Monday, May 16, 2011


A war on terrorism is a perfect example of treating the symptom rather than the disease. The disease is fanaticism. As I've written before, it doesn't matter whether it's religious fanaticism (e.g. bin Laden, Fred Phelps), political fanaticism (e.g. Michele Bachmann, Pol Pot, Timothy McVeigh), simply fanatic, egotistical greed (e.g. the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdock, Donald Trump) or egotistical lunacy (e.g. Jim Jones, Charles Manson) fanaticism is the disease behind terrorism of the ilk of the Tea Party, Al Qaeda, and the Killing Fields. Fanaticism is inherent sociopathic and should be treated with the same sanctions that we place on a Charles Manson or a Ted Bundy.

However, sometimes it can be absolutely hilarious. Case in point: Harold Camping of Family Radio, an alleged CHRISTIAN broadcasting group though it's more the megaphone for Camping's religious lunacy and fanatic egotism. Camping has predicted that the "true" CHRISTIANS will be Raptured this coming Saturday starting at 6:00 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time. Let's forget for a moment that The Rapture is a bunch of utter nonsense though no more nonsensical than worshiping, in George Carlin's apt phrase, a "Big Imaginary Friend in the Sky". For now let's focus on Camping's prediction alone.

Camping has been eagerly searching for the date of the end of the world for a very long time. Some seventeen years ago he informed all who would listen - unfortunately there were at least as many credulous dolts then as now - that the world would end in September, 1994. Now let's all get out our calendars, boys and girls. You will notice that it is generally agreed that this is 2011 and, unless we all, along with Harold Camping, missed something, his September, 1994 Armageddon is a bit tardy. But hold on. You may remember that the Republicans lead by New Gingrich took over the U. S. House of Representatives in the elections of November, 1994, as clear evidence of Satan's ascendance as I can imagine. Be that as it may, one might think that such a whopper of an error might deter someone from uttering similar whoppers in the future but you'd be wrong. Learning from one's mistakes is the activity of a rational mind, something of which Harold Camping is manifestly not possessed. So what did Camping use as an excuse for such a whopping error. His excuse was essentially, "Son of a gun! Look at that! There's a Book of Jeremiah in The Bible. It was there all along and I just must have missed it!" Quite an admission for a self-proclaimed Bible expert. Still Harold Camping returned to his search for the hour of his personal Rapture.

Frankly, Camping seems a bit selfish to me. He is now 89-years old and unlikely to get another 17 years to recalibrate though there is that adage that "only the good die young". But I also think he's rushing things because he's trying to beat the Mayans. If the world ends in 2011 I think Camping believes the score will be Jesus 1, Quetzalcoatl 0. Not only is Camping cooking the books to insure that he's above ground for The Rapture but he's trying to win one for the Jeezer.

Some unkind souls have suggested that Camping and his followers should commit to not being in this world on May 22nd but I'm not quite willing to go that far even for as total a waste of breath and space as Harold Camping. Camping insists that "there is no plan B", that The Rapture will occur on Saturday, May 21, 2011 absolutely and without fail. I'm sure that on Sunday, May 22nd Camping will show up in church somewhere and suddenly discover some other book of The Bible that he'd heretofore overlooked. After all there's a whole 14 books in The Apocrypha or maybe he just forgot to carry a 1. But you must forgive me for suggesting that on May 22nd Camping needs to be true to his beliefs and pack up his radio ministry for good - in several senses of that term. My reasons that Harold Camping needs to find a nice, quite assisted living facility and shut up for the rest of his life is that, if he's correct, clearly he has been found unworthy of The Rapture. By his own definition he is an unredeemable sinner left behind to suffer the tribulations and ultimate damnation.

As I've said already, I think that The Rapture is utter nonsense. It is an heretical fantasy of an ego driven CHRISTIAN cult obsessed with an idea best expressed as, "Jesus loves ME and not you. I'm saved and you're not. Nyah-nyah-nyah." It couldn't be farther from the Jesus who offers salvation to all. So, if The Rapture is lunatic, egotistical nonsense what of Camping? Should he still "go gentle in to that good night"? I think so still. Camping owes it to those he's misled and the rest of us to shut up for whatever time remains to him because if his god hasn't judged him unworthy that leaves only two alternatives. Either Harold Camping is a charlatan who's profiting from conning a bunch of gullible fools about the end of the world or he's simply a lunatic who's disguised his tinfoil hat as a cross. In either case he does not belong on the public airwaves. He is abusing his license to broadcast either by intent to defraud or by being a deranged sociopath. In neither case does he deserve a forum.

So why do I link him with Osama bin Laden and the equally odious Fred Phelps and Terry Jones? Through their fanaticism. Bin Laden's fanaticism inspired truly horrific acts turned against innocent people. Bin Laden's murderous fanaticism may be quantitatively worse but is gualitatively no different from Jim Jones' leading the gullible to mass suicide in Jonestown or Timothy McVeigh's murders at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Phelps and Terry Jones too share this perversion of religion into the service of their own fanatcism and egotism. Their acts haven't cost many lives yet but they are trying to up the body count. "Pastor" Jones in particular has blood on his hands from provoking other lunatic fanatics with his own lunatic fanaticism.

I can't emphasize enough that our Constitutional guarantees of Freedom of Religion also guarantees Freedom from Religion regardless of what CHRISTIAN fanatics like revisionist historian David Barton would like to sell the gullible. I don't want anyone deciding what is the "true religion" or even the "true" form of worship but I think we have slipped too far from freedom into fear and perplexity. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously proclaimed that freedom of speech does not license those who cry "fire" in a crowded theatre. Currently we have an insane system where Christain Scientist parents can watch as their tiny son dies of a readily treatable intestinal blockage, Mormon sectarians can "marry" 12 and 13-year old children, cult leaders like Jim Jones or Heaven's Gate's Bo and Peep can shepherd their flocks into mass suicide and Phelps, Jones and Camping can preach their perversions of religion to anyone who's foolish enough to listen. We protect ourselves against profiteers who would feed us poison in our food, infected meat and impure drugs. I think the time has come to look at what is religion and what is just fanaticism and lunacy. Let's protect the former and sanction the latter.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


A couple of years ago I was in the process of garnering signatures for a petition on something that was, most definitely not a pressing social issue. I was advised to join Facebook in order to increase the total number of signers. I did join Facebook, had no idea what I was doing - in innumerable ways as it turns out - and added minimally to the petition's signatures. Still, that put me on Facebook. Periodically I get e-mails from that site notifying me that someone wants to be my friend. When I know the person by name or association, I approve the request, leave Facebook and visit it again the next time those requests pile up and get insistent enough to warrant my attention.

I really didn't have much of an opinion about Facebook for a very long time. I truly despise the usage of "friend" as a verb. There seems to me something rude, drooling and imbecilic about "Friend me," as opposed to "May we be friends?" That's probably a function of my age and respect for language. Yes, I understand that languages are living, mutable things but that doesn't mean that they have to grow niggling and stupid like the sleaze from the Cato Institute I recently heard insist that because he is a "Libertarian" he will use any word he pleases, regardless of the ignorance it betrays in him, until it shows up in the dictionary.

Last autumn I got a message from an old and very dear friend. The message was one of the nastier and angrier I've ever received. She and I have been friends since the spring of 1967 when a mutual friend introduced us. We dated for a bit in college but have remained in touch more or less regularly ever since. We've spent hours on the phone during various crises in each of our lives consoling one another or simply allowing each other to vent. In short, she is a friend, an actual, real world friend and has been for some 44 years.

Earlier in 2010 she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is undergoing some aggressive and, from what I gather, debilitating treatment that, like much cancer therapy, runs a three-way race to kill the cancer before the cancer or the treatment itself kills her. My friend tends to focus outward rather than in. She is angry - as she has a perfect right to be - at her predicament as well as frustrated by the lack of control that she has over the disease and her body. She can't take out that anger on the cancer itself. It just doesn't listen. If the cancer could listen to her it would have left her body within minutes of its discovery. She can't be angry with her doctors because that's simply counter-productive in the extreme. Still the pressure of that anger and frustration is building up like unvented steam in a boiler. She must fall back on her friends when she needs to vent the venom.

The sources of the vicious message was that she'd decided that I and "unfriended" her on Facebook. That was news to me. First, I hadn't even logged onto Facebook in several months. Second, I'm not sure that I'd known that she was on Facebook or that I'd "friended" her there. Third, and finally, after logging onto Facebook and searching for an actual hour and a half, I still have no idea how one "unfriends" anyone. Please don't send me a response with detailed instructions on how to "unfriend" someone. I simply do not want to know. The real point of her message was a shout that translates as, "I'm here and you're not paying enough attention." Both points are true and might have been remedied by a phone call but the steam needed venting too and I'm far less likely to shy away after being scalded than a doctor or the impassive and relentless cancer.

I try to be in touch more frequently now but the other effect of that angry message was to get me to examine Facebook and how I feel about it as a site as well as linguistically.

I have friends most of whom have been close to me for between 30 and 50 years. They are genuine friends, people whose lives I have orbited, some closer, some farther away, from the days when we were children to the present in which we have grandchildren. They are my friends, my true and enduring friends.

I have other friends who are congenial people whom I know from some of my activities. I know this larger group of friends usually because we share a common interest or because we have worked in the same place bearing with the same horrid boss. A few of these friends I have never met face to face. A couple of them are in Sweden, a place I've never been. I think of them as friends as well but there is a difference born of duration and the comprehensive sharing of experience that characterizes the first, small group.

I also have acquaintances, the largest group of all, who come from the same spheres as the second group but whom I am in no way close to. I like their company, respect their abilities and knowledge but, nice and congenial as they may be, they are not anything like what I call friends. This is the group that tends to gather to me on Facebook. It's not that I don't like them. It's not that I don't care. But they are not my friends nor are they truly likely to be. I think their activities are sometimes interesting but I am not going to spend more that a couple of minutes every few months to find out what they are.

Friends, true friends, the first kind of friends I've described, are the family we choose for ourselves and who, better yet, who choose us. They aren't companies who want to keep us apprised of new products or offers. They aren't people who simply want our attention. They are the people who are godparents to our children. They are the people who know that they can phone us at 3:00 A. M. when the world had dealt them a blow and we will listen to their anger and tears because we love them and have loved them time out of mind with a love that no number of 3:00 A. M. phone calls can diminish.

So I may -may - link up with you on Facebook. But without that true friendship born of time and love and shared crises, you are not my friend. Don't be offended, please. It's just that true friendship isn't an Internet phenomenon. It is the absolute antithesis of "social networking". I may give a glance to you vacation photos, the pictures of your children or grandchildren or even the latest thing you want to sell me though the chance of that last is vanishingly small. Just don't delude yourself into thinking that because you have taken the time to do the linguistically foul act of "friending" me that we are friends. We are acquaintances at best. You are not like Lynn and Jeff, April, Anna, Richard and Anne, Harold and Karen, Michael and Rilla, Tony and K.R., Aleisha, my daughters all of whom know how to reach me without using Facebook.