from “Heretic” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

If Muhammad and the Qur’an are providing justifications for so much wrongdoing in the world, then it must be in more than scholarly interest to apply the tools of reason to both Prophet and text. The problem is that Islamic scholars arguing in favor of human reason have long been on the losing end of doctrinal conflicts. When rationalists squared off against literalists during the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries, they lost. The rationalists wanted to include in Islamic doctrine only principles based on reason. The traditionalists countered that human intellect is “defective, fickle, and malleable.”

Changing central aspects of Islamic doctrine became even more difficult in the tenth century. At that time, jurists of the various schools of law decided that all essential questions had been settled and that permitting any new interpretations would not be productive. This famous episode is referred to as the closing of “the gates of ijtihad.” The gates of reinterpretation were not suddenly slammed shut: it was a gradual process. But once shut, they proved impossible to reopen. The late Christina Phelps Harris of Stanford University summarized the impact as creating “a framework of inexorable legal rigidity.”

In this process a key role was played by the imam Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, who died in AD 1111. Al-Ghazali detested the ancient Greek philosophers. He regarded human reason as a cancer upon Islam. His most famous work is Incoherence of the Philosophers, which attacks and refutes the claims of the ancients. Against their pretensions, al-Ghazali posits and all-knowing God. Allah knows the smallest particle in heaven and on earth. And because Allah knows everything and is responsible for everything, he already knows and has finally formed every part of the world and every action, from whether and arrow reaches its target or whether a hand is waved. Thus, al-Ghazali writes, “Blind obedience to God is the best evidence of our Islam.” Those, such as Andalusian scholar Ibn Rushd, who disagreed with al-Ghazali found themselves exiled, or worse.

Nine hundred years have passed, and yet al-Ghazali is still considered by many in Islam to be second only to Muhammad. He provided the standard answer to almost any question posed in Arabic: “Inshallah,” meaning “If Allah wills it” or “God willing.” The latest flowering of al-Ghazali’s concepts can be found today in the teaching of groups such as Boko Haram (whose very name means “Non-Islamic teaching is forbidden”), Islamic State (ISIS, IS, ISIL, SIC, Da’ish), and the Southeast Asia’s Jemaah Islamiya. They adhere to the principle of “al-fikr kufr,” that the very act of thinking (and along with thinking, education, reason, and knowledge) makes one an infidel (kufr). Or as Taliban religious police have written on the propaganda placards: “Throw reason to the dogs—it stinks of corruption.”

There is in fact no good reason al-Ghazali and his ilk should have the last word in defining Islam. Muslims around the world cannot go on claiming that “true” Islam has somehow been “hijacked” by groups of extremists. Instead they must acknowledge that inducements to violence lie at the root of their own most sacred texts, and take responsibility for actively redefining their faith.

The crucial first step in the process of modification will be to acknowledge the humanity of the Prophet himself and the role of human beings in creating Islam’s sacred texts. When Muslims tell us that the Qu’ran is the immutable and unchanging word of God, that it is entirely consistent and infallible, and that none of its injunctions and commandments can be treated as in any way optional for true believers, we need to retort that, by the lights of scholarship and science, this is simply not the case. In truth, Islamic doctrine is adaptable; certain parts of the Qu’ran were abrogated over time. So there is no reason to insist that the militant verses of the Medina period should always be given priority. If Muslims wish their religion to be a religion of peace, all they have to do is “abrogate” those Medina verses. Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, who was executed in 1985 for “apostasy” in Sudan, proposed to do just that.

The next step in dismantling the ideological foundation of Islamist violence will be to persuade Muslims raised on an alluring vision of the afterlife to embrace life in this world, rather than actively seeking death as a path to the next.

Bernie speaks a truth other politician’s won’t touch.

Brothers in Arms

June 10, 2015

Dire Straights

These mist-covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you’ll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve witnessed your suffering
As the battle raged high
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

There’s so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones

Now the sun’s gone to hell
And the moon riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

by Mark Knopfler
Copyright: Straitjacket Songs Ltd.

“All the historical data at our disposal today indicates that it was not until the second half—or even the final third—of the nineteenth century that a significant rise in the purchasing power of wages occurred. From the first to the sixth decade of the nineteenth century, workers’ wages stagnated at very low levels—close or even inferior to the levels of the eighteenth and previous centuries. This long phase of wage stagnation, which we observe in Britain as well as France, stands out all the more because economic growth was accelerating in this period. The capital share of national income—industrial profits, land rents, and building rents … increased considerably in both countries in the first half of the nineteenth century… The data we have assembled nevertheless reveal no structural decrease in inequality prior to WW1. What we see in the period 1870-1914 is at best a stabilization of inequality at an extremely high level, and in certain respects an endless inegalitarian spiral, marked in particular by increasing concentration of wealth. It’s quite difficult to say where this trajectory would have led without the major economic and political shocks initiated by the war. With the aid of historical analysis and a little perspective, we can now see those shocks as the only forces since the Industrial Revolution powerful enough to reduce inequality.” —Thomas Piketty, Caplital, Introduction pg. 7

enlightenment 02“What journalists choose and how journalists frame inescapably arises out of what journalists believe.”

That observation, made by journalist Michael Kelly, should not be news given human nature and that journalists are human. To be purely unbiased is not an easy state to achieve or maintain. It may be impossible. But this doesn’t stop us from claiming to be so.

In the mid 1990s a TV network was launched specifically intended to be biased while adopting the ironic motto “fair and balanced”.  The Fox network followed naturally from Ronald Reagan’s drive for deregulation. Reagan’s FCC abolished the “fairness doctrine” which up to then had required broadcasters to present political arguments from both sides of the spectrum which led, almost immediately, to the scourge of Rush Limbaugh and, soon after, to the birth of Fox News.

As writer Bruce Bartlett says in his paper, How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics, “The ideology at Fox was strictly a top-down affair. Roger [Ailes] was a conservative. All of his deputies were conservatives. Most of the hosts were conservatives, or at least were good at pretending to be while on television, if they knew what was good for them….The VPs, as near as I could tell, were all staunch conservatives, too. Whether by coincidence or design, Roger had effectively surrounded himself with fellow travelers.”

As a result of Fox’s conservative 24/7 barrage of intentionally biased reporting the network’s viewership quickly rose as the go-to network preferred by conservative-leaning Americans. There’s no surprise there.

A 2014 poll (publicpolicypoling.com) shows that Fox’s popularity among Republicans has increased especially among seniors. No news there either —Republicans and seniors do not tend to be liberals.

What is news-worthy is that Fox has now become the go-to place for info of those with a serious ax to grind who find at Fox a very effective grinding wheel. As media critic Michael Wolff puts it, “Fox is not really about politics … Rather, it’s about having a chip on your shoulder; it’s about us versus them, insiders versus outsiders, phonies versus non-phonies, and, in a clever piece of post modernism, established media against insurgent media.”

But Fox has by now shifted far to the right of even its moderately biased early years and has adopted a no-holds-barred policy of running all news through a far-right filter and is scripting its broadcasts to elevate right-leaning misinformation to the status of (almost religious) doctrine. It distorts not only political events and policies, but those of science also. If a fact does not fit the Fox agenda it is water-boarded until it says what Fox demands it to say. With the popularity of Fox this has led to a precipitous dumbing-down of America and, consequently, to public discourse. In fact the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) has found that Fox is the least accurate of the three most watched news networks —CNN and MSNBC being the other two.  The USC says that “72 percent of its 2013 climate science-related segments contained misleading statements. Fox News covered climate science 50 times in 2013. Of these segments, 28 percent were entirely accurate, while 72 percent included misleading portrayals of the science.”

Regardless of your political views this is bad news for our children and grandchildren. Having a congress that’s ignorant or politically disposed to ignore reality and science is bad, but to have a huge chunk of the American populace as happily uninformed as Fox seems determined to make them is something else.

Ignorance among the population is a great advantage to governments and corporations. Misleading and manipulating an ignorant population is so much easier than to do so with an informed one, and the most powerful in each of those spheres know this. Fascist propagandist Joseph Goebbels made this very clear: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Goebbels may just as well have been laying down the business plan of Fox news when he said that because Fox has been a great contributor to the disenlightenment of the American people.  Americans seem to have become less embarrassed by ignorance and unconcerned about its consequences. In fact it was once considered not good in the U.S. not to know. To be willfully ignorant of the realty of climate change, the dangerous effects of fracking, the toxic outcomes of continued use of fossil fuels, etc. But today to be stupid about these things in public without losing face seems not to be a problem for many because being ignorant is extolled by the Sarah Palins, Michelle Bachmanns and Ted Cruzes of the country for whom superstition and ignorance seems to be a badge of honor.

We must be very wary of the bottom line beliefs of the most influential among us and what they’re selling because, though superstition and ignorance go way back, they’re still with us and exploding in virulence:

“In the beginning was Ignorance, which, after seven days of metastization, took no rest, not even a nap, and saw that it was good; or, if not ‘good’, at least very effective.”  —Fascist Bible 1:1

by Jim Culleny
5/17/15

Cartoon cross and dollarsAlthough Americans have a prevalent national faith, Christianity, we have another at least equally as fervent: Capitalism. In America both are mythic  and fundamental, which means they’re bound to our psyches like barnacles and cannot easily be shaken off —not that millions of us would want to.

Of these two faiths I’d argue that capitalism is the stronger and more fervent. I may be wrong about that, but these faiths have at least become so enmeshed in our mythic indoctrination that if you threaten one you threaten the other. A non Christian may be merely “unsaved”, which may be considered a foolishness of omission. But a non-capitalist is automatically a socialist or worse, a communist (both of these are considered sins of commission) —regardless, unsaved, socialist or communist, all are thought ungodly.

How capitalism became almost synonymous with Christianity in the United States is a tale of confusion wrapped in inherent practicality. How the story of shared loaves and fishes found in the New Testament became the tale of two cities: the Shining City on a Hill and the impoverished one at the base of the hill, is an example of Jesus’ ongoing battle with America’s 18th,19th, 20th and 21st centuries’ practical politicians as they co-opted the teachings of that 1st century Nazarene bleeding-heart —as they re-defined them while clawing their way to the top. In the United States a capitalist cocooned in a corporation can do no wrong even while she or he is poisoning your water, contaminating your air and robbing you blind with payoffs to your legislators.  She or he is legally and (to some minds) morally invulnerable no matter how corrupt they might be.

But maybe, just maybe, we’ll break out of our nation-wrecking stupor soon enough to avert the most extreme effects of it. But it will first take an epiphany followed by an immediate commitment to de-toxify.

A good starting point would be to imagine a future free of our Christian-capitalist conflation. As writer Justin Smith muses, “I’m still dwelling on how ironic all the feverish proclamations of capitalism are going to look someday.”  I think it won’t be pretty.  We’ll see that more clearly once we’re freed of having dumpster dinners at the corner of Wall Street and New. We’ll know we’re on the psychic mend when we’re finally not sold by a Coke sign’s faded blush —when we’re embarrassed at how it thrusts itself from desiccated dollar dunes.

Just yesterday I came across an article that reported how in California, now in the midst of a drought severe enough to elicit predictions that the state will be out of water in a year (short of  a miracle that some foolishly rely upon), the Nestlé Corporation continues to bottle city water to sell back to the public at a big profit, local activists charge.  A Sacramento environmental coalition spokesperson, Andy Conn, said, “This corporate welfare giveaway is an outrage and warrants a major investigation. For more than five months we have requested data on Nestlé water use. City Hall has not complied with our request, or given any indication that it will. Sacramentans deserve to know how their money is being spent and what they’re getting for it. In this case, they’re getting ripped off.” 

It’s really not surprising City Hall is in hunker mode. There’s a zealous, capitalist mindset in US government at all levels that makes such things possible.

I can’t help but wonder how we’ll feel about having added our own breaths to the cyclone that slew the sacred cow as gangs of suited crooks blew through. As their fingers itched to milk her dry until there was nothing left to suck or bust. Will we be coy then and beg mercy from our god, Capital —or the other one? You gotta wonder.

But I have a sense there’s finally beginning to be a wider appreciation that we’re in trouble. I have a sense that more Americans are realizing that climate-change-global-warming deniers like Senator James Inhofe (R- that OK) are, at best, well-meaning people who are innocently and sincerely stupid —scientifically stupid at least. People like Inhofe are so caught up in their peculiar anti-scientific, mystical doctrines they simply refuse to read the actual signs of the times: the arctic ice melts, the accelerated calving of the Antarctic glacier, the weird weather patterns, the warming oceans leading to rising seas.

So like Justin Smith I’m anxiously curious how all the feverish proclamations of capitalism are going to look someday. In the meantime I still hope that all of this capitalist religious fevor will finally be rejected by Americans and that the force  of what’s coming will be mitigated by clearheaded commitments to change the way things operate. I’m hoping that enough people will change their belief in the infallibility of this capitalist model and say, “I’m done. We’ve lurched too long through spoiled earth as Gabriel’s Mad(ison) Ave. apocalyptic horn more croaked than blew.”

by Jim Culleny
3/21/15

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