Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bush's Last Days, a Countdown to Freedom

How much longer can America, as a free nation, survive under the inept leadership of George W. Bush? Unfortunately, unless he does something so incredibly dangerous that he gets impeached by his own party, the number of days left in his presidency is still 856 as of this writing, (click here for countdown).

Bush has made America a laughingstock of the world. We are an embarrassment to the civilized world. The United States, once a great leader of the world's democracies, has been relegated to the back burner of global civility and leadership.

Bush has also tarnished the office he holds. Once a symbol of America's liberty, the office of the president has lost its luster and will probably need years, if not decades, to rebuild its symbolism.

His absurd lack of mastery of the English language is but the tip of the iceberg, though most recognizable trait, of his ineptitude in office.

But don't let his infamous lack of leadership ability and stubbornness lull you into a false sense that everything will be alright when his term finally ends. He is the masthead of the growing religious right movement. He is also their poster boy.

The evangelical Christian fanatics have taken control of all three branches of the federal government and many state governments as well. Evangelical Christians are a menace to modern society, as they were in the Middle Ages and during the Crusades.

Sure, Islamists are more overtly dangerous to the world. But evangelical Christians are like snakes in the grass, or 1950s-style communists. They infiltrate slowly into schools and into the government, until they are ready to take total control and turn this country into a Christian theocracy, the antithesis of fundamentalist Islam.

What's at risk is the Constitution of the United States, a document that never mentions a thing about God or a Creator, much less Jesus Christ. Even the Declaration of Independence was edited to include the term "Creator" which was purposely omitted in the original draft.

Contrary to the baloney espoused by Christian fundamentalists, America was never founded on Christianity, but on liberty. Bush is doing his best, in the name of his main constituency, to undermine our Constitution and turn over the leadership of this country to the business of Christianity. And I say business on purpose, for that's what it really is.

And just as the German people were duped by Hitler into believing that they were the master race and the Jews were evil, American evangelicals have been duped into believing the superstitious nonsense of their businessman leadership that these are the end times and that they are the ones being persecuted by the godless liberals.

If Christian values were all it took to be civilized, why is it that secular nations like Japan and the Scandinavian counties have a much lower crime rate, less drug use, and less teen pregnancy than the near-theocratic Christian United States? And why is it that the more liberal blue states have a better-educated public with less teen pregnancy and less crime than most of the conservative red states?

The conservative Christians helped to put Bush in office. It is up to the freethinkers, the mainstream Christians, and the more educated members of society to rally themselves and vote in every election up until November 2008 to make sure that the successors of Bush and his cronies are finally eliminated from leadership roles.

It's going to be a long

856 days.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Small Town Parades: How Quaint

I was out last Saturday morning eating breakfast at a fast food joint when I got a call on my cell phone from my mom inviting me to come on down and watch the parade with her.

Parade? Was it that time of year again already? The Edinburgh Fall Festival had completely slipped my mind.

I always attend the festival, at least once during its run each year. I was happy my mom had decided to give me a call. So I called home and told my daughter to get ready, because we were going to see the parade.

It’s not that the parade itself is really spectacular or anything. I mean, I was at the Indy 500 Festival Parade last May and even it didn’t raise any goose bumps. And I knew what to expect; after all, I had attended the Fall Festival Parade almost every year since I was in high school.

You expect to see certain things in small-town parades that perhaps you wouldn’t see in the larger parades in cities. There are always the fire trucks, police cars, and other noise makers. There are high-school bands, cheerleaders, football players of various ages, and queen contestants.

In past years, there were kids on decorated bicycles or with dressed-up pets, but not this year. There were some pretty imaginative floats, though.

Of course, there are always the obligatory men with big hats driving tiny little cars. And it just wouldn’t be a parade if it weren’t for the classic cars and a few horses with men carrying flags.

What I have never been able to figure out, however, is why there are entries such as the semi truck. Seriously, I see enough of those annoying beasts on the Interstate without having to see and hear one in a parade.

Then there were the motorcycles. Big deal. And what about the occasional car or pickup truck that seems to have nothing special about it at all, other than maybe some giant tailpipes sticking in the air and a noisy muffler? The one I saw in the parade Saturday wasn’t even clean. Maybe it just joined the parade by cutting in at an intersection somewhere.

It’s not that I’m whining; I just don’t think the parade was so short or lacking in entries that commercial vehicles, motor cycles, and dirty loud pickup trucks spewing exhaust fumes had to be accepted.

Anyway, when the parade was over, we went over to the midway. It was pretty much the same as I remember from pervious years. There were lots of people and plenty of food booths.

I enjoy seeing folks I haven’t seen in a year or two. And on a nice day, the midway is so alive and colorful. It’s a nice atmosphere: The food odors, the game barkers, the screaming kids having fun on the rides. It’s what the festival is all about.

But I miss the nightly entertainment that used to bring in hundreds of people to participate in karaoke or show off their talent. Those events don’t happen on their own, though. It takes dedicated people willing to put in a lot of effort.

The fall festival has been a tradition in Edinburgh for more than 60 years. Different sponsors come and go. The quality of the affair waxes and wanes every few years. But it’s still a tradition I enjoy. And it doesn’t hurt that it takes place at the beginning of my favorite season of the year.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Smile: Cameras are Watching Everywhere

City officials in Indianapolis will soon be installing in their downtown what has already been in operation in downtown Edinburgh for a number of years. Those who walk through downtown Edinburgh are monitored by a series of video cameras with a monitoring device in the police station.

The Town of Edinburgh is getting ready to upgrade its monitoring system just as Indianapolis plans to install its first set of security cameras.

The new system to be installed by year’s end in downtown Indianapolis is being funded by a grant of $1 million in federal homeland security money. The tiny cameras will point to street corners, sidewalks, and sports venues. Some of them will even be portable so that they can be taken to where they are needed most.

Cameras of this type were instrumental in helping to solve the London subway bombings. And they have been installed in other large cities in the U.S. over the past few years, some of them with software that can pick faces out of crowds that are on police databases.

There are still some groups who consider it a violation of privacy, especially if faces are compared to a database. But the benefits far outweigh any risks to personal privacy. If a person is walking a public sidewalk or attending a public event, that person has no expectation of privacy anyway. Privacy violations would only come into play if a government entity had cameras trained on private homes. And that isn’t happening, nor would it happen without a court order.

Private businesses have employed security cameras for decades, but more recently, they are everywhere. Once upon a time, only banks had old-fashioned film cameras installed over their doors. They were bulky things.

Now, minuscule cameras are hidden behind tinted domes in department stores or behind mirrored glass at ATMs. In some cities, cameras are mounted on streetlight posts at intersections so that they can snap a picture of cars that run red lights.

Even private homes now have security cameras that they can buy at places like Wal-Mart for less than $100. Two of them guard my house; one is out front trained on my porch and the other is out back looking at my garage.

The terrorism consultant hired by the City of Indianapolis says that the city’s new camera system will not only get a bird’s-eye view of potential terrorists, but will catch people engaged in petty crimes as well. And with the violent crime rate hitting a high this summer in the capital city, it is about time a high-tech solution was put into play to help prevent it in the future.

The images can also be streamed over the Internet, so that law enforcement agencies that have an interest can monitor the situation from anyplace.

It might elicit shades of George Orwell’s “1984,” but there is a big difference. Government officials aren’t interested in whether anyone is complying with directives from Big Brother while in the privacy of their own homes, but in the scofflaws that make the rest of us uneasy when we go out at night.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Is He a Missionary or Propagandist?

Read the following quote spoken by a devout believer in his religious faith and see if you can identify who the speaker is and what he is speaking about.

“Either repent (your) misguided ways and enter into the light of truth or … suffer the consequences in this world and the next.”

The speaker was introduced as a man of faith who wants to bring his people out of the darkness and into the light. His message was called “an invitation.”

On the other hand, those who oppose this man called his message “propaganda.”

Is this man a Christian missionary in another country, a TV evangelist in America, or an American who has converted to Islam? If you answered the latter, you would be correct.

His name is Adam Yahiye Gadahn, also known as Azzam the American, who is from California but who is now a respected voice of al Qaeda. In fact, his video message, titled An Invitation to Islam, was introduced by al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri.

“Our brother Azzam the American is speaking to you out of pity for the fate that awaits (unbelievers) and as someone who wants to lift his people out of darkness and into the light,” al-Zawahri said in his introduction to the video.

Of course, Gadahn’s words could have been spoken by a Christian missionary or even a TV evangelist. The rhetoric is pretty much the same. And to those who oppose those religious views, the speaker could be accused of being a propagandist. And, in fact, the FBI wants Gadahn for questioning. They called his video tape propaganda.

Imagine for a moment that a Muslim in Iraq, Iran, or any one of the Middle Eastern theocracies were to convert to Christianity and start spreading the Gospel in his native land.

I’m sure he would be wanted by the authorities of his country, too. He would certainly be questioned, and then probably executed for heresy. And, although the FBI doesn’t want to execute Gadahn for producing a proselytizing video tape, the parallel is striking.

Gadahn appealed to Americans to adopt a hands-off policy toward Islamic nations. “But whatever you do don't attempt to spread your misery and misguidance to our lands,” he said.

Most Americans, particularly Christians, view Muslims as misguided, in misery, and in need of salvation. Gadahn wanted to set that assumption straight, too. “Those who think that democracy is synonymous with freedom are either people who haven't experienced life in America or Americans who haven't lived abroad,” he said.

Now, before anyone starts thinking that I’ve converted to Islam or even that I’m pro-Gadahn, let me set the record straight. I believe Gadahn is a propagandist for al Qaeda. Although some of what he said was true enough, his motive was subversion.

At the same time, his message forces thoughtful people to consider the motives of America’s leaders as we encroach upon the sovereignty of nations whose forms of government run on different sets of paradigms. It also should open the eyes of the evangelicals that there are others in the world who hold their own religion as dear and true, and they have their own holy books to back up their faiths.

So many wars have been fought over issues of faith throughout history, wars that could have been avoided if believers would simply have acknowledged that perhaps other faiths are just as authentic and genuine as their own.

And modern holy wars and threats of terrorism could also be avoided by accepting that, perhaps, belief systems are not as black and white as one might imagine. Or maybe, we should realize that all belief systems are archaic artifacts of our human civilization and that we all might be better off by stripping them from society once and for all.