Saturday, December 24, 2011

Many Holiday Blessings

For my Christian friends, I want to take this time to wish you a wonderful Christmas holiday. I hope the special time with your families are memorable and warm. I hope that midnight mass is inspiring and life-affirming. May the Holy Spirit be with you that day and all days. Blessed be.

For my Pagan friends, I want to wish you a wonderful Yule holiday (okay, Yule was a few days ago, but I didn't blog on that day). May the celebration of the return of the light be wondrous, cheerful and bright. Blessed be.

My Jewish friends, I want to wish you a happy Hanukkah. May you enjoy shared gifts and shared food with family and friends. Light the candles, sing the songs, and keep the traditions alive. Blessed be.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Fairy Tale of the Nation of Thea

Once upon a time, there was a land far, far away called the Kingdom of Thea. It was a prosperous land with green pastures, running streams, and lots of milk and honey. It was ruled by a mighty and powerful king named Yohevech. Now, Yohevech was a jealous king and didn't like anyone to acknowledge that in other areas of the world that there were other countries with other kings who ruled over other people. He wanted everyone to acknowledge himself as the one true King and nobody else. So he told his press secretary, a man named Monte Silas, to come up with a propaganda campaign against the other kings. Monte declared that all other kings were "false" kings and that people of other kingdoms really ought to be swearing fealty to Yohevech.

Under Yohevech's rule, the land's prosperity began to falter. The green pastures became sandy deserts. The rivers ran dry. The milk and honey became distant memories. And so King Yohevech's popularity began to wane. The citizens grew restless. Many began to say "King Lou in the north has lands that prosper" and "King Siv in the East truly cares for his people". So King Yohevech, instead of answering the pleas of his people, contacted his attorney general, Anton Levit, to come up with a very rigid set of legal codes to keep the grumbling population in check. In fact, Levit created over 600 new laws and most of those laws had the death penalty as a consequence.

"I am your King," Yohevech declared in a press release given to Anton Levit to read. "You shall have no other Kings before me. I hereby declare that any who transgress the law shall die!"

Now, nobody had actually seen King Yohevech in decades. Indeed, there were some who even started saying that there was no such thing as a "King" and that Kings were just fary tales. Indeed, the disbelievers started saying that the law enforcers were the real power, not the King, and that the law enforcers wielded their authority by inspiring fear of Kingly retribution. Of course, the King's law enforcers did actually begin killing people who either denied the King's existence, swore fealty to another King, or who broke even the most trivial of laws.

Of course, the King couldn't have everyone killed. After all, if you kill your entire population, who will you rule? So the King came up with a clever scheme in which he demanded that the citizens give their livestock to the law enforcers as a means of getting amnesty for breaking the law. This policy made a lot of people very poor while making the law enforcers very rich (for the law enforcers would simply turn around and sell the meat at the markets for a handsome profit!) This state of affairs went on for many decades. The King never made public appearances but instead spoke only through the chief of police, the attorney general, or the press secretary.

What the citizens of the Kingdom of Thea didn't know for the longest time was that King had a son out of wedlock. The son, named Jessie, had been raised by his mother and stepfather for most of his life, and had no physical contact with the King since birth. However, he was the King's son nonetheless. Being raised in the real community and not  in the hallowed halls of the law enforcers, Jessie saw firsthand how the King's policies had ruined the land, enslaved the people, and brought misery to everyone who was not a law enforcer. It was rumored that the King's illegitimate son had studied in the east where King Siv ruled, but nobody knew for sure. Likewise, some said that Jessie was celebate, while others said he was married. A few even said he had a partner of the same gender. What was certain, however, was that Jessie's attitude towards the citizenry was vastly different than his father's.

Jessie began his own political movement that was in opposition to his father's. Jessie declared that the rich should be generous to the poor; that judges should hold themselves to the same standard that they held others; that citizens should forgive one another instead of seeking retaliation. Likewise, he publicly declared that the law enforcers (especially the ones who claimed to speak on behalf of the King) were "broods of vipers". He had open antipathy towards the King's law enforcers when they would seek to assist the wealthy while stepping on the poor -- especially widows and orphans.

Now, King Yohevech could see the writing on the wall. Here was his bastard son he had forgotten about, who had been raised by a commoner and her blue-collar husband who had scrimped and saved to give Jessie a solid, liberal arts education. Jessie was younger, more popular, and really identified with the common citizen. So, what's a greedy, paranoid, power-mad, absentee King to do? Well, the chief of police for the law enforcers had an idea that the King really liked.

The chief of police, with the King's approval, declared that Jessie was guilty of treason. So the law enforcers captured the King's son, tacked on a list of trumped-up charges, and had him executed without even any formal appeals process.

This action, of course, made Yohevech pretty unpopular. So once again, he called upon his best propaganda spin doctors in media relations to come to his aid. Through his media outlets (again, nobody had actually seen the King in person in decades and a growing number of people outright denied the existence of the King), Yohevech declared that he loved his people so much that he had his own son executed on trumped-up charges just so that the King would somehow have the power to grant amnesty to the citizens for breaking the law. Somehow, through the murder of his own son, the King said that the citizens would be shown a new era of mercy and forgiveness.

There was a catch: to continue avoiding the death penalty for offenses like speeding, trespassing, and parking violations, the citizenry would have to acknowledge that King Yohevech was the only "real" King on the planet and that one had to also praise Jessie for his sacrifice (even though he was murdered, not sacrificed). Yohevech said it was still permitted to kill followers of King Siv, King Lou, King Bud, and any others who followed another King.

Of course, King Yohevech still didn't do anything good for his people. The Kingdom continued to deteriorate. An invading army captured most of the citizens and burned them alive in huge death factories while King Yohevech did nothing -- and hid from a place of safety. Later, after the war ended, his press liaison declared that the reason why the massacre happened was because the citizens didn't believe in Jessie with enough sincerity (rather than the truth, which was that King Yohevech was either unwilling or unable to help his own people).

The law enforcers of the King, however, did prosper. Rather than taking livestock from the people, they now only took cash. The law enforcers lived happily ever after in huge mansions and had bank accounts filled with money. (And still nobody has seen the King in person. And more and more people every day think the King is a made-up fairy tale!)

And that is the story of the Kingdom of Thea.

To those who would read this story, I might ask: Would you say that the King of Thea is just, good, kind, and loving? Does this story remind you of a tale from another book?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Paganism and Science

I got asked once how it could be that a witch could also believe in science. It never really seemed like a conflict to me. After all, Wicca doesn't actually have a Bible (or equivalent) that says how the world was made. So there's no Genesis story to conflict with what we know about planet formation and evolution. Wicca doesn't have the equivalent of Revelation, so there isn't any reason to think that the "end of the world" would be triggered by anything other than a natural catastrophe such as a large asteroid impact or the sun running out of hydrogen. So it's actually pretty easy to reconcile what I know about science with what I know about Wicca.

In Wicca, we believe that the sun, Earth, and moon all play a vital role in the continuation of life. Wicca states that there is an interplay of life-energy between these three objects. In science, we know that the moon is critical for keeping the Earth properly aligned on its axis. We know that the sun provides light, heat, and radiation. We know that the Earth generates in invisible projection of force that allows in light and heat but screens out the majority of the harmful radiation. So Wicca and science are not at odds.

Compare that to Christianity, and you get many conflicts. For example, in the Bible, the Earth is thought to be about 6,000 years old. The Bible cites the sky is a dome, not a spherical envelope. It states that the entire ecology of the planet once fit into a cargo ship. The Bible does not allow for evolution, plate tectonics, orother planets. In fact, the Bible disallows nearly every kind of science. The Bible cites natural disasters as acts of an angry and vengeful God. It is impossible to reconcile Christianity with science.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Four Americas

One thing that has become apparent since 2000 and the infamous election-theft by George W. Bush is this: There really isn't much "United" in "United States of America" anymore. Bush spent his time in office dividing America along every conceivable demographic. Then, in 2008, the Koch Brothers created the Tea Party and America became even further divided. I think this upcoming election will place this country past the point of no return as far as remaining a single, united power is concerned. Barack Obama is an incredibly weak and indecisive leader that has lacked the moral courage to follow through on nearly every relevant campaign promise (even when he enjoyed a significant majority in both the House and Senate in the first two years of his presidency.) The Tea Party contenders in the Christian Republican Right seek to create a religious/corporate oligarchy reminiscent of WWI Germany (with only rich, white, straight, conservative Christians in good health being the only "real" Americans). If Obama wins in 2012, the Red States will rebel. If a Tea Party Christian wins, the Rational States will rebel. Either way, the jig is up for a United America.

So, what will these new powers be that will form following the big breakup?

The Democratic States of America (DSA)
This region will include the north-east quadrant for the former United States, from Maryland to Main and from the Atlantic coast to Michigan. The capitol city will be Philadelphia. DC will be a "historical" zone as well as remaining a prominent tourist attraction thanks to its wealth of monuments and museums. DC will be granted full status as a state.

The DSA will be a traditional democratic republic with some socialist leanings that will feature the best of what the Constitution has to offer. It will allow human beings to vote, but not corporations. The DSA will be a secular nation that values religious freedom but also refrains from any hint of church/state co-mingling. The DSA will be left-leaning in that it would espouse marriage equality, reproductive choice, common sense regulations on corporations (to keep them honest, but not to strangle all business activity), nationalized health care, and renewable energy. While taxes would be high in such a state, citizens wouldn't have to choose between buying food, medicine, heat, or education. There would be few billionaires in the DSA, but there would also not be one in four families living at the poverty line (like in Texas today).

While all manner of religions would be perfectly legal to practice, no religious body would get tax-exempt status. They would be taxed just like any other business.

The primary strengths of the DSA would be: as an educational powerhouse (all the best colleges are in the north-east area of present-day America), a financial/banking powerhouse (Wall Street did just fine before the Bush deregulation and will do just fine when the fail-safes are restored), and tourism (thanks to the DSA's many wonderful ports and historical locations. Likewise, with new regulations limiting corporate greed and outsourcing, Detroit will be restored to its former glory as an automotive manufacturing center for the world.

The primary weaknesses of the DSA will be: high taxes (although citizens will get more bang for their tax dollar than they currently do), less economic mobility (there will be very few billionaires, but there will be very few people in poverty either), and a weaker national defense (democratic republics with socialist tendencies have typically not valued large military reserves).

The Christian States of America (CSA)
This region will encompass the Atlantic states from Virginia to Florida as well as Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The capitol city will be Dallas. The CSA will be a hybridized theocratic plutocracy in which the national religion will be a neo-Pentecostal brand of strict, socially-conservative fundamentalist Christianity. The CSA would also ascribe "personhood" status to corporate entities with full voting rights. Non-Christians would be granted "resident" status but not "citizen" status.

The CSA's legal structure would be based on a modified version of the Levitical Law of the Old Testament. "Crimes" such as homosexuality and owning idols would be punishable by death. However, Levitical laws related to diet and working on Saturday would not be imposed (since the corporations are certainly not going to give workers a day off). Likewise, abortion would be outlawed in the CSA and natural miscarriages would trigger a formal police investigation, with the charge of premeditated murder possibly being imposed on a woman who miscarries. There would be no public school system, but instead there would be a fee-based education network. There would be no minimum-wage protections, no child-labor protections, no workplace safety protections, no disability insurance (SSDI), no retirement insurance (Social Security), no FDA, no USDA, no EPA, and no national parks. The police and fire services would be individually contracted on a tiered basis (the more you paid, the higher priority you got when making emergency calls). The prison system would be run by major corporations.

In the CSA, the career options for women would be limited to clerical, teaching, and nursing. There would be no female police officers, fire fighters, soldiers, or captains of industry. Women would be precluded from initiating a divorce or pressing charges against her husband for domestic violence.

Although all schools would be fee-based private schools, the CSA would require that Creationism be taught as a science. Evolution, human sexuality, climate change, and several other sciences would be outlawed. While it would be permitted for a non-citizen to be an atheist or other religion, the CSA would forbid the construction of temples, mosques, groves, or any other kind of non-Christian religious building. In addition to churches paying no taxes, corporations with more than 1,000 employees would also be tax-exempt. Furthermore, billionaires would be granted a special designation of "Job Creator". Once the Job Creator status is imposed, that person would be tax-exempt for the rest of his life. Likewise, a Job Creator would be granted immunity from prosecution for non-violent misdemeanors (such as bribery, embezzlement, etc.). In general elections, a Job Creator's vote would carry 10,000 the weight of an ordinary citizen's vote. Likewise, a corporation could vote in elections, with its vote having a value of  "1" per million dollars in assets.

The health care system in the CSA would likewise be fee-based. People who could not pay in advance for medical care would simply be refused medical care.

Strengths of the CSA: This country would directly compete with China and India for cheaply-made manufactured goods at cheap prices. Overall employment in the CSA would be higher than in the DSA, but the average wages would be pennies on the dollar by comparison. The CSA would enjoy a very large military, as straight, white, Christian men would volunteer to serve in foreign wars in order to get better wages and a better education. The CSA would be culturally united since all citizens would be heterosexual, conservative Christians. The CSA would have a relatively large reserve of fossil fuels.

Weaknesses of the CSA: The low wages and theocratic laws would inspire more criminal activity (more fodder for Jail Industries). The infant mortality would skyrocket. The CSA would very rapidly fall behind the rest of the world with respect to education, lifespan, scientific development, the arts, and quality of life. It is quite possible that the CSA could turn the ecology into a barren wasteland in under a century.

The Midwestern States of America (MSA)
This nation would be a theocratically-leaning democratic republic with a center-right social orientation. The capitol city would be Salt Lake City. With the Church of Latter Day Saints having very heavy cultural influence in this newly-created nation, one could expect polygamy to be legalized and homosexuality to be criminalized. Unlike the the CSA, homosexuals would not actually be prosecuted or killed. Rather, the decriminalization of homosexuality would simply serve to keep the GLBT population demoralized and living in a heightened state of alert at all times. Like the CSA, women would have few civil freedoms under the law and few career opportunities aside from duties typically considered "a woman's work". Unlike the CSA, the region controlled by the Church of Latter Day Saints would not be particularly interested in despoiling the ecology for profit, nor would it be interested in making the vast majority of the population poor.

Non-LDS faiths would be tolerated but not loved. Mormon churches would retain tax-exempt status but other faiths would not get exempted. Unlike the CSA, however, it would be perfectly legal to build a mosque, temple, etc.

Aside from the heavy religious overlay, not much else would change with respect to health care, science, police/fire services, and the like. Because the MSA would be a landlocked nation surrounded by other fragments of the former United States, the MSA would require the smallest military. Their military would consist primarily of young men would would do double-duty as "missionaries" and "soldiers" for a mandatory two-year period upon reaching age 18.

Strengths of the MSA: Most of these states are agricultural powerhouses. The MSA would also enjoy a relatively intact ecology and the opportunity to produce renewable energy (again, thanks to its agricultural base). The MSA would also be shielded from the worst of the immigration and gang problems since this nation would not share borders with Mexico.

Weaknesses of the MSA: It wouldn't have the manufacturing base of the CSA, nor would it have the educational/financial base of the DSA. Moreover, governments influenced by religion will invariable suppress sciuence and innovation.

The Pacific States of America (PSA)
This region would consist of California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. The capitol city would be Redmond, WA. This nation would be a center-left traditional democratic republic. While being less liberal than the DSA, the Pacific States would enjoy religious freedom, marriage equality, and decent educational system. Unlike the CSA, the Pacific States would be chiefly interested in creating high-tech jobs.Scientific literacy would be a top priority in the public school systems. The PSA would compete, technology, against Japan and Europe. Rather than running sweatshops for cheaply-made goods (like in the CSA), the manufacturing base for the Pacific States would be mainly high-quality technological items that would not fall apart 18 months after purchase. Because the Pacific States are already culturally divided, the public school system would make bilingual fluency a requirement for graduation. Thus, all English-speaking students would know Spanish by age 18, and all Spanish-speaking students would do likewise for English.

While the Pacific States would not need a huge military for overseas wars (like the CSA), it would require a very large internal police force to bring the incredibly heavy gang infestation under control. Likewise, the first order of business for the newly-created nation would be to grant citizenship to all illegal aliens. While that would initially seem counterproductive, that action would have the immediate effect of radically increasing the tax revenues coming into Redmond's coffers (illegal aliens don't pay taxes, citizens do).

Primary strengths of the PSA: Tourism and high-tech jobs.

Primary weaknesses of the PSA: Fragmented culture, gang infestation.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Who the heck owns the month of December?

Ah, December. It's time for the annual whining of the Religious Right concerning the entirely bogus "War On Christmas". You know, the "war" denoted that some companies have changed their sales circulars to read "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". See, we're supposed to feel sorry for fundamentalists because they think that "soon" they won't be able to celebrate Christmas anymore. What a laugh.

The truth of the matter is that Christians don't own the month of December and they cannot handle the fact that we live in a country that enjoys religious plurality.

Here's a brief list of some of the religious holidays that occur in December:

5 Monday Ashura   - Islamic recognition of the Creation.

8 Thursday Bodhi Day -  Buddhist celebration of Prince Gautama.

12 Monday Feast Day of Lady of Guadalupe - Catholic 

21-28 Wednesday-Wednesday Hanukka  - Jewish Festival of Lights.

21 Wednesday Yule - Wicca solstice observance - Northern hemisphere.

25 Sunday Christmas  - Christian celebration of birth of Jesus.

26 Monday Death of Prophet Zarathushtra - Zoroastrian observance.

And that's the short list. By writing signs that read "Merry Christmas", retailers would essentially be saying to 24% of the American population "F--- You! We don't consider your kind welcome here!" Personally, I like the fact that "Happy Holidays" covers many holidays for many people. The fundamentalist Christians will just have to get over it.

In lighter news, my Pagan group (Turning Circle) got invited to open the worship services for the Unitarian Universalist church in Columbia, MD. Being the opposite of fundamentalists, the UU folk are very open-minded and inclusive. I was pretty happy that several UU members asked us about Paganism and some of them seemed genuinely interested in coming to at least one of our services at some point in the future.

My training at the police academy is going well. My test average for all the exams so far is 98%. Yay! Hopefully I will be able to keep it up. I have five more weeks of training before I am certified by the police department as a probation agent.