Friday, April 16, 2010

Nothing to write right now, just a link. Please watch the whole thing. It's important.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Old Glory

I just watched a You Tube video of the Great Red Skelton doing his Pledge Of Allegiance bit. I’ve seen the performance before, maybe as long ago as on his TV show back in the sixties, but it’s been a long time. This isn’t a comedy routine. It’s a story about a teacher explaining the meaning of the pledge to his students. It’s very touching.

I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance. When it’s recited, I stand quietly with everyone else, out of respect for those around me, and if I’m wearing a hat I’ll remove it (It bugs the shit out of me how many good ol’ boys with frazzled flags flying off the beds of their 4x4’s won’t take off their caps for The Pledge!), but I don’t put my hand over my heart and mumble the incantation, much as I’ll stand if I’m in a church and the guy says ‘All rise’ when it’s time to say a prayer, but I don’t bow my head and recite those magic words, either. What I do is look around to see who else is looking around and not reverently bowing their heads. It really can be fun and interesting. (I’ll write about God another time.)

One day long, long ago, when I was a junior at Montgomery High, they had to shuffle the homeroom periods to accommodate a pep rally or something, and my homeroom class for the day was Bill Marcott’s advanced biology class. (Bill Marcott, the tennis coach and, by the way, a Texan, was the guy who got me Dexedrine to give to my fruit flies, but that, too is another story – and a very complicated one.)

At this point in ancient history, ‘Homeroom’ activities consisted of standing and saying the pledge and listening to announcements that, if you were interested in, you already knew about, and if you weren’t, you couldn’t have cared less. But that day, because of the changed schedule, in Bill Marcott’s second period advanced biology class, one skinny little blond girl didn’t stand up for the pledge.

She sat at a station in the second row. She was a nerdy girl with heavy rimmed glasses. She always raised her hand and knew the answers. She was, like, a teacher’s pet. Marcott, red faced, marched her out of the classroom and she never returned. I’m glad I sat in the back.

I’m reluctant to pledge my allegiance to any symbol because of the fickleness of man’s devices, nations among them. By revolution, coup, and the choice of blinded citizenries, nations have turned evil. My own family heritage gives evidence to that. My allegiance is to the ideals and the people of The United States, not to it’s totems. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. They didn’t pledge to a flag. (Of course, they didn’t have one yet, but that’s beside the point.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a flag waver. I fly my three by five foot flag on appropriate holidays. I try to remember not to leave it out after dark unless it’s properly lit. I fold it into a little star-spangled triangle when it’s stored. I’ve worn a flag pin in my lapel for as long as I’ve worn jackets with lapels. Like I said, I love what the flag stands for and I’m proud to share that feeling. Besides, it’s a pretty psychedelic flag.

But, I’m a flag burner, too, and that’s what I wanted to write about. I haven’t burned any flags personally, but I am firm in my support of the right of freedom of speech, and the right to spoil the symbol of the nation in protest of it’s policy is the ultimate expression of that right. Banning the citizens’ right to peacefully protest against the government is the way of totalitarianism, not democracy. If the government takes that right away, it’ll be time for everybody to stop saying the pledge.

The only time I ever wrote to my legislators was when I sent a letter urging them not to support a bill allowing congress to pass a law prohibiting flag burning. (Their doublespeak, not mine.) Here’s an excerpt.

....I was brought up, as I guess we all were in the fifties, to believe that our flag was to be ceremoniously burned if it ever so much as touched the ground. That, we were taught, was flag desecration.

Desecration is setting your flag up on Presidents Day and having it still hanging, by one loop or wrapped three or four times round the staff, on Veterans Day. Desecration is putting a flag up in the back of your Jeep and leaving it there until it is so tattered that there are no longer any stripes beside the field of stars. Desecration is dropping the little flag the Legionnaires gave you at the Veterans Day Parade in the gutter after the parade is over.

Burning a flag is not, by the definition of the word, desecration. The ceremonious burning of the flag, whether in honorable retirement or in protest, is an act that, by its nature, recognizes the flag’s importance. The burning of a flag in protest is the burning of an effigy; a symbol representing the object of protest. Our nation was born in protest. Laws that seek to limit people’s freedom of political expression are contrary to the ideals of those early protesters, and to the ideals that the flag represents.

I got a hand-signed letter back from Feinstein explaining that, as one of the authors of the bill, she wasn’t likely to withdraw her support and that we’d ‘Just have to agree to disagree.” (Oops.)

As I read over what I’ve written here, I sound like some sort of militia nut. I’d like to make it absolutely clear that I’m not in any way associated with, nor do I agree with the beliefs or tactics of the militia nuts, except perhaps the belief that our freedom is something to be both joyfully celebrated and covetously protected.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 4, 2010


As much as I hate the term, I guess I'm a skeptic. Not that I’m skeptical of all things, but I pretty much need to have some objective evidence before I accept something as a fact. I’m a member of an on-line community of people who tend to accept principles like astronomy, evolution, and science-based medicine and reject concepts like astrology, creation, and alternative medicine. I have family and friends who have beliefs with which I disagree, and when certain topics come up in conversation, I try to be careful what I say or skirt the issue entirely.

That’s too bad.

People who accept things like Homeopathy and civilizations on Mars hold these as truths based on what they believe. Belief is a very powerful thing and will lead people to do things that they might not otherwise do, like strap bombs in their underpants or put on purple tennis shoes and kill themselves, or devote their lives to charity. I expect it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change someone’s beliefs, regardless of what Skinner said or what missionaries might try to accomplish. Our beliefs are what define reality for us. I think of words like Gestalt and revelation when I think about changing beliefs.

Yesterday morning, The Bad Astronomer posted about a guy suggesting that the best way for skeptics to explain their views is to present facts in a positive manner, rather than just telling people that they’re full of crap. I don’t know if I want to say Hooray or Duhhh. The moment you tell someone their beliefs are wrong, exchange of ideas stops and a monologue of ideology takes over. “You’re right from your side and I’m right from mine.” (Dylan) I think I lean a bit more toward the Duhhh side.

I regularly read several blogs that present a skeptical point of view. From the comments, I assume most of these sites’ readers agree with the authors. There are exceptions, of course. Dissenting comments that present their cases logically often spur interesting discussions, whereas those that simply recite dogma incite shouting matches. (See paragraph above.) On the whole, though, I believe the vast majority of the readers are already on board. I think the authors are preaching to the chorus, and not really doing anything to expand their way of thinking. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an arena for the skeptics’ message “outside of a small circle of friends.” (Ochs) Most viewers of mainstream TV are more interested in treating their sexual problems with herbal cleansing than saving their children’s’ lives by vaccinating them.

Skeptical thinkers can encourage critical thinking in their own communities by sharing news and events in ways that promote logical reasoning. There’s plenty to talk about, health, Hubble, the environment. If you’re met with the wall of a belief system, maybe you just have to agree to disagree. At least you’ve put the ideas out there.

That’s what I’m doing here.

Maybe somebody will actually think about them.