Archive for April, 2010
Note: This critique excludes French fries.
Ok, I’ve had this on my chest for quite some time, so forgive the lack of sources, thoughtful analysis or coherent structure.
Am I the only one of the apparent 47 million served on planet Earth each day who thinks McDonald’s should just get out of the burger business altogether and try something new.
Maybe tacos or pizza.
But seriously, McD’s burgers are lifeless, tasteless, dry wastes of my time, energy and money. So, in the absence of a Hardees within throwing distance, nay, driving distance, I decided to try one of McD’s new and heralded Angus burgers today. News flash: It’s as dry and forgettable as their other offerings, and frankly, I think the Whopper, at a cheaper price, is bigger and more satisfying. Meanwhile, Hardees’ thick burgers put McD’s Angus burgers to shame. To review, if it’s fast food we’re talking about — a lowly brand of burger, I know — Hardees pwns McD’s shotty attempt at a culinary retort.
As I was choking down this non-juicy thing (I had already doused it with hefty doses of salt, pepper and mayonnaise to try to help it out a little), I was amazed, in mid-chew, by the “Savor the Flavor” bit of rhetoric on the takeout bag. Savor what? The dried-out bun, the government cheese or the tasteless beef? It goes without saying, then, that places like Wendy’s, Burger King and hell, even Checkers, also pwn McD’s in the $1-menu category of burger. The former three actually have some semblance of taste. Burger King’s dollar burger actually tastes grilled. Checkers cheap burgers are at least savory and heartily seasoned.
So, the morale of this crudely constructed thesis? If I’m going to die because some crackpot doctor screwed up on my cholesterol-induced triple bypass heart surgery, I would rather The King woo me to the operating room.
Rachel Maddow on Tuesday made light of the New York Times story (on which I commented here) that presents the painfully obvious, yet lost to some, point that picketing against the government after having traveled to a public park via public transit is profoundly illogical. As if that wasn’t nonsensical enough, some took the irony to a new level, saying that Washington, D.C.’s public transit system was inadequately prepared to handle the crowds who would be coming to Washington to protest the government. From The Wall Street Journal:
Protesters who attended Saturday’s Tea Party rally in Washington found a new reason to be upset: Apparently they are unhappy with the level of service provided by the subway system.
Rep. Kevin Brady asked for an explanation of why the government-run subway system didn’t, in his view, adequately prepare for this past weekend’s rally to protest government spending and government services.
Seriously, how can we possibly take these folks seriously?
In the case of 1-year-old Javon Thompson, once again, religion gets a pass, when, in any other instance in which a mother fatally denies her son food, a life sentence, or worse, would have probably been the charge.
But not in the case of Ria Ramkissoon, former member of the cult, 1 Mind Ministries. Ramkissoon was given a suspended sentence by Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory and will have to undergo therapy. Ramkissoon, along with other cult members, denied Thompson food and water as a punishment because the boy was not saying “amen” before meals. Thompson was apparently raised as a Hindu but later converted to Christianity.
According to the above-linked Associated Press story, the cult’s leader and two others face 60 years in prison for second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death:
At the time of Javon’s death, Ramkissoon was living with a small religious cult led by a woman who calls herself Queen Antoinette. She told Ramkissoon that the child had “a spirit of rebellion” inside him and that denying him food would cure him.
After Javon died in late 2006 or early 2007, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection, and Ramkissoon spent weeks with her son’s body. She testified in February at Antoinette’s trial that she still believes her son will be resurrected, and her plea deal contained an extraordinary provision: If Javon comes back to life, the plea will be withdrawn.
Ramkissoon, who has been viewed by the state as a victim in the case (the argument being that she was bullied into participating in the cult’s barbaric methods), will have to complete the treatment program, which includes Bible study, by the way, before she can live on her own.
I see at least two incongruent facts about this case. First, to require that Ramkissoon enter a treatment program in which Bible study will be part of the curriculum seems a bit like a tautology to me since a fanatical Christian cult compelled her to cease feeding her son in the first place.
Second, about the victim argument, the judge told Ramkissoon that she was “misled and did not do this with any ill will to your son.” Now, suppose I believed something slightly different. Suppose I believed that there exists an omniscient, all-powerful Tea Pot, Bertrand Russell’s Tea Pot, perhaps. Let’s say I believe this Tea Pot is god. He requires that I pray to him and say grace, including the word, “amen,” before meals to express my gratitude for his provisions. I have a contrarian 1-year-old son who doesn’t want to say “amen” or forgets on occasion. After all, how much can be expected from an infant? Anyway, because my son, unbeknownst to my child (How could he know?), goes against the Tea Pot’s edicts, I proceed to deny him food and water. My child subsequently dies, and I plead to the court that I sincerely thought my son would be resurrected from the dead by the power of the Tea Pot. In my defense to the courts, I claim that I was duped and bullied into believing in the Tea Pot by other Tea Pot followers.
Ridiculous, right? But, given this alternate scenario, would I have been shown leniency or mercy by the courts or would I have been thrown in jail for the rest of my days? The other cult members probably got the correct sentence, but why was an exception made for the mother? I can watch my son die from neglect, claim I was misled by a religious cult and get off nearly scot-free, while the true believers get life sentences? Nonsense! For, she was a true believer. Or else, she would have, and should have, left.
She could have rejected this cult at any point. She could have concluded that any cult leader who tries to compel her to stop feeding her very son is not worthy to be followed. She could have concluded that any human claiming on divine authority that’s it’s OK to let an infant waste away to death is, at best, deluded, at worst, evil. She could have taken her son and walked out. This country has put in place means by which folks in dire circumstances can call 911 and be rescued by the authorities from such situations. Yet, she allowed these people to convince her that it was best for her son to waste away, while her son paid the ultimate price. Or, given that little Javon, at the tender age of 1, had not reached the age of accountability and is, doctrinally, happily in heaven right now, maybe not.
I was never more proud of my adopted state of Georgia this week upon learning that Rep. Paul Broun, who happens to represent the district in which I live, illegally returned his census form with only one portion filled out. It was the part about how many people live in his household. He stated that the Census Bureau could not ask about the other personal information. Broun said:
“The Constitution requires the federal government to count the number of people in this country every 10 years. It doesn’t require them to ask a lot of personal information. People are very concerned about an invasion of privacy, and I have those same concerns.”
You see, Broun feels that any inquiry beyond the constitutional requirement to “enumerate” the number of persons living in his household is, per se, “unconstitutional.” He too has failed to notice that the Constitution empowers Congress to pass legislation in the public interest — and that, in any case, he is not empowered by the Constitution to determine for himself what is or is not constitutional. (Moreover, as the astute Greg Sargent points out, Article 1, Section 2 expressly directs that the count be performed “in such manner” as Congress “shall by law direct.” Although Broun carries the document around in his pocket, that doesn’t necessarily mean he has ever actually read the whole thing.)
For, indeed, even though we know Broun is one smart cookie, an expert in constitutional law, he still doesn’t get to decide what is and what isn’t constitutional. As to the legality of Broun’s action, or inaction, (Other great constitutional minds like Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann also illegally returned their census forms), Think Progress notes that
What Congressman Broun did is illegal. U.S. law says that people can be fined for refusing to honestly fill out the entire Census:
§ 221. Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers
(a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.
(b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.
I also touched on this here, but for those who may be interested or curious, here is the passage from which the “Our Daily Train” portion of my blog gets its name. It is the portion in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in which Satan is tempting Eve in the garden. In this passage, Satan, the serpent, has “glozed,” or flattered Eve in his temptation of her.
As it turns out, I came to love the eloquent writing and utter weightiness of Milton’s epic poem while at Clemson University as part of Lee Morrissey’s flock of enrapt literature students. He has subsequently become the chair of the department at the university, and good for him. Here is the excerpt, but I would encourage one to at least read Book IX, or if one prefers, and more enriching, the entire poem (The final portion of the passage demanded my attention so much that I highlighted those three words in my copy of “John Milton: A Critical Edition of the Major Works” [See picture]):
His fraudulent temptation thus began.
Wonder not, sovran Mistress, if perhaps
Thou canst, who art sole Wonder, much less arm
Thy looks, the Heav’n of mildness, with disdain,
Displeas’d that I approach thee thus, and gaze [ 535 ]
Insatiate, I thus single, nor have feard
Thy awful brow, more awful thus retir’d.
Fairest resemblance of thy Maker faire,
Thee all things living gaze on, all things thine
By gift, and thy Celestial Beautie adore [ 540 ]
With ravishment beheld, there best beheld
Where universally admir’d; but here
In this enclosure wild, these Beasts among,
Beholders rude, and shallow to discerne
Half what in thee is fair, one man except, [ 545 ]
Who sees thee? (and what is one?) who shouldst be seen
A Goddess among Gods, ador’d and serv’d
By Angels numberless, thy daily Train.
This is a picture of what scientist believe was a meteor that possibly came between Earth and the Moon on April 14. It was visible in five Midwestern states that night. Here is what James Lattis, University of Wisconsin Space Place Director, had to say about it in a USA Today story:
Even something relatively small, like the size of a golf ball, will light up the sky when it comes through. They tend to disintegrate completely while they’re still many miles above the earth.
The video was bizarre enough to watch, invoking in my mind, scenes from various catastrophe movies, namely Armageddon and Deep Impact, and if I was driving in one of these states that night and saw such a scene, I would be bracing for impact! Scientists believe the meteor was part of the Gamma Virginids shower, but one would imagine that we would have had some forewarning that such an object would come that close to Earth. Did they not detect it? Are sky-altering events so common so as not to atleast let the rest of us in on it? I would think so. Regardless, here is the video, including a few different perspectives:
Well, tax day is in the books for another year, and I commemorated the heralded day by covering a Tea Party rally here in town, one of many across the nation.
Here, then, are the Five Reasons I Totally Love Tax Day (and Why You Should Too):
1. Tax Day Forced Me to Get My Fiscal Shit Together … (This is self explanatory)
2. Children, It Turns Out, Are Extremely Fragile
This hadn’t occurred to me until I had two of my own. I now spend a lot of time worrying about stuff that I never used to worry about. Such as: the quality of my drinking water and food and local public schools and parks and playgrounds and roads. And thus the notion that my taxes actually pay for things required by my fragile children has managed to burrow its way through my thick American skull. Paying a small portion of my income for these collective benefits is not only a basic civic duty, in other words, but it is in my interest.
3. George W. Bush Is No Longer President
It’s hard to pay taxes, particularly federal taxes, when the administration in power is disinterested in governing. Or, more precisely, when it views government’s essential function as an enabler of corporate greed.
I’m not suggesting that I’m thrilled with Barack Obama’s leadership. He’s proved a total moral weakling, frankly. But I do applaud his basic goals: to make healthcare more affordable, to rein in the financial system, to create a green economy, to spend more on education and less on giant weapons systems.
4. Anything the Tea Partiers Are Against, I’m For
It’s become mainstream media practice to refer to the Tea Party as a “movement.” I would characterize it in slightly less heroic terms: as a series of highly publicized tantrums.
Of course, people have every right to drive (on public roads, paid for by taxes) to a meeting place (usually a public space, paid for by taxes) and to congregate to express their hatred for taxes, along with reproductive rights and gun control and anything else Barack Hussein Obama might favor. But to call these gatherings a coherent or rational response to the current administration is laughable. Obama has, after all, lowered taxes for most Americans, just not the rich ones.
The Tea Partiers represent the aggrandizement of paranoia, rage and self-pity into a political agenda. It is a “movement,” created by for-profit demagogues whose sole mission is to build audience share at the expense of honest debate about our common crises of state. Its mindless and violent hatred for Tax Day stands as one of the best reasons to love Tax Day.
5. I Believe in Playground Justice
Because I have two small children, I spend a lot of time at playgrounds these days. The rules on the playground are simple: you share. I tell my 3-year-old this all the time. “Can you share?” I say. And, “Big girls need to learn to share.” And, “I’m serious, Josie, if you don’t share we’re going home.”
This doesn’t make me a socialist. It just makes me an adult, someone who recognizes that the pursuit of happiness in the midst of limited resources requires sacrifice.
Tax Day is our annual reminder of this fact. It reminds us that one of the prices of citizenship in these United States is the levying of taxes, to provide for all the stuff I’ve mentioned above, along with, you know, a common defense.
I would be happiest, as a taxpayer, if my return came with a survey, so I could check off those items toward which I wanted my taxes devoted. But that’s not how it works. How it works is, if you want to live in America and partake of its bounty — plentiful food and water, shelter, safe streets, schools and so on — you pay your share. If folks don’t like that, they can leave.
A fellow coworker seems to never tire of saying that paying taxes is one of the most patriotic actions a person can take. If you don’t pay taxes, things don’t get done, plain and simple. No fire departments, save the volunteer ones. No police forces. No public K-12 schools. No public colleges. No Medicare or Medicaid. No Social Security. No health departments. No post offices. No federal student loans for college. No public defense. No intelligence agencies. No state or national parks. No roads or bridges. No repairs to roads or bridges. No agency to regulate the skies to ensure planes don’t crash into each other. No agency to demystify the various objects in space that, in previous generations, garnered plenty of worship from folks who didn’t know, in fact, that a large star of hydrogen gas didn’t really need or care for our many praises or sacrifices.
I could go on, but these are all entities for which we pay taxes. In my more libertarian moments, I do sympathize with the ideal of being self-sustaining both individually and as a society. But I’m afraid that “ideal” is as far as we can take it at this point in our history, at least societally, because long ago we decided as a nation to set up a system of laws and regulations and not to be free-ranging communities. It’s also just an ideal because not everyone in a society is healthy and well-educated with plenty of money. No matter how much less government intervention we seek for the nation, we will always have less fortunate folks among us. I can’t tell whether a complete rollback of history is the ultimate goal of the Tea Party crowd or if the movement simply seeks to raise awareness, but regardless, there’s plenty of irony to go around at these rallies.
For instance, one recent sign that I saw read, “Balance the Budget | Limited Govt | Strong Defense | Cut Taxes.” Now, how do you suppose we could have limited government and lower taxes and also a strong defense? Cut every domestic program other than defense funds? Beats me. This makes me wonder: If we took protesters’ advice and started trimming, and suppose some of that budget-hedging started to tap into Social Security, a government program that has many Tea Partier benefactors, where would the outcry be? A New York Times reporter posed this sort of dilemma to a rallier with stunning results. Here’s an excerpt:
When talking about the Tea Party movement, the largest number of respondents said that the movement’s goal should be reducing the size of government, more than cutting the budget deficit or lowering taxes.
And nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.
But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”
Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.
Others could not explain the contradiction.
“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.”
She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”
Currently reading “Basic Writings of Existentialism,” I am in the mist of a work called “Sickness Unto Death” by Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard, who, somewhat ironically, is known as the father of existentialism, even though many of his fellow existentialists, Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus, Heidegger and others, were less conspicuously Christian or religious. Some, like Nietzsche, in their writings, leaned heavily toward being hostile regarding religion or the idea of a god, in fact.
That said, if anyone might be interested in exploring existentialism further and wants to remain within the Christian worldview, Kierkegaard would be an excellent choice. The following is the conclusion of the chapter titled “The Universality of This Sickness (Despair).” By “despair,” Kierkegaard means humankind’s supposed situation in original sin or spiritual “sickness.” I found this to be a particularly stirring and elegant summation of this argument.
Ah, so much is said about human want and misery — I seek to understand it, I have also had some acquaintance with it at close range; so much is said about wasted lives — but only that man’s life is wasted who lived on, so deceived by the joys of life or by its sorrows that he never became eternally and decisively conscious of himself as spirit, as self, or (what is the same thing) never became aware and in the deepest sense received an impression of the fact that there is a God, and that he, he himself, his self, exists before this God, which gain of infinity is never attained except through despair. And, oh, this misery, that so many live on and are defrauded of this most blessed of all thoughts; this misery, that people employ themselves about everything else, or, as for the masses of men, that people employ them about everything else, utilize them to generate the power for the theater of life, but never remind them of their blessedness; that they heap them in a mass and defraud them, instead of splitting them apart so that they might gain the highest thing, the only thing worth living for, and enough to live in for an eternity — it seems to me that I could weep for an eternity over the fact that such misery exists! And, oh, to my thinking this is one expression the more of the dreadfulness of this most dreadful sickness and misery, namely, its hiddenness — not only that he who suffers from it may wish to hide it and may be able to do so, to the effect that it can so dwell in a man that no one, no one whatever discovers it; no, rather that it can be so hidden in a man that he himself does not know it! And, oh, when the hour-glass has run out, the hourglass of time, when the noise of worldliness is silenced, and the restless or the ineffectual busyness comes to an end, when everything is still about thee as it is in eternity — whether thou wast man or woman, rich or poor, dependent or independent, fortunate or unfortunate, whether thou didst bear the splendor of the crown in a lofty station, or didst bear only the labor and heat of the day in an inconspicuous lot; whether thy name shall be remembered as long as the world stands (and so was remembered as long as the world stood), or without a name thou didst cohere as nameless with the countless multitude; whether the glory which surrounded thee surpassed all human description, or the judgment passed upon thee was the most severe and dishonoring human judgement can pass — eternity asks of thee and of every individual among these million millions only one question, whether thou hast lived in despair or not, whether thou wast in despair in such a way that thou didst not know thou wast in despair, or in such a way that thou didst hiddenly carry this sickness in thine inward parts as thy gnawing secret, carry it under thy heart as the fruit of a sinful love, or in such a way that thou, a horror to others, didst rave in despair. And if so, if thou hast lived in despair (whether for the rest thou didst win or lose), then for thee all is lost, eternity knows thee not, it never knew thee, or (even more dreadful) it knows thee as thou art known, it puts thee under arrest by thyself in despair.
Here’s the entire chapter for those interested.
As it turns out, one can make more money selling books, hosting TV shows and giving speeches than being a barely competent, unlettered governor who at least knows a thing or two about capitalism.
If you’re keeping score, former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin has made an estimated $12 million since July 2009 on her various financial ventures. This amounts to $7 million on her “Going Rogue” book deal (available at fine book stores everywhere), $250,000 per episode on her TLC reality show and a $100,000 speaking engagement fee.
This is all works out well, of course, unless you claim to be a champion of the middle class.
The woes continued for the Catholic Church this week as documents obtained by The Associated Press show that Joseph Ratzinger, then-cardinal, now Pope Benedict XVI; Pope John Paul II; and other church officials were, by any account, snaillike in investigating yet another minister, Stephen Kreisl, whose record includes being accused of molesting 15 male and female children.
He pleaded no contest to lewd conduct in 1978 for tying up and molesting two boys. He left the ministry in 1981, only to become a volunteer at a youth ministry three years later in Oakland, Calif. He was also imprisoned for six years in 2004 for molesting a girl at his Truckee, Calif., vacation home.
For those keeping score, here’s a handy site which is tracking the Church’s whole calamitous affair of, how can we say, unholy priests. Here is a detailed New York Times story about it, and here’s a link to letters urging then-”Most Holy Father,” Pope John Paul II, to defrock Kreisl.
[Photo: A 1985 letter, written in Latin, to the Diocese of Oakland signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The letter said that a California priest accused of molesting children should not be defrocked without further study. - Kim Johnson/Associated Press]