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As Flies Are We To The Gods – Part MMXV

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.
– Shakespeare

The world has been drowning in the bloodshed of religious violence for thousands of years. Greece vs Egypt vs Rome vs Turks vs Mongols… Christians vs Muslims vs Jews… Shia vs Sunni… Catholics vs Protestants… eternal hatreds, endless wars. We like to think of ourselves as advanced and enlightened, but our medieval roots are showing.

Nine years ago, this commentary was published following the violent reactions of religious extremists to the publication of a Danish cartoon. So we don’t have to wonder what the late Christopher Hitchens would have to say about today’s massacre at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It’s worth another read, and sadly just as relevant now as it was then.

“Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.” (By the way, hasn’t the word “offensive” become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a “holy” book. But I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.”

Read the full article at Slate:
Cartoon Debate: The case for mocking religion, by Christopher Hitchens

“Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things, because to demystify supposedly ‘holy texts dictated by god’ and show that they are man made, what you have to show is their internal inconsistencies and absurdities. One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority… it is an indispensable thing. People can call it blasphemy if they like, but if they call it that they have to assume there is something to be blasphemed – some divine work, well I don’t accept the premise.” – Christopher Hitchens 16 May 2013

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We Do

Here’s an update on the continuing destruction of traditional marriage in the United States:

BACKGROUND:  In June 2013, the Supreme Court declared the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. That ruling compelled the federal government to recognize and treat equally all marriages considered to be legal in any one of the 50 states. At that point, there were half a dozen or so states that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples.

That ruling was a critically important step in civil rights in America, because while state laws govern who can be married, the vast majority of legal and financial benefits of marriage are bestowed by the federal government. In fact, there are 1,138 federal benefits that accrue to married couples that are not available to swinging singles. Benefits in areas such as Social Security, Taxation, Estates & Inheritance, Adoption, Immigration, Family & Medical Leave, Employee Benefits for Federal Workers, and much more. It’s not just about all that sanctimonious sanctity stuff.

That 2013 Supreme Court ruling did NOT strike down the anti-same-sex-marriage laws in any of the 40+ states still banning marriage equality. But the ruling was a seismic shift in the legal landscape. The writing was on the wall. The bigots had lost. But they kept up the fight… if only to keep those contributions flowing from America’s pews and Barcaloungers.

Dozens of lawsuits were filed by same-sex couples wishing to marry in every state which still banned marriage equality. These cases percolated up through the judicial system. In state courts rising to state supreme courts, and in federal courts rising up through the appellate levels. And you can almost feel sorry for the folks working so diligently to fight marriage equality. Almost. They tried soooo hard. They tried everything. They continued even to the point of looking absolutely ridiculous – and wasting millions of their taxpayers’ dollars. And now, they have not only lost… They have been annihilated. In fact, on more than a few occasions, they have been basically laughed out of court. As well they should be.

Since DOMA was eviscerated, there have been something like 40 court rulings in a row in favor of marriage equality. In every corner of the country. From judges known to be liberal, moderate and conservative. Appointed by Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama. The bigots always put the same question to the courts: We think it’s icky, so why can’t we prevent gay marriage in our state? And they got the same answer every time: Denying gay Americans access to marriage is a direct (obvious, flagrant) violation of their Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. Period. Now go home. And brush up on your constitutional law. One of my favorite of these rulings came from a federal judge in Pennsylvania, who wrote:

Penna.MarriageRuling.JohnEJonesIII

In some cases, a state stopped its legal campaign to prevent marriage equality once a federal court said it could not. (That was true in Pennsylvania after Judge John E. Jones III issued his ruling, excerpted above.) The governor or attorney general knew that to pursue this to the appellate court or Supreme Court would be a pointless waste of time and money. In the reddest of the red states, though, there was no backing down. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! When the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuits had all ruled in favor of marriage equality, five states appealed to the Supreme Court: Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana and Virginia.

The Supreme Court put these five cases on the list of those they would consider taking at the end of September. But when the Court released the list of cases it would definitely be taking in the new term, none of these marriage cases were on it. Hmmm. Que pasa, Supremos?

THEN TODAY, the first day of the new term, a bombshell: The Supreme Court announced it had rejected the marriage appeals from all five states. Whaaaaaa? That was initially misconstrued as a refusal to rule on these cases, but the decision not to consider the appeals is a de facto ruling, as it lets stand all of the appellate court rulings in those cases. And all of those rulings were in favor of marriage equality. And – double bonus feature! – Circuit Court of Appeals rulings, once given the force of law, apply to ALL of the states covered by that circuit. So, in addition to the five states who challenged the rulings, an additional six states are swept up in the nuptials news. It may take a few days for their unused kansas.ybmachinery of legal equality to crank up, but you will soon be able to gay marry the gay of your dreams in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Kansas… looks like you’re not in Kansas anymore!

So yes, a good day for equality and for America. We went from 19 to 30 states with marriage equality. More than 60% of Americans are now living in states with marriage equality. Not “gay marriage”. Just… marriage. And the bigoted anti-gay laws in the remaining 20 states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, etc) are now hanging by a legal thread. Stay tuned for more rainbow-colored rice being thrown, coast to coast. Click here for a great series of maps showing the status of states with marriage equality, and the states with pending appeals (i.e., the next to go).freedomtomarrylogo

Many of us are disappointed that the Court did not take on these cases and issue a definitive ruling wiping the remaining discriminatory laws off the books, just as it did in 1967 with bans on interracial marriage. That may be yet to come. Some believe the 5th Circuit offers the (sad) possibility of issuing a pro-discrimination ruling. That would be appealed to the Supreme Court – which would have no choice but to take the case, given its action today. You cannot have a country where marriage equality is the law of the land, except in a handful of states. For excellent in-depth coverage of all the legal actions and status in the battle for marriage equality, go to FreedomToMarry.org.

And if you are mourning the loss of your treasured, traditional biblical marriage, I offer you this message from Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian. Like so many of your fellow flock, you may not really understand what kinds of marriage the bible endorses. Let Betty show you the light.

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Pale Blue Dot

“…every saint and sinner in the history of our species… lived there…
on the mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam…” – Carl Sagan

From The Sagan Series

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I AM (NOT) MIKE BROWN

A man at a protest holds a sign expressing his solidarity – and commonality – with Mike Brown.

“I AM MIKE BROWN”

Mike Brown is dead.

Mike Brown was shot to death.

Mike Brown was 18 years old. Black. Unarmed.

Mike Brown was gunned down in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day.

By a cop.

In Ferguson, Missouri.

In the United States of America.

Ferguson, Missouri is a suburb of St Louis. Its population is 70% black.

Its mayor is white. School board is white. City council is white (except for one black member). And the Ferguson Police Department is 94% white, with only 3 black police officers.

Mike Brown was shot six times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Four times in the arm, twice in the head.

His crime was jaywalking.

Later it was suggested by the Ferguson Police Dept that he may have stolen a handful of cigars from a convenience store.

Because, unlike jaywalking, that is a crime punishable by death in a hail of bullets from a cop’s gun in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

Eyewitnesses have reported that Mike Brown had his hands in the air in the universal sign of surrender. And then he was murdered. 

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

“Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.” has become a rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson, all over the country and around the world.

Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Dept left Mike Brown’s body lying in the street, uncovered, for four hours. The body of a dog that had been run over by a car would have been treated with more respect than this. How can this be?

mikebrown.deadinstreet

Ten days after killing unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown, and Darren Wilson still has not been arrested. He has not been detained. He has not been questioned. He has not been charged with a crime. The people of Ferguson are incensed. They are marching in their streets. They are venting their anger. They are exercising their Constitutional rights to assemble and petition their government. They are demanding the same justice that anyone has a right to expect in this country. But they are not getting any measure of justice. They have been met with an absurdly overblown paramilitary response including armored vehicles, automatic weapons trained on them, and tear gas canisters fired at them. 

The US military’s rules of engagement in Iraq did not allow soldiers to point their weapons at civilians.

Automatic weapons are leveled at American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

The United States is a signatory to treaties that ban the use of tear gas in warfare.

Tear gas is being used against American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit: Eric Thayer / New York Times

Photo credit Eric Thayer / New York Times

Substitute your own racial or ethnic group in place of [a black man] in the following sentence:

In the United States of America, a black man is shot to death by a cop every 28 hours.

What would you do?

I am Mike Brown.

But I am not Mike Brown.

I am a 52-year-old white man who has never experienced one moment of fear that I would be shot to death by a cop. I have lived in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I have visited Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, St Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Baltimore… and many other cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas in this country. I have walked through downtown areas in the middle of the night. I have marched in the streets in protests.

But I have never – not for one minute of my life – known the fear of being targeted by a cop. I have never worried about being shot to death for jaywalking as 18-year-old Mike Brown was. I have never worried about being put in a choke hold by a group of NYC police for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. While other cops stood by. While paramedics did not come to my aid. As 43-year-old Eric Garner was. I have never worried about being shot to death in a Walmart for picking up a BB gun from a BB gun display, as 22-year-old John Crawford was in Beavercreek, Ohio. I have never worried about being shot in the back while I was lying on the ground during an “investigative stop” as 25-year-old Ezell Ford was in Los Angeles. I have never worried about being shot to death by a vigilante as I walked home to my grandmother’s house as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was. I have never worried about being shot to death at a gas station for playing loud music as 17-year-old Jordan Davis was.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

So no, I am not Mike Brown. I am not Eric Garner or John Crawford. I am not Ezell Ford or Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis.

I am not a black man in America.

But I am an American. As were all of these men. Why can I walk through my neighborhood, in my city, in my country without fear of being shot to death by the police? Why can’t black men do the same? Why can’t black women in America say goodbye to their husbands, their sons, their grandsons – without wondering if they’ll ever see them again?

Why are black men (and all people of color) treated so outrageously unfairly by our law enforcement and justice systems? 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. – read more at AmericanProgress.org

And what are we – you and I – going to do about it?

Join a protest. Raise your voice. And vote

Why vote? 

Because the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have a voter turnout of about 12%. That is how a 70% black town gets an almost 100% white leadership. In other words, that is how people get a government that does not represent their best interests. It may not be the government they deserve, but it is the government they gave themselves.

The government of the United States of America does not currently represent the best interests of the people of this country. There is an election in ten weeks. Every member of Congress is up for re-election. Many state and local elected officials, too. So vote. Whatever your race, your creed, your color, your orientation, your issue. Vote. It is your only power. And if you don’t use it, you will find yourself powerless. Like the people of Ferguson. And then it might be too late. As it is for Mike Brown.

Voting cannot end racism in this country. But voting can remove racists from elected positions in government at every level. And no, I make no distinction between racists and those who implement racist policies. Because there is no distinction to be made there.

If you are not registered to vote, or if you’re not sure,
click here >>> REGISTER TO VOTE NOW. AND THEN VOTE.

And if you have two minutes, watch this powerful statement from Jesse Williams on CNN

“I am Mike Brown” photo credit: Monica Almeida/New York Times

Continuing coverage by New York Times

Continuing coverage at Vox.com

“Pick Up The Battle. Take it up. It’s Yours.”

In light of the murder of Michael Brown and the continuing shame of Ferguson, Missouri… these words from Maya Angelou are still, and always, relevant. “Pick up the battle… it’s yours!”

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In 2006, Maya Angelou sat down in her home in North Carolina with Dave Chappelle for a conversation that was recorded as part of the Sundance Iconoclasts series.

The entire hour is available on YouTube in four parts. From the 5:00 mark of this clip, Maya remembers her friends Malcolm and Martin… how this is both historical and personal for her, these iconic figures were also her friends… and how the anger in the aftermath of their assassinations was fuel for action. She has a message for those of us who are angry about the state of our country and our world.


 “You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it…

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Upward Facing Dog

This is just something I cannot resist sharing with you, sports fans. OK, so we all remember when I fell for that watch-what-happens-when-two-strangers-meet-and-kiss video that turned out to be a slick production for an ad campaign. (If you are the one earthling who missed that viral outbreak, click here.)

And it may well be that the following is yet more slickness. But I don’t care. It made my day and if you haven’t yet seen this then I hope it makes your day, too. So without any further ado, I give you Nic & Pancho!

 

Nic + Pancho have their own YouTube channel (with more yoga vids) here.

And Nic Bello (whom you may already have suspected of living in Los Angeles) can be found at nicbello.com

Trees

When I was very young the view from my bedroom window looked up to the massive tree in the front of our house. It was either a maple or a sycamore. The only reason I know that is that I remember the seeds – the kind that would helicopter down to the ground. You could try to catch them, but their flightpath was unpredictable. About the only thing they were good for (other than making new trees) was that you could split the fat end and stick it on your nose, like a rhino horn. I’m not sure why that was so amusing, but it was. At night the tree was illuminated by a nearby streetlight. The light and the movement of the branches and leaves made an endless kaleidoscope of images. It was quite a show. Especially during a storm. I can remember being frightened sometimes by scary faces that would appear in the leafy imagery… but they never lasted long. Mostly, it was a great way to fall asleep every night.

One day, some men came with chainsaws and they chopped down the tree… my tree. I don’t know why. Maybe it had grown too big. Maybe its roots were destroying the sidewalk. What I do know is that this was the first great sadness I can recall in my life. I mourned the loss of that tree. And I did it quietly, because I instinctively knew that this was not something that a little boy ought to moretreesbe doing. Mourning a tree? That sentiment would not have been greeted with understanding or sympathy. But it was the beginning of my lifelong affinity for trees. Do others share this? I don’t know. It’s not something that comes up in conversation very often. I do know that many people don’t give a fig about trees. Are they in the way? Cut ’em down! Blocking a view? Cut ’em down! I’d rather cut those people down.

Today I came across two remarkable videos having to do with trees. The first was shared by my friend Scott on Facebook. It is from a group called Cryptik Movement which is dedicated to enlightenment through public art. Their “About” page opens with this quote:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” -Albert Einstein

Remember that folks! The Smartest. Guy. Ever. says we need to keep a sense of wonder and awe. OK, so here’s the first tree video I want to share with you:

The Consciousness of Trees

 

If that reminded you of the movie Avatar, you’re not alone. (Or, maybe I’m not alone.) What I love about this is that it is grounded in science, yet crosses into the mystical or spiritual aspect of Nature.

The second tree video – from my friend M-R’s eponymous blog Margaret-Rose Stringer – is quite different. Yet so similar. The focus is on one remarkable man whose life has had one remarkable focus: planting a forest in a barren, environmentally threatened place. If you don’t have 16 minutes to watch this now, click on it and then watch it later. If you want to see a demonstration of hope in a hopeless place, watch it now.

Forest Man

Can one person change the world? Yes. So can one tree. Thanks to my friends for sharing these today. I haven’t thought about my childhood tree in a long time. I hope this post branches out to create some of the wonder and awe that Einstein spoke of. If you enjoyed it, leaf a comment. Just don’t bark at me for these terrible puns.

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Word Crimes

What’s this? A second Weird Al Yankovic video? In the same week? Egads…

Whereas Tacky is a send up of Pharrell’s HappyWord Crimes is a parody of last year’s endlessly looping Blurred Lines, morphing it into an indictment of America’s sloppy language habits. It’s clever, naturally. But it may also be miraculous – alchemizing the most vapid song of the century into something instructive and edifying. Plus, it’s got a great beat.

 

Nota bene: Weird Al released no fewer than eight videos this week, a splashy publicity campaign for his new album Mandatory Fun.

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Tacky

Weird Al Yankovic takes the piss out of Pharrell’s Happy – with Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Jack Black, Aisha Tyler + Kristen Schaal.

click here >>> http://youtu.be/zq7Eki5EZ8o

 

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And if you still can’t get enough of the original… then let’s go to Cologne!

[074] Und Der Gewinner Ist… Köln!

And… if are already screaming MAKE IT STOP!! – click here.

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The Night Crew

WARNING: This post is for Trekkies only!

If you are not a Trekkie, click here.

If you don’t know what a Trekkie is, click here.

Behold…

 

Congrats on the Emmy noms, Robot Chicken

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From Thailand With Love

My friend Chris (a big sap) shared this tv commercial from TVC Thai Life Insurance.

Lovely message. Kindness is its own reward.

[hanky alert]

 

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Tank Man

Tank Man is 25.

It is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Yesterday marked 25 years since this unforgettable scene in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Here are two recollections of that time and place from Jeff Widener, the AP photographer who captured this extraordinary moment on film – and how he almost didn’t get the shot. The first is from the BBC:

And here is a link (click on the image) to Time magazine’s interview with Widener:

Time.Tank Man at 25

 

We call him “Tank Man” because we have never learned his name. Who was this man? What became of him? Is he even still alive – and what would he have to say about that day? About China today?

This photograph is a pure and perfect metaphor for the imbalance of power between us (Tank Man) and the State… and a poignant reminder that we are not powerless. Twenty-five years later, the world has changed in so many ways. In America, some of us fear that the State has become too powerful; others fear that government has become ineffectual against the rise of corporate power. Whatever these tanks represent to you, we should remember what Jeff Widener took away from his encounter with Tank Man’s defiance:

“All hope is not lost. You can make a stand.
You can be somebody. There is some dignity in that…
you fight for your rights.”

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Related posts:

Pick Up The Battle. Take It Up. It’s Yours.

Act Up! Fight Back!

This Is Why We Fight The Hate

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