Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I've Heard it Said

Time again for another batch of the quotations I seem to pile up. As is so often true, these are all (I think) from the excellent A Word a Day:

Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does. -Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), [The Devil's Dictionary, 1906]

They know enough who know how to learn. -Henry Adams (1838-1918)

No man is clever enough to know all the evil he does. -La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them. -Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves. -Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. -M.F.K. (Mary Frances Kennedy) Fisher, writer (1908-1992)

A man who is 'ill-adjusted' to the world is always on the verge of finding himself. One who is adjusted to the world never finds himself, but gets to be a cabinet minister. -Hermann Hesse, novelist, poet, Nobel laureate (1877-1962)

To use bitter words, when kind words are at hand is like picking unripe fruit when the ripe fruit is there. -Thiruvalluvar, poet (c. 1st century BCE or 6th century CE)

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on -- have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear -- what remains? Nature remains. -Walt Whitman, poet (1819-1892)

It is a very lonely life that a man leads, who becomes aware of truths before their times. -Thomas Brackett Reed, politician (1839-1902)

Political history is largely an account of mass violence and of the expenditure of vast resources to cope with mythical fears and hopes. -Murray Edelman, professor, author (1919-2001)

False Splitting

Now this I find interesting, as someone who has a fondess for words, their meaning, and their origins. I swipe it verbatim from the September 9, 2007, edition of A Word a Day, of which I've written before and will again:

What's common among an orange and an omelet... and an uncle and an umpire? Earlier all these words used to take the indefinite article "a", not "an".

They were coined by a process called false splitting. Let's take orange. The original word was Sanskrit naranga. By the time it reached English, the initial letter n had joined the article a, resulting in "an orange". The word for orange is still narangi in Hindi, naranja in Spanish, and naranj in Arabic.

This false splitting caused what should have been "a napron" to become "an apron". The same process transformed "a nadder" into "an adder", and reshaped many other words.

The n went the other way too. "Mine uncle" was interpreted as "my nuncle" resulting in a synonym nuncle for uncle. The word newt was formed the same way: "an ewte" misdivided into "a newte".

Could false splitting turn "an apple" into "a napple" or "a nail" into "an ail" some day? Before the advent of printing, the language was primarily oral/aural, resulting in mishearing and misinterpreting. Today, spelling is mostly standardized, so chances of false splitting are slim, though not impossible.

Cool, no? Here are a few samples that interested me, from the week's worth of "false splits" that AWAD presented:

eyas (EYE-uhs) noun
A nestling, especially a young falcon or hawk.
[By erroneous splitting of the original "a nyas" into "an eyas". From Latin nidus (nest), ultimately from the Indo-European root sed- (to sit) that is also the source of sit, chair, saddle, soot, sediment, cathedral, and tetrahedron.]

atomy (AT-uh-mee) noun
A skeleton. [From the word anatomy taken as "an atomy". From Latin ana- (up) + tome (a cutting). Ultimately from the Indo-European root tem- (to cut) that is alto the source of tonsure, temple, epitome, and contemplate.]

auger (AW-guhr) noun
Any of various boring tools resembling a corkscrew, used in carpentry, digging, etc.
[From the misdivision of "a nauger" as "an auger". Ultimately from the Indo-European root nobh- (navel) that is also the source of nave, navel, umbilical, omphaloskepsis (navel gazing), and Hindi nabhi (navel).]

nonce (nons) noun
1. The present or immediate occasion.
2. The time being.
[From the phrase "for the nonce", a misdivision of "for then anes", from for + then (the) + anes (one).]

If you find this sort of thing the slightest bit interesting, you really should sign up for A Word a Day. Of course, if you find this sort of thing the slightest bit interesting, you probably already have.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Still More Anti-Catholic Bigotry!

As if we need more evidence that anti-Catholicism is "the last acceptable prejudice," here comes local bigot Robin Kip Speckels again with another ill-informed, half-baked spew of vomitous hatred, courtesy of the local rag. I've written about Speckels before, the last time he decided to vent his bigotry and the local rag decided to help him, and I'm pretty sure this is the last time I will waste any energy on someone who is so obviously poisoned by his own unreasoning biases.

But you never know.

Anyhow, here's the latest. Hold your nose.

Catholicism deceives, seduces
By Robin Kip Speckels
Sioux Falls
PUBLISHED: October 15, 2007

n a Sept. 4 response letter to the Argus Leader, Michael Wensing of Brookings accused me of deliberately misunderstanding Catholic theology and traditions. For the past 10 years, I have learned all I need to know about Catholicism and its unbiblical teachings, which are too numerous to go into detail. I'm not misunderstanding anything.

I am, however, very deliberate in my attempt to unmask what is perhaps the most deceptive and seductive religious system in the world, a system which operates under the ruse of Christianity. Roman Catholicism didn't even exist until after 300 A.D. under the Roman emperor Constantine, who worshiped the sun god and was actually the first pope - not Peter. Sure, they printed Bibles, but the problem is that over the centuries, they have taken the liberty of elevating their own teachings above Scripture. This is called heresy.

Wensing claims that the Catholic Church treasures the Bible. Why then do they dishonor it by making graven images and genuflecting (kneeling) before them? It's the same thing as bowing down and is a blatant violation of the Second Commandment. Why do they pray to Mary and many other "saints" as mediators when the Bible says that Jesus is the only mediator? (1 Timothy 2:5) And what about praying the rosary, which is a vain repetition, something Jesus said not to do? (Matthew 6:7)

Catholicism isn't about Jesus Christ. It's about the Virgin Mary, whom, interestingly, the church hails as "Queen of Heaven and Earth." God condemns the worship of such a queen. (Jeremiah 44:17) I do not hate Catholics, and it isn't my intent to offend or anger them. I simply want to urge them to take a serious look at the things they've been taught in light of the Scriptures.

And now the old, old problem: Where to begin? These bigots invariably follow the same tack, viz., throw as much crap as you possibly can, making it nigh well impossible to sort it all out for any kind of reasoned refutation. But gamely we soldier on...

For starters, there's always that beloved phrase, "I have learned all I need to know..." Speckels would have us believe he has made a decade-long study of Catholicism and come to an informed conclusion. But his diatribe indicates quite the opposite, for if he had in fact pursued any reliable (un-bigoted) sources, he would not be promulgating his half-truths and outright untruths. One can but conclude, therefore, that Speckels has spent the past decade wallowing in such literary gems as support his anti-Catholic prejudice, and now having sufficiently coated himself in muck has pronounced his "education" at an end. He (I think: the byline gives no clue as to gender) knows all he needs to know. Facts will only get in the way.

Of course, Speckels's claim that Catholicism "didn't even exist until after 300 A.D. under the Roman emperor Constantine" is just silly, as is his assertion that Constantine "worshiped the sun god and was actually the first pope." The roots of Catholicism go back to the earliest days of Christianity, and have been growing and evolving ever since. I haven't the foggiest idea whether or not Constantine ever worshiped the sun god, but even if he did that hardly repudiates his conversion to Christianity: With the exception of the Jews who followed Christ, nearly all early converts to Christianity had been pagans. Anyhow, Constantine's importance in legitimizing Christianity can't be overstated...unless you announce that he was "actually the first pope." He was neither first, nor any pope at all. There was an eighth-century pope by the same name, but I'm pretty sure he was a different person altogether, unless Constantine lived to be well over 500 years old. As far as "who's on first"--well, since the pope is the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, it seems to me that it's up to the RCC, and not Speckel, to decide who their first leader was. If they say it was Peter, then it was Peter. If they say it was Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson, then it was Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson.

Part of Speckel's problem undoubtedly lies in the fact that Catholic tradition is built on a biblical foundation but also believes in the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit to guide the church on earth. In other words, the Bible is where you start. We believe that this ongoing revelation comes via the teaching authority of the church, at whose earthly head is the pope. I suspect that Speckels is of a fundamentalist bent, and those folks seem to cling to a belief that God wrote the Bible one day and everything--all thought, all reason, all discovery--froze at that point. And so naturally he would label anything else "heresy." Just as I would label his point of view "foolishness."

Speaking of foolishness: Are we really still hung up on that "graven images" nonsense? When was the last time (or the first) that Speckels was actually in a Catholic church? Certainly, some of the older churches are replete with statuary, but only an imbecile still clings to the belief that Catholics worship or even revere statues. If Speckels had indeed made the deep study of Catholicism that he implies, he would know that Catholics do not genuflect to any statue but rather to what we consider to be the true presence of Christ in the consecrated elements of Holy Communion, which are stored in a tabernacle, which traditionally rests upon the main altar or, in some churches, a side altar. It is true that there often is a crucifix above the main altar, and that there may be a statue of Mary or Joseph near or above a side altar, but that's coincidental. The reverence is being shown to Christ, not to any "graven image." Good grief.

Likewise, had Speckels studied anything that didn't serve to reinforce his hatred of Catholics, he would know that careful Catholics do not "pray to saints"; admittedly, we will say, somewhat colloquially, "better say a prayer to St. Anthony" or words to that effect, but a careful Catholic--and anyone who knows anything about Catholic teachings--will know that (as a priest friend of mine at the alma mater put it all those years ago) "Catholics do not pray to the saints; Catholics asks the saints to pray with us." In other words, my praying "to" St. Jude (patron saint of hopeless causes and therefore a longtime favorite of mine) is in fact my asking him to pray for and with me, just as I might well ask a friend to remember me in prayer if I am going through a difficult time. Catholics believe in eternity, therefore asking St. Jude for prayers is no different than asking your next-door neighbor for same.

I won't fall into Speckel's trap of cherry-picking Bible verses to "prove" his distortions are biblically ordained "truths," but it can't pass uncommented that his condemnations of Catholic practices depends on his first misinterpreting what Catholicism teaches and practices and then condemning that misinterpretation. So he says we pray to saints (untrue) and then condemns that--which might have merit, were the original charge true. It's the same as saying, blue-eyed men beat their wives; wife-beating is a crime; therefore blue-eyed men are criminals. B is true; A and C are lies. As is Speckel's pronouncement that "Catholicism isn't about Jesus Christ. It's about the Virgin Mary." Huh. News to me. Certainly Mary holds a special place of honor in the Catholic church, but anyone who had bothered to study the faith--or even just read the liturgy of the Mass--could not conclude that it's "about" Mary, whatever poetic honorifics are given her. Again, he sets out a lie as if it's truth, and then attacks the lie.

And then--and you gotta love this--he says, "I do not hate Catholics, and it isn't my intent to offend or anger them." Hah! Give it up, man! There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to craft a letter such as this unless your heart is filled with hate AND you want to spread it around. The vague balderdash about wanting "to urge them to take a serious look at the things they've been taught" is, well, balderdash, since obviously he can't be bothered to take such a look. His aim is to spread his poisonous bigotry.

At which point we must also look askance at the local rag. One hates to be all "victim-y," but one can't help but wonder if the rag would publish such a letter if its target was, say, Judaism, or Islam. Would not the editors see it for what it is--smearing a major religion--and shelve it rather than be complicit in spreading lies? And please don't hide behind that loaded word "censorship": For a newspaper to decline to publish a hatemongering letter is not censorshipl it is exercising editorial judgment. Indeed, I should imagine that most daily newspapers receive far more letters than they publish. Are the unpublished letters the victims of "censorship"? Of course not. The rag is under no obligation to print anyone's letter, ever...and one could cry "censorship" only if there were no other avenues to express one's skewed point of view. But there is nothing stopping Speckels from spreading his venom through other sources: He can blog, he can print flyers--hell, he can publish his own newspaper.

So obviously the local rag has decided to lend itself to this kind of bigotry, presumably in the belief that controversy sells newspapers. Its editors, then, are every bit as complicit as Speckels in their anti-Catholic bigotry.

The last acceptable prejudice, after all.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Conservatives' Hatred

Note that that's Conservatives' with an apostrophe on the end, making it possessive, 'cause the question is about their bottomless and abiding hatred for certain people, a hatred that burns with a cold and permanent flame.

I appreciate the irony of such people, who spend a lot of time crowing about what fabulous "Christians" they are and insisting that they represent family values and moral superiority and blah-blah-blah, being stuck in permanent-hate mode, contrary to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they purport to think highly of, but that's neither here nor there.

The springboard for my musings is the would-be-comical-if-it-weren't-so-dangerous outpouring of bile and vitriol from right-wingnuts in the wake of Al Gore's winning the Nobel Prize. I commented the other day on the by-now-typical ramping up of the Conservative Smear Machine to not only hurl mud in the direction of the former vice-president but also, and mainly, to try to discredit the Nobel Prize itself. Imagine! You take an organization that for decades has been honored and revered for promoting peace (and science and literature and all that other crap) by itself recognizing people and institutions that are, you know, trying to help people...and you denigrate and ridicule and smear it when they honor the contribution of someone you don't like.

Rather, someone you hate.

What is this--junior high?

In the course of it, you (via your mouthpiece, Faux News) also take advantage of the opportunity to smear a former President of the United States and Nobel Prize recipient as "that crazy Jimmy Carter," which shows great depth of character and carefully reasoned political analysis.

(An aside: This summer, at one of my kids' events, I overheard another dad complaining to his teenager about Al Franken. He was feigning disgust over Franken's having written a book called Rush Limbaugh Is an Idiot, and pretending to be morally outraged that Franken (read: a liberal) would say something so hurtful about another human being (read: a conservative), and generally indicating that that proved liberals were evil and conservatives were high-road victims. I was tempted to turn around and point out two things: First, the title of the book is Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot (and Other Political Observations); and, second, that Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot. But I resisted the urge, remembering the advice of my father: "Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.")

Where was I? Oh, yes--morally superior "Christians'" hatred for, well, all kinds of people.

A year or so ago when Emilio Estevez's film Bobby was in release, my wife mentioned in conversation to a friend that she would like to see it. "Not me," the friend snapped. "Those Kennedys are a completely corrupt family." Yikes! Not "I never liked that Bobby Kennedy" or "I think Bobby Kennedy was a phony"; nope the whole family gets tarred as "corrupt."

And why? See, that's what I keep puzzling over--not that right-wingnut "Christians" carry these bucketloads of hatred and venom with them everywhere they go--but why they hate so much, and so deeply, and so widely, and so everlastingly.

They hate FDR. They hate JFK, of course, and RFK, and, apparently, the whole famn-damily, including, I presume, Kennedys who haven't even been born yet. They hate Clinton, both Clintons, all three Clintons (and I recall some truly repugnant things a certain Big Fat Idiot had to say about then-teenager Chelsea Clinton back in the day--a warm-up, apparently, for the right-wingnut "Christians'" current smear campaign against a twelve-year-old kid). Apparently they've begun to hate Jimmy Carter.

And they hate Al Gore like you wouldn't believe.

I've always suspected there was a certain element of jealousy at play, coupled with a subconscious, even subliminal suspicion that the object of vitriol might, just might, have a few things right and thus is to be reviled all the more. Jonathan Chait, writing in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, has a good handle on the Gore thing:

You might wonder why they care so much -- Gore, after all, is obviously not going to run for president, and even some conservatives now concede that global warming is real. The answer is that Gore's triumph is a measure of George W. Bush's disrepute.

Ah, yes--a certain element of jealousy, as I had always suspected. But Chait does an excellent job of measuring conservatives' hatred of Gore against the obvious failure of their darling, George W. Bush:

It's not an accident that the current celebrations of Gore come at a time when Bush's popularity has cratered. Once conservatives mocked Gore as the radical tribune of a tiny political fringe; now it is they who represent the fringe.

Their argument with Gore over global warming is a telling indicator of their weakened position. Suddenly, open debate looks better than absolute clarity. Steven F. Hayward, a global warming skeptic at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, sniffed: "The Nobel will be one more quiver in Gore's arsenal of intransigent moral authority by which he refuses to debate any aspect of the subject and declares the entire matter 'settled.' It's never a good sign when politicians declare a scientific matter settled; we all remember how well that worked out for the Vatican when they told Galileo 400 years ago that astronomy was settled."

So Gore can't declare that any scientific matter is settled? (What about the Earth revolves around the sun -- would that offend conservatives?) Funny what happens when it's your views that are out of the mainstream.

The defensiveness of Gore's critics comes because he is the ultimate rebuke to Bush. Gore, obviously, is the great historic counter-factual, the man who would have been president if Florida had a functioning ballot system. More than that, he is the anti-Bush. He is intellectual and introverted, while Bush is simplistic and backslapping.

Read the whole editorial here.

Of course, Chait's essay still leaves me with the question of why these morally superior "Christians" hate so many other people (see above in re). But I suspect the answers are probably much the same--they hate Clinton and Carter and everyone with the name Kennedy and FDR and probably Fala, too, because they have some vague inkling, some uncomfortable twinge in the brain-stem, that reminds them that maybe, just maybe someone from the "wrong" side of the spectrum has something of value to contribute, has something helpful to say, has an idea that might be--gulp!--right.

And that threatens them. In their small-minded, fear-driven world, everything is and must always be black or white, right or wrong, yes or no. There can be no ambiguities, no compromise: that makes things gray and gray is scary. And so if you disagree with them--even if you're only twelve years old--then you're the devil and must be destroyed at all costs.

This, I think, is part of the reason you don't detect this kind of hatemongering on the left end of the political spectrum. It's fair to say that we lefties have certain individuals whom we love to hate--the current tenant on Pennsylvania Avenue being one of them; Karl Rove, Ken Starr, Richard Nixon being a few others--but our list is pretty short, and pretty narrow (we might have hated Nixon, for instance, but we didn't extend that to Pat and Tricia and Julie, branding the whole clan as "corrupt"), and awfully watery (we may have hated Nixon at the time, but by his death it had degenerated into a strong dislike; certainly none of us will be ranting about him 40 years after his demise, and right-wingnuts continue to do about JFK).

So our brand of "hatred" is pretty thin compared to our morally superior family-values "Christian" friends on the right.

And--hmmm--we liberals tend not to go around trumpeting what swell "Christians" we are, either--even those of us who actually believe in God and try to follow Jesus' teachings and go to church and so on (and, yes, we do exist, as do conservative atheists). Interesting, no? Stay tuned for a future musing on my observations on that score, tentatively titled, "Dear Jesus, Save Us from Your Followers."