Apologies for my long absence. To make a long story short, too much to do, too much to think about, too much that makes me angry, and not a lot of energy for blogging.
Several of the things that have been making me angry and giving me food for thought are coming together in this post. I was flabbergasted this past weekend to see that more than forty so-called Democrats cast their votes for the Stupak amendment to the health insurance reform bill (to give it its proper name: it isn't reforming health care, it's reforming health insurance--and that just barely). Among the more common rationalizations and excuses offered for those votes is the notion that people shouldn't be asked to support, through their tax dollars, things which they personally do not approve of.
The thing that burns my onion is that the only time anyone ever seems to think that's a good or an important idea is when the matter in question is allowing men to control what a woman does with her body (i.e., abortion). It's not an altogether unreasonable idea, but before I could get behind it as a principle of government, it would have to apply to everything that our taxes fund.
For example, earlier this evening the Commonwealth of Virginia
executed judicially murdered John Allen Muhammad, who was one of the two snipers who terrorized the Washington, D.C. area seven years ago last month. That's certainly something I don't support, and that I don't like to think about funding with my taxes. Another thing that was boosting my blood pressure was the tenor of some of the comments on Muhammad's pending execution that I encountered on allegedly progressive web sites: comments to the effect that he deserved what he was going to get, that he was worthless, and similar drivel that I would have expected from a right-wing site, but not at places where I spend time online.
One of those comments argued that unless one had been part of the community that Muhammad and his accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized through random violence, one was somehow not entitled to have or to express an opinion about what would, or would not, bring closure to the families of the victims. As I pointed out in response to that comment, this is precisely why we have a justice system. We do not allow the victims of crimes (or their relatives) to determine the fates of those charged with committing crimes against them, because they lack the necessary objectivity.
Now, I was not in D.C. that autumn, and I did not experience the Muhammad/Malvo spree in person. I have not lost a family member or a friend to random violence, and I can't claim to know what that is like. I do, however, have a membership that I did not seek out in a club that, in the words of NIU President John Peters, no one wants to join. I was on campus at NIU on February 14, 2008, and not far from Cole Hall when the shooting spree began. There, too, I was fortunate: I was not injured, and no one that I know personally was numbered among the wounded--or the slain. But I absolutely know what a gut-wrenching experience it is to find one's safe, normal, peaceful world turned upside-down amid the shrieks of more sirens than anyone should ever have to hear in a lifetime. I know what it's like to wonder if it's safe yet to go outside, and to experience anxiety in a place that one never, ever thought would engender it.
The actions of Steven Kazmierczak, like the actions of Muhammad and Malvo six years previously, were violent, unexpected, morally indefensible, and created pain and tragedy for people they could not possibly have known, much less had any grievances against. Nevertheless, had Kazmierczak not taken his own life at the end of his shooting spree, I would not support having the State of Illinois take his life from him in my name. As the old bumper sticker put it, killing people to prove that killing people is bad is just plain stupid. It does nothing but to run up the toll of the dead. It will not bring the victims of the first murder back to life. It will not bring closure to their families and friends. It will not wipe away the memories from the minds of all who were there that day--or who knew and loved someone who was there that day--of what happened. And yet we continue to hear that capital punishment is moral and useful and helpful. To whom?
I'd also like to opt out of paying for the stupid, callous, homophobic, hateful legislation that has been pouring out of governments all across this nation--up to and including the Obama administration, which has yet to demonstrate, at least to my satisfaction, that it is in fact an advocate of any kind for much of anything at all, much less the "fierce advocate" for gay rights that Mr. Obama promised to be when he was still trying to get to be the president. I never expected him to do much on that front, and he has, regrettably, lived down to that expectation. The problem is, in the wake of this past Tuesday's elections, nervous nellies in the administration and the Democratic Party have been urging both power structures to drop anything from their respective agendas that even looks like it might have to do with gay rights, on the (invalid) assumption that doing so will lose them the support of more voters than they would gain.
That is, in fact, an arse-backwards assumption. If you look at the results carefully, the voters turned away from rabid conservatism--and also from the kind of lukewarm appeasement that has been passing for Democratic policy and politics since President Obama took office. Voter turnout, particularly among Democrats, was abysmal--quite likely because we were offered abysmal candidates who ran away from the very kind of policies that Mr. Obama espoused in his successful run for the White House last year. If you want to get those people back into the voting booths, you're going to have to offer more than stale centrism and safe pragmatism. You're going to have to stand up for the things you said you stood behind--and mean it. You're going to have to give up this quixotic (dare I say Sisyphean?) quest for bipartisanship and admit that the Republican, at least as presently constituted, are not acting in good faith and will not support you or your policies no matter how many compromises you offer them nor how many times you reach out your hand. We did not vote you into office to enable the Republicans. We voted you into office because we were sick unto death of the Republicans and their corrupt ways--and because we wanted you to clean up the messes they left for you. The Republicans set the table, and were quite happy to tell us that we could not sit at it or eat from it when they were last in the majority. Let them find out at first-hand exactly how badly that sucks by using their own rules and their own tactics against them. We do not need their votes or their support to govern, or to enact our agendas. We should stop trying--especially when that trying takes the form of starting from a disadvantageous position to begin with, and then giving away the store in a vain attempt to garner even a single Republican vote, with the end result being legislation that, as with the health insurance "reform" legislation I referenced at the beginning of this post, neither addresses the problem it was intended to fix, and satisfies exactly no one.
I have been opting out, at least financially speaking, from the Catholic Church. For quite some time, in fact. But if they go on as they have been for much longer, I may have to opt out more drastically. The present pope, and most of the bishops with him, are, in my estimation, leading their flock astray. They may be scrupulous in their observance of the minutiae (or at least the minutiae about which they choose to care) of the faith, but they are forgetting what Jesus had to say on that topic:
οὐαὶ δὲ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι κλείετε τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων· ὑμεῖς γὰρ οὐκ εἰσέρχεσθε οὐδὲ τοὺς εἰσερχομένους ἀφίετε εἰσελθεῖν. οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι περιάγετε τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ τὴν χηρὰν ποιῆσαι ἕνα προσήλυτον, καὶ ὅταν γένηται ποιεῖτε αὐτὸν υἱὸν γεέννης διπλότερον ὑμῶν. ...οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι ἀποδεκατοῦτε τὸ ἡδύοσμον καὶ τὸ ἄνηθον καὶ τὸ κύμινον καὶ ἀφήκατε τὰ βαρύτερα τοῦ νόμου, τὴν κρίσιν καὶ τὸ ἔλεος καὶ τὴν πίστιν· ταῦτα δὲ ἔδει ποιῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἀφιέναι.
And woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you slam the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people's faces. You will neither go in yourselves, nor allow to enter those who wish to go in! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you travel across land and sea to make a single convert: and when you get one, you make of him a child of hell twice as bad as yourselves. ...Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. You ought to have attended to these, without forgetting the others.
--Matthew 23:13-15, 23; my translation from the original Greek