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Things I find irritating: Retail

I’m putting off doing important stuff so here’s a procrastination blog.

These are things that retail and other vendors do that I find irritating:

1.) Charge me more money for clothing because I am tall.  This makes no sense at all. I’m 5’9″ tall, which is 5 inches over the limit for the average American female.  It’s not like I could help being tall.  I just grew like Topsy well into my 20’s.  (2 inches between 23 and 27, go figure).  So, it’s really irritating to go to a site like Eddie Bauer and see that every item for a tall person is $10-20 more expensive.  At the risk of pissing off a lot of people who read this blog, I find it really unfair that a size 14 doesn’t have to pay one cent more than a size 6.  Most people can lose weight with diet and exercise.  But I can’t lose inches in height without surgery.  You’d *think* that if they are going to add more fabric in the middle of the garment without extra cost that they could add a few inches in length without extra cost but for some mysterious, inexplicable reason, this isn’t so. Petites?  Noooo problem.  They have their own section, also not more expensive.  But even if you can’t find exactly what you want if you’re minute, there is more than enough fabric to cut off or take in.

So, to recap, you can be average, plump or tiny but women are not allowed to be tall without penalty.  And 5’9″ isn’t extraordinarily tall.  It’s not like I’m playing professional basketball or beach volleyball.  I’m not 6 ft tall.  My height is model size, not amazon size, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It’s just not that unusual anymore.  There are a lot of us around these days.  The average height might be 5’4.5″ but it’s not like there isn’t a huge gaussian distribution in America where there might not be in a place like Japan.

I’ve talked to various clothing company representatives about why the cost differentiation penalizes the tall and not the wide or itsy-bitsy and I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer that doesn’t sound like a flimsy excuse covering for a money making opportunity.  So, basically, tall women are screwed.

It’s bad enough that there isn’t the same size gradations in women’s clothing as there are in men’s clothing.  You don’t get a variation in sleeve length or in-seams or anything like that in any women’s clothing stores.  And I do understand that men who are really tall have to go to special stores and pay a premium.  But there aren’t any tall stores for women and what is offered in tall sizes is limited and usually dowdy.  Compared to what the average height woman can choose from, the tall woman’s choices are usually more limited items without the style or seasonal colors.  Forget soft, flowy or romantic.  And at many stores, you have to pay more for them.  It’s just outrageous.

2.) Stores that make bigotry a feature.  Anthropologie and its sister retailers (urban outfitters, Free People) went off my buy list earlier this year when I found out that the owner was a fervent Rick Santorum supporter.  That was a shame because Brook looks great in everything in the local Anthropologie store that is a size 2.  She has an Anthropologie quilt on her bed.  I was going to save my green stamps to buy her a nice dress for her Germany trip but couldn’t get past the Santorum thing so Anthropologie was out.

The same thing goes for Chik-Fil-A.  There’s a store in the next town up the road and not too long ago, I was tempted to stop in and buy something because I heard the food is pretty good for fast food.  But since they’ve made such a big effing deal about being “Christians” who wear their anti-gay bigotry on their sleeves with pride and promote their “morality” to their employees, it will be a cold day in hell before I ever set foot in a Chik-Fil-A.

What I find particularly revolting about Dan Cathy’s commitment to families is that he fails to see the children of gay couples as being family members themselves.  Those kids are frequently on the losing end of legal battles over inheritance, pensions, social security, etc, when one of their parents die.  It’s disgusting and hypocritical for Cathy and his ilk to value one set of children over another because of the sexuality of their parents.  Just thinking about it makes my blood boil.

I’m sure this is a selling point to their fundamentalist customers.  Bully for them.  Too bad that the homophobic church lady demographic is shrinking.  On the other hand, Chik-Fil-A will find out exactly how the free market works!

Excellent.

 

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Tuesday: One more and I’ll stop (for awhile)

Blame Luther for breaking up the band

So, the “religious liberty” meme is going to be the one to beat this year.  We’re all a bunch of heathens and we need religion.  That’s what the argument’s going to be.  If only we lead more virtuous lives with the guidance of some religion, we’d all be more prosperous, more fulfilled human beings and we wouldn’t need so much government assistance.  The problem with this country is that we’ve gone too far away from God and now is the time to put him back in our lives, put him front and center, so that we can weather the economic austerity that is coming our way.  If we play by the rules and love God with all our hearts, we will be blessed.  If we don’t, we get what’s coming to us.

And the reason religious liberty has to be so gosh darned important is that without it, it’s harder to keep everyone in line, feeling guilt and shame about their personal circumstances.  If there’s no guilt or shame, people won’t blame themselves for all of the rotten things that have happened to them.  No, they might start figuring out that they’ve been had, suckered in by really ruthless financial industry psychopaths who believe that what’s theirs is theirs and what’s yours is theirs.  So, to make sure we are not watching what they do, the religious liberty thing is going to get a lot of attention.

The problem is that that’s only going to work for some people.  The rest of us know that the bible is not an accurate historical document and it’s unlikely to be divinely inspired if there are multiple divinities that inspired it.  And for those of us in the life sciences, evolution is non-negotiable.  I couldn’t do my work without knowing all about natural selection.  The fact that I can do an evolutionary trace on the proteins I work with is pretty strong evidence that evolution is true.  We’ve seen the results of prayer.  Um, it doesn’t really work all that well.  And on and on and on.

The thing is, I don’t have any problem with the idea that YOU can believe all of the things about religion that you choose to believe.  If you want to think that a bunch of celibate old guys in red beanies in Rome, who kept the organization they were in when they changed religions in the fourth century, have all of the answers to guide your life, knock yourself out.  If you want to believe that Jesus is coming to rescue you from all of the rottenness of the world and the pedophiles and kidnappings and rapes of pretty blonde women and the murder of innocent, sweet little babies and that those of us who don’t believe absolutely everything you say are going to suffer from a really horrific and painful death while you hover above it all and watch us die in torment, go ahead.  Everybody in the world has their own particular and personal belief system that may be a slightly different variation of their neighbor’s, or it may be radically different.  And that’s OK.  Believe whatever you want.

But if you’re going to bring that belief system into the public square and insist that we all live by the rules created in 1300 BCE in spite of all of the progress that we have made in the past 3000 years, you’d better have a really good reason for it and should be able to  demonstrate definitively why imitating baby farmer Michelle Duggar and her ultra conservative family is better than any other alternative.  In fact, I have watched enough of the Duggars to know that their philosophy has a lot more of the liberal tradition than they would care to admit.  They have friends and neighbors that have waaaaay too many children stuffed into tiny little houses.  The Duggars don’t lecture these people and tell them to keep an aspirin between their knees.  No, they help them build a new house.  They donate their time and money and materials.  They feed poor people at soup kitchens.  They never ask anything in return.

But Jim Bob Duggar is a Republican and the Duggars have chosen to endorse Rick Santorum.  The Duggars send mixed messages.  Anti tax Republicans reject EVERYTHING the Duggars say they are about.  They want to withhold money, assistance and help from anyone they think is undeserving.  I’m sorry but I’m not sure that the families that the Duggars help are all that much different from any other family they don’t know personally that has a lot children and insufficient space and resources.

The difference seems to be religion.  The Duggars’ friends and the poor they serve are Christians.  And I just have to wonder, is it really moral to be so choosey?  Should it matter what religion a person is if they need help, food, housing or protection from greedy conmen in business and the banks?  Isn’t that what the parable of the Good Samaritan is all about?  (BTW, the parables and beatitudes of Jesus and the details of Occupy Jerusalem Temple are about the only things in the New Testament worth rescuing)

Are we to believe that the Duggars, a good, kind hearted family, would not be a good kind hearted family without their religion?  And if their religion demands good kind heartedness, aren’t they obligated to extend that to others outside of their religion?  And if they ask nothing in return from their neighbors who are Christians, should they expect something in return for all of their help from non-Christians?  Isn’t it possible that good, kind heartedness benefits everyone and makes the world a better place regardless if God is intervening?  Wouldn’t God want you to be nice to everyone, even if he isn’t watching? And wouldn’t you reach more people if you could pool your resources and figure out a more systematic way of helping everyone?  And wouldn’t that come back to you in the form of less crime, more healthy, happy people and more prosperity?  The Duggars are almost there.  They just need to include the whole world in their benevolence and learn to judge the rest of the world with as much generosity and compassion as they do their Christian friends.

Anyway, I got off topic again. Where was I?

Oh, yeah, before you start imposing your religious liberty on others, at least admit that you are also obligated to have other people’s religious liberty imposed on you in return.  But if that is not acceptable, let’s narrow our choices.  Before we make new rules to live by, let’s all agree on which God we’re going to pay attention to.  I don’t mean some Mesopotamian gods that got edited to a single entity and a creation story based on some ancient Babylonian mythology.  Let’s get real.  Let’s look at all of the religions and investigate all claims equally.  There has to be a one true religion among all of the religions in the world.  That’s the one we should follow.  So, I propose that we get appoint a committee of believers and non-believers.  After all, Santorum says that even non-believers have a part to play in shaping government in the public square just like the faithful.  So, all interested parties, believers and non-believers, should get together and decide which religion has the greatest credibility, the most verifiable miracles, the best predictive values and the most moral code.  The scientists should be particularly helpful here.  When we can all come to an agreement on which religion that is, that’s the religion we should pick to influence our government.  After all, it wouldn’t be fair to deprive the other religious adherents of the one true God.  But if the Catholics lose, they’re going to have to sit on their cassocks and shut up.  Same goes with the Evangelical Christians.  For all we know, we might all end up as Sufis or Scientologists.  But if it turns out that they have the one true religion, it would be wrong to not follow them.

Liberty doesn’t mean the freedom to just worship any god willy-nilly.  That’s an affront to the very concept of an supernatural authority figure.  He doesn’t want religious liberty, with everyone picking their own way to worship him.  He wants there to be rules about what you can and can not do religiously.  He wants you to pay attention to what he says and obey without question.  So, please, let’s not have anymore Catholic politicians acting like adolescents without any parental supervision, making their own decisions about what is “free”.  Adolescents have no sense of their own mortality and mortality is a very serious business, requiring sober reflection, not liberty.  Rick Santorum and the other religious Ricks owe it to themselves and their mortal souls, as well as ours, to stand for one religion and one religion only.  Let’s not shrink from the task before us and let us resolve to find out what that religion is.

Can I get an Amen?

In the meantime, Dr. Laurence Krauss gives an authoritative lecture on Science and Religion and suggest that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice one for the other.  Like, who died and made him god?

Monday: logical conclusions

Digby watched the Sunday shows so I wouldn’t have to and posted Santorum’s rant about Kennedy’s 1960 statement that he wasn’t going to be run by the Pope just because he wanted to be the first Catholic president.

So funny, Santorum’s reaction reminded me of a similar rant from a guy at work we used to have lunch with who proclaimed that he hated New York City so much that if it fell into the ocean, he would not “shed a tear”.  For Rick Santorum, just the thought of Kennedy saying he would put his religious preferences secondary to his Constitutional duties made him “want to throw up”.  Here’s more:

“That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square,” he said. Santorum also said he does not believe in an America where the separation of church and state is “absolute.”

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country,” said Santorum. “This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square. Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, no, ‘faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.’ Go on and read the speech ‘I will have nothing to do with faith. I won’t consult with people of faith.’ It was an absolutist doctrine that was foreign at the time of 1960,” he said

I don’t have any doubt that there are people who want to impose their values on the rest of us using government resources.  But from the evidence I’ve gathered in the last couple of years, it looks like the Catholics and other religious organizations are doing most of the impositions.   Those of us who want to keep state and church separate have no problem with Catholic values or religious values as long as we’re not forced to live by them.

But of course, this issue is not going to go away if the right has anything to say about it.  It’s amusing that there are so many Democrats in places like Michigan who think that prolonging the Republican primary is going to make it easier for Obama to win by pointing out how radical the Republicans really are. It’s pretty childish when you think about it.  It’s one thing to make a protest vote based on ethics and in support of voters’ rights.  It’s quite another to ignore all of the pain and suffering around you and work on behalf of the guy who has spared only the barest minimum of his enormous powers to alleviate any of it.  Note that making it harder for Obama to win Democrats’ votes would be a better use of their time but there’s no talking to people who are convinced they have the true religion.  What’s going to happen is that eventually, the Republican side of the aisle will get their shit together, a nominee will be selected, it won’t be Santorum but maybe he’ll get the second spot to keep the Mormon on the straight and narrow.  And then all of the money they’ve been saving up for the general election will be rolled out.

No, the economy is not getting better and with the guarantee of higher gas prices, it’s bound to get worse.  The middle class is still unemployed.  Yes, it looks like things are getting better in Michigan but Michigan had nowhere to go but up.  Here in New Jersey, the state everyone seems to be consciously avoiding, it still feels like the Great Depression where everyone I know has either been laid off, is in danger of a layoff or has been rehired and laid off several times in some kind of vicious cycle.  Oh and stay tuned for the Republican Congress to put Obama and the Democrats in more compromising situations.  Because that’s just the kind of people they are.

But let’s get back to Santorum’s pissy little rant about Constitution induced nausea.  The theme for this year’s election season is “religious liberty”, as if you’re not already aware.  The Republicans are going to beat this drum relentlessly.  And they’ve got all of the conservative churches onboard this year.  Obama is going to have to fight for the evangelical vote this year.  It’s all about “morals”.  The problem with the world is that no one has any morals anymore and God is angry and if we would only behave, the country could get back on its feet.  But Santorum let something slip about the “public square”.  If you’ve been following the Reason Rally concept, one of the problems that face secularists is that they’ve been almost completely shut out of the public square.  No one consults with the non-believers or strict secularists about what they think is right and moral anymore.  Hard to believe that it was precisely these people, the people of the Enlightenment, who wrote the first documents separating the colonies from the motherland.  The evidence is all over the Declaration of Independence but the religious choose to ignore this and the Enlightemnent’s descendants.   I think that’s about to change but we’ll see. The difference between then and now is that the new enlightenment thinkers benefit from advances in our understanding of the natural world that the 18th century thinkers could only dream about.

But the atheist/agnostic community knows more about history of religion than most of the relgious’ rank and file.  For example, they know that the Old Testament pentateuch was not written by Moses.  It’s a compilation of 4 different writers and an editor.  Those writers wrote over a span of about 500 years and adjusted the texts to fit their particular geographical locations and political situations.  Some of the book of Genesis was lifted straight out of polytheistic Mesopotamian creation stories and flood myths.  One of the writers, E, used the word Elohim excusively when referring to God, because he was from the Canaan area of the Levant, while J, another writer, used the word Yahweh almost exclusively because she was from the Judean area.  In the distant past Elohim and Yahweh were not the same god.  It took a different author to merge the two.  And it’s very easy to tease apart which author wrote which part.  You can read more about the Documentary Hypothesis here along with the parts of the bible written by each author.

Some of you might have heard of this hypothesis before, some might say it’s never been proven.  But go read those chapters yourself and you will find the idea pretty compelling.  Don’t just take my word for it.  For those of you who like to see vidoes on the subject, the youtuber Evid3nc3, will take you through a history of the bible in two parts. He does it in a very thorough way from the perspective of a Christian trying to figure it all out and you will be convinced by the end of his presentation that the bible is not what you think it is.  Here is what he found out about the bible:

I’m recommending Evid3nc3’s videos because they are very well produced, thoroughly researched and presented in an accessible style that is suitable for that religious person you know who insists that everyone in the country should get a religion and follow it religiously or have one selected for you to be shoved down your gullet by the government.  The next time they bring up the Judeo-Christian tradition, you can say, “You mean, the Judeo-Christian tradition as laid out in the bible?  Holy Hemiola, have you ever read that thing?  I mean, read it by author?  Fascinating.  Which author is your favorite?  I’m partial to J.  She’s got such an earthy feel to her prose and P incorporates all of that early Mesopotamian mythology from the Enûma Eliš.  And who knew that there were so many different versions of the 10 Commandments, hey, where’re you going?”

In other words, before Rick Santorum or Rick Warren or any other Rick gets up in a public square and tells the rest of us relgious or non-religious that they should engage the state to impose their superior Judeo-Christian religious beliefs on other people, they should have a thorough knowledge of just what it is they want to impose. Or at the very least, they should be honest and admit that seminarians and theologians have known about the polytheistic roots and inconsistencies of the bible for more than a century and just haven’t shared this with the rest of the class.  For those of you who ignore evidence, because you’re too afraid that your faith will be shaken by it, and rely on faith alone, please be aware that there are a lot of us out here who don’t think faith alone is a very good basis for a system of government and we will not go down quietly.

And as for that argument that without the bible or religion, you can’t be moral, check out this video on morality from evid3nc3:

Oh, SNAP!

Will someone please hand Rick an air sick bag?

Here’s the problem with Rick Santorum’s proposal that believers should get the state on their side to decide what the law should be to guide our daily lives: not all of us believe that there is a God or that his word is in the scriptures or that some 2000 year old all male organization has all of the answers for those of us who are not celibate men.  In fact, I guarantee that Catholics and Evangelical Protestants have differences of their own.  Pitting our beliefs or non-beliefs against each other is a recipe for conflict, argumentation, uncompromising positioning and it’s a huge distraction from the economy, the energy crisis and economic inequality.  Wars have been fought over religion around the world.  They were a tremendous waste of resources and human lives.  They were so destructive that believers of one sect were slaughtered by believers of another and whole relgious communities were forced to relocate.  And the people who put together the constitution argued about whether or not they wanted to go down that road in the Federalist Papers and decided it was a phenomenally bad idea to start imposing some state sanctioned religious dogma into their new rule of law.

And it’s still a distraction.  There’s nothing that the Wall Street psychopaths would like more than for the rest of us to be arguing about angels on pins and whether or not someone else’s wife or girlfriend can get her pill prescription pill.  The believers who fall for candidates like Rick Santorum are giving in to squabbles about faith that no one can solve at the expense of their own economic livelihoods.

Of course, that’s ok if what you really want is to make the country so unliveable that the Rapture comes and you’re delivered from all of the misery.  But if that’s the case, you’d better make damn sure that it was God who wrote that section of the bible you’re relying on and not some ancient editor who was trying to make all of the pieces go together.  Because if it wasn’t God, then you’re stuck here with the rest of us on a miserable earth of your own creation.

Thursday: Fantasies of a Lab Rat

What happens at the lab when the managers and the MBAs go to an international meeting and leave the labrats in charge of themselves:

Can we get an Amen?

*****************

True Story:  Last week, I was standing in front of a halal grease wagon in Philadelphia waiting for my baba ganouj, when some African American dude selling a book started chatting me up.  Much eye rolling ensued but he was actually kinda of interesting and I had some time to kill.  I wasn’t interested in buying his book because I told him I was out of work and trying to save money (yeah, yeah, I should have brought my lunch but I had a yen for roasted eggplant.  So sue me.)  He asked me what I did and I told him I was a drug designer of oncology drugs.  Oooo, he said, does that mean your companies have figured out the cures for cancer and are just sitting on them?  I hear this kind of uninformed opinion all of the time, that the pharmas are sitting on some big cancer cure and they’re holding out in order to, um, to, well, hell, I don’t know.  This accusation never did make any damn sense to me.  If the pharmas had THE definitive cures for cancer, they’d be screaming and jumping up and down at the FDA to approve them right away.  Cancer is big business and there’s a lot of potential extortion money to be made.  People who are frantic to survive to see their kids grow up will pay just about anything for a cure.

Sadly, there is no cure for cancer yet, mostly because cancer is not just one disease but many diseases.  You would think that with all of the work that is left to do to cure cancer and all of the discoveries that we are making in cell biology in the past decade that every scientist in the world would be overwhelmed with work instead of getting laid off and scraping together a meager existence.  But the truth is that those of us who should be working round the clock to do protein expression, structural biology, genomics and medicinal chemistry are falling out of the middle class and into the realm of a precariat existence while cancer goes uncured and the amount of resources thrown at is is parsed into “need to know” CRO operations in foreign countries.

So, when I saw Derek Lowe’s morning post on the hope of curing cancer, I got a little wistful.  Derek ends his post:

But I’m operating on a different time scale from Eschenbach. Here he is in 2006, in The Lancet:

 

“Think of it”, von Eschenbach says, “for thousands of years we have dealt with cancer working only with what we could see with our eyes and feel with our fingers, then for a 100 years we’ve dealt with cancer with what we could see under a microscope. Now, we have gone in 10 years to a completely different level.” This new science “is going to change how we think, it’s going to change how we approach things; it’s going to change everything.” 

. . .He points to the example of testicular cancer. The development of treatments for this cancer was a great success, von Eschenbach says, but one that “took decades of trial and error, one trial after another, after another, after another”. That hit-and-miss approach is no longer necessary, von Eschenbach says. Now, if 10% of patients responded to a treatment, he says, “you take the tools of genomics and go back, reverse engineer it, and ask: what was different about that 10%? Well, they had an EGF [epidermal growth factor] receptor mutation, ah ha!”

 

Ah ha, indeed. Here’s more in a similar vein. The thing is, I don’t disagree with this in principle. I disagree on the scale. No one, I think, knows how to eliminate deaths from cancer other than the way we’re doing it now: detailed investigation of all sorts of cancers, all sorts of cellular pathways, and all sorts of therapies directed at them. Which is all a lot of work, and takes a lot of time (and a lot of money, too, of course). It also leads to a huge array of dead ends, disappointments, and a seemingly endless supply of “Hmm, that was more complicated than we thought” moments. I don’t see that changing any time soon. I’m optimistic enough to think that there is a bottom to this ocean, that it’s of finite size and everything in it is, in principle, comprehensible. But it’s big. It’s really, really big.

There are people who defend goal statements like Eschenbach’s. Such things force us to aim high, they say, they focus attention on the problem and give us a sense of urgency. Taken too far, though, this point of view leads to the fallacy that what’s important is to care a lot – or perhaps to be seen to care a lot. But the physical world doesn’t care if we care. It yields up its secrets to those who are smart and persistent, not to the people with the best slogans.

Or the best MBAs that money can buy.  I guess the pharmas really are sitting on a cure.

*****************

Speaking of Amens, our poll shows that an awful lot of us (about 76%) are heathens with a naturalistic worldview.

Alright!  {{high fives}}

Oh, sorry about that, believers.  We’ll try to be nice.

If you haven’t had a chance to declare your godlessness or semi-godlessness, as it turns out, check it out here.

****************

Sounds like it was “Rick Santorum has cooties” night at the Republican playground debate last night.  I didn’t know that Romney supported Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey. I like the end of this article for its “I know you are but what am I?” flavor:

Mr. Romney, who has struggled to win the trust of party activists, is under intense pressure to prove his conservative bona fides. He was asked about a recent statement that he was “severely conservative” when he was governor. He defined his meaning as “strict,” saying he empowered state police to enforce immigration laws, pushed English language immersion programs and “stood up and said I would stand on the side of life.”

Mr. Paul, in response to a question about the biggest misconception about him, complained about the perception that he could not win against Mr. Obama in the general election, pointing to a recent poll that showed him closer to the president than the other candidates.

When Mr. Romney was asked to describe a misconception about him, he demurred, borrowing from Mr. Gingrich’s debate-the-moderator playbook and saying sharply, “You know, you get to ask the questions you want; I get to give the answers I want.”

But the discussion kept returning to Mr. Santorum.

When the moderator asked Mr. Paul why he was running a new television advertisement calling Mr. Santorum “a fake” conservative, Mr. Paul answered simply, “Because he’s a fake.”

“I’m real, I’m real, I’m real,” Mr. Santorum said, shaking his head.

Oooo, I think the debate game has run its course (about 15 debates ago) and everyone is getting a little testy.  For Pete’s sake, can we just have Romney appoint Santorum as his VP running mate and get on with it already?

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Speaking of Santorum, I LOVE his condescension of other religions, even other Christians, as being inferior to Catholicism.  Whoo-hee!, too funny!  Evangelical Fundamentalists do that to more liberal brands of Christianity all the time.  Presbyterians are just posers to them.  It’s kind of amusing for some Pennsylvanians who are Santorum admirers to get a taste of their own medicine.  You’re nothing to Rick if you’re not a Pope toady.  Papists rule, Protestants!

Pass the popcorn.

About those Republican candidates- Who gives a f&*#

The horse race coverage is in full stride now.  It’s been neck and neck for the last couple of months, along with a ridiculous number of debates.  First, one candidate is ahead, then another.  One opens a sizeable lead, only to fall back due to something he failed to keep hidden, or bad science.

Let’s take a look at some of these contenders, shall we?

Herman Cain- A businessman who presumably believed that the government should be run like a business.  He’s successful in his pizza biz, why not take that success to Pennsylvania Ave?  Well, for one thing, he’s not a politician and he’s made some really cringeworthy mistakes on the trail.  Not knowing China had nukes? The only thing positive about that is that he doesn’t seem to know anything about China.  Unlike Huntsman, but we’ll get to that in a sec.  And then there are the ladies.  You have to say that like Demitri Martin.  “Ladies“.  A man who thinks he can keep that a secret during a presidential campaign doesn’t have the master manipulator’s fibbing streak to match his gigantic ego.

Newt Gingrich- Everything you need to know about this guy is in his pamphlet on how to manipulate the public during a political campaign using words.  You don’t need to know anything else.

Mitt Romney- One word,”Bakelite“.

Michelle Bachmann- For all we know, she’s a stealth candidate.  She may only look like a fanatic.  She may only be faking her ignorance of how vaccines work.  She may not really mean what she says about destroying the social safety net.  She might really be a bra burning, pro-choice, feminazi who once she has attained power will usher in a new era of equality for women.  Don’t think this possibility hasn’t crossed Rush Limbaugh’s mind.

Rick Santorum- Googling his name doesn’t really tell you anything about him.  So, let me just say that he’s got a house in Penn Hills where I went to high school and he has a respectable number of children for a strict Roman Catholic, which means he has had sex at least seven times.  He probably would have gone to my grandparents’ church where I attended mass when I stayed with them.  I find this much physical proximity to Santorum unsettling.  {{shivver}}

Ok, who else we got?

Rick Perry- Is he really as stupid as he sounds?  He makes George W. Bush sound like mensa material.

Ron Paul- He named his kid “Rand”.  Fergawdssakes, people, RAND!

John Huntsman- another potential stealth candidate.  And a Mormon.  Where did all of these Mormons come from all of a sudden.  Former moderate Republican governor from Utah.  Also, a wealthy scion to a chemical company.  Who was appointed to be ambassador to China by Barack Obama.  What was he doing over there?  Trying to set up new ways to ship the STEM work overseas?  Seriously, I want to know why a guy whose family runs a chemical company was spending time in China on official US business, especially since we have seen a tidal wave of jobs flood there.  Do I trust him?  Not until I see what his mission was.  Cough it up.

Well, it’s not like I’m going to be voting Republican anyway.  It’s not that the candidates bother me so much, except for Newt who I suspect has a real talent for evil.  And not the kind of evil you may first suspect.  I mean evil on a world class scale.  Which is why fundagelical apocalyptic christians will flock to him.  They’ll overlook his infidelities and tax evasion.  The idea that he might be the catalyst that brings on Armageddon will make them breathe heavily and schedule appointments to have their nails done before The Rapture.

The problem isn’t with the candidates, it’s with Republican voters.  They’re not right.  I mean, they’re “tetched”, if you get my drift.  They cheer for misfortune and applaud for death.  They’re like the crowd at the Colliseum, shrieking in orgasmic frenzy for the blood of innocents who were stupid enough to get caught by the Romans.   And they’re motivated.  When it comes right down to it, they don’t really care all that much who their nominee is.  When they get the signal, they will vote in lockstep for whoever that person is.  That person’s job is to knock Obama out of the White House.  He might have faced this kind of opposition anyway but he made it easy for them to want to do it because he’s been so bad at his job.

The Republicans know it.  You know it.  The campaign operatives on both sides know it.  We can all see the train sliding off the tracks and can anticipate the wreck.  But the only party (as of today) that can avoid catastrophe is closing its eyes and praying.

New Light on Vatican Cover-Up: Follow the Money

Marcial Maciel Degollado with Pope John Paul II

An important article was published this week in The National Catholic Reporter by journalist and author Jason Berry. This article sheds new light on possible motives for the Vatican to encourage Bishops to conceal sexual abuse by priests, as they did for many years in the U.S. and, as we are now learning, in other countries.

Berry has been covering the story of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by Catholic priests since the scandal first broke in New Orleans in the early 1980s. Berry is the author of the book Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II and director of a documentary based on the book.

Berry’s April 6 article in The National Catholic Reporter is the first of two parts dealing with the secretive “Legionaries of Christ” and its late founder Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. This organization is said to be even more influential and mysterious than Opus Dei.

Berry Describes Maciel as a “great fundraiser” who was successful in attracting young men to the priesthood, as well as “a notorious pedophile” who also had affairs with a number of women who bore him “several children.”

The charismatic Mexican, who founded the Legion of Christ in 1941, sent streams of money to Roman curia officials with a calculated end, according to many sources interviewed by NCR: Maciel was buying support for his group and defense for himself, should his astounding secret life become known.

This much is well established from previous reporting: Maciel was a morphine addict who sexually abused at least 20 Legion seminarians from the 1940s to the ’60s. Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre, N.Y., sent a letter by a former Legion priest with detailed allegations to the Vatican in 1976, 1978 and 1989 through official channels. Nothing happened. Maciel began fathering children in the early 1980s — three of them by two Mexican women, with reports of a third family with three children in Switzerland, according to El Mundo in Madrid, Spain. Concealing his web of relations, Maciel raised a fortune from wealthy backers, and ingratiated himself with church officials in Rome.

Berry reports that Maciel arranged through generous gifts (paying for massive renovations on the Cardinal’s house) to get a powerful Cardinal named Eduardo Francisco Pironio, now deceased, to sign off on the Legion of Christ’s constitution, which included:

…the highly controversial Private Vows, by which each Legionary swore never to speak ill of Maciel, or the superiors, and to report to them anyone who uttered criticism. The vows basically rewarded spying as an expression of faith, and cemented the Legionaries’ lockstep obedience to the founder. The vows were Maciel’s way of deflecting scrutiny as a pedophile.

Pope Benedict XVI, who has been sharply criticized for aiding in the cover-up of the pedophilia scandal, opened an investigation into Maciel’s activities in 2004, and despite the favor in which Pope John Paul II held Maciel, Benedict was successful in having him replaced as head of the Legion of Christ and disciplined for his sexual activities with seminarians.

How did this man get away with his debauchery for so long? Berry explains that Maciel gave money–a lot of it, and in cash–to Cardinals.

In an NCR investigation that began last July, encompassing dozens of interviews in Rome, Mexico City and several U.S. cities, what emerges is the saga of a man who ingratiated himself with Vatican officials, including some of those in charge of offices that should have investigated him, as he dispensed thousands of dollars in cash and largesse.

Maciel built his base by cultivating wealthy patrons, particularly widows, starting in his native Mexico in the 1940s. Even as he was trailed by pedophilia accusations, Maciel attracted large numbers of seminarians in an era of dwindling vocations. In 1994 Pope John Paul II heralded him as “an efficacious guide to youth.” John Paul continued praising Maciel after a 1997 Hartford Courant investigation by Gerald Renner and this writer exposed Maciel’s drug habits and abuse of seminarians. In 1998, eight ex-Legionaries filed a canon law case to prosecute him in then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s tribunal. For the next six years, Maciel had the staunch support of three pivotal figures: Sodano; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish secretary of John Paul. During those years, Sodano pressured Ratzinger not to prosecute Maciel, as NCR previously reported. Ratzinger told a Mexican bishop that the Maciel case was a “delicate” matter and questioned whether it would be “prudent” to prosecute at that time.

In 2004, John Paul — ignoring the canon law charges against Maciel — honored him in a Vatican ceremony in which he entrusted the Legion with the administration of Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center, an education and conference facility. The following week, Ratzinger took it on himself to authorize an investigation of Maciel.

According to Berry, in 1997, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, firmly refused a cash gift offered by a Legionary after Ratzinger spoke at one of their meetings. That certainly speaks well of Ratzinger, judging by the amount of money the Legion was spreading around. Here is a little more from Berry’s piece:

Maciel traveled incessantly, drawing funds from Legion centers in Mexico, Rome and the United States. Certain ex-Legionaries with knowledge of the order’s finances believe that Maciel constantly drew from Legion coffers to subsidize his families.

For years Maciel had Legion priests dole out envelopes with cash and donate gifts to officials in the curia. In the days leading up to Christmas, Legion seminarians spent hours packaging the baskets with expensive bottles of wine, rare brandy, and cured Spanish hams that alone cost upward of $1,000 each. Priests involved in the gifts and larger cash exchanges say that in hindsight they view Maciel’s strategy as akin to an insurance policy, to protect himself should he be exposed and to position the Legion as an elite presence in the workings of the Vatican.

Yet Berry could find no evidence that the Legion’s “donations” have been reported or recorded in any systematic way. There does not even seem to be a method by which this could be done. So the Church has a situation in which a powerful organization run by a pedophile has used money to spread its influence far and wide during “five decades” of “Maciel’s strategy of buying influence.”

Based on Berry’s descriptions, the Legion of Christ is still extremely influential in the Vatican, in the Church as a whole, and in the secular world as well. Maciel’s followers are everywhere, even among the wealthy and powerful in the U.S. Some of Maciel’s famous followers/admirers who are mentioned in Berry’s article are actor Mel Gibson, Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan, singer Placido Domingo, politicians Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, and frequent cable commenters William Donohue and William Bennett.

Meanwhile, seminarians are still being taught that Maciel was a saint:

Two Legion priests told NCR in July that seminarians in Rome were still being taught about Maciel’s virtuous life. “They are being brainwashed, as if nothing happened,” said a Legionary, sitting on a bench near Rome’s Tiber River.

How do you go about cleaning up corruption that is this long-term and pervasive?