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Sieg Heil!

Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, gave me one more reason to dislike the pledge of allegiance. Take a gander at the original gesture for saluting the flag:


Dale’s smarter than I am, but I’m not going to take just his word for it. This set off my urban-legend alarms, so to keep up my skeptic street cred, I had to look for another source. I found a FoxNews article to corroborate Dale’s fishy story:

The original gesture when reciting the Pledge was not the current right hand held over the heart, but the “Roman salute” — a movement of the right hand away from the heart until it pointed away from the body. That fell out of favor when the Fascists in Italy and later the Nazis in Germany adopted the same salute.…

In 1942, soon after America entered World War II, Congress officially endorsed the Pledge of Allegiance and instituted the current hand-over-heart gesture.

To be fair, we used the straight-arm salute first, so they’re the copycats. :P

Actually, if you prefer your history with a hint of conspiracy theory, Rex Curry has a lot to say and provides some provocative visual aids:

[girl scout porn]

I bet fewer people would be complaining about the Boy Scout uniform if more girls like Kate had been in their troop. (There’s more of Kate in her uniform, if you dare.)

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The Kingdom of God is Within You

A prescient Charlie Chaplin on the hope for a better world. (via Truthdig)

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Citizenship Test

I’ve always heard how most native-born U.S. citizens would fail the citizenship test given to immigrants. I decided to put myself to the test: am I worthy of my U.S. citizenship? The questions for the test are always drawn from the following 100. I’ve highlighted the ones I got wrong.

  1. What are the colors of our flag?
  2. How many stars are there in our flag?
  3. What color are the stars on our flag?
  4. What do the stars on the flag mean?
  5. How many stripes are there in the flag?
  6. What color are the stripes?
  7. What do the stripes on the flag mean?
  8. How many states are there in the Union?
  9. What is the 4th of July?
  10. What is the date of Independence Day?
  11. Independence from whom?
  12. What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?
  13. Who was the first President of the United States?
  14. Who is the President of the United States today?
  15. Who is the vice-president of the United States today?
  16. Who elects the President of the United States?
  17. Who becomes President of the United States if the President should die?
  18. For how long do we elect the President?
  19. What is the Constitution?
  20. Can the Constitution be changed?
  21. What do we call a change to the Constitution?
  22. How many changes or amendments are there to the Constitution?
  23. How many branches are there in our government?
  24. What are the three branches of our government?
  25. What is the legislative branch of our government?
  26. Who makes the laws in the United States?
  27. What is the Congress?
  28. What are the duties of Congress?
  29. Who elects the Congress?
  30. How many senators are there in Congress?
  31. Can you name the two senators from your state?
  32. For how long do we elect each senator?
  33. How many representatives are there in Congress?
  34. For how long do we elect the representatives?
  35. What is the executive branch of our government?
  36. What is the judiciary branch of our government?
  37. What are the duties of the Supreme Court?
  38. What is the supreme court law of the United States?
  39. What is the Bill of Rights?
  40. What is the capital of your state?
  41. Who is the current governor of your state?
  42. Who becomes President of the United States if the President and the vice-president should die?
  43. Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
  44. Can you name thirteen original states?
  45. Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”?
  46. Which countries were our enemies during World War II?
  47. What are the 49th and 50th states of the Union?
  48. How many terms can the President serve?
  49. Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
  50. Who is the head of your local government?
  51. According to the Constitution, a person must meet certain requirements in order to be eligible to become President. Name one of these requirements.
  52. Why are there 100 Senators in the Senate?
  53. Who selects the Supreme Court justice?
  54. How many Supreme Court justice are there?
  55. Why did the Pilgrims come to America?
  56. What is the head executive of a state government called?
  57. What is the head executive of a city government called?
  58. What holiday was celebrated for the first time by the Americans colonists?
  59. Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?
  60. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
  61. What is the basic belief of the Declaration of Independence?
  62. What is the national anthem of the United States?
  63. Who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner?
  64. Where does freedom of speech come from?
  65. What is a minimum voting age in the United States?
  66. Who signs bills into law?
  67. What is the highest court in the United States?
  68. Who was the President during the Civil War?
  69. What did the Emancipation Declaration do?
  70. What special group advises the President?
  71. Which President is called the “Father of our country”?
  72. What Immigration and Naturalization Service form is used to apply to become a naturalized citizen?
  73. Who helped the Pilgrims in America?
  74. What is the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?
  75. What are the 13 original states of the U.S. called?
  76. Name 3 rights of freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
  77. Who has the power to declare the war?
  78. What kind of government does the United States have?
  79. Which President freed the slaves?
  80. In what year was the Constitution written?
  81. What are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution called?
  82. Name one purpose of the United Nations?
  83. Where does Congress meet?
  84. Whose rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
  85. What is the introduction to the Constitution called?
  86. Name one benefit of being citizen of the United States.
  87. What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens?
  88. What is the United States Capitol?
  89. What is the White House?
  90. Where is the White House located?
  91. What is the name of the President’s official home?
  92. Name the right guaranteed by the first amendment.
  93. Who is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military?
  94. Which President was the first Commander in Chief of the U.S. military?
  95. In what month do we vote for the President?
  96. In what month is the new President inaugurated?
  97. How many times may a Senator be re-elected?
  98. How many times may a Congressman be re-elected?
  99. What are the 2 major political parties in the U.S. today?
  100. How many states are there in the United States today?

93% isn’t too bad. Now I don’t feel like such a big schmendrick for having my citizenship handed to me.

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Trim the Bush!

I thought about writing on the separation of church and state in honor of the U.S. Independence Day, but then I thought to myself “I’ve got bigger fish to fry: George W. Bush and the unconstitutional abuse of his position in the Executive Branch.

This Presidency has had so many scandals, it’s impossible to remember them all. It seems like there’s a new major scandal every other week. Just this week, he commuted the prison sentence of one of his loyalists who maliciously outed a CIA agent. This is the same man who denied clemency to a mentally retarded man sentenced to death in Texas. This is the same man who indefinitely detains chauffeurs and cooks who pose no obvious threat.

It is time for me to add my voice to the chorus calling for the impeachment and removal of George W. Bush. Let me quote the charges set against him:

1. Seizing power to wage wars of aggression in defiance of the U.S. Constitution, the U.N. Charter and the rule of law; carrying out a massive assault on and occupation of Iraq, a country that was not threatening the United States, resulting in the death and maiming of over one hundred thousand Iraqis, and thousands of U.S. G.I.s.

2. Lying to the people of the U.S., to Congress, and to the U.N., providing false and deceptive rationales for war.

3. Authorizing, ordering and condoning direct attacks on civilians, civilian facilities and locations where civilian casualties were unavoidable.

4. Instituting a secret and illegal wiretapping and spying operation against the people of the United States through the National Security Agency.

5. Threatening the independence and sovereignty of Iraq by belligerently changing its government by force and assaulting Iraq in a war of aggression.

6. Authorizing, ordering and condoning assassinations, summary executions, kidnappings, secret and other illegal detentions of individuals, torture and physical and psychological coercion of prisoners to obtain false statements concerning acts and intentions of governments and individuals and violating within the United States, and by authorizing U.S. forces and agents elsewhere, the rights of individuals under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

7. Making, ordering and condoning false statements and propaganda about the conduct of foreign governments and individuals and acts by U.S. government personnel; manipulating the media and foreign governments with false information; concealing information vital to public discussion and informed judgment concerning acts, intentions and possession, or efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction in order to falsely create a climate of fear and destroy opposition to U.S. wars of aggression and first strike attacks.

8. Violations and subversions of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, both a part of the “Supreme Law of the land” under Article VI, paragraph 2, of the Constitution, in an attempt to commit with impunity crimes against peace and humanity and war crimes in wars and threats of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq and others and usurping powers of the United Nations and the peoples of its nations by bribery, coercion and other corrupt acts and by rejecting treaties, committing treaty violations, and frustrating compliance with treaties in order to destroy any means by which international law and institutions can prevent, affect, or adjudicate the exercise of U.S. military and economic power against the international community.

9. Acting to strip United States citizens of their constitutional and human rights, ordering indefinite detention of citizens, without access to counsel, without charge, and without opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention, based solely on the discretionary designation by the Executive of a citizen as an “enemy combatant.”

10. Ordering indefinite detention of non-citizens in the United States and elsewhere, and without charge, at the discretionary designation of the Attorney General or the Secretary of Defense.

11. Ordering and authorizing the Attorney General to override judicial orders of release of detainees under INS jurisdiction, even where the judicial officer after full hearing determines a detainee is wrongfully held by the government.

12. Authorizing secret military tribunals and summary execution of persons who are not citizens who are designated solely at the discretion of the Executive who acts as indicting official, prosecutor and as the only avenue of appellate relief.

13. Refusing to provide public disclosure of the identities and locations of persons who have been arrested, detained and imprisoned by the U.S. government in the United States, including in response to Congressional inquiry.

14. Use of secret arrests of persons within the United States and elsewhere and denial of the right to public trials.

15. Authorizing the monitoring of confidential attorney-client privileged communications by the government, even in the absence of a court order and even where an incarcerated person has not been charged with a crime.

16. Ordering and authorizing the seizure of assets of persons in the United States, prior to hearing or trial, for lawful or innocent association with any entity that at the discretionary designation of the Executive has been deemed “terrorist.”

17. Engaging in criminal neglect in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, depriving thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and other Gulf States of urgently needed support, causing mass suffering and unnecessary loss of life.

18. Institutionalization of racial and religious profiling and authorization of domestic spying by federal law enforcement on persons based on their engagement in noncriminal religious and political activity.

19. Refusal to provide information and records necessary and appropriate for the constitutional rigt of legislative oversight of executive functions.

20. Rejecting treaties protective of peace and human rights and abrogation of the obligations of the United States under, and withdrawal from, international treaties and obligations without consent of the legislative branch, and including termination of the ABM treaty between the United States and Russia, and rescission of the authorizing signature from the Treaty of Rome which served as the basis for the International Criminal Court.

There can be only one explanation for why this war criminal hasn’t been run out of town: the non-existence of an opposition. So there’s a group that calls themselves the Democratic Party, but so far they’ve shown as much spine as your average cephalopod. I hope they manage to find some spine before permanent damage is done to the rule of law and to our liberties. Pick one of his crimes and make it stick.

It’s enough to make me long for the days when the President got a little oral sex on the side and then lied about it to a grand jury, back when we just speculated that the President’s private character might reflect on his public service.

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Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the ideals of the United States of America,
And to the republic by which they are upheld,
One nation, indivisible, with liberty, opportunity, and justice for all.

It strikes me as backward that the citizens of my home country pledge allegiance first to a piece of cloth symbolizing the United States, second to the republic which is assumed to have liberty and justice for all. This promotes a kind of shallow patriotism for symbols and institutions which can easily be corrupted to become nationalism.

Our allegiance would be better placed with the ideals of liberty and justice and only secondarily to the republic of the United States. We have seen recently how the republic has been perverted. The executive branch uses the authoritarian tactics of ubiquitous surveillance, torture, restriction of liberty, and so forth in the name of public security. The republic itself is only a tool to promote liberty and justice. When that tool fails to fulfill its purpose, we are duty-bound to either reform the tool or, if that proves impossible, to discard it in favor another tool which will serve our purposes. I hope that the adapted pledge above embodies well placed allegiance.

I am sure many religious readers will be upset by the omission of the words “under God”. They may perceive this as an attack on the religious values of the people of the United States. The reality is that this is the opposite of the truth. Our great nation was founded by men who were wise enough to create a separation between the religious and political powers. This protects the church from the tyranny and corruption of the state, and the state from undue influence by the church. Our Founding Fathers created a secular state (i.e. a state with no power to discourage or promote religion) in order to protect the free exercise of its citizens’ consciences. Removing the words “under God” is an acknowledgment of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in creating a secular state where the people are free to be Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, to have no religion at all, or whatever else their consciences may dictate without the threat of state oppression.

Additionally, the words “under God” were only added in the middle of the 20th century. The pledge of allegiance hasn’t contained that language for over half of its history. Removing the religious language in the current pledge is a correction, reverting it to its original, secular state.

The adaptation quoted at the beginning of this post was intended to preserve the familiar cadence of the current pledge. It should be easy to recite this adaptation in place of the current pledge. The following adaptation however is more in line with what I see as the ideal pledge, but it doesn’t have the same singsong rhythm we learned as schoolchildren. I prefer it anyway because it embodies more closely what I think is great about the United States of America.

I pledge allegiance to the ideals of liberty, opportunity, and justice for all;
And to the republic by which they are upheld,
One nation, indivisible, a home for the noble free.

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