Saturday, September 24, 2005

One Nation Under Whatever

Last week a federal court in San Francisco declared the phrase “under God” unconstitutional in the pledge of allegiance. This prompted the usual suspects to put up their usual clamor, as in “This is another example of the persecution of Christians!” and “We’re playing right into the Soviet Union’s hands!” (Seriously—everyone raise a hand who knows someone who thinks the Soviet Union still exists. I have a family member who said, when the Berlin Wall came down, “It’s a trick.”)

In the midst of all the clamor, I don’t see anyone stating the obvious, which is the fact that complaining about “under God” in the pledge of allegiance is like complaining about finding a fishhook in your tainted salmon. The pledge is a ridiculous waste of schoolchildren’s time, whether it’s two words shorter or not.

As a reminder, here it is: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Now, surely I’m not the only person who realizes that everything after the word “stands” is fluff. It’s irrelevant. It’s nothing more than a description of the republic for which the flag stands, and as such it’s unnecessary. You’ve already pledged allegiance to the flag and the republic, so there’s no need for a commercial at the end. It might as well say I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, the land of the free and the home of the brave, a place with 50 states, and the birthplace of jazz, professional baseball, and David Letterman.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a believer or not: “Under God” has nothing to do with what you’ve pledged allegiance to. It’s fluff, and it’s fluff that was crammed into the pledge in the 1950s to show the Russians that we were just as good at indoctrinating kids as they were. I'll assume there were protests at the time, protests that they should be taking stuff out of the pledge instead of putting stuff in, although now that I think of it I’m sure that would have prompted a visit from HUAC.

So now for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that the fluff is gone, and that the pledge is down to its bare bones: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. Now what do we do with it?

Do we make people say it every day? Well, that seems silly. It’s a pledge. Once you’ve pledged something, you’ve pledged it. If someone comes along and tries to make you pledge it a second time, your reaction should be “No, thanks, I’m good—I already pledged that.”

That’s especially true of allegiance. Unless you see a second-grader sneaking off to pledge allegiance to Great Britain or Antarctica or the “Soviet Union,” I think we can safely assume that his or her allegiance still lies with the country it was pledged to yesterday.

And that brings me to my final point. Does anyone believe that even the smartest kindergartener has the slightest idea what he’s doing when he says the pledge of allegiance? Good lord, no. When I was in fourth grade, we had to write a one-page paper on what the pledge meant to us. As I placed my essay on the teacher’s desk, I noticed that the kid ahead of me had titled his “The Pledge of the Legions.”

So here was a guy who thought he’d been saying the Pledge of the Legions every day for the last five years—which had to mean he thought he was saying “I pledge of the legions to the flag…,” which isn’t exactly common English syntax, which means he didn’t have a clue what he was saying.

Just like the rest of us.

All the energy expended on pursuing a court case to remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance seems misguided to me. It’s aiming at the wrong target. Take out “under God” and you’re still left with a pointless exercise, because no pledge is valid if someone makes you stand up and say it.

If the goal is to create loyal Americans, I suggest discarding the pledge and using that time to study the Constitution. The short-term benefit of that is less wasted classroom time. The long-term benefit is a more conscientious electorate.

One Additional Thought on Pointless Exercises

+ I’ll never forget that time in grade school when that KGB agent disguised as a set of monkey bars offered me five bucks for a map of the locations of Defense Department missile silos. I told him I’d have to ask my mom and dad, but heck, now I know I should have said “Sorry, man, I just pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands—for the 387th straight school day.”

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Profiles in Leadership, or Not

I blame George W. Bush for the atmospheric conditions that caused Hurricane Katrina.

OK, not really. I’m kidding. I figured I might as well say it, because any criticism of Bush’s performance in the hurricane’s aftermath tends to draw out devoted Bush-lovers with one absurd comment after another: “Leave it to you liberals to blame Bush for a natural disaster.”

So let’s get it out in the open. If you hear any rabid Bushie accuse liberals of blaming the hurricane on Bush, just pat him on the head and remind him that you were young and your opinions uninformed once, too.

There’s plenty of blame to go around—not for the hurricane, but for the slow response, the inability to get food and water to stranded people, the bureaucratic foul-ups, etc. I’m not going to cover that here. What I want to talk about is leadership, and what passes for it these days.

Anyone with internet access knew what was going on in New Orleans when the 17th Street levee was breached. We knew the streets were filling with water, we knew people were heading to the Superdome, and we knew that some people didn’t make it. We knew people were tying dead bodies to utility poles to keep them from drifting too far from their homes. We knew something tragic was happening on a historical scale.

And the president of the United States flew into action—if by flying into action you mean flying into San Diego to get his picture taken strumming a guitar. Look at the picture up there: He’s got his trademark smirk on, he’s acting like the Singing Cowboy and yukking it up for the crowd, and he doesn’t have a care in the world.

This to me is the most damning photograph of this bonehead’s presidency. I never thought anything could top his deer-in-the-headlights look during the reading of “My Pet Goat,” but this one nails it. It helps to know the context, which is why so many websites have juxtaposed this photograph with shots of the horror going on simultaneously in New Orleans, but when you do, this picture screams “I have let this country down and will continue to do so again and again.”

You know, there was a big flood in New Madrid, Missouri in 1790, but then-President George Washington had an excuse for not making immediate comment on it: His cell phone wasn’t charged. There’s no excuse for Bush not knowing. His handlers had to know. His handlers—who seem to be penisheads in their own right but at least cognizant of what constitutes both good and devastating PR—should have insisted that Bush cancel this appearance and act like a president.

When you look at that picture, you see a man who’s either clueless or uncaring and probably both. You see a man, a leader in name only, who is not responding to the destruction of a major American seaport.

No one expected Bush to go to New Orleans and plug the breach himself, or distribute food and water, or take charge of a triage unit. All he had to do was put down the goddamned guitar and take something seriously.

He didn’t. And I’m not sure he’s knows he’s supposed to. He does have to get on with his life, after all.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bill Shanks and the Cosmic Finger of Death

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the fanatics were out in full force. A Louisiana pastor named Bill Shanks said the devastation in New Orleans was God’s way of wiping out the rampant sin in the city, including but not limited to abortion, Mardi Gras, voodoo, and a six-day gay pride event called Southern Decadence. The Columbia Christians for Life claimed that a satellite photo of Katrina resembled a six-week-old fetus, and drew the logical conclusion that God was wreaking vengeance on New Orleans’ abortion clinics. And, of course, numerous folks have thanked God for his mercy in sparing them while their neighbors down the road got whacked.

Come to think of it, there’s one thing all these people have in common. They’re alive.

The people who lost their lives in the hurricane and the subsequent flooding of New Orleans had no response. Were they in a position to comment, I suspect they might say “But I’ve never had an abortion,” “But I don’t practice voodoo,” or “But I’ve never attended a six-day gay pride event.”

I doubt if that’s even crossed Bill Shanks’ little mind. To Bill and his self-righteous brethren, if you happen to get caught in God’s crossfire, then it’s tough luck, amigo. I’m still amazed that the same people who believe in an omniscient, omnipotent god don’t see how incompetent he is when it comes to wiping out these alleged sinners. Where are the lightning bolts? Where is the cosmic finger of death? Where’s the planning?

If Bill Shanks’ god was so upset at Southern Decadence, he could have dropped a meteor on New Orleans in the middle of that event. But no, the supreme all-knowing master of the universe instead decides to kill 10,000 poor people and hope the sinful survivors get the message. This is truly an example of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. “I killed who?” said Katrina/God in a rare interview. “Well, shoot, that wasn’t the idea at all.”

The Columbia Christians for Life are every bit as delusional as Shanks, but in a different way. Their god is a surrealist artist who takes the time to shape invisible atmospheric elements so they’ll sort of appear to sort of look sort of like a six-week-old fetus in satellite photos. This is truly a god that needs a hobby, a god that doesn’t see the value in keeping it simple.

Let’s face it. You know why the Joker kept getting caught by Batman? Because he was too damn concerned about decorating his hideout and providing matching sweatshirts for his henchmen. He’d have been a much more successful criminal if he had lost the clown makeup and the pink suit and started committing his crimes on the sly. Same deal with the Columbia Christians’ god. If he’s got something to say, let him say it without fancying it up.

I'm not holding my breath on that one.

And by the way, I saw the satellite photo in question, and I didn’t see a six-week-old fetus. I did, however, see Pac-Man and that little dog from the Pooch CafĂ© comic strip.

Basically, I wish people like Bill Shanks and his ilk would stop seeing every destructive force of nature as divine vengeance. We know what causes hurricanes, and we know they don’t chase down gay people and voodoo practitioners. They do leave people homeless and hungry, though, so if Shanks wants to do some good in the world, maybe he can organize a food and clothing drive. Crazy idea, huh?