Sunday, November 15, 2015

The wisdom of Doonesbury

I’ve long been a fan of Doonesbury, which Garry Trudeau has been publishing, almost continuously, for more than 45 years. Trudeau has received numerous rewards for the comic strip, including a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975. The Doonesbury strip was the very first comic strip cartoon to be so honored.

On occasion, the Doonesbury strip comes up with some facts that are so unbelievable that I feel compelled to conduct my own fact check, and this morning’s strip was one of those times:

today’s strip

When I read in today’s strip that 23,000,000 Republicans believe that Barack Obams is a Muslim, I found it hard to believe that THAT many people could be that stupid. As it turns out, that figure is actually pretty accurate, and possibly even conservative.

According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, 29% of the American population, and 43% of the members of the Republican Party believe that Obama is a Muslim. I couldn’t verify the 23 million figure, but I suspect that the 43% total would be a rough approximation of that, since there are 55 million registered Republicans in our country.

In addition to their belief that Obama is a Muslim, 20% of our population STILL believes that Obama was born outside the United States, and there are still a handful of people who believe that “Denali” is a Kenyan word for “black power”.

There are also a surprising number of people (including a few well known liberals) who are convinced that all Muslims are killers. Since there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, that belief simply does not make sense. I don’t believe that for a minute, and I’m one of the few white Christians who have actually read the Koran, which I‘ve written a lengthy book report about.

Much has already been written about the recent attack in Paris by members of ISIS, and the final resolution of the crisis won’t be happening any time soon. The vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world have the same opinion of terrorism that the rest of us do, as demonstrated by the fact that the President of Iran, as well as the leaders of Qatar, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia has called the attacks “criminal", and have called for an end to the plague of terrorism. Indonesia, incidentally, has the highest percentage (12.7%) of the world’s Muslim population, with over 200,000.000 followers living within its borders.

Earlier this year, a University of Nevada political science major named Ivy Ziedrich confronted Jeb Bush at a town hall meeting in Reno, and accused his brother of creating ISIS.. To some folks, that may seem a little far fetched, but if you truly analyze our foreign policy decisions in Iraq, she is absolutely correct..

Like any writer, Garry Trudeau has generated NUMEROUS controversies over the years, but his comments about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo exhibit a wisdom that proves that even satire, if not handled carefully, can be a very dangerous thing.

don’t make fun of my dog, my truck, or my religion

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

This is the famous Budweiser beer

When I was in basic training in North Carolina in 1970, I was impressed by the fact that one of the guys in my platoon had memorized the entire beer slogan that is found on every bottle or can of Budweiser. If you’re not a Bud fan, it reads exactly like this:

“This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood Aging process produces a taste, a smoothness, and a drinkability that you will find in no other beer at any price”.

Over the years, I’ve enhanced my memory skills, partially due to the fact that I spent more than 25 years in Toastmasters memorizing speeches, but also due to the fact that I’ve taken numerous insurance courses AFTER my graduation from college. As a result, I can now recite the slogan shown above verbatim, which doesn’t mean that I’m smarter than any one else. It just means that I have done a better job at improving my memory skills than a lot of other people.

When I taught college level English in China, I was struck by the fact that a number of the native teachers still focused on rote memorization, a skill that was highly valued in this country when my parents were in elementary school a century ago. I even had a few students in my classes whose goal was to memorize an entire book. Although that is an admirable goal, it has little practical value.

The American educational system may not be the best in the world we are currently #17) but our system DOES do a good job of teaching problem solving skills, which has a lot more to do with THINKING than simply memorizing facts.

The other day, I was supervising a class at one of the local high schools, and noticed the following Albert Einstein quote on the wall:

“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he really does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."

One of my late relatives was opposed to college education for her children because “it put ideas in their head”, which is PRECISELY the purpose of higher education. Sadly, that attitude still exists today in the minds of the more conservative members of our society, especially those in Texas.

The following excerpt is taken directly from the Texas Republican Party Platform:

“Knowledge-based Education - We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Sills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a re-labeling of Outcome Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. (emphasis mine)

In other words, the Republicans in Texas really don’t want voters to actually THINK. They would prefer that they keep watching FOX “news” and keep pulling the “R” lever when they vote.

Compounding the error of the Republican Party is the fact that Texas is considered to be one of the most religious states in the country (47% of its residents are considered to be “very religious”). As a result of their religious philosophy, a large number of folks in Texas no longer trust public schools, who they feel are “biased against Christian values“.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, roughly 1.7 million children in our country are being educated at home, and Texas has (by far) the highest percentage of its students being home schooled. The Texas Home School coalition estimates the total is around 300,000.

The Texas Supreme Court is currently hearing the case of a family accused of not educating their children because they were waiting for the second coming of Jesus. The family says that the government is violating their constitutional rights. The mother of the children claims to have heard one of her children say they were “going to be raptured”.

Since the Texas Supreme Court is considered to be a conservative body, it’s anybody’s guess how this court case will come out. Most of us, however, are of the opinion that children who are in school should actually be EDUCATED.

Regardless of the outcome of the case is the fact that new Governor Greg Abbott recently appointed Donna Bahorich as chair of the Texas Board of Education in June. Critics objected to her lack of experience with the public school system, since she home schooled her three sons before sending them to private schools.

If I had a choice between having my children attend a public school in Texas or having a few Buds with them on the patio, I’d prefer the beers on the patio.

At least they would be a lot WISER.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Religion and politics

If you want to get into an argument, especially with someone you don’t know very well, the process is fairly simple.

All you have to do is bring up either one of the topics listed above, and you’re likely to get a lively, if short-lived, discussion. If you bring in some aspect of sex, which frequently involves one or both of the above topics, you’ve just raised the bar a little higher.

The History Channel just published an article the other day that got the wheels in my head turning again.

In 1505, Martin Luther was nearly killed by a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. He vowed that if he survived the storm, he would give up his study of law, and become a monk. Due to his piety and Spartan life style, he became a representative in Rome for the German Augustine monasteries in 1512, After receiving his doctorate, he became a professor of biblical studies, but gradually came to question some of the teachings of the Catholic church.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of a church in Germany. His main criticism of the Catholic church was that the church was selling indulgences, largely in order to finance the renovation of the basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

Roughly a year later, the Pope condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of the Catholic church. In July of 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull condemning Luther’s teachings, and gave him 120 days to recent them. When Luther refused to do so, he was excommunicated in January of 1521. The same year, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany issued the Edict of Worms, declared Luther an outlaw, and gave permission for anyone to kill him without consequence, eerily reminiscent of the fatwa that was issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989, after the publication of “The Satanic Verses”.

The Founding Fathers of our country wisely chose to separate church and state, but few people realize how far back the mingling of the two occurred.

Early in the 4th century, a man named Constantine was co-emperor of the western Roman Empire. His brother-in-law, Maxentius, was the co-emperor, and the two eventually became bitter rivals, which led to a war between their armies. Immediately prior to a battle in the year 312, Constantine had a vision of the sign of Christ in a dream, and adopted the sign of the cross before he and his army went into battle, where they prevailed.

When the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th Century, the Catholic Church became a prominent force in European politics, and religious wars raged for centuries. The Crusades themselves lasted for roughly 200 years, and sowed the seeds of animosity between Christians and Muslims that still exists today. “ The Crusades through Arab Eyes” is a book worth reading, but you can read a quick summary by clicking on the link below:

the CliffsNotes version

Some of today’s commentators are aghast that Pope Francis has issued a radical call for action on climate change, arguing that he is not a scientist (he IS, but that’s besides the point).

Centuries ago, the Catholic church got involved in discussions of science, when they disputed Galileo’s belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun. His teachings were investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which forced him to recant his views, and caused him to be placed under house arrest for the last 27 years of his life. It wasn’t until October 31, 1992, that the Catholic Church admitted its earlier errors, and Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled.

When colonists first came to America in the early 17th century to escape religious persecution in Europe, they brought their own prejudices with them. People were put to death simply because they disagreed with their pastors, or because they belonged to “the wrong faith”.

Although acknowledging that religion could be a positive force in people’s lives, the Founding Fathers were also well aware of the damage that could be done by incorporating religion into political life, and the separation of church and state was codified in the 1st amendment to the Constitution.

Very early in our county’s history, E pluribus Unum was adopted as the defacto motto of the United States, and it found its way onto the Great Seal of the United States and some early coins.

Over time, various references to religion crept back into public life. The phrase “in God we trust” found its way onto coins, when the Union Army determined that it could use all the help that it could get. The phrase gradually found its way onto other coins, and was first used on paper money in 1957.

The Red Scare of the 1950’s heightened a need for more religion in our society, and the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Two years later, “In God we Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States.

Due to a law suit filed in New York State in 1958, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1962 that prayer would no longer be allowed in public schools, and vast numbers of our society felt that America was certain to go straight to Hell.

Life would be a lot simpler if we could somehow truly separate religion from politics, but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Waye LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the NRA, has declared that owning a gun is a God given right, a “fact” that many theologians agree is more than a bit stupid.

Every election brings forth a few politicians who believe that somehow God had called them to run for office. For the 2016 Presidential race, SIX Republicans entered the race because God asked them to. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum have since dropped out, but Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Mike Huckabee are still going strong. Carson, in fact, is now leading in a number of polls.

All this talk of religion and politics can get tiresome very quickly, so here’s my advise:

If someone brings up either topic in conversation, switch to a different topic. The Cubs, after all, nearly got into the World Series, and the Royals are only a game away from defeating the Mets.

There ARE things in life that are more important than either politics and religion. Since our time on Earth is relatively limited, enjoy them while you can, and you’ll be much, much happier.