December 14, 2002

Sorry, Carson.

Too bad for Carson Palmer. He won the Heisman Trophy.

Enjoy tonight, Carson, enjoy the rest of the year, enjoy your upcoming game in the Corporate Sponsor Bowl. Great game against Notre Dame, by the way, kudos. But if history serves this will be your finest hour, as the Heisman is the kiss of NFL death.

“But the Heisman isn’t supposed to be about the best pro prospect,” its supporters claim – one of the most accurate statements ever uttered. It’s about as sure a promise of NFL frustration as being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Last year’s Heisman winner, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, couldn’t even make it through an NFL camp and is now bagging groceries in Lincoln. The list of recent winners doesn’t exactly read like the Bound for Canton train – Chris Weinke? Ron Dayne? Danny Wuerffel? It’s only a fluke that Wuerffel’s still drawing an NFL paycheck, few expect him to be playing next year. Weinke was benched this year behind Rodney Peete, who started his pro career with the Decatur Staleys and once handed off to Bronko Nagurski.

Casting the net a bit further back, the only Heisman winners in the past thirty years you could picture in the Hall of Fame without a ticket stub in their hand are Charles Woodson ’97, Eddie George ’95 (although I don’t think George’ll make it), Barry Sanders ’88, Tim Brown ’87, Marcus Allen ’81, Earl Campbell ’77 and Tony Dorsett ’76. Hm, three Raiders. Six or seven out of thirty isn’t a great batting average. Nobody but extremely socially-deprived trivia wonks would recognize the other 23 guys - Andre Ware, anyone?

I’m not sure how many Heisman winners are actually in the Hall, but in a rough guess, looking at the complete list I’d say Allen, Campbell and Dorsett, Jim Plunkett (another Raider), O.J., Roger Staubach, Paul Hornung. Bruce Smith is a lock for the Hall, which should amuse the family of the late Bruce Smith, the 1941 Heisman-winning halfback from Minnesota.

When Baltimore Colt Alan Ameche thundered over the goal line to win the Greatest NFL Game Ever Played, the ’58 championship against the Giants he was handed the ball by a quarterback who graduated from Louisville the same year Ameche finished at Wisconsin. Ameche, a pleasant enough NFL footnote won the Heisman that year while the quarterback, guy you might’ve heard of named Unitas, wasn’t in the top ten.

The senior quarterbacks who lost out to NFL mediocrity Ty Detmer in 1990 include Shawn Moore in fourth place and Craig Erickson in eighth… who? Favre? Still checking… nope, not in the top ten, how are you spelling that?

Noted NFL bust and cokehead Charles White won in 1979 over quarterbacks Art Schlichter and Marc Wilson while a couple nobodies named Joe Montana and Phil Simms didn’t even crack the top five. NFL immortal Gino Toretta won in 1992, while Marshall Faulk finished second and some clown named Drew Bledsoe came in eighth. Bledsoe, Bledsoe… name rings a bell, wonder what he’s doing these days? And in that incredible quarterback class of ’83 with Hall of Famers Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly only Elway finished in the top five in Heisman voting. He finished second, as did Steve Young the next year.

So congratulations, second-place finisher Brad Banks, you have a bright NFL future ahead of you. Carson? Either play for the Raiders, or... hope your insurance business does well.

Gratitude Korean-style.

Interesting news report today.

Despite a personal apology from President Bush, according to the Associated Press “tens of thousands of South Koreans holding candles marched through Seoul on Saturday to protest the deaths of two South Korean girls who were hit by a U.S. military vehicle. Anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea, a key U.S. ally, rose after two U.S. soldiers involved in the accident were acquitted of negligent homicide charges in U.S. military courts in November.”

First off, instead of “South Korea, a key U.S. ally” that should read “the U.S., a key South Korea ally.” For the past forty or fifty years America has been pretty much the only thing keeping the heavily militarized North from invading the fat and lazy South, who like Japan keep military costs low by availing themselves of free U.S. protection, and use the savings to subsidize industries which dump cheap goods here in America, undercutting American businesses, but that’s a) America’s own fault, and b) another blog.

Secondly, everyone knows the tragedy that two 13-year-old girls were on their way to a friend’s birthday party when they were run over and killed in June was a pure accident. Nobody believes the soldiers intended to kill the girls, from what I’ve heard nobody has determined exactly what happened – if the girls ran out in front of the vehicle before the driver had time to stop, or what. President Bush issued a personal apology, the soldiers’ careers are compromised, they were tried by a military court which rendered a verdict – not the verdict South Koreans wanted, however.

Local media estimated the protest crowd in Seoul at 30,000 to 50,000. After a two-hour rally in Seoul, protesters with candles marched and sang the popular Korean folk song “Arirang.” Police stopped them a block away from the U.S. embassy. Some protesters tore apart four large U.S. flags. That would be four large flags of the only entity standing between the protesters and North Korean nukes. Protesters no doubt had to cut it short to make it in time over to the rally demanding the U.S. do more to protect them from North Korea’s nuclear arms program.

It’s hard for me to think of one good reason why we need South Korea as an ally anyway, they’re the sort of “ally” who’s always on the receiving end of aid and never on the giving end – but who make up for it by badmouthing America. We have many such “allies.” Japan springs to mind. As does France. Germany’s a true and trusted ally – oh, except at election time when Bush is Hitler and America’s the #1 menace to the world. Afterwards Germany’s all nicey-nice until the next time it’s politically expedient to bash America.

It’s time to pull out of South Korea – and Germany, for that matter. Not out of spite or pique, but out of the fact that rising anti-Americanism of the sort sweeping South Korea endangers servicemen and their families there and all American businessmen, diplomats and travelers. If the presence of the American military is upsetting to the South Koreans fine, we’ll pull out, it’s no skin off our nose since the Army's there more for South Korea’s benefit than ours to begin with. Tellwiddem.

Leave like we did in the Philippines when in a fit of nationalistic fervor they demanded us out of Subic Bay. Of course their economy took a hit, and they’d kind of like to have us back now, but hey, they got to wave a lot of flags and make a lot of anti-American speeches so it all evens out, right?

Wonder how many U.S. flags would be torn apart at the ceremony for the last American G.I. leaving South Korea. My guess is probably not too many, especially with the North Koreans looking on grinning and drywashing their hands. But it’d give South Korea a fine opportunity to practice their own version of juche, and two accidental traffic deaths would be the least of their concerns.

December 13, 2002

Clubbeaux's Family Christmas letter.

Yes, those form letters with the picture? Some of you will get one this year. For others of you, well, we didn't have your address, sorry, so here's the Christmas letter:

Happy Finland Day 2002! (Being the closest actual holiday to when this letter was completed)


2002 will be remembered as The Year Of The Eye Doctor. After discovering that Blake had only about 10% of normal vision we visited a series of doctors and had a series of tests and approximately 39,071 eye drops - he almost stopped yelling by the 37,000th one. Turns out he’d had cataracts since early life - three-year olds have an “early” life? After two surgeries, the second a harder experience than the first since the kid knew what he was in for, his eyes are almost normal. They healed beautifully and he says things like “I can see you clearly now Mummy!” and “Look, grass.”

Dylan enjoyed playing on a neighborhood soccer league team, his first time doing anything like that. He ended the season with two goals - one for them and one for us - so the season came out even. He’s doing well swimming and can assemble a puzzle map of the United States faster than Mummy can.

Sue’s started homeschooling this year. It’s aimed primarily at Dylan, of course, but you do have to juggle the other two, who pick up scattershot knowledge here and there. It’s about three mornings a week, and it’s based on classic children’s stories. Sue has some (not weird) friends who are experienced homeschoolers who have provided great help. When she really needs a night off she’ll drive down to the Barnes & Noble, drink coffee and read all night. She loves the flexibility and freedom of homeschooling, and is pondering a field trip to points west in the family ’78 VW bus soon. This is the same VW bus which takes the family around yard sales, listens to “Car Talk” and brings doughnuts to Grandma and Pop’s on Saturday mornings.

Dylan and Daddy enjoy taking bike rides around the neighborhood now, Daddy’s a bundle of nerves seeing him on the same streets as SUVs operated by idiots yakking on cell phones. Blake loves any art medium - Play-Doh, paints, markers, squeeze tubes of yogurt. He also amuses himself for hours creating complex fantasy worlds of talking toys - any toy will do: A Lego creation, fork and plastic soldier will have the most amazing adventures together. The #1 game, however, is still to turn off all the lights at night and give each of the kids a flashlight and have Daddy play monster.

Zelda just graduated from a crib to an Official Big Girl Bed now, with only a side guard when she sleeps. Can’t believe it’s the last crib we’ll ever use. Depends on if Sue remembers her pills, I guess. Zelda loves swimming with the boys at the gym, and is a dead ringer for Sue, the lucky girl. She can tell you where her nose, eyes, tongue, fingers are but not where she left her pacifier - “passy” - a requirement for her to even think of going to sleep.

Scientific discovery of 2002: When there’s a show you really really really want to watch, all life in the house must be lived in the 3’x5’ rectangle between you and the TV screen. Inside this space the English word “Move!” cannot be heard. Fascinating phenomenon.

We’re still happy at First Mennonite Church. It’s a momentous time in the church’s life, we’ve decided to find a new building. Wherever we go, it’s a sure bet we Simses will no longer have the shortest drive to church.

David’s work is still freelance writing, he has steady accounts, some spot work and a couple long-term projects. It’s up and down, he still can’t imagine working for anyone else, and the Lord’s been good. He enjoys playing guitar at church and his turn helping out with the church’s homeless ministry.

Sue very much enjoyed getting back to New Zealand last December for her brother David’s wedding - the first time she’s been back since our wedding in 1996. She’s also enjoyed the friendship of Fifi, an ethnically Indian woman from South African with young kids. Sue’s been over to take notes from Fifi’s visiting mother’s secrets of cooking with curry.

Sue’s great accomplishment for the year was reflooring the kitchen. David’s was assembling a metal garden shed with 45,000 screws.


From top to bottom: Dylan, Blake, Zelda.

December 12, 2002

Ah, the good old days…

Thanks to Bleeding Brain for the heads-up on the fact that blacks in South Africa are realizing white rule wasn’t all bad:

Poll: ‘Apartheid Nostalgia’ Grows in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Most South Africans, both black and white, believe the country was better run under apartheid and say unemployment and crime are the government’s top challenges, according to two new polls released this week.

The polls, part of the “Afrobarometer” series of public opinion surveys, found South Africans had generally positive assessments of how their country was governed, and were growing increasingly optimistic about the future.

But they also revealed a growing sense of “apartheid nostalgia” as South Africa grapples with high crime rates, increasing corruption and rising joblessness following the end of white rule in 1994.

“It’s not that they want to return to apartheid, but in retrospect it was a time when trains ran on time,” poll director Robert Mattes said on Wednesday. “It was a harsh, repressive, but seemingly efficient government.”

Overall, the polls showed that about 60 percent of South Africans felt the country was better run under apartheid, with both blacks and whites rating the current government less trustworthy, more corrupt, less able to enforce the law and less able to deliver government services than its white predecessor.

The surveys also found respondents giving more positive assessment of apartheid-era policies.

Whites had the highest levels of nostalgia, with 65 percent now identifying positive elements to whites-only rule compared with 59 percent in 2000 and 39 percent in 1995.

But black respondents were also beginning to wax nostalgic, with 20 percent now giving a positive rating to certain aspects of life under the apartheid regime, compared with 17 percent in 2000 and eight percent in 1995.

Great business opportunity!

I get three or four of these types of e-mailings a week, they’re usually from Nigeria and usually involve an ex-government official looking to move $14 million out of the country who’ll give you a 30% cut if you’ll let him use your bank account. I figured posting this for all to see will a) warn others and b) clean out the really stupid readers:













December 11, 2002

Baseball’s solution to its declining popularity: Let the gamblers in.

Here’s all you need to know about the movement to let gambler Pete Rose in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and, according to reliable sources, back to managing the Reds:

“Rose was first investigated by Major League Baseball in February 1989 while manager of the Reds. John Dowd, who headed the inquiry for Giamatti, wrote a report that detailed 412 baseball wagers between April 8 and July 5, 1987, including 52 on Cincinnati to win.”

That’s as clear-cut a violation of Major League Baseball’s rules as was replacing Torricelli on the New Jersey ballot after the deadline passed. Guess rules don’t mean much to Democrats and baseball anymore.

Is the charge right? Did Rose do it? Put it this way: The commissioner at the time, A. Bartlett Giamatti believed he did and Rose accepted a lifetime ban in lieu of challenging it. Anything else you need to know?

Dowd, the Washington D.C.-based lawyer who investigated Rose for Commissioners Peter Ueberroth and Bart Giamatti in 1989 revealed today that if the investigation would have continued a little longer it would have shown Rose not only bet on Reds’ games, but actually bet against the team he was managing. He said it would have been in the report were it not for “time constraints to get his examination finished and try to stem a matter that was soiling the sport” which forced him to “stop pursuing certain avenues.”

Therefore, although the official Dowd Report states: “no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Cincinnati Reds,” Dowd said he had reliable evidence that Rose indeed bet against his team. Dowd also said he had been told that if Rose were reinstated to baseball he would be asked to manage the Cincinnati Reds.

Questions Rose should be asked.

Then there’s the question of whether Rose was involved in a cocaine distribution ring in the late 1980s. In the September 2001 issue of Vanity Fair former Rose associate Tommy Gioiosa said Rose invested money in cocaine deals. Dowd thinks Rose could still vulnerable to people he might owe money to from that time, making him a greater risk to provide inside information again if he is allowed back into major league clubhouses.

“I’d like to ask all the questions over where he denied ever betting while he was under oath,” Dowd said. “I’d like to find out whom he was dealing with and whom he owed money to, and whether he is still indebted to any of those people. I would like to ask him about the cocaine business and whether he was a cocaine distributor down the line. I would like to know what he has been doing the last 12 years and whether he is still gambling.”

Bud Selig, on the other hand, would like to be remembered as the commissioner who brought Pete Rose back in baseball.

The sticking point.

I believe the sticking point in the negotiations now is whether or not Rose will “admit” to betting on games. Excuse me? Somebody’s admitting to breaking the rules is just cause for ignoring the rules? Bud Selig must be in charge in such a universe. There’s no question to any but Pete Rose’s pathologically self-absorbed mind that he bet on baseball hundreds, if not thousands of times. Getting him to admit it is like getting Jesse Jackson to admit he doesn’t care for white folks.

Think back to the last time the integrity of the NFL was compromised by players or coaches betting on games. That’s right, I can’t either. The NBA, well, anyone who watched the officiating in last year’s Sacramento-L.A. series knows the fix is in there, that’s old news. There are many legitimate criticisms of the NFL that can be made and Clubbeaux’s made most of them, but there is never a whisper that the games are fixed.

Baseball, on the other hand, will have an instant credibility problem if Pete Rose is reinstated. He bet on baseball. He bet on baseball a lot – no doubt Dowd presented only those cases he could find and document. Assume there are at least as many more. Then tell me why any other player or manager betting on baseball from here on in need fear retribution.

This is the sport of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, bear in mind. Keeping known gambler Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame is one of the few things baseball’s done in the name of integrity since then. I guess it figures Bud Selig’d be the commissioner to go back on his word and let Rose in as a desperate attempt to a) boost his own popularity, and b) increase interest in a sport which is slowly but surely losing ground to the NFL in America, for one reason because pro football is, in fact, perceived as being more honest, not to mention much more competitive.

But hey, look at it from Bud’s perspective: More bookies will watch broadcasts once they know gambling on the game by players and managers will ultimately go unpunished. There’s that spike in viewership he was looking for.

The NFL laughs.

I should say here I’m not a baseball fan. I enjoy watching the pennant races and World Series, since I know that’s when the players are actually playing like they mean it, much as the NBA’s only worth watching in the later playoff and championship rounds. I mean, a Cleveland – Memphis game in January brings out the best in nobody.

Another point for the NFL: There are only 16 games. Every one means a lot. Until the last two or three weeks of the year players play to win every single one, and there are usually so many competitive races for playoff spots it is rare to get a Bengals-Cardinals type of match where neither team gives much of a damn. It’s much more bracing than watching millionaires in their underwear jog half-speed through meaningless NBA games, or watch players in a Devil Rays or Tigers game late in the season try to avoid injury.

Should Pete Rose be reinstated and then automatically voted in the Hall of Fame? Hell no, not if baseball wants to hold on to any semblance of integrity whatsoever – which is Clubbeaux’s way of saying bet on it happening. Pete Rose would.

When others write your material for you…

Just got an e-mail from a most intelligent young Aussie, Joel, whom I knew in Istanbul. He offered a few additions to my list of everything I love about Australia, that absolutely smashing place where folks can evidently hale anyone from the U.S. they so please to stand trial on defamation charges in Victoria. Have I mentioned how wonderful Australians are, each and every single one of them? Good.

Anyway Joel (who like all Aussies has a wonderful, understanding sense of humour) doesn’t want Clubbeaux’s readers to miss out on some of the other attractions there in The Great South Land, and gosh I certainly don’t either:

Hey David,

Two issues:

Firstly, you missed the really juicy story, which is the story of the guy who just won this judgment. Joseph Gutnick is a right-wing Jew, who has bankrolled and campaigned on behalf of various far-right Israeli political parties. He is a devotee of some strange rabbi who told him he would find diamonds in Western Australia. Gutnick had a string of mining companies which were quite successful for a while, but the latest, Centaur Mining, is in administration with half a billion dollars down the drain on laterite nickel, and all the rest are now merely penny shares.

See what you get for taking investment advice from your rabbi?

Somehow though, Gutnick has survived financially, and apparently has extensive IT investments in Israel and Canada now.

And a new revenue source: Suing Americans.

Mr. Gutnick was also President of the Melbourne Football Club for a time. The Melbourne Football Club is traditionally the most prestigious club. As opposed to the working class origins of the other clubs, the Melbourne Footy Club’s traditional fan base are old money establishment types who drive Jags and Range Rovers.

Oh, like Oakland Raider fans here. Gotcha.

That a Jew with little football background could achieve this position was a testimony to his willingness to finance the club and put all his effort into it.

That Daniel Snyder…

Mr. Gutnick aside, I think you missed some critical achievements of Australians.

I try to criticize everything possible, sorry I missed something.

Three Nobel prizes for medicine (including Sir Howard Florey, one of the guys who discovered penicillin).

I guess Alexander Fleming had the better P.R. agent, huh?

Growth theory (partially developed by a Melbourne Uni Eco professor, it helps explain
the long-term factors which contribute to economic growth).

One of which, at least for artists, judging from your following comments about how many Australian artists live abroad is to get the hell out of Australia.

Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet, Strictly Ballroom). Rachel Griffiths. Heath Ledger. Naomi Watts. Lachlan Murdoch (Ha ha, he loses his dad’s shareholders a couple of hundred million here, so they shunt him off to NY to run Fox TV). Geoffrey Robertson QC (one of the most eminent lawyers in the commonwealth). Geoffrey Rush. Toni Collette.

Not Geoffrey Collette? Baz: Nickname for “Bruce.”

In fact, a disproportionate share of the directors, screenwriters, actors and producers in Hollywood are Australians, many more than even we hear about in Australia.

Really should get your TV reception fixed.

Melbourne is also the world’s third largest theatre city, after New York and London, and on a per capita basis, the world’s most theatrical city.

Which means they get the third runs of Rent.

Australia has won more medals per capita than any other country in at least the last three Olympic games, if not further back.

Is that counting Ian Thorpe?

The Australian Institute of Sport is one of the most successful sports training institutions in the world. Australia has contributed a disproportionate number of world class tennis players over the years as well.

As well as a disproportionate number of members of the Australian national cricket and rugby sides.

More Greeks live in Melbourne than in any other city in the world except Athens.

This is a selling point? More Jews live in New York than in Jerusalem, more Irish than in Dublin, probably more Aussies than in Melbourne.

Australia has successfully made a fifty-year transition from being an Anglo-Celtic nation with a dispossessed indigenous minority to a nation home to migrants from all over the world.

Again, this is an accomplishment?

Australia produced at least one other Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Patrick White (We could have more, I’m not sure).

Neither is anyone else. Ten points for anyone who can say whether White’s a novelist, poet, dramatist, short story writer or Paul Hogan’s Subaru ad writer.

Melbourne is home to not one, but two of the world’s best medical schools. Australian scientists are on the forefront of medical research in relation to cancer, reproduction, and many other areas.

So, outside of Melbourne, does the country exist?

Australia has the highest per-capita concentration of McDonald’s in the world.

Insert your own cultural punch line here.

Melbourne was home to one of the world’s first computers (CSIRAC) in 1949. It’s in the Melbourne Museum now.

Where it’s still used to do payroll, that is, until it went on the fritz... anyone have some vacuum tubes to spare?

Melbourne is home to both the Southern Hemisphere’s largest car park (Chadstone), largest shopping centre (Either Chadstone or Northland, depending on which was most recently extended), and largest nightclub (QBH).

And let’s not forget, of course, most of the world's uninhabitable waste land and The Giant Pineapple.

Australia has produced many of the world’s best cricket players.

And I’ll have you know Kansas has produced some of the world’s fastest corn huskers.

The Australian Cricket team has been the top team internationally now for about the last fifteen years. The English team are touring here this summer.

The English... known in Australia as the whinging poms?

To paraphrase a commentator on TV the other week, they would have trouble winning against the Methodist Ladies College under 12s.

The commentator was more, what, gracious?

The Australian Tennis Open is a Grand Slam event.

Well, the French have one of those too, so I wouldn’t say that too loudly.

In TV, Neighbours is watched by more people in England every day than there are people in Australia.

Which says what about what? Is this another slam against the English?

Dozens of successful US movies are filmed, edited and produced in Australia every year as well. All the Matrix movies,

There’s something to change the national anthem for.

Scooby Doo, and a whole bunch of other US movies are made here because of lower costs, more flexible staff and more simple locations.

”Scooby Doo, where are you mate? Eating Vegemite? Good on yer, have a beer!” So instead of spaghetti Westerns, those oaters shot in Italy for a few decades we now have kangaroo movies.

I’ll skip music, but there are dozens of other Australian musicians who have had international success as well.

I’ve run over them: AC/DC, Air Supply – who says Australian music doesn’t exhibit range?

Film finance funding isn’t actually funding, it consists of tax breaks for investors in locally produced films, and for foreign film makers working in Australia.

Ah, so now it’s “lower costs, more flexible staff and more simple locations” – and funding. You know, Lord Of the Rings was shot in New Zealand due to the overwhelmingly spectacular scenery…

Unfortunately, Australia has a history going back to the Harvester Judgment (1903?)

Now, it goes back further than that.

of government interference in the economy.

Oh. In that case, 1907.

Only in the last twenty years have many of the elements of the system been dismantled.

Anyway, I’ve continued on long enough. Australia is a great place,

Yes it is.

although it has its problems.

Yes it does.

It’s interesting to note that one of our greatest exports may be talent.

But Harry Houdini was the first person to fly a plane in Australia, so there.

The long roll call of successful Australians overseas testifies to both local success in nurturing talent and providing first-class education, and also a lack of opportunities

Read: dollars.

Sounds like a good tradeoff to me.

The Aussies hit on a good move: ABC’s reporting that the Greens in Canberra are claiming the Australian government’s review of the arts sector is part of a plan to cut spending and help pay for a war against Iraq.

Sounds like a good tradeoff. How any government ever got in the position of funding art in the first place is a mystery to me, but this sounds like as good a way as any to get out. According to the story the departments of treasury and finance will scrutinise arts institutions, including the National Museum and film funding bodies (?!), to determine whether taxpayers are getting value for money.

I can answer that in one word, of course, and it’s the word I generally use whenever someone wonders aloud if taxpayers are getting value for anything, but Greens Senator Bob Brown says it’s a worrying move, another good sign: “Look, this is a President Bush-led arts policy coming from Senator Alston. If you’re going to pay for the invasion of Iraq then you’ve got to slash spending in a wide range of areas and they’re starting with the arts. Look for more of it,” he said.

As Frank, a friend of mine said today, and I agree, “I’m all in favor of cutting funding for the arts. I’m not too crazy about paying bad artists whose definition of art is how much they can offend people like me.”

The problem with such an approach in America, of course, is that relatively speaking we don’t really spend that much money on the arts. Cutting the budget probably wouldn’t pay for more than a couple of smart bombs.

Frank has a better idea: “I think a better idea would be to export our artists to Iraq. Maybe a one-for-one tradeoff, our artists for their dissidents. And I think we should be generous and not limit it to people who need public funding. I mean, Barbra Streisand for pretty much anyone in Iraq would be a plus for us. Perhaps we could really give Saddam a good choice, offer to not bomb him if he’ll accept Martin Sheen or Alec Baldwin as his Foreign Minister. I suspect he’d take his chances with the bombs.”

December 10, 2002

Boy, what a difference $88 million makes.

Anna Nicole Smith before her $88 million award for being Pierce Marshall’s live-in hooker for fourteen months…

… and after. Hey when you’ve got a few mil why not grab that extra doughnut, huh?

Good. Now maybe he’ll go away.

Jimmy Carter accepted his Nobel Peace Prize after two decades of relentless campaigning for the award.

At the Nobel ceremony he informed the world that “war only breeds more war.” He’s right, too. Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 led to World War II which led to… well, gee, almost sixty years, now, of peace.

“For powerful countries to adopt a principle of preventative war may well set an example that can have catastrophic consequences," he said. One possible catastrophic consequence would be two-bit dictatorships getting the message that if they start causing trouble they’ll be blown to pieces and so might think twice about causing trouble, which would put a serious dent in the Carter Center’s headline and photo-op count.

But maybe now that he has that Nobel Peace Prize he’s advertised 25 years for, ever since he was snubbed in 1978 when his Camp David buddies Sadat and Begin won but he didn’t, he’ll do what other ex-presidents such as Gerald Ford do: Play golf with assorted fat cats at $10,000 a round.

Carter urged respect for the United Nations as an international forum for solving disputes, pointing to the U.N.’s long, proud record of successes, such as solving the Korean question peacefully back in 1951, restoring human rights to Cuba after Castro’s coup, halting the persecution of Christians in Iran, getting opposing warlords in Angola, Liberia and Lebanon to resolve their disputes peacefully, bringing a swift end to the bloodshed in Rwanda, averting a Russian invasion of Hungary, eliminating the dreary cycles of repression in Nigeria, Zaire and Sierra Leone, overseeing the bloodless breakup of Yugoslavia, finding a way for Algeria to avoid bloodshed, peacefully expelling Syria from Lebanon, halting the Sudanese enslavement of Christians, averting an Ethiopian famine, facilitating a peaceful transition for East Timor, ensuring the rights of white minorities in Zimbabwe, convincing Stroesser, Allende and Pinochet to negotiate peaceful settlements with their political opponents, sitting Britain down with Argentina to avoid a war in the Falklands, negotiating an agreement between peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling Burmese military junta, mediating a peaceful settlement between Britain and the IRA, peacefully settling the Biafran question, finding a way for FARC and the Columbian government to settle their dispute peacefully, averting a Russian invasion of Prague, halting the persecution of Christians in China, peacefully settling the Kashmir question, getting Turkey and Greece to agree on Cyprus, negotiating a peaceful solution to Ho Chi Minh’s demands in Vietnam, preventing Pol Pot’s plans to liquidate over a million Cambodians, ensuring the integrity of Tibet, solving the Tamils' dispute with Sri Lanka peacefully, bringing peaceful resolutions to Nicaragua and El Salvador to avoid bloodshed, averting a Russian invasion of Afghanistan, halting persecution of Falun Gong in China, heading off an Iran-Iraqi war, finding a workable solution in Palestine, averting a Russian invasion of Chechnya, ending the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia without American military action, kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait without American military action, ensuring the safety of Iraqi Kurds without unilateral American and British military action, forcing the Taliban out of Afghanistan without American military action and securing an agreement from al-Qaeda to resolve their disputes with the West peacefully.

After the ceremony and out of view of Carter, a small but vocal group of dissident Iranians denounced the former president's silence on human rights abuses in Iran, carrying a sign that said, "What have you done for Iran?" Ah, sorry, human rights activists in countries which do not choose to play by Carter’s rules, that’s your problem, Jimmy Carter has no answer for you.

During his address Tuesday, the Nobel chairman said not including Carter in the 1978 prize to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for the Camp David agreement Carter brokered was "one of the real sins of omission" in Nobel history.

Amen, brother. Had he gotten his Nobel then he very well might not have spent the next 25 years trotting around the world for photo-ops with smarmy thugs such as Sudan’s murdering Hassan al-Turabi and Bosnia’s genocidist Radovan Karadzic. Of course no agreement he made with either of them held for ten minutes, but no matter, it really impressed the Nobel Committee.

I love Aussies. Just love ‘em.

Clubbeaux wants to take this opportunity to let everyone know how much he admires, loves and values all the wonderful Australians of the world, their beautiful country and the many contributions Aussies, as those of us who greatly admire them like to call them, have given civilization.

This has nothing to do with the fact that the Australian high court has given an Aussie the right to sue an American publisher for defamation appearing in an Internet story. Clubbeaux simply feels it’s time this exemplary nation and its citizens receive their due as one of the bright lights of world culture.

Where would we be, after all, without Rupert Murdoch? Or Paul Hogan? Or Babe the talking pig? Or the blog Whacking Day? Or that guy who crawls around on his stomach badgering the world’s most poisonous snakes? Where would legions of would-be second-place finishers at The Masters and other major golf tournaments be without Greg Norman?

Not many people know that Australia has contributed a Nobel Prize-winning author to world literature – William Golding. Not many people know that he’s published books other than The Lord of the Flies, too. Not many people give a damn. Clubbeaux finds this neglect of Australian culture simply disgraceful.

But Australia’s contribution to world culture isn’t limited to one book and serving as the butt of approximately 72% of Monty Python’s humor – or “humour,” as our good friends the Aussies spell it. Oh no. There’s the aforementioned talking pig, there’s Crocodile Dundee now appearing in a Subaru ad near you, there’s AC/DC (rumour has it they’re on the shortlist for the next Kennedy Center honors), Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, whichever members of INXS are still alive, the bands Men Without Hats, Men At Work, Men Who Are In A Rock Band, as well as, of course, musical avatars Air Supply and The Little River Band.

But probably Australia’s best-known export to world culture is Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, the guy who sees how close he can get to poisonous snakes and lethal reptiles without dying. Where would the world be, Clubbeaux asks you, without Australia’s contributions to the art of irritating reptiles on TV? Or Nicole Kidman? Or Alby Mangel and his Travels With Large-Breasted Women? Or The Wiggles, whose greatest contribution to world culture may simply be to knock Barney off the air?

Take music. It’s hard for Clubbeaux to understand the world community’s acknowledging Mozart and Bach’s greatness while – almost criminally – ignoring AC/DC and “Waltzing Mathilda.”

In contemporary cinema there’s Mel Gibson, who was really born in New York; Russell Crowe and Sam Neill, both of whom are really New Zealanders but no matter, Australia clutched all three to its bosom after they achieved success, as they did with Olympic swimming champion Ian Thorpe, another New Zealander now proudly accepted as a true fair-dinkum Aussie after winning gold medals.

And of course, no discussion of Australian culture would be complete without the famous Giant Pineapple of Nambour, the World's Largest Pineapple:

Yes, and we haven’t even touched on Australia’s contributions to sport, such as yachting (Note to Americans: That’s the sport where the ultrarich see which boat sails least slowly. There is some sort of award with America’s name on it associated with the sport, we’ll let you know what it is once we find out ourselves.) or synonyms for vomit – more than any non-Slavic language, according to P.J. O’Rourke. Australia also has the ten most poisonous breeds of snakes and/or spiders in the world, loses prime ministers in the surf and recently hosted an Olympics.

Yes, it’s time the world appreciated the stunning richness of Australian culture and stopped publishing libelous, slanderous material about these wonderful folks whose hero is the notorious bandit and murderer Ned Kelly.

Aussies celebrating their culture.

December 09, 2002

A response to a response about the post below:

Sarah's in italics, David's in good Protestant bold:

I have just been re-reading your piece on Catholicism. Is it true that you are an ‘evangelical’ Protestant now (you say “All my life...” and then say “...I’d...” (past tense), so I remained unsure whether you were still evangelical or now just a plain ordinary Protestant, or whether the past tense was simply referring to your learning of Catholicism)? You still go to First Mennonite, right? I have never met any evangelical Mennonites - I’ve met evangelical Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Reformed, but never evangelical Mennonites.

Yes I’d call myself “evangelical,” although I’m afraid the term doesn’t have much objective meaning anymore. I first heard the word in college, before that I’d thought you just had your Christians and your non-Christians, I wasn’t aware that there were gradations of Christian, but I take “evangelical” to mean a Christian who adheres to the basics of the faith without being a “fundamentalist,” who despite incessant ignorant mischaracterizations are simply folks who hold to the five fundamentals of the faith as agreed upon at the 1893 Niagra Conference on Prophecy: inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, virgin birth and deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death (he died for your sins), his bodily resurrection from the dead and his literal return someday in the Second Advent.

I agree with all five points (if “inerrancy” is defined as inerrant in what is taught rather than what is said, a particularly vicious little internecine cat fight it’s not necessary to drag you into), but I enjoy wine and read non-Christian authors so I’m an “evangelical.” The babbling ignoranti who produce mass-circulation magazines and newspapers and people TV talk shows think “evangelical” and “snake-handlin’ fundamentalist” are interchangeable terms. Basically I take “evangelical” to mean “someone who actually believes it and and tries to live according to what you say you believe Sunday morning,” as opposed to the sort of liberal Christian who sees the Christian myth as one way of approaching the problems of social injustice and as opposed to the sort of Christian who believes God Himself dictated every word of the King James Bible.

Mennonites are a funny breed, I’m not an ethnic “Mennonite” the way Elijah and Prudence Yoder from Lancaster County are Mennonites, I’m a Christian who’s currently fellowshipping with the Mennonites since it’s where we feel we need to be now, and should we move to Austin or Boston we’ll not limit our search for a church to the Mennonites in the area, but might feel at home in a Baptist or Episcopalian church.

I am interested to hear what your audience has to say on the Catholicism issue I don’t know how broad your readership is here, but I would be that SOMEone’s going to forward it to someone else who’s going to get their knickers in a knot.

Knickers have been knotted, although I did receive an intelligent e-mail I’ll probably post an answer to.

And I am assuming that you have deliberately set out to provoke a reaction...

I didn’t post just to jerk Catholics’ chains, I posted it to try to explain why in Austin or Boston we wouldn’t consider a Catholic church in our search. Not that Catholics can’t be Christians (in the “evangelical” sense of really wanting to follow Jesus Christ’s call and live lives pleasing to him via the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit), many are, but the Catholic system is not set up to facilitate a person’s relationship with the living Christ, it’s designed to perpetuate the Church’s monopoly on intermediation between God and man and fit people into an earthly ecclesiastical structure where the important thing isn’t what you believe but what you say and do.

The recent scandals bother me greatly since if the Church chooses to arrogate to itself the belief that only the Roman communion offers a full and complete Christian life and that any Christians outside of Rome are by definition missing key ingredients for a complete relationship with Jesus (for one calling itself “The Church,” much like the University of Virginia calls itself “The University” as if no other worthwhile universities exist), and declares the Pope Christ’s vicar on earth and declares itself the (emphasis on “the”) body of Christ on earth, it should, well, act like it. Can you imagine Peter or Paul finding out that those facilitating house churches in first-century Palestine were molesting boys and demanding sex from young girls and saying “Well, I think your ministry in Jerusalem’s wrapping up, but there’s a church in Antioch which needs a good pastor, why don’t you go there?” Of course not.

I guess it really got to me when I moved to Fairfield County, Connecticut and joined a Baptist church. I head story after story after story from guys who met Christ only after they left the Catholic Church, and story after story after story from people who after a Catholic childhood wanted nothing whatsoever to do with God or Jesus in any form. One guy told me he’d been a Catholic for thirty years and had never once heard the Holy Spirit mentioned from the pulpit.

Do Protestants have their problems? Oh my yes. So why am I ragging on Catholics and saying the Church is beyond the pale? Because the whole idea of an earthly institution presuming to stand for the family of God is anathema to the proper Biblical teaching of what being a Christian is. The Bible does not teach that you are saved, put into right relationship with God by joining an earthly group and doing three of these and five of those and observing the group’s rituals and practices. It teaches that once you are saved, once you have made personal confession of faith you are a member of a spiritual group the family of God. Catholicism teaches that if you join the Catholic Church you’re a Christian. No, you’re not. You become a Christian first, then decide which church you want to join. That is the Protestant position, which I find to be the Scriptural one.

Just for the record, I am not a Catholic.

“Good Catlicks would think the Church is, well, not absolutely necessary - after all, wasn’t Father Feeney excommunicated for preaching that Protestants were not Christians? - but the best way. But friends, WHY BOTHER WITH ANY OF IT? Why require the panoply of observances and feast days and other such HUMAN accoutrements.”

For three reasons:

One, not everyone gets a good brain. Not everyone gets good parents to help improve the second-rate brain they did get. And not everyone gets to keep the brain they are given. So not everyone has the imagination to have a satisfying relationship with (their) god, simply because they do not have the capacity to do it on their own. It requires a certain rigor of thought to maintain a dialogue with an entity which is not actually responding in words (I am assuming here that people who have religious faith would agree that communication with their god is not a one-way street - even if one does not know what one’s god is saying or trying to say, to them or to the world at large. I have never heard a person of faith actually assert that their god does not communicate in some way), and it requires a good deal of brainpower to conceive of things like eternity or infinity or infinite goodness or even in the existence of Jesus Christ. I mean, if you think that Christ was actually begotten by a virgin and was born in a manger, you’ve got to have enough imagination to suspend belief in the physical and open yourself up to the mystical; and if you think that Christ was probably just a guy who had exceptional compassion and leadership, you’ve got to be able to imagine the historical context in which he lived, where one guy, without benefit of an iMac, could speak to large groups of people and hold their attention long enough to make it into the history books. Either way, it’s a lot to ask of someone who has difficulty just getting through 10th grade civics class. So the reason for observances and feast days and whatnot is to give people who do not have sufficient mental tools a framework for achieving transcendence, or just for seeing the whole ‘Wow, this thing is really bigger than just me and my own, often overwhelming, world - there is some magic here.’ And isn’t the ability to believe in some kind of ‘magic’ or ‘bigger than oneself’ idea the biggest reward - or, depending on how you look at it, the biggest pre-requisite - for faith?

See, it’s the whole deal about do you believe in God – functionally – or not. If you do believe in an omnipotent God who acts in human history you shouldn’t have much trouble with the Virgin Birth or other miracles. You don’t need “imagination” to buy into it, you just need to say “Well I have no idea how it could’ve happened but hey, I’m not God, and I’d wonder about a God I could understand.”

By the way, it’s the Gnostic heresy to suppose that those of greater intelligence somehow stand a better shot at finding a deeper relationship with God. The Bible teaches almost the opposite – the happiest Christians are the most childlike ones.

I’d say the Catholic reason for the feast days and observances and ritual and all is not to help the parishioners achieve transcendence – some might, more power to ‘em – but to impress on them their utter reliance on the offices of the Church. Look the first and overriding concern of the institution of Catholicism, as with any earthly institution, is to perpetuate itself. Its business is filling the human desire for a defined relationship with God, one which doesn’t impinge too much on the rest of your life. Humanity’s craving for food leads to the farm industry, humanity’s craving for clothes leads to the garment industry, humanity’s craving for escapism leads to the entertainment industry, humanity’s craving for God leads to the religious industry. So what’s the product? Earthly observances understandable to people and viewed by people as efficacious in meeting their desires to know that there’s a transcendent God out there and that they – the people – are doing what they should be doing to keep this God happy and to ensure heaven over hell when they die. That’s what Catholicism is, an earthly system designed by and for humans to sell answers people want to hear.

True Christianity does not require a “good brain,” believe me I could point to a few examples. God made all brains, He can reach all brains in ways He knows how. But again it all goes back to your presuppositions. If you assume religion’s a human construct and not divinely-inspired the Catholic Church starts looking quite sensible. If you assume religion is mankind’s attempt to understand a true God who loves them and sent Jesus to die for them so they might have life and have it more abundantly then Catholicism starts looking not only unnecessary and irrelevant but downright obstructionary.

Two, the Protestant god leaves you pretty much to your own devices. We would not expect people to understand the infinite nature of the physical universe without benefit of a few physics classes plus some mnemonic devices like songs about the periodic table of elements, or to keep thinking about the infinite nature of the physical universe without some continuing education courses - sure, some people can do the whole ‘independent learning’ thing, but many others would never have gotten a high school diploma if their principals hadn’t called their parents when they cut class. So why should we expect a person to continue to keep Jesus Christ front and center in their lives, why should we expect them to keep on actively thinking about their faith, without benefit of some handy mnemonic devices like observances and a little bit of structure like feast days?

In the Bible Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to help you in your daily walk with him. Catholics would argue, much as you do here, well, what’s the harm in it? What’s the problem with the rosary, it’s a quite nice mnemonic device. What’s the problem with praying to Mary or St. Jude or someone, they’re nice folks. What’s the problem with St. Aloysius Day or St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast or any of it? Isn’t it better to be thinking about St. Aloysius Gonzaga than Britney Spears? What’s the problem?

The problem is that it substitutes second best for first best. Here are your options for living the Christian life: You can trust that God wasn’t lying when He said He’d send the Holy Spirit. That leads you to learn to listen to God’s leading – and He’s promised if you’re listenin’ He’s talkin’ – and take steps of faith you don’t always understand.

Or, Option B, you can have some earthly authority spell the whole thing out for you, assuring you that yes, here’s what God wants you to do in solid, concrete terms: Pray the rosary, pray to his mother, attend Mass, contribute to the Church, go to confession, take the Eucharist, etc. etc. etc. In other words, you get what humans dearly love: A To-Do list with the rewards guaranteed. With Protestantism you’re supposed to clear the decks for God to come in and act in your life. You’re asked to trust the goodness of God since He rarely tells you in advance what’s going to happen.

But again it comes down to how you view God. If you view Him as an all-loving all-powerful father- who actually exists and is revealed in Jesus Christ, well, why not trust Him with your life? What better bet could you make? At that point praying to St. Jude or spending your time and energy on satisfying the Catholic requirements are nothing but diversions from what you really want. But if you don’t believe God’s promises, if you think well, gee, I have to figure this whole thing out for myself and I’m not going to get any real help from God, He’s just setting me a task and is waiting at the finish line to see how well I did, then of course you’re going to want someone else to give you the answer, which is what Catholicism does. It’s not so much that Catholicism’s pagan or explicitly anti-Jesus, it’s just that there’s so much else in there irrelevant to Jesus that he gets lost in the shuffle.

Three, the Catholic Church has long recognized the power of the group (or ‘mob’, depending on where you sit on this issue). Watch a bunch of British soccer fans for an hour, or a group of half-drunk 22-year-olds on a nightclub dancefloor, or even a cruise-ship-full of vacationing suburbanites when the water gets a little choppy, and you lose any doubts you may have had about some kind of mass-consciousness. I don’t pretend to know why large groups of people in highly-charged (positively or negatively) situations respond in a way that is greater than the sum of their parts, but respond they do. Nothing is more conducive to a satisfying religious experience than going through it with a bunch of people, whether it is your entire family sitting down for a Friday-night supper or a roomful of Pentecostals speaking in tongues. Do Pentecostal people speak in tongues when they are alone in their living rooms?

Many Pentecostals are given “prayer languages” by the Holy Spirit which they use when alone. I haven’t, I’d be open to it but it hasn’t happened. It’s not necessary, but I think it’s something God gives those whom He knows needs it.

Does a lone hockey fan smash a store window by himself when there are no other hockey fans in the vicinity? Of course not. Catholicism (along with lots and lots of other religions) has recognized that a whole bunch of people engaged in the same ritual at the same time is one heck of a powerful force.

Exactly. Protestantism observes the primacy of the individual, Catholicism stresses the corporate. Draw your own world political historical parallels with socialism and capitalism, etc.

A feast day or observance - neither of which is particularly restricted to Catholicism - is just another way to get a bunch of people on the same page at the same time, when Sunday morning from 10 to 11:30 is not quite enough. And when you get a bunch of people thinking and doing the same thing at the same time, well - there’s very little you can’t do, whether it’s changing public policy or simply raising money for your new stained-glass window.

Again, you’re right. In human terms I can’t argue with you. And I think Catholicism takes the human approach as opposed to the Godly approach on this line.

All this said, I haven’t directly answered your question about ‘Why do they make it compulsory?’ It’s compulsory the way going to school until you’re 16 is compulsory - only there isn’t an age limit, because people who spend their lives leading others in religion know that the minute you can say you’ve got the whole religion thing down pat is the minute you either go off the rails into the land of ‘evil’ or are able to keel over dead (and therefore pass into ‘heaven’) without any regrets on either side. Neither of which is particularly practical, because society doesn’t support ‘evil’ and if everyone who has achieved a level of transcendence gets to split for heaven, what will happen to the rest of us? We have to keep the ‘evil’ to a minimum, and the spiritually enlightened here among us for at least a while. We do that by making the whole religious-rituals thing compulsory for life, so that no one gets to say that they have ‘completed’ their learning.

Assuming that God does not exist, that the whole point of religion is to keep the masses properly opiated or at least thinking about what they should be thinking about instead of just wondering who to rape and pillage next you’re right. Were there no loving, personal God desirous of a personal relationship with His creation I’d say Catholicism is to be commended for the work it’s done keeping our barbaric human impulses in check. It’s like if you don’t really believe you’ll find True Love you’re quite content to stay in a functional and comfortable relationship. But if you do believe there is a God Who created you and loves you and wants a personal relationship with you, then Catholicism looks like one huge diabolical deception. If you do find True Love you can’t think about your past humdrum relationship, hi-dear and sex on Wednesdays without a shudder.

“Look, it’s not that Catholics can’t find Christ, it’s all about why tie blindfolds around your eyes and plug your ears in your search? Isn’t the point that it really isn’t you searching for Jesus, it’s Jesus searching for you? Catholicism strikes me as the perfect compromise for those who want the fire insurance of knowing they’re goin’ to Heaven and avoidin’ Hell by one of two avenues; either by identifying themselves as members or by working their way to Paradise by accumulating earthly Brownie points.”

Without going too deeply into this one, I have to say: This is a position taken by lots and lots of religious people of all kinds of faiths - there is no way that Catholicism has a lock on this kind of thing. Neither the tying of blindfolds nor the accumulation of earthly brownie points can be ascribed solely to Catholics, and I’d even argue quite strenuously that Catholicism isn’t even the worst offender, just possibly the more obvious to us because of the large numbers of Catholics in North America. I have been told, to my face, that I am going to burn in eternity by Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, United Church (low-dogma Protestant) people and even Mennonites, but I have never been told that by a Catholic.

Taking the last point first, probably because Catholics don’t believe in it any more. In the Catholic conception of Hell there’s, I don’t know, maybe Hitler down there, everyone else goes through greater or lesser stints in Purgatory and eventually all get to Heaven.

Catholicism used to have it pretty clearly spelled out, how many Brownie points you earned for this or that, for saying a Hail Mary or contributing to the construction of the new cathedral or whatever. Why else do you think the Pardoner was peddling indulgences to the other travelers to Canterbury? The idea was that all humans have x-weight of good works, you need x-score to get into heaven and Jesus has a limitless store of good works, so when you rented a relic John the Baptist’s hangnail or something long enough to rattle off a few prayers over, Jesus tossed x-number of good works from his account into yours, cutting the tally of how long you’d have to work through Purgatory from 56,892 days to 51,892 days and if you do it in Rome, well then the points are doubled and you’re down to 46,892 days. It’s not that medieval anymore, but I don’t think the underlying philosophy’s changed.

You’re right, Catholicism doesn’t have any monopoly on this, I believe Islam is very close to such a system. But imagine this: You go to a restaurant and ask for a roast beef sandwich with mashed potates and snap beans and gravy. They make it for you. At the end of the meal you walk out and you’re shocked, shocked when someone comes running after you brandishing a piece of paper with some number you’re supposed to pay? What? You’re shocked, right? No, you understand that in a restaurant you pay for your food, $6.95 for the Blue Plate Special, $7.45 for the Blue Plate Special with cole slaw and $14.90 for two Blue Plate Specials with cole slaw.

Now imagine going home and asking your mother for a roast beef sandwich with mashed potates and snap beans and gravy. She makes it for you. When you’re finished you pull eight dollars out and say thanks, keep the change and walk out, right? Wrong. She’s family, she’d be very, very insulted and hurt if she thought you assumed you had to pay for every good thing.

That’s Catholicism. The Bible teaches that you’re a member of God’s family, a son, a daughter. Catholicism teaches well yes, but you still have to pay for His love. Want more of His love? Say a few more novenas and Hail Marys and perform a few more acts of devotion and you will be a Better Child Of God with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereunto, both in this life and the next. There isn’t a more hateful way to eviscerate the true Gospel message of unconditional love and acceptance than the method of making you work for what God promises is granted freely.

It reminds me of a starving community in, oh, Sudan or somewhere. Everyone’s starving. U.N. says right, let’s help, and drop off six truckloads of free rice for everyone. Great, free food for all. But a group rushes the sacks of free rice and say no, you have to work for it. For every hour of work you get one cupful of rice, every time you say something bad about the U.N. you have to work three hours for a cupful of rice, we get all the rice we want, if you want to buy the rice here’s the price sheet, now get to work. This actually happens, it explains America’s involvement in Somalia.

That is exactly what Catholicism has done with God’s free grace and offer of forgiveness for any who come to confess their sins and His desire for a father-child relationship. Catholicism has said oh, you want some of God’s forgiveness and love? Go to confession, say these Hail Marys and Pater Nosters, perform good works (we’ll tell you what qualifies) and we’ll spoon some grace your way. It’s a cabal building a fence around the oasis in the desert and charging admission. The oasis is free. The U.N. rice is free. God’s love and grace and forgiveness is free. Humans, however, see an opportunity to charge money for what should be free for all.

I’m not a Socialist, some things shouldn’t be free for all. Yet God has declared that His love and mercy and grace are free for all since they’re essential to life. Catholicism says well yes, they are essential for life, so join our church, follow our rules, jump through our hoops, contribute to our coffers and we’ll see that you get some of these free things.

I appear to be making a case for Catholics here - I am not. I don’t have much truck with any of this kind of thing, but there is a reason we have religious choices: Everyone needs something slightly different out of religion, and while I agree with very little of it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never really understand anyone else’s spiritual needs sufficiently to prescribe the machinations of their faith.

No, I understand you’re not making a case for Catholicism per se, but as a non-believer yourself you naturally think of religion the way Catholicism does. It makes sense to you – it’s a way for people to arrive at some sort of belief system about God, and it’s predicated on the sort of human values we naturally assume if God is thought of as a Super-Human projection – He likes those who work harder for him, nothing’s free, etc.

It’s evangelical Protestantism which doesn’t make sense to you since that requires a belief in a loving, personal God from whom you are separated by sin and a belief that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection are means by which your separation from God is bridged, and that such atonement is free and open to all and that God loves us as family and that God deals with us as individually as a father deals with his different children. If you believed that you’d be a Protestant, and then if you saw this loving, gracious God Who saved you for no other reason than that He created you and He loves you and He wants you to have the best life possible and Who really, really wants to spend time with you the way a father really wants to spend time with his children; if you saw this God Whom you know being depicted as the sort of God who demanded Hail Marys and purgatory and selling food to his hungry children, it’d piss you off too.