Enough with the flipping flag worship!

It truly breaks my heart that some people who speak the language of freedom do not understand it.
 
Freedom is not reserved for those who think like you, look like you, worship like you, “honor” the trappings of patriotism like you. Freedom belongs to everyone.
 
kapIt belongs to the athlete who stands for the national anthem and places his hand over his heart, and it belongs to the athlete who takes a knee while the national anthem is played to draw attention to what he perceives as a social injustice. If freedom belongs to the first athlete and not the second, then it is not freedom.
 
It belongs to the student who rises and faces the flag to recite the pledge every morning, and it belongs to the student sitting next to him who decides not to stand because doing so would violate his religion. And it belongs to the agnostic or atheist student who chooses not to stand because someone in the 1950s who was afraid of communism decided to shove the words “under God” into the pledge. If freedom only belongs to the first student, then it is not freedom.
 
It belongs to the happy voter who celebrates his candidate’s victory by waving an American flag, and it belongs to the discontented voter who protests his candidate’s loss by burning the American flag. If freedom only belongs to the first voter, then it is not freedom.
 
No veteran fights for the flag. No soldier dies for the flag. The flag is a symbol of the freedom for which they fought and died. And that freedom applies to all, even to those who would exercise it in ways others find unpalatable. Especially to those who would exercise it in ways others find unpalatable. If it doesn’t apply to them, then it is not freedom.
 
The notion that “desecrating” the flag is disrespectful to veterans should offend every veteran who truly understands the freedom for which he served.
 
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
 
The pledge of allegiance is not a prayer.
The Star Spangled Banner is not a hymn.
Patriotism is not worship.
The flag is not an idol.
And protest is not blasphemy.
 
Anyone who disagrees, by definition, commits idolatry and opposes freedom. There’s no middle ground here. You either recognize freedom or you don’t. You may not like how others express their freedom. No one’s asking you to. But if you value freedom, you respect their right to do so. If you do not respect someone’s right to sit for the pledge, kneel for the anthem, or burn a flag in legal, safe protest, then you do not value freedom. You just don’t. You may abhor their behavior, but if you do not respect their legal right to behave that way, then you do not value freedom.
 
Flag worship is unAmerican. There is no difference between jailing someone in Saudi Arabia for dishonoring the Qu’ran and jailing someone in the United States for dishonoring the flag. None. In each case a person is being penalized by the state for not respecting that which someone else holds sacred. Under the U.S. Constitution, we do not have the right to force others to recognize that which we hold sacred, whether it’s a Bible, a cross, a rosary, a Qu’ran or an American flag.
 
I can paint a picture of Mohammed reading the gospel of John in front of Old Glory and set the whole painting on fire, and I will not have committed a crime. I may offend a few people. Too bad, so sad. Offending you is not against the law. You don’t jail people for it. You don’t try to revoke their citizenship. That’s fascism. That’s state-worship. That’s idolatry.
 
And that is a disgrace to the service and sacrifice of our veterans.

A statement of principles, post-2016 election

We now return to our regularly scheduled, extremely moderate, non-partisan program.

You know, I take a lot of flack for being liberal from people who don’t know any better, usually because I find certain liberal issues more interesting to discuss. But anyone who has known me for a long time knows that, while I may fall to the left on certain issues, I am far from liberal overall.

Without disclosing specific races, I have voted for the Republican nominee for president more often than I have voted for the Democrat (actually, after yesterday, it’s now 50-50). I felt George W. Bush won Florida by every legal standard, though I agree with the analysis that Al Gore would have won the state if not for mechanical reasons and ballot confusion – the race was so close that the margin of victory fell within the margin of error. We’ll never know who would have won in a perfect world, but we know who won in the world that actually exists. And it was legit. I got over it as it was still being litigated.

FlagI believe that tax cuts can spur economic growth, but the issue is moot if spending exceeds the new growth-fueled income. I also recognize that I’m not an economist, and many, many, many intelligent economists say I’m wrong about that. I yield to their expertise.

I believe in a strong military that deserves honor and respect, not just when they’re serving but also when their service is done and they are veterans in need of services. I hate war. I wish our enemies would hate war too. But until they do, I believe in building a military force that is better at waging war than our enemies.

My views have certainly shifted to the left on climate change over the years, though I do believe that there is an anti-capitalist element in the environmental movement that needs to be checked and kept from making unnecessary changes masked as pro-environment needs. Still, climate change is real. It is happening. And human activity is a contributing factor. Science, the saying goes, is not a liberal conspiracy.

I struggle with where to draw the line between a person’s freedom to believe as he chooses and the state’s obligation to protect the rights of those who don’t agree. For example, should a photographer be forced to work at a gay wedding if he/she does not believe in gay marriage? We’re dealing with private individuals on both sides, so the answer is not as clear cut as it would seem. The couple has a right to be free from discrimination, but the photographer has the right to believe as he wishes and act accordingly. Should the government penalize the photographer as a businessman for discriminating against people whose orientation offends him, whether I agree with the photographer or not? I can see both sides of that argument. I sympathize with one side, but I lean toward the other. And my position shifts from time to time.

I do not believe in special rights for the LGBT community. I do believe in equal rights for them, which includes the right to have a marriage recognized by the state with every legal privilege attached. I do not believe this right undermines traditional marriage anymore than I believe an atheist wedding undermines Christian marriage.

I do not believe an agent of the government should be permitted to use his or her public office to deprive anyone of their equal rights under the law solely because doing so would violate the religion of the agent of the government.

And there are some principles from which I will not veer.

First, no one gets to use OUR government to promote THEIR religion (or lack thereof). That’s a big one for me, and it covers a multitude of issues. Basically, if government or an agent of the government is involved, my response will be predictable.

The courthouse is no place for the 10 Commandments (half of which are unconstitutional). Government has no business whatsoever telling me how many gods I can have, what his name is, whether I can say “dammit” after speaking his name, whether I can represent him with a sculpture, what day of the week to worship him, or whether I can wish I owned the car in the driveway next door. It’s simply not government’s concern. Put the 10 Commandments up in your house or on a church lawn. Problem solved.

I do not have a problem with people praying. I do not have a problem with children praying in public schools. I do have a problem with schools leading such prayers, because not everyone in the classroom is a child of a follower of the God being prayed to, and some follow no God at all. Keep government out of it. Period. Pray with your kids at home. Problem solved.

If your God’s ego is so fragile that it will not be appeased unless you get our government to force my kids to pray to your God, then I humbly submit he’s not worth worshiping.

I do favor a moment of silence during which students may pray silently if they wish. Lots of atheist groups oppose that, and my response is, “what’s the big deal?”

But the moment you try to come up with some kind of uniform prayer that offends no one, you dilute everyone’s religion and force that diluted religion on those who have none. It’s wrong, period. Keep government out of it.

I believe in racial harmony, which includes the recognition that things are not where they need to be. I believe Black Lives Matter. Yes, I believe All Lives Matter, but All Lives don’t matter if black lives don’t. You send a fire truck to the house that’s on fire. It doesn’t mean you disrespect every house that is passed along the way.

I believe in supporting, befriending, thanking and obeying our police officers. I do not think they are always right. I do not think they are always wrong. I think there are issues that police officers desperately need to address, and we can articulate those issues because the police force is an arm of the government, and the first amendment recognizes the right to petition our government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I believe there are problems in communities of color, and white communities for that matter, that need to be addressed. But it’s foolish to say that society cannot address one problem until another problem is addressed. And it defies reason to suggest that the general public can address something like “black on black crime” or “white on white crime” for the simple reason that the perpetrators don’t comprise an arm of the government that can respond in an organized way when we petition them for a redress of grievances.

I should not have to wait for a crook to stop being a crook before I have the right to ask a cop to please don’t shoot me I’m only going for my wallet.

Violence against the police is never the answer, and it robs you (obviously) of any moral authority to state any case you’re trying to make, whether it’s Black Lives Matter or I Want My Country Back.

I struggle with the death penalty. I suspect it’s not worth the trouble. Outside of war, the taking of a human life should be reserved not only for the worst of crimes, but also for cases where the guilt and competence of the accused is established beyond a shadow of a doubt. And even then, I still wonder if it’s worth it.

I believe abortion is not murder in the same way fornication is not adultery. Yes, I see what they have in common, but they’re not the same thing. My personal belief is that it is something I would not endorse unless under a very particular set of circumstances. I need not disclose them, because my larger point is that I cannot come up with any set of circumstances without recognizing that you may come up with a set of circumstances that may differ, however slightly or greatly. As such, I am pro-choice. But when it comes to the pro-life view, man, I get it. I just can’t see imposing it on others. Hence, pro-choice.

I believe in freedom of speech. I do not believe in compelled speech, even if it’s compelling something I like, such as patriotism. I was raised Jehovah’s Witness. We did not say the pledge of allegiance. Today I say it because I don’t have to. If I didn’t, that would be my right. If that bothers you, too bad. Veterans fought and died for my right to CHOOSE whether I want to pledge allegiance to my country, not to force me to do it. If you don’t agree, then you don’t honor veterans’ sacrifices. You only think you do. Forcing an expression of patriotism is fascism and it is meaningless.

I believe patriotism and theism are separate traits, and you can have one without the other. It is a travesty that we have allowed an expression of patriotism to be co-opted to force people to acknowledge a god they don’t believe exists or risk having ignorant people believe they do not love this country.

Yes, I said ignorant. And I meant it.

Cutting taxes is not government spending.

Raising taxes is not robbery.

I expect those in our country illegally to be respected as human beings and afforded the due process rights we would grant to any other human being accused of a civil infraction and/or crime. I also think the immigration laws of this country ought to be respected [except in cases of civil disobedience, in which the offenders ought to be prepared to face the consequences to make their points].

I don’t believe it’s racist to oppose illegal immigration, but shucks, I sure do notice that an awful lot of racists do. I don’t believe it’s racist to oppose affirmative action, but shucks…

I think The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are brilliant works of literature. And I think all children of all races and ethnicities should read them.

I do not “look for reasons” to be offended. I do not look for reasons to offend. I believe if you are thick-skinned, it doesn’t make it OK for me to offend you. And vice versa.

I am tired of being so “politically correct” that I am not allowed to say what I really think of racist positions and views for fear of offending the people that hold them. I’m over being polite to people who are rude to me and to those I love and respect.

I go with my head and, if unable to draw a conclusion, go with my gut. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a mistake. But it’s always with the best interest of our country at heart.

(portions previously published).

The right time to take a stand

There seems to be an undercurrent of opinion in some circles that black people are not allowed to speak on any issue until and unless they address particular issues within their own community. Concerned about police brutality? You can’t address that until you address black on black crime. Distraught that a seemingly clear case of excessive force resulted in (surprise!) a decision not to indict a cop? You can’t address that until you address the dissolution of black families and the raising of black children without their fathers in the home.

Preacher [Click on photo for source]

This patronizing, condescending, paternalistic attitude toward our black brothers and sisters has to end. We do not get to tell people when to voice their concerns. This is not a matter of “You don’t get to go to the movies until you clean your room.” We’re not their daddies. We don’t get to tell them when to talk or what to talk about.

If LeBron James wants to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, he can and should, and he should be prepared to defend his decision to wear it. The exchange of ideas is how we improve society. Telling him he should wear a shirt that says “Be a better father” is condescending in the worst way. When pro-lifers march for abortion restrictions, do we tell them to take care of the pedophile priest problem first? When the Tea Party marches for limited government, do we tell them to take care of white-on-white crime first? No. Why not? Because it’s irrelevant, that’s why.

Black-on-black crime is irrelevant to police brutality. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. White-on-white crime is irrelevant to securities fraud and tax evasion. You don’t have to fix one to opine on the other. Latino-on-Latino crime is irrelevant to illegal immigration. You don’t have to fix one to opine the other.

Let’s call it what it is: It’s non-black people putting black people in their place by telling them when they can protest, what they can protest about, and what hoops they have to jump through in order to earn the moral authority to protest to their moral superiors – the non-black elite.

There’s a word for that.

It pains me on a personal level to see Geraldo Rivera, someone I once considered an ally in the fight for equality in America and for fair coverage of racial issues in the media, become such an apologist for racist attitudes masquerading as deeper social concerns.

No one is excusing black-on-black crime. No one is excusing the deterioration of the family unit (among all races). But no one, NO one, has the right to tell black America “you can’t complain about this until you take care of that.”

Who the hell do you think you are?

Where’s THAT T-shirt?

Note: This post was written on my time and expresses my opinion. It does not reflect on my employer or my previous associations in any way.

Stepping into grand-parenthood: I’m gonna be a WHAT?

Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, Andy will be born.

Andy is the first child of my stepdaughter, Kayla. So he’s my…

Well, wait, what is he? I mean, to me? And what am I to him?

Biologically, nothing. But in reality, quite a bit. Andy will be living with me and my family (at least for the time being). He will be like a little brother to my sons (his uncles). My wife is his biological grand… I don’t know if we’re allowed to use that word. I think we’re going with “Mee-ma.” Or is it “Mimaw”? I don’t know. How do you spell a word that doesn’t really exist? However you want, I guess.

Memaw.

So my wife is going to be a Memaw. And my sons are going to be uncles. And Kayla’s father is going to be a Grampa (or whatever he wants to be called. We haven’t actually discussed it).

Kayla, age 16, holding her little brother Leo. This photo is from February 2009. The next baby Kayla holds will be her own.

Kayla, age 16, holding her little brother Leo. This photo is from February 2009. The next baby Kayla holds will be her own.

And Kayla is going to be a mom. Holy cow. That little girl who called me “Homie G” when we first met and who was just 14 years old when she and her kid sister walked their mom down the aisle at our wedding — she’s going to be a mom.

Wow.

Okay, so what does that make me? Honestly, it makes me not important (in the sense that it’s not about me) and important (in the sense that I am expected to, and intend to, play a positive and constructive role in this little boy’s life). At the same time.

Personally, I think it is a bit presumptuous for me to be called “Grampa” or any variation of that. My stepdaughter has a father who loves her and has been supporting her. He is Andy’s Grampa, and I do not intend to take that away from him.

So what name do I get?

My wife suggests “Lito.” It’s short for “Abuelito,” which is what Spanish speaking people call their grandfathers. I like it. It’s affectionate and personal without intruding on Grampa’s turf.

I’m gonna be a Lito!

Congratulations Kayla and Andrew. You’re going to make great parents. We’re all proud of how strong you have been, and we know Andy is going to be lucky to have you as parents. Just as soon as he gets here. Which is, when, again? Tonight? Tomorrow? Soon. Any day now.

I can’t wait to meet him.

Flowers are red, fingernails are pink

My son Angelo, who’s 3, insisted this weekend that his mom and his sisters paint his nails. It was a lovely shade of pinkish, on the darker side. Not quite red. I don’t know what to call it and didn’t think to ask. All I know is, it was on my son’s fingernails, and I groaned a little.

It’s not the first time Angelo has blurred the gender line. Earlier this summer, he insisted his mom buy him a “Frozen” cap with Elsa’s hair sewn into it. And a T-shirt with Elsa’s image on it. My wife found a blue one.

He wore that thing at Disney World. And he loved it. And so did we.

Now don’t get me wrong. Angelo typically wears boy stuff. Ninja Turtle shirts. Batman raincoat. Iron man shoes. Mickey Mouse shirts (no interest in wearing Minnie or Daisy items). But every now and then, Elsa.

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

I see a little boy wearing a shirt and hat honoring the hero of a movie he loves. Why? What do you see?

But something happened Monday night my wife and I were not prepared for. Angelo was lying down next to my wife, and he said to her, “I don’t wanna wear nail polish.”

“Why not?” my wife asked.

“Nail polish is for girls.”

“Who told you that?”

Angelo said his preschool teacher told him nail polish is for girls. He repeated the accusation to me. And I have to admit, I was pretty upset about it. So was my wife.

Now, let me get this out of the way: the teacher denies this, and I have no reason to disbelieve her. We know Angelo’s teacher to be a wonderful, dedicated and compassionate person. We have no idea why Angelo said what he said, but 3-year-olds have been known to misinterpret what they hear from adults. Whatever. It’s not the point, and we love Angelo’s teacher and school.

But whatever the source was, Angelo felt criticized for showing up at school with painted nails. And that makes me uncomfortable.

If my son wants to wear nail polish, that is his business. He’s 3. He’s not declaring his sexuality. He is not rebelling against gender politics. You know what he’s doing? He’s looking at painted nails and saying “Cool! Can I try that?” And we’re saying yes. Because if my son wants to go to school with dark pink, light red nails, he is going to school with dark pink, light red nails.

And an Elsa hat with a wig attached. We want our son to feel free to express himself, to let us know who he is, not to mold him into what he “shalt” be. We are not going to change who he is by suppressing his self-expression, but we will be able to love and support him more completely if we allow him to be himself.

We removed the nail polish Tuesday morning, and that made me a little sad. Not because I want him to wear it. I don’t, to be honest. But I want him to decide on his own that he doesn’t want to wear it. Otherwise, he’s being less than who and what he wants to be. “If you want to put it back on or pick another color, just tell us,” I said to him as we finished.

Maybe he’ll go with green next time.

One of the saddest songs I ever heard is called “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin. It’s about a little boy who colors flowers using every crayon in the box, and the teacher who successfully “straightens him out” by instructing him that flowers are red and leaves are green.

In case that description is too subtle, here’s a spoiler: The teacher is the villain in this song, and the child is the victim.  There’s nothing subtle about it. There is a correct answer to “what are the letters of the alphabet?” and “what is two plus two?” There is, however, no correct answer to “what colors do you want to use for your art?”

Or your fingernails.

Charlo Greene’s Stunt: This Is Why They Call It “Dope.”

I was going to write a post on the Baked Alaskan, but I don’t think I could do a better job than Jeff Winbush. For the record, he and I appear to have come up with the “Baked Alaskan” moniker independently.

Zero Tolerance For Silence

“Gives a whole new meaning to ‘baked Alaskan.’ Get it?”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Charlo Greene , the Alaskan-based, pot-puffing ex-reporter who set her career on fire by disclosing she was the owner of a pro-marijuana “cannabis club” while dropping a F bomb on live television as she quit before she could be fired.

There are two things I wonder about Ms. Greene’s self-exile from the ranks of professional journalism:

1. I wonder if Ms. Greene should send a workshop proposal for the next National Association of Black Journalists convention on How To Leave A Job With Absolutely No Tact, No Grace and No Class and Not Only Burn Your Bridges But Blow Them the Hell Up.

2. By figuratively, if not literally showing her behind, in pulling such a brain-dead stunt does Ms. Greene think she helped her cause or trivialized it by making herself look ridiculous?

The…

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They’re coming for your children! And so are Satanists!

When you take something seriously, it is sometimes difficult to tell when you are being mocked.

In no area of life is this more evident than it is in the field of religion. Tell a devout Christian that there is no God, and the Christian will respond with assurances that you are wrong. But tell him you are a Satanist, and he thinks you really believe in and worship the Dark One.

Rationally speaking, there is no such thing as a Satanist. A person who truly believes that there is a spirit being named Satan who opposes the Creator God of the Old and New Testaments would never worship such a being, for to do so would be to deliberately enlist in the losing side of a war.

There are words for people who believe in a literal Satan at work in this world. Those words are Christian, Jew and Muslim. Not Satanist.

Whenever I encounter someone who calls himself a Satanist, I chuckle. This person is not a “Satanist,” the way a devout Christian would describe such a person. He is an in-your-face, obnoxious atheist. Not content to carry the banner of “skeptic” or “unbeliever,” the Satanist intentionally presses buttons to antagonize those who believe in the Islamo-Judeo-Christian God.

If you don’t feel intimidated by the idea, visit the Church of Satan website, and you’ll quickly learn that Satanists are not what Christians portray them to be.

“To us, Satan is the symbol that best suits the nature of we who are carnal by birth—people who feel no battles raging between our thoughts and feelings, we who do not embrace the concept of a soul imprisoned in a body. He represents pride, liberty, and individualism—qualities often defined as Evil by those who worship external deities, who feel there is a war between their minds and emotions… Man—using his brain—invented all the Gods, doing so because many of our species cannot accept or control their personal egos, feeling compelled to conjure up one or a multiplicity of characters who can act without hindrance or guilt upon whims and desires.”

Did you catch it? The simplicity is a bit disarming. “Satan,” to the Church of Satan, is a symbol, not a real being. They don’t worship “Satan” for the simple reason that they do not believe Satan exists. They do not believe in supernatural beings, at all.

Let me insert an asterisk here: There are all sorts of wacky beliefs about all sorts of supposed gods, so when I generalize about Satanists not believing in a literal Satan, I do so fully expecting that somewhere out there is a silly (and for all I know quite dangerous) sect of people who really do believe in a literal Satan and choose to worship him anyway. Then again, I know people who voted for Sarah Palin, Ross Perot and Walter Mondale on purpose. What can I say.

By and large, when “Satanists” emerge in the public sphere, it is far more likely that they are atheists trying to make a point than worshipers of a literal Lucifer. Atheists have been known to invoke the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” as God in order to mock theists. “Satan” takes the affront one step further, from mockery to downright antagonism.

And good Lord, does it work!

satanic17n-1-webWitness the reaction to reports that a group calling itself “The Satanic Temple” wants to distribute “satanic” literature to public school children in Orange County, Florida. Outrageous, right? Well, yes, and that is their modus operandi – to instill outrage. To what end? Well, in this case, their goal is rather transparent. They are seeking to protest the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren by advocating the distribution of religious material to schoolchildren.

Rush Limbaugh would (or should) recognize it as an example of “demonstrating absurdity by being absurd.”

It. Is. Brilliant.

“Prayer warriors, unite!” one friend wrote on her Facebook page. And while I completely respect my friend’s right to express her religious views and concerns, I can’t help but feel that she completely missed the point. In short, she did not realize or recognize that her religious beliefs were being exploited and mocked for a legitimate purpose.

It turns out that the school board in Orange County has permitted “World Changers of Florida” to distribute Bibles in schools, then allowed an atheist group to distribute materials earlier this year.

The Satanic Temple rightly recognizes that the school board cannot discriminate against any group on religious grounds, so they are seeking to distribute something called “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.”

According to the book, Satan can only be appeased by blood sacrifice. Otherwise, he is unable to welcome those who have previously acted against his interest in the world.

Oh, wait, that’s not what the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities says about Satan. It’s what the Bible says about God. An easy mistake to make.

No, the Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities includes admonitions about friendship, respect and freedom.

It should offend Christians that Satanists want to distribute this book to children. Children are not old enough to appreciate the satire being aimed at religious adults who see nothing wrong with using the state to promote a religion they like, but whine like sacrificed goats when the state is used to promote a religion they don’t like.

Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that some other religious group is going to use that school as a recruiting ground. And non-Christians have every right to send their children to a public school without being concerned that Christians are going to use that school as a recruiting ground, too. It works both ways.

Why exactly is it that any Christian group would want to distribute Bibles in a public school? Why not select a private place where adults gather, such as, I don’t know, a church? If a religious group wants to recruit new members, why go to a public school? Why not go to a playground, where there’s a good chance the children’s parents will be there? (Oh, that’s it, isn’t it?)

Give credit where it’s due: Jehovah’s Witnesses (who are not seeking to distribute their materials in public schools) at least have the integrity to knock on doors and speak to adults about their faith. They don’t come after your children when you’re not looking.

The way I see it, the solution is not that difficult. If you don’t want state resources co-opted to promote every religion, you stand against state resources being co-opted to promote any religion (including atheism). Problem solved.

Recommended reading: Dear Oklahoma: Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan.