left biblioblography: May 2009

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Another Episode Of Scapegoat Theater – Guess What, Folks? Atheism Is The Reason For The Economic Meltdown

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!greenspanshrugged

"I used to get disgusted, now I try to be amused" – Elvis Costello

(Hat tip to Hairy Fish Nuts for this one)

Items keep jockeying into position for Top Ten Stupidest Things I’ve Ever Heard:

Alan Greenspan, central figure in financial collapse is devout Atheist - Why it Matters

Many believe the unregulated growth in financial derivative products,vigorously supported by Alan Greenspan, has led to the gigantic fall in our stock market, a multi-trillion dollar loss to American savings and a ruined economy.

Yeah…let’s bypass the AIG fiascos, Enron, and a foreign war we’re hemorrhaging money into.

Mr.Greenspan, in his powerful position as Federal Reserve Chairman, had consistently and forcefully thwarted all government efforts to regulate the exploding growth of the trillion dollar derivative market place. His testimony before Congressional hearings lauded the benefits of the derivative markets, claiming they reduce market risks despite warnings from Warren Buffet and others.

Warren Buffet called the financial derivative markets as a ticking time bomb and“financial Weapons of Mass Destruction”. 

Way-ell, Buffet’s an agnostic, so I guess it’s okay to quote him.

Greenspan dismissed the criticism and insisted his  support for the unregulated financial derivatives market actually lowed the risks of a financial melt down. At all times he insisted Wall Street would be a stronger and more efficient regulator of financial risk than governments, claiming that due to their selfish interests, Wall Street’s collective wisdom would avoid excessive risk.

Hmmm…according to the wiki entry, “He was lauded for his handling of the Black Monday October 19, 1987 stock market crash, which occurred very shortly after he first became chairman, as well as for his stewardship of the Internet-driven "dot-com" economic boom of the 1990s. This expansion eventually ended in a burst in March 2000 leading to an economic downturn which Greenspan famously predicted as the result of ‘irrational exuberance’.”

Well, we now have a stupendous economic disaster that is historic in nature and we can thank Mr. Greenspan, the “Oracle” for bringing our economy not only to its knees but effectively nationalizing our banking system to the extent that would perhaps make the most liberal  democrat proud.

I can imagine the author spitting that last part out.

We think it is relevant and important to understand that Alan Greenspan is a devout Atheist.  More importantly his belief system can be directly connected to the financial meltdown. Many people are not aware that Alan Greenspan was a disciple of devoted  atheist ,Ayn Rand,  and a member of her group known as the “Collective“.  After earning his Masters in `1950,Greenspan became a 20-year associate of famed philosopher Ayn Rand, author of books "The Virtue of Selfishness,""Atlas Shrugged". Greenspan wrote for Rand’s newsletters and authored a chapter for a Rand book.

Some of this is true:

“Greenspan was initially a logical positivist but was converted to Objectivism by Nathaniel Branden. During the 1950s and 1960s Greenspan was a proponent of Ayn Rand's philosophy, writing articles for Objectivist newsletters and contributing several essays for Rand's 1966 book Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal including an essay supporting the gold standard.

During the 1950s, Greenspan was one of the members of Ayn Rand's inner circle, the Ayn Rand Collective, who read Atlas Shrugged while it was being written. Rand nicknamed Greenspan "the undertaker" because of his penchant for dark clothing and reserved demeanor. Although Greenspan was once recognized as a proponent of laissez-faire capitalism, some Objectivists find his support for a gold standard somewhat incongruous or dubious, given the Federal Reserve's role in America's fiat money system and endogenous inflation. He has come under criticism from Harry Binswanger, who believes his actions while at work for the Federal Reserve and his publicly expressed opinions on other issues show abandonment of Objectivist and free market principles. However, when questioned in relation to this, he has said that in a democratic society individuals have to make compromises with each other over conflicting ideas of how money should be handled. He said he himself had to make such compromises, because he believes that "we did extremely well" without a central bank and with a gold standard. Greenspan and Rand maintained a close relationship until her death in 1982.

In a congressional hearing on October 23, 2008 Greenspan admitted that his free-market ideology shunning certain regulations was flawed. This has caused backlash from Objectivist intellectuals, blaming the economic crisis on Greenspan's pandering to the mixed economy and betraying his laissez-faire views.”

And in fact, he is not well loved among the Objectivists:

Admirers of Rand, however, generally see Greenspan as a traitor, since he never advocated anything that approaches Rand's absolute laissez-faire capitalism. In House hearings during the second month of the market meltdown of 2008, Greenspan testified that he had "found a flaw" in his market ideology, and conceded that he had been "partially" wrong in opposing regulation of derivatives.

Ayn Rand, well known atheist, and famous author  is also renowned for her central role in the creation of the philosophy known as “Objectives. This philosophy espouses  a deep commitment to atheistic values, celebrates the virtue of the individual and, despises government regulation of any kind other than for crime control.  She has said "Money is the barometer of a society's virtue." She also said about religion that “it was untrue in all its manifestations and that its consequences were disastrous.”

About the only place I actually agree with Rand is in that last sentence.

Alan Greenspan was a devoted follower of Objectivism and he was well aware of the philosophies’ contempt for religion.

So…we shouldn’t have high government officials who aren’t religious? (Rhetorical question.)

Ministry Values believes Alan Greenspan’s adherence to Objectivism and its celebration of money as virtuous, and religion as contemptuous was ultimately a contributing factor to the financial catastrophe. With his devotion to the disturbing idea that “the pursuit of man’s own-self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life“ and the implied immorality of God and religion unquestionably led to our financial debacle.

Of which the 8 years of Republican leadership had no part? Must be soothing to be so naive.

He allowed the Wall Street cowboys to run wild as he naively held to his devotion of “Greed is Good”  or  "Greed is God."  

I’m sorry, but do they give out a sheriff’s badge with the Chairman position? Were the ‘Wall Street cowboys’ atheists too? I’m betting they weren’t.

We gave the keys to the store  to a man deeply committed to Atheism and money as virtuous and he went out and nearly bankrupted the country.

Ah…hello? "For every complex question, there is a simple answer-- and it's wrong." – H. L. Mencken. The author also doesn’t understand that not all atheists are Objectivists.

MinistryValues.com  would  love to have had  a  moment  with Mr.Greenspan.  At a  recent Congressional hearing, we would  have asked him to first  pull a dollar out of his wallet  and  then we would have asked him to comment on the  well known words  found on the currency. We would have liked to hear his  comments about the words everybody is familiar with, except it seems Alan Greenspan, and those words are "In God We Trust" 

Yes, and we haven’t seen anything resembling divine intervention in…how many millennia? Ever?

Isn't it ironic. The Trustee of "In God We Trust"  was  an  Atheist. 

Ummm, sorry, IGWT is actually a recent addition – wouldn’t ya know it, right around when Greenspan joined the Objectivists.

Had our elected leaders, simply asked Mr. Greenspan, years ago, if he believed  the United States was a nation under God ,  perhaps  we may not be in the financial catastrophe we find ourselves in today. 

And why is this? Because they wouldn’t have allowed an atheist to become Chairman. Yeah, that’s good sense (face palm).

Why is it we can try an label politicians as "socialists"  in attempt to ruin careers, yet we defend  and tip-toe around "Atheists" like they are Bambis . 

Nice that somebody finally cops to trying to ruin politicians via labeling them ‘socialists’, but I have yet to see anyone ‘tip-toeing’ around us at all.

Atheism is a man made construct, like communism or socialism and without a concern in the world we put them in charge of our financial system , for decades. This man was beholden to an ideal and   Nobody seems to get and nobody seems to care.

That’s because

  1. everything we do is a man-made construct,
  2. Greenspan’s ‘ideal’ wasn’t exactly what the Objectivists had in mind, and
  3. it’s about actions not ideology

Would we have put a known "Communist"  in the position of Fed Chair, of course not.  Yet the Atheist who destroyed our economy and a man who believes "money is the barometer of societies virtue" gets a free pass.

I think this was written by a high schooler. Obviously Greenspan’s philosophies are more complex than that. And yet, our society does give specific pay scales free passes. One only has to view the latest celebrity driving debacle, the OJ Simpson trial, the Matthew Broderick fiasco, or any of the white collar echelon that commit crimes. I wonder if these folks said anything about Kenneth Lay being a Methodist? W being protestant? Oh wait – they should give their own folks special treatment.

The next is an eye crosser:

We strongly believe in a separation of Church and State, our troops are dying in Iraq to defend that prinicipal  but  we  are still  a country of  "One Nation Under God" and now our Government, like never before, needs to defend that principal and defend it with pride and resolve.  The words need to mean something.

How on EARTH is the war in Iraq any way related to the SOCAS? It isn’t. Iraqi officials didn’t pop into our schools and demand prayer, nor did they insist on mangers on public land. And of course that irritating “ONUG” (One Nation Under God) nonsense that was implemented 54 years ago in a nation that’s well over 200 years old.

Funnier still, is this:

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy (1850-1898). Bellamy's original "Pledge of Allegiance" was published in the September 8th issue of the popular children's magazine The Youth's Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America, conceived by James B. Upham.

Bellamy's original Pledge read, "I Pledge Allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

The pledge was supposed to be quick and to the point. Bellamy designed it to be stated in 15 seconds. He had initially also considered using the words equality and fraternity but decided they were too controversial since many people opposed equal rights for women and blacks.

But of course, Bellamy was a Christian socialist, and therefore, it’s not quite the stark red ‘A’ brand, I’d bet.

Let’s see, as I’ve pointed out in the past, there are more than enough examples of people who are markedly godfull, who will ply their trade for trinkets and money. We can go into how the Bush administration lied and thousands died (and still are dying) because ‘gwad’ told him to invade Iraq.

The fact is, that people do foolish things, regardless of their ideology. Sometimes because of it, but more often than not, it’s an easy excuse easily accepted, an automatic mulligan.

(As a side note, I always wonder why the fundagelicals can’t seem to spell the word ‘principle’ properly. Likelihood is they never went to the principal’s office, I bet.)

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oh The Humanity – Are We Not Human Also?

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!Monster That Challenged The World

If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ...Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814

In April, a crazed black man named Anthony shot an innocent girl, and committed suicide. Prior to this, he was seen ranting and raving about how atheists weren’t human.

Jerry Falwell once said, “If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being.”

Also in April, a Catholic bishop by the name of Walter Mixa quoted Dostoevsky as saying, “If God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted.” And blamed the entire Nazi mess on atheism.

Just recently, a Catholic cardinal stated that atheists weren’t ‘fully’ human.

Not long ago, Elizabeth Dole attacked an opponent on TV with ads that accused Hagan of being an atheist – as if this were a crime also.

We have an alleged ‘professor of journalism’ defending her anti-atheistic commentary (and to be sure, I engaged her myself).

There are sufficient grounds for us as individuals and as a collective to be enraged, to be somewhat less courteous. After all, in some states, we can have our children taken away from us.

In fact, if you’re an atheist, you don’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find something that will utterly get up your nose. Or. as Dorothy Parker once quipped, “What fresh hell is this?”

I can readily withstand the accusations of being intellectually feeble (laughable at best), or of not having thought it all through (risible at best, these people tend to slop out scripture quotes as if I’d not read a bit of their book), but the unkindest of all is the accusation of somehow being less human.

There are various viewpoints on what it means to be human. Of course, the ICR claims we are just a vast network of servants. Here’s the scientific explanation. But I think the Pioneer 10 plaque outlined the definition best.

The first step is the biology, of course. To quote Shakespeare:

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

Act III, scene I – Merchant of Venice

Substitute ‘Jew’ for ‘Atheist’, and you ken me drift. At what point, then, does the human being terminate his/her relationship (regardless of biology, or in spite of) to all others of their species? Let’s look at the definition of inhuman:

  1. Lacking kindness, pity, or compassion; cruel. See synonyms at cruel.
  2. Deficient in emotional warmth; cold.
  3. Not suited for human needs: an inhuman environment.
  4. Not of ordinary human form; monstrous.

Let’s look at the definition of inhumane:

adj.
Lacking pity or compassion.

The general prevalent concept is that to sever one’s humanity from one’s fellows, is to commit a crime (or crimes) utterly lacking in empathy of any sort. Crimes such as mass murder, serial rape, or pedophilia usually qualify (oops! There goes a huge portion of priests from a denomination we’re all familiar with!).

The long and short of it is, boys and girls, is that a large percentage of folks seem to think/believe that we are somehow lessened in quality as humans if we don’t pay homage to some transcendental (read: supernatural) source-of-all-things. It’s a fairly common misbelief, as my years on the internet have taught me.

Oftentimes, our species exhibits an internal xenophobia that, while an defense evolutionary mechanism, runs contrary to the dictates of sense and logic.

It is a long, hard road that we have to tread, because ideological bigotry is perhaps the last abstract frontier left to conquer.

Just remember to circle the wagons when the time comes.

Till the next post, then.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Watson! The Game Is Afoot!

I’ve been watching the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes recently, and today is actually the 150th birthday of Arthur Conan Doyle. The answers.com page shows this blurb:

Spotlight: It's elementary... Legendary detective Sherlock Holmes may have been a master of the art of observation and deduction, but he didn't gather all the clues unaided. Depending not only on his trusty sidekick, Dr. Watson, Holmes frequently sought help from a band of street urchins whom he dubbed the Baker Street Irregulars. Fans of Holmes later formed a group, adopting the name BSI. Still active today, they've included such illustrious figures as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, as well as lesser-known names. The only real criterion for membership is an active, deep-rooted devotion to all things Sherlockian. The creator of the object of all this devotion, Arthur Conan Doyle, was born 150 years ago today. A physician by trade, Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories featuring Holmes and company.

And of course, Jeremy Brett replaced Basil Rathbone as the quintessential Holmes.

As a voracious reader in my youth, I used to delight in reading the Holmes’ adventures. That he could read people and make rapid deductions as to their recent activities, their livelihood, and varied other sundries, was almost magical, until he explained in cool detail just how simple it was. I enjoyed these tales then, and to this day I still do.

Sherlock Holmes was of course a fictional character, but a delightful one: a keen analytical intellect, an eccentric with an eye for details that others take for granted, an autodidactic expert only on the fields that interested him, he was (and still is) a standard and an icon.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teenage Witches Are Only Welcome On US TV, But Not In Nigeria…

As if it’s not bad enough that Nigerian Prime Ministers send us invitations to help invest mysteriously acquired wealth, it turns out that rambunctious children are now being targeted as witches.

(CNN) -- Christian Eshiett was a rambunctious pre-teen who spent a lot of time cavorting with his friends in southern Nigeria. He would skip school and run away from home for days, frustrating his grandfather, who oversaw the boy's care.

Children branded as witches protest on February 26, 2009, in the southern Nigerian city of Eket.

Children branded as witches protest on February 26, 2009, in the southern Nigerian city of Eket.

"I beat him severely with canes until they broke, yet he never shed a tear," said Eshiett Nelson Eshiett, 76. "One day, I took a broom to hit him and he started crying. Then I knew he was possessed by demons. ... Nigerian witches are terrified of brooms."

From that day two years ago, Christian, now 14, was branded a witch. The abuse intensified.

"They would take my clothes off, tie me up and beat me," he told CNN in a telephone interview.

The teen is one of the so-called witch children in Eket, a city in oil-rich Akwa Ibom state of Nigeria.

They are blamed for causing illness, death and destruction, prompting some communities to put them through harrowing punishments to "cleanse" them of their supposed magical powers.

"Children accused of witchcraft are often incarcerated in churches for weeks on end and beaten, starved and tortured in order to extract a confession," said Gary Foxcroft, program director of Stepping Stones Nigeria, a nonprofit that helps alleged witch children in the region.

Many of those targeted have traits that make them stand out, including learning disabilities, stubbornness and ailments such as epilepsy, he added.

The issue of "child witches" is soaring in Nigeria and other parts of the world, Foxcroft said.

The states of Akwa Ibom and Cross River have about 15,000 children branded as witches, and most of them end up abandoned and abused on the streets, he said.

Christian ran away from home and wandered around for two years with other children similarly accused. He said they stole, begged for food and performed menial jobs to survive.

The plight of "child witches" is raising concern among aid organizations, including the United Nations.

"It is a growing issue worldwide, among not just African communities, but in countries such as Nepal as well," said Jeff Crisp, head of policy development and evaluation for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "We are trying to see whether it is a neglected protected issue."

Belief in witchcraft thrives worldwide. About 1,000 people accused of being witches in Gambia were locked in detention centers in March and forced to drink a dangerous hallucinogenic potion, human rights organization Amnesty International said.

In 2005, relatives of an 8-year-old Angolan girl living in England were convicted of torturing her for being a "witch," according to the Times Online.

Pastors have been accused of worsening the problem by claiming to have powers to recognize and exorcise "child witches," sometimes for a fee, aid workers said.

But some are true believers, such as one minister in Lagos, Nigeria. He pinpoints children affected by witchcraft for free, he said.

"Sometimes, we get a dream that shows us a certain person is suffering from witchcraft," said the Rev. Albert Aina, a senior pastor at Four Square Gospel Church. "Sometimes, you have a child who has inexplicable body marks because of struggling in the night. They are easy to identify, but why charge when you have been given a gift by God?" Aina said.

Once a child is branded a witch, the stigma can last forever.

Christian was reunited with his grandfather, a former theater instructor at a university in Nigeria. Eshiett said he let his son's child return home because he loves him and he advocates for youth education.

But, he added, he does not think Christian has been or can be freed from witchcraft.

"When you are possessed, you are possessed; no one can deliver you from Satan," Eshiett said, adding that his grandson is a witch because he still exhibits unruly behavior and does not take education seriously.

Aid organizations acknowledge that the belief is acceptable and popular in some communities.

"It is not the belief in witchcraft that we are concerned about," Foxcroft said. "We acknowledge people's right to hold this belief on the condition that this does not lead to child abuse."

Foxcroft, whose documentary, "Saving Africa's Witch Children," was broadcast last year, spoke to a U.N. panel on the issue in April.

The aid worker said he is planning a global conference in 2010 and public awareness campaigns, including addressing the issue in Nigerian movies. The nation's film industry, dubbed Nollywood, is a popular form of entertainment in African countries.

Government officials also have joined the fight.

Akwa Ibom recently added a clause into the Child Rights Act, saying that anyone found guilty of branding a child a witch would get up to 12 years in prison.

"This is groundbreaking, and Stepping Stones Nigeria applauds the Akwa Ibom state government for this," Foxcroft said.

But, he added, there is more work to be done, and other groups, especially churches, have to team up to resolve the problem.

"The role of the international Christian community in this cannot be underestimated," Foxcroft said. "Unfortunately, the fact remains that this belief system is being spread by so-called Christians."

CNN's attempts to reach Akwa Ibom state officials through phone calls and e-mails were unsuccessful. A Nigerian federal communications official declined to comment.

This is yet another powerful example of the anachronism of religion is a force for anything but good in our world. These people need to be educated, not mollycoddled into thinking their lopsided beliefs any validity whatsoever.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

And The Bleat Goes On…More Ditherings From The Reichwing Katlicks

(Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!)

(hat tip to Rob Boston @ Talk To Action)

The word ‘unbelievable’ comes to mind. Donohue makes some sort of distinction between practicing Catholics and non-practicing Catholics, the former allegedly agreeing with him (oh hey, they don’t eat hagus either, right?), he also carries on about how the ‘bishops are energized’ about Obama receiving a degree at Notre Dame.

At 6:48, the blonde tries to fire Boston up about honoring pro-death penalty speakers at the university – and Donohue spewing ‘It’s not intrinsically evil’. So…abortion is intrinsically evil, but putting people to death isn’t? I smell the fresh new-fallacy smell of special pleading.

An old post of mine, illustrates a number of problems with the modern religious viewpoints on abortion:

Still even Jerome - while saying some of the most awful garbage about women in recorded history, was not as hardcore about abortion as today's Religious Right, writing "The seed gradually takes shape in the uterus, and it [abortion] does not count as killing until the individual elements have acquired their external appearance and their limbs ("Epistle" (121, 4))"
Neither were early church organizational meetings unanimous. The Synods of Elvira and Ancyra (306 ACE, 314 ACE) explicitly called abortion a sin, while the Apostolic Constitutions (380 ACE) disallowed it only after the fetus took on a "human shape."”
(Snip)
“In the early 7th Century, the Church began codifying what it considered sexual sins and abortion made the list, but was well behind the "sins" of birth control, oral sex, and anal sex. In fact, the punishment for oral sex was at least 7 years of penance, while the punishment for abortion was a mere 120 days.”
(Snip)
“Even St. Thomas Aquinas himself - arguably the most influential theologian in Roman Catholic Christianity, did not consider a fetus human until the quickening.
This was the way it was for the most part until - and are you sitting down for this? - 1869. That's when Pope Pius IX declared all abortion to be homicide. That's right, for nearly the entire history of Christianity, the Catholic Church was officially tolerant of first trimester abortion. The change was well after the Enlightenment, after the Civil War, and into the modern scientific era. In fact, it was only as recently as 1983 that all vestiges of the distinction between the "fetus animatus" and "fetus inanimatus" were quietly purged from Canon Law. (Yes, that was 1983... only 23 years ago)”

The entire argument hinges upon (and fails miserably) ensoulment. It fails because there is no substantial proof that there is anything resembling a soul – and when evidence is demanded, we become subjected to innumerable personal anecdotes, retrofitted laws of conservation, and anything else under the sun, excepting any sort of solid proof.

Tell me that I as an individual will survive death, and I will hold up a DVD (or CD-ROM), cut it twice with scissors,  and quietly request that the claimant retrieve the information on it.

In the meantime, we are yoked by the superstitions of the populace overly fond of their precious little fables, who will spend copious monies as well as time and energy to protest in favor of something unprovable, rather than address the root of their grievance, that of poverty, lack of education, and improved living standards for their fellow human beings.

It is to weep, sometimes.

Till the next post then.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Mist – Definitely One For The Collection

Wow – I read the short story years ago, I knew what was going to happen, the characters, etc. But I gotta say: this film gave me the serious willies regardless.

The Mist:

After a brutal thunderstorm pounds a small town, the residents discover a malevolent mist hangs over their homes, killing anyone who remains outside. Trapped in a grocery store, a band of survivors must make a stand against the deadly fog. Based on a story by horror maestro Stephen King and directed by multiple Oscar nominee Frank Darabont, this spine chiller stars Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden and Andre Braugher.

The casting was great, the CGI was pretty good (the pharmacy scene was especially shuddersome, when the MP fell down and erupted into ‘spiders’, eh-huh-huh-huh), and the woman playing Mrs. Carmody…well, the answers.com entry says it best:

When the old Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) becomes convinced that she is the true vessel of God and begins barking fire and brimstone to the frightened prisoners of The Mist, things shift from just supernatural scary to real-world terrifying. An enthusiastic but harmless zealot at the onset, Mrs. Carmody eventually manages to make even spiky-tentacled monstrosities from another dimension look like they might be kind of cuddly by comparison. It's fascinating to see how the alliances unfold as the situation grows increasingly tense, and Darabont handles the growing division and animosity among the fractured survivors with the kind of skill that really draws the viewer in.

And that’s no lie – she gave me the utter willies, as she’s that scary sort of theist we atheists have nightmares about.

Another big plus – usually most King vehicles suck. Once Hollyweird gets a hold of wonderful stories, they tend to ‘modify’ (read: shred) them. If you’ve read Graveyard Shift the story, and watch the movie, you’ll tell yourself, “Hey, that’s not the story I read.” Same with Children of the Corn. Up until now, I’d maintained that the only flick that held true to a King story was The Dead Zone (the Christopher Walken film, not that dreadful TV derivative knock-off).

So I give it two fists up and a ‘hell-YEAH!’

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Monday, May 11, 2009

When The Religious Rule The Religious, Part The Deus – Childhood’s End

"The most religious nation in the world is India, the most irreligious nation in the world is Sweden. We are a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes." – Jerry Sutton

I was on a stationary bike at the Y, when I saw this ugly little tidbit:

Official: More than 1M child prostitutes in India

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Around 1.2 million children are believed to be involved in prostitution in India, the country's federal police said Monday.

Ashwani Kumar, who heads the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), told a seminar on human trafficking, that India occupied a "unique position" as what he called a source, transit nation and destination of this trade.

India's home secretary Madhukar Gupta remarked that at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.

"The number of trafficked persons is difficult to determine due to the secrecy and clandestine nature of the crime.

"However, studies and surveys sponsored by the ministry of women and child development estimate that there are about three million prostitutes in the country, of which an estimated 40 percent are children," a CBI statement said.

Prostitution in pilgrim towns, exploitation through sex tourism and pedophilia are some of some of the "alarming trends" that have emerged in recent years in India, it noted.

Authorities believe 90 percent of human trafficking in India is "intra-country."

Now, no, I’m not going into a diatribe blaming religion for this. India is a culturally diverse country, but it’s about 80% Hindu and 14% Muslim, the other 6% a variety scaling from Christianity to Jainism and Buddhism. Rather, this incredibly horrible set of statistics comes from an extremely religious country, which has over a millennia of history of superstition. Of course, it’s a Third World country, which means living in it is tantamount to scrabbling for a livelihood by any means possible. The point here, is that religion does anything but improve folks.

Now, I could go on at length about how religion tends to overvalue innocence, ergo making said innocence a commodity, but that would be simplifying the matter to the point of violating Grossman’s Law. But there are some simpler methods by which this sort of activity could be minimized.

A. Reduce poverty (people are far less likely to be selling off their children if there’s food and a roof over their heads), and
B. Legalize prostitution.

I’ve made myself fairly clear on this matter – the major problem most people have with this is that 1. Prostitution is conflated with sexual slavery (which it isn’t always), and 2. it becomes conflated with child prostitution, which really is a separate matter. Consenting adults, and all that.

Because, like it or not, when you (and/or your family) is starving to death, and you’re young and attractive, there’s always going to be that option available. But keeping a thriving industry illegal and underground is going to allow all the evil people (the predators, the sociopaths and pedophiles) to take advantage of the weak, the innocent, and the desperate.

Anyone have thoughts on this?

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Faces Of The Enemy – David Barton, Pseudo Historian

Cross  posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!david bartonhead shot sm

The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.  - James Madison

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.” – Ulysses  S. Grant

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. – John F. Kennedy

"I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office -- and by personal conviction -- I am sworn to uphold that tradition." – LBJ, Interview, Baptist Standard, October, 1964

"We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate.” – Reagan Speech to Temple Hillel and Community Leaders in Valley Stream

But I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state, and I think that we’ve got to translate…
By the way, I support it not just for the state but also for the church , because that maintains our religious independence and that’s why we have such a thriving religious life. - Obama

This is David Barton’s picture. This is one of the faces of the enemy.

He isn’t simply an evangelist. He’s actually the author of the website Wallbuilders.

Their/his About page reads as follows:

WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built; a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined. In accord with what was so accurately stated by George Washington, we believe that "the propitious [favorable] smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation which disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained."

Why the name "WallBuilders"?

In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and thus restore stability, safety, and a promising future to that great city. We have chosen this historical concept of "rebuilding the walls" to represent allegorically the call for citizen involvement in rebuilding our nation's foundations. As Psalm 11:3 reminds us, "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?"

Our Goal

WallBuilders' goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.

In a nutshell, he’s one of the foremost proponents of theocracy – his claim is that America was founded as a Christian nation, every square inch of it, and he and his ‘holy warriors’ are revising history to tailor the country to be the way they imagine it should be.

How bad is this? Very. He wrote a book entitled The Myth of Separation: What Is the Correct Relationship Between Church and State? While it’s not even close to being on the NYT bestseller's list, Time magazine lists him as one of the top 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America (top 25 parasites is what I call them):

The Lesson Planner: Even before he got directly involved in politics, David Barton was a major voice in the debate over church-state separation. His books and videotapes can be found in churches all over the U.S., educating an evangelical generation in what might be called Christian counter-history. The 51-year-old Texan's thesis: that the U.S. was a self-consciously religious nation from the time of the Founders until the 1963 Supreme Court school-prayer ban (which Barton has called "a rejection of divine law"). Many historians dismiss his thinking, but Barton's advocacy organization, WallBuilders, and his relentless stream of publications, court amicus briefs and books like The Myth of Separation, have made him a hero to millions—including some powerful politicians. He has been a co-chair of the Texas Republican Party for eight years, is friends with House majority leader Tom DeLay (whom he has advised on the Pledge Patriot Act, which seeks to keep the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance) and was tapped by the Republican National Committee during its election sprint as a liaison to social conservatives. Those elected as a result of his efforts need not feel lonely in Washington: Barton conducts tours of the Capitol, during which he shows his rare copy of the Bible that Congress once printed—for use in the schools.

He was also (no surprise here) hired by the Bush campaign in 2004 – and Dubya hasn’t been an admirer of SOCAS since…well, since never.

And his…inaccuracies (oh no, to hell with that, let’s call them what they are: LIES) are spread across the Interwebs like a bad joke. He argues the concept of Original Intent, making claims that the Founding Fathers meant this to be a Christian nation no less (though the FF could barely agree on anything except that the US needed independence), and in his relusional state, he’s bound and determined to ‘turn back the clock’ so that America IS that sweet wet dream he thought it used to be.

A theocrat by any other name is a Dominionist, in my book.

There is no reasoning with these people. There is no ‘debate’ or ‘open exchange of ideas’. All we can do at this point is wage a war of attrition on the rhetoric of these people – don’t let your guard down, they’ve been at this for decades, this is no creeping paranoia, this is fact and public record. They spread lies and disinformation, just like the creationists do. With calm voices and well-informed facts, we join combat, and with the Obama administration we will likely see less of their grandstanding ilk. But always plotting in the shadows, they seek to enslave us by the words of ancients, and the rotting fingers of anachronism still clamber up the walls of the mind like ivy.  The whisper of ghosts that never were haunt us still, and it will be many years before those voices are silenced. So be strong, brothers and sisters. Take the battle to them – but stay on your toes. The enemy is cunning indeed, and not to be underestimated.

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” – Jefferson

Till the next post, then.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Equilibrium – A Dystopic View Of A Chemically Induced ‘1984’

This was a very interesting movie – Equilibrium. The blurb reads as follows:

In a futuristic world, a strict regime has eliminated war by suppressing emotions: Books, art and music are strictly forbidden, and feeling is a crime punishable by death -- a rule that's enforced by feeding the denizens a mood-limiting drug. John Preston (Christian Bale) is a top government official responsible for destroying those who resist the rules. But when he misses a dose of his own medication, he experiences a pang of conscience. …

Central to the theme was the concept of ‘sense crimes’ – as the blurb suggests, if reading a book, viewing art, or listening to music elicits an emotion, that person becomes a ‘sense offender’. It’s an interesting approach. The intro states that when humanity came close to extinguishing itself, specific mechanisms (read: medicating the population) were implemented to prevent any such disasters from occurring again. Hence, ‘equilibrium’ is achieved. It’s a fun watch and a sobering thought. It relies heavily on Matrix-style CGI that really rocks, albeit a little over the top in some cases. In retrospect however, the ‘gun kata(s)’ are specific patterns, and I would think (as a practicing martial artist) that as such, there would be a degree of predictability. One thumb up, a wink and a nod for this one.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Because Religion Lets You Rest In Peace – But There Are Always Conditions, Aren’t There?

We all know that being gay isn’t contagious – though some of the Reichnuts say otherwise.

Apparently, there’s issues if you’re gay, and you’re buried in the wrong place. This has all the earmarks of a terribly tasteless joke:

'Gay man' disinterred in Senegal

The body of a man believed to be homosexual has twice been dug up from a Muslim cemetery in Senegal.

The man, in his 30s, was first buried on Saturday before residents of the western town of Thies dug up his body and left it near his grave, police say.

His family then reburied him, but he was once more exhumed by people who did not want him buried there. His body was dumped outside the family house.

Because these brain-dead yahoos thought the presence of a gay corpse might contaminate the afterlife?

Senegal outlaws homosexual acts but there is a tradition of effeminate men.

Someone needs to start educating people in Africa. This is stupid.

A police officer told the AFP news agency that the body was eventually buried away from the cemetery.

The state-owned Le Soleil newspaper reports that it was buried within the grounds of the family home.

I’m betting the ‘cops’ didn’t find any suspects.

"Goor-jiggen" (men-women) dress up as women, socialise with females and have long been tolerated in Senegal, a majority Muslim country. However, attitudes seem to be changing.

The AFP news agency reports that local imams, as well as some newspapers and radio stations, have denounced homosexuals after an appeals court last month overturned the conviction of nine people for homosexual acts.

They had been sentenced to eight years in jail after being found guilty of "indecent conduct and unnatural acts".

This sort of thing used to happen in the US regularly. Luckily, we’re maturing, but very slowly. If Senegalese were a little more educated, they’d know that homosexuality is anything but ‘unnatural’.

The men, who were part of an HIV/Aids group, were arrested in December at a flat in a suburb of the capital, Dakar.

In February 2008, the editor of a magazine in Senegal received death threats after publishing pictures claiming to depict a wedding ceremony between two men.

Ah yes. Religion sure brings out the best in folks, don’t it? Just makes them rush right out to protect the genitalia that doesn’t belong to them. And if they’re too late? Why, they’ll just dig your body up and put it somewhere outside their comfort range.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Allegories Gone Wild -Because It Takes A Witch To Catch A Witch…Cry Benandanti!

Cross posted @ God Is 4 Suckers!

The religious delusions over the centuries have given spawn to the strangest tales – deep memetic roots drinking from the chaotic waters of the subconscious. One such tale is that of the caul bearers, also known as the Benandanti.

First, the reader might ask, “What is a caul?”

A caul (Latin: Caput galeatum, literally, "head helmet") is a thin, filmy membrane, the amniotic sac, that covers or partly covers the newborn mammal immediately after birth.

These are (of course) removable. But in the days of old, superstitions rose about this:

In medieval times the appearance of a caul on a newborn baby was seen as a sign of good luck. It was considered an omen that the child was destined for greatness. Gathering the caul onto paper was considered an important tradition of childbirth: the midwife would rub a sheet of paper across the baby's head and face, pressing the material of the caul onto the paper. The caul would then be presented to the mother, to be kept as an heirloom. Some Early Modern European traditions linked being born with the caul to the ability to defend fertility and the harvest against the forces of evil, particularly witches and sorcerers.

Over the course of European history, a popular legend developed suggesting that possession of a baby's caul would give its bearer good luck and protect that person from death by drowning. Cauls were therefore highly prized by sailors. Medieval women often sold these cauls to sailors for large sums of money; a caul was regarded as a valuable talisman.

“I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don't know; all I know is, that there was but one solitary bidding, and that was from an attorney connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from drowning on any higher bargain. Consequently the advertisement was withdrawn at a dead loss ... and ten years afterwards, the caul was put up in a raffle down in our part of the country, to fifty members at half-a-crown a head, the winner to spend five shillings. I was present myself, and I remember to have felt quite uncomfortable and confused, at a part of myself being disposed of in that way. The caul was won, I recollect, by an old lady with a hand-basket.... It is a fact which will be long remembered as remarkable down there, that she was never drowned, but died triumphantly in bed, at ninety-two. (Charles Dickens, David Copperfield)”

Who are the Benandanti, and how does this pertain to them?

The Benandanti ("Good Walkers") were an agrarian fertility cult in the Friuli district of Northern Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. Between 1575 and 1675 the Benandanti were tried as heretics under the Roman Inquisition, and their witchcraft assimilated to Satanism. The Benandanti claimed to travel while asleep to struggle against evil witches (streghe) in order to insure good crops for the seasons to come. Under pressure by the Inquisition, these nocturnal spirit travels (which often included sleep paralysis) were assimilated to the witches' Sabbath, leading to the extinction of the Benandanti cult. According to historian Carlo Ginzburg, the Friuli probably has known the same history that in the region of Modena: "a slow and progressive transformation, under the unconscious pressure of Inquisitors, of the popular beliefs which finally crystallized themselves in the preexisting model of the diabolic Sabbath."

Other legends also developed. One popular legend went that a caulbearer would be able to see the future or have dreams that come to pass.

Negative associations with the birth caul are rare, but in several European countries a child being born with a caul was a sign that the child may become a vampire. As a preventative measure, the caul was removed before the child was able to eat any of it, and then it was destroyed.

The most common portent of good luck in recent centuries is that the baby born with a caul will never drown, the second most common myth is from Scotland and that believes the child will be fey, or psychic. Another British meaning is that the child will travel its entire life and never tire.

Icelandic culture states a child born with a caul was thought to be special, and this means the child will go through life with a faery companion, a shadow familiar known as the Fylgiar. The Fylgiar serves this person, and it is believed that the person also serves the Fylgiar while asleep or when making deliberate astral projections. This faery can be heard in the home of such a person banging and knocking around. Their most disturbing quality is that they warn their human companions of their own deaths, at which time they can be seen. The condition of the Fylgiar at the time of the sighting indicates what sort of death it will be. A mauled faery means a nasty, painful death, while a peaceful one means a calm, painless death. The Fylgiar continues to live on after the human familiar dies, but it is believed that it accompanies its person to Valhallah, the Nordic Land of the Dead, where it remains until the human soul is comfortable and accepting of his or her demise.

Members

The Benandanti, which included both male and female members, were a small group of anti-witches that ensured the protection of the crops and villagers. Unlike most other occult organizations, the Benandanti were born, not made: only children born with "the caul," or the amniotic sac partially covering their face were destined to join the ranks of the Benandanti.

So the Benandanti were the self-appointed ‘anti-witch’ brigade, claiming to use witchcraft to fight witches (fire with fire as the adage goes).

Functions

On Thursdays during the Ember days, periods of fasting for the Catholic Church, the Benandanti claimed their spirits would leave their bodies at night in the form of small animals (wolves, butterflies and rats in the Friuli). The spirits of the men would go to the fields to fight evil witches (malandanti). The Benandanti men fought with fennel stalks, while the dark witches were armed with sorghum stalks (sorghum was used for witches' brooms, and the "brooms' sorghum" was one of the most current type of sorghum). If the men prevailed, the harvest would be plentiful.

The female Benandanti performed other sacred tasks. When they left their bodies they traveled to meet a Goddess, who was known by a variety of names, such as Abundia, Irodiana, or simply "the Abbess". There they danced, ate and drank with a procession of spirits, animals and faeries, and learned who amongst the villagers would die in the next year.

The level of commitment to a delusion astounds me to this day.  So they battled…with plant stalks?

Related traditions

The themes associated with the Benandanti (leaving the body in spirit, possibly in the form of an animal; fighting for the fertility of the land; banqueting with a Queen or Goddess; drinking from and soiling wine casks in cellars) are found repeated in other testimonies: from the armiers of the Pyrenees, from the followers of Signora Oriente in 14th century Milan and the followers of Richella and 'the wise Sibillia' in 15th century Northern Italy, and much further afield, from Livonian werewolves, Dalmatian kresniki, Hungarian táltos, Romanian căluşari and Ossetian burkudzauta.

For ‘testimonies’, read ‘tall tales after many ales in a pub’. And…why would someone ‘soil’ wine casks? Endless toilet humor suggests itself here.

Many of the tasks the Benandanti performed were typical of shamans around the world, including healing people of the village, keeping the paths of the dead from this world to the next secure, ecstasy, protection of their villages from evil spirits. The selection of members by a personal characteristic (the caul) rather than by application, initiation, or study, is similar to the way in which individuals become shamans or priests because they have a "calling," an internal quality that self-selects them. Thus, the historian Carlo Ginzburg detects a true relationship between the Benandanti cult and the shamanism of the Baltic or/and Slavic cultures. This explains, according to him, the similarities between the Benandanti cult in the Friuli and a distant case in Livonia concerning a benevolent werewolf.

So, this occurred during the Roman Inquisition. What was their response? I’d say predictable is the best description:

Between 1575 and 1675 the Benandanti were tried as heretics under the Roman Inquisition. The Inquisitors were perplexed by their stories, and struggled to reconcile them with the witches' Sabbath stereotype. Accused Benandanti tried to draw sharp distinctions between their actions and the actions of the malevolent witches, claiming that they fought "for the faith of Christ," and that only the Benandanti could save the people from the evils that the witches inflicted upon the villagers and their crops. Drawing this distinction was difficult, however, since so many of their actions were similar to those of the evil witches they purported to oppose. According to one Inquisition account...

"On the one hand, they declared that they were opposed to witches and warlocks, and their evil designs and that they healed the victims of injurious deeds of witches, on the other, like their presumed adversaries, they attended mysterious nocturnal reunions (about which they could not utter a word under pain of being beaten) riding hares, cats, and other animals."

The Benandanti denied using the same practices as witches as well as going to Sabbath. They claimed that they did not use flying ointments, as did witches.

Given the commoner ingredients, the question would be: what were they hallucinating on? Cats and hares? Were these folks pygmies or something? They must’ve used something to induce these ‘visions’ – or perhaps it was simple alcohol poisoning? Or perhaps the use of wormwood?

(Note: the ‘flying ointment’ of the ‘bad witches’ contained ingredients as follows: a fatty base and various herbal extracts, usually including solanaceous herbs that contain the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. The herbs' essential oils are extracted when heated in the base. These oils are poisonous when ingested; when applied to the skin, the alkaloids are absorbed more slowly into the body. Typical ingredients in alleged recipes include hemlock (Conium spp.), deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), wolfsbane (Aconitum spp.), and henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), usually in a base of animal fat.)

To avoid persecution the Benandanti even began to accuse other villagers of witchcraft. This proved futile and only served to destroy their reputation in the village.

In the late 16th century, however, the Inquisitors were less concerned with witchcraft, and more concerned with heresy. The actions of the Benandanti were, according to the church, idolatrous, and therefore heretical. Slowly but surely they were grouped with those targeted by the Inquisition; their opposition to witches notwithstanding, the Benandanti were made to "realize" after serious persuasive work that they themselves were indeed witches. By the 17th century they had almost completely died out. None of the trials ended in execution, however.

I guess that all’s well that ended swollen, ey?

We as a species have proven our ability to violate Occam’s Razor with a facility and fertility that defies any and all the axioms of logic.

Till the next post then.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

The Multiple Attractions Of Atheism

I recall when I first began exploring the concept of ‘believing in nothing’ (how very Zen that sounds, no?). I have (or have been told that I have) some little bit of talent in the critique department, at least when it comes to analyzing the actions of others. So I fit right in.

The other major attraction for me, was the honesty. Shorn of glitter, flensed of driftwood, atheists tend to go for the metaphorical jugular, and tell it like it is, not how someone wants it to be (read: religious).

Honesty is a big thing for me. Aside from the fact that most folks don’t enjoy being lied to (regardless of the Fleetwood Mac song), I make a stalwart effort to not lie. I can’t say that I’ve never ever done so, but I’m a WYSIWIG sort of guy. Now we could go into the specifics (a knowing lie versus an unknowing lie), but let’s save that for the comment section. I can very much guarantee that I’ve never, ever knowingly lied to anyone online. Ever. And I’m very much like that in person. If you ask me a question, I’ll give you the answer to the best of my knowledge. If you say something idiotic, I can 100% guarantee I’ll laugh in your face, usually followed by some trenchant, bombastic commentary. Yep, that’s right: I’ll not say a thing here that I’d not say in person. You can bet the rent on that, baby.

Surprisingly, I don’t get swung on a lot, but then I don’t get out much.

Anyways, the other attraction is being free of all that superstitious pap. You know the drill: the three=one deal, the crazy UFO crap, the Yeti apologists, all those bogus brainsick, crazy, daft, demented, disordered, distraught, dotty, insane, lunatic, mad, maniac, maniacal, mentally ill, moonstruck, off, touched, unbalanced, unsound, wrong, cracked, daffy, gaga, loony, bananas, batty, buggy, cuckoo, fruity, loco, nuts, nutty, screwy, wacky or to sum it up in two words, ‘mentally irregular’ epistemologies that make for great reading but not such great reality.

There are, of course, minor downsides. The realization that I’m not immortal is slightly depressing. One of the other downsides is that when I take some rhetorical liberties, my comrades-in-arms (who are somewhat invested in pedantry, but I love ‘em anyways) go to great pains to point out if I’m off target on the facts. That’s all good and fine, but when I need to go on a poetic flourish, I do tend to take a few liberties. For instance: I’m a regular reader at Pharyngula, but (and I kid you NOT) the last dozen times that I’ve commented there, I’ve been corrected. Which I don’t mind usually, except that the last 12 times, I was right, but I still got corrected. Not to say I’ve always been right, but lately I have been (oops, my swollen ego is tipping me over, timber!). I’m not nearly anal enough to track down the entire dozen, so since I’m an honest guy, take me at my word.

Anyways, there’s my nickel’s worth. Please feel free to toss in your own observations (because while I’m blaringly honest, I’m also fallible and creeping past 50, so I miss a thing or two on occasion).

Cheers.

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