pasque flower

pasque flower

From The Writer’s Almanac from American Public Media:

Today is Easter Sunday in the Christian Church, the holiday that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Easter is one of the few floating holidays in the calendar year, because it’s based on the cycles of the moon. Jesus was said to have risen from the dead on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. For that reason, Easter can fall as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th.

The word “Easter” comes from an ancient pagan goddess worshipped by Anglo Saxons named Eostre. According to legend, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became our Easter Bunny. [mjh: another pagan belief co-opted by those seeking power for themselves.]

Not Afraid of Christ; Afraid of Rabid Faith

On Easter Sunday, Pastor Skip “Hollywood” Heitzig told his devoted followers — er, Christ’s devout followers — that non-Christians are “afraid Christ lives.” News-flash, Skippy: I’m not afraid of Jesus, dead or alive, though some of his fanatics are scary. In fact, I truly wish Jesus were alive and would appear before the entire world or, at least, before his true believers and say, “what’s wrong with you people? Have you understood anything I said?”

There are several reasons Jesus doesn’t scare me. I’m agnostic on whether there really was a Jesus, though it is suspicious that most of stories about him were made up — written down — a hundred years or more after his supposed time. Whether he ever lived or not, all men die. I sometimes wish that weren’t true, but it is.

If Jesus lived, he was not the son of god for the simple fact that there is no god. Nor did Zeus father the Minotaur. We tell ourselves many great and even beautiful stories for good purpose: to pass along culture. We just forget one should not believe everything one thinks. And metaphor, however instructive, isn’t literal.

There was an interesting story on NPR yesterday about a missionary-turned-linguist. The missionary went to spread the word to a little-known tribe in the remote Amazon. When he told them about the resurrection, they said, “wow, that’s amazing. What did he say when you talked to him about that?” Upon learning that this missionary hadn’t actually witnessed this miracle, they lost all interest. You can be sure that thumping a book makes no difference to them.

Now, it’s not my purpose to piss on other people’s beliefs, so long as those people remain harmless. Which brings me back to not fearing Jesus while being more than leery of his most rabid followers. People like Pastor Skipper scare me because their use of god to enrich and empower themselves is so blatant and yet welcomed by their followers. Those unquestioning followers scare me because they are willing to be lead by people who preach love and forgiveness mixed with fear and threat. Heizig has arrogated Christ’s role himself: none shall enter heaven except through him (or the next mullah). Nice scam.

Surprisingly, I was raised with the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This entry alone is proof of my frailty. Don’t expect me to live up to Christ’s simplest and most practical advice if those who want eternal life as reward for doing so can’t manage. mjh


This weekend, the liberal columnist E.J. Dionne explains that those he calls “neo-atheists” are just as arrogant as any of the faithful. Dionne quotes some intolerance from atheists as evidence. I think all people are a frustrating mixture of good and evil, truth and lies — we are all human beings and must accept our own humanity and that of those we disagree with. Faith — present or lacking — is not the only test of character or its flaws. We need to rediscover empathy in which we don’t have to be exactly alike or in complete agreement in order to grasp each other’s pain or joy. These are coarse times as we come to walk the walk of diversity, equality and democracy, and figure out how to put up with each other. When an atheist kills somebody over their beliefs, send me email. It’s not news when the faithful do it. mjh

E. J. Dionne Jr. – Answers To the Atheists

The neo-atheists, like their predecessors from a century ago, are given to a sometimes-charming ferociousness in their polemics against those they see as too weak-minded to give up faith in God. …

As a general proposition, I welcome the neo-atheists’ challenge. The most serious believers, understanding that they need to ask themselves searching questions, have always engaged in dialogue with atheists. …

The problem with the neo-atheists is that they seem as dogmatic as the dogmatists they condemn. They are especially frustrated with religious “moderates” who don’t fit their stereotypes. [mjh: this atheist welcomes any moderates. It’s the zealots that are loony.]

What’s really bothersome is the suggestion that believers rarely question themselves while atheists ask all the hard questions. …

As for me, Christianity is more a call to rebellion than an insistence on narrow conformity, more a challenge than a set of certainties. … That’s why I celebrate Easter and why, despite many questions of my own, I can’t join the neo-atheists. [mjh: that’s OK, E.J., we’re not proselytizing; we don’t get bonuses per convert, on earth or in heaven.]

You want catch-up with that?

I hate it when my real life interferes with my virtual life. What’s a blogger to do? Well, the wise thing is to let some things slide on by unremarked. Failing that, try an aggregate posting.

A week ago, NM Republicans met for a Domenici love-fest. Republicans hold “Lincoln Dinners” all over the country. Even in Mississippi? Lincoln was a uniter not a divider, in the long run, but that may not be the prevailing view in the Deep South. How do southern Republicans handle the cognitive dissonance? Or is Lincoln not on recruiting literature down south?

I’m sure the mood at the Lincoln Dinner was extra jubilant over the Metro Court Scandal. Though Manny Aragon represents the past for the Democratic Party (as Teddy Roosevelt represents the forever-past of the GOP), he still looms large. His stature should help him in prison. I find my own amusement in the role of Ken Schultz, former Mayor of Albuquerque. Ken was a weaselly car salesman who, along with “Big J” Johnson and Duhbya, represents one of two Republican beliefs. (1) A businessman will get it done. (2) Destroy government from within through aggressive incompetence. Those are not mutually exclusive beliefs, as we continue to see at all levels of the Bush Administration. After serving (servicing?) the public, Ken Schultz continued to serve as bagman and go-between, carrying petty cash from one corrupt person to another. Thanks, Ken, for reminding us that corruption is a two-party system and when you want to screw the Public, nobody gets it done like a businessman.

Regarding the near-lifesize, purportedly-anatomically-correct (who really knows besides Mary?) chocolate Jesus: what were they thinking? How could this not be controversial? I’m reminded of “The Cook, His Wife, Her Lover and The Thief” (an unpleasant experience itself): “Try the cock — you know where it has been!” Or not, in this case, perhaps. For the record, at the first Valentine’s Day Pajama Party more than 20 years ago, we ate a chocolate Jesus. Been there; done that; threw away the t-shirt.

It has been great to see the outrage over the Million Dollar Coach. (And sad to see my friend Arthur Alpert brush away the expense, as did everyone on The Line but Gene Grant, hockey player.) It is also good to see some put two and two together and wonder about the gutting of a cheap program for poor kids at UNM. We just can’t find the money — the pittance — what with Iraq and gold-plated sports programs. Let’s have a bake sale cuz the people who control the money couldn’t care less.

There were two landmark events for me regarding my book this week. First, ever so briefly, my book rose to #88 in the top 100 computer books on Amazon. That made all those days at #650,000 (of all book, not just computer books). pale a bit. The book has since fluctuated somewhere between #5000 and #25000. Still no review.

Mer and I also saw my book in a bookstore for the first time (the new Borders in the new Qmall — ugh). Very cool, even if it was mis-shelved. In a cosmic moment, I moved from my book to Around 505, a magazine, which printed two of my photos this month. All this to the soothing voice of a Buddhist monk who had the crowd chuckling like a comedy club underwater.

I think Buddhism, like much thoughtful human philosophy, has wonderful advice and insight into the human experience. I abandoned any thought of becoming a Buddhist as I began to realize it is as grotesquely ritualized and hierarchical as any other religion — another insight into the human experience. Apparently, we need rules and structure, just like dogs. Happy Non-sectarian Spring Friday! Have some chocolate.

Speaking of dogs, I have a nit to pick with a report today in which it is said a recent study shows “why” dogs vary so much in size. It does not. The answer to “why” is “because that’s what we want.” Mendel proved you don’t need to know anything about DNA to change living things, even radically. It just takes time. The latest discovery doesn’t even really answer “how.” That answer is “through selective breeding.” The study, which I don’t mean to dismiss with this, answers the longer question: what is happening at a genetic level as we play god to dogs or which gene do we currently believe holds the key. Science is always in the present. Hmmm — just like dogs. peace, mjh

Even the Faithful Can See the Truth

Ex-Aide Says He’s Lost Faith in Bush – New York Times, By JIM RUTENBERG

In 1999, Matthew Dowd became a symbol of George W. Bush’s early success at positioning himself as a Republican with Democratic appeal. …

He switched parties, joined Mr. Bush’s political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the president’s chief campaign strategist.

Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

“I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things,” he said. He added, “I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.”

In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle to break so publicly with him.

He said his decision to step forward had not come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s presidency is so great that he feels a sense of duty to go public given his role in helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power.

Mr. Dowd, a crucial part of a team that cast Senator John Kerry as a flip-flopper who could not be trusted with national security during wartime, said he had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled “Kerry Was Right,” arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq.
– – –

More Than a Feeling – New York Times

President Bush and his advisers have made a lot of ridiculous charges about critics of the war in Iraq: they’re unpatriotic, they want the terrorists to win, they don’t support the troops, to cite just a few. But none of these seem quite as absurd as President Bush’s latest suggestion, that critics of the war whose children are at risk are too “emotional” to see things clearly.

The direct target was Matthew Dowd, one of the chief strategists of Mr. Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, who has grown disillusioned with the president and the war, which he made clear in an interview with Jim Rutenberg published in The Times last Sunday. But by extension, Mr. Bush’s comments were insulting to the hundreds of thousands of Americans whose sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and spouses have served or will serve in Iraq.

They are perfectly capable of forming judgments about the war, pro or con, on the merits. But when Mr. Bush was asked about Mr. Dowd during a Rose Garden news conference yesterday, he said, “This is an emotional issue for Matthew, as it is for a lot of other people in our country.”

Mr. Dowd’s case, Mr. Bush said, “as I understand it, is obviously intensified because his son is deployable.” …

This form of attack is especially galling from a president who from the start tried to paint this war as virtually sacrifice-free: the Iraqis would welcome America with open arms, the war would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues — and the all-volunteer military would concentrate the sacrifice on only a portion of the nation’s families.

Mr. Bush’s comments about Mr. Dowd are a reflection of the otherworldliness that permeates his public appearances these days. Mr. Bush seems increasingly isolated, clinging to a fantasy version of Iraq that is more and more disconnected from reality. He gives a frightening impression that he has never heard any voice from any quarter that gave him pause, much less led him to rethink a position. [mjh: some call it dim-witted boneheadedness, but in Texas they call it resolute.]

Mr. Bush’s former campaign aide showed an open-mindedness and willingness to adapt to reality that is sorely lacking in the commander in chief.

Extinct Sense? Extinct Ethics

Extinct Sense
A troubling report from the Interior Department

IT LOOKS LIKE another story of endangered ethics on the Bush administration’s environmental staff. Last week the Interior Department’s inspector general submitted the results of an investigation of Julie A. MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, to congressional overseers.

According to numerous accounts collected in the inquiry, Ms. MacDonald has terrorized low-level biologists and other employees for years, often yelling and even swearing at them. One official characterized her as an “attack dog.” Much of this bullying, the report suggests, was aimed at diluting the scientific conclusions and recommendations of government biologists and at favoring industry and land interests. Ms. MacDonald’s subordinates said she has trenchantly resisted both designating new species as endangered and protecting imperiled animals’ habitats. She defended her interventions in an interview with the inspector general’s staff, saying that she kept Interior’s scientists accountable, according to the report. But the evidence available suggests she was at the least too aggressive.

H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, recounted a battle he had with Ms. MacDonald over the Southwest willow flycatcher, an endangered bird. Biologists in the field concluded that the bird’s nesting range, which determines how much land the government should protect as habitat for the species, was 2.1 miles. Mr. Hall claims that Ms. MacDonald insisted on lowering that to 1.8 miles so that the nesting range would not extend into California, where her husband maintained a family ranch. The inspector general noted that she has no formal training in biology. [mjh: Bushies don’t believe in Science.]

The inspector general’s review of Ms. MacDonald’s e-mail account also showed that she had close ties to lobbying organizations that have challenged endangered-species listings and that she had “misused her position” to give them information not available to the public on Interior Department policy.

Reports of Ms. MacDonald’s alleged sins have emerged soon after revelations of other ethical lapses by Bush environmental appointees. J. Steven Griles, the former second in command at Interior, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff scandal. And Sue Ellen Wooldridge, formerly the government’s top environmental lawyer, jointly purchased a vacation home with Mr. Griles and a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. These are troubling incidents.

Ms. MacDonald works for an agency tasked with making determinations based on scientific fact, not on her, or her lobbyist friends’, inclinations. She appears to have betrayed that vital principle. The inspector general has sent his report to top officials at the Interior Department. They should investigate for themselves the document’s troubling descriptions and take action to ensure that Ms. MacDonald and other managers at Interior make policy fit the science, not the other way around.