Friday, February 10, 2012

A Dangerous Fraud

This is one I was gonna stay out of—Romney, religion and the catastrophe known as the Republican party.

Romney said, among his eruption of histrionic sputterings , thatWe must have a president who is willing to protect America’s first right, our right to worship God.” The Obama administration's rule on requiring insurance coverage for contraception by religious institutions selling to the public (and accepting government funding) was the precipitous event for this absurd claim.

Romney's assertion is spurious in at least two ways. First, nothing in the insurance ruling attacks anyone's right to worship anything. Second, to claim that an institution such as, say the University of Southern California has different responsibilities than UCLA is bizarre.

But Romney's worst transgression was to willfully insert religion into the political discourse, as though one brand of it gives its members a privileged status unavailable to everyone else.

When Romney tossed his oversized hat in the ring, my first thought was to wish he would be considered, not as the Mormon candidate, but as the candidate who happened to be Mormon, just as JFK wanted to be the American presidential candidate who happened to be Catholic.

But Kennedy didn’t interject his religion into the debate. Romney did. This callow, vainglorious husk of a man, this obnoxious fraud, is no more fit to be president of the United States than a street drunk shilling for spare change or a dime bag.

Let’s look at his Mormon faith, a massive hoax built on a foundation of deceit and frauds. Its founder, Joseph Smith, returned home after a day on the woods and claimed to have seen two personages in a pillar of light, one who claimed to be God and the other, Jesus. Smith was fifteen at the time and no one believed him. A few years later, in 1823, he claimed that a heretofore unknown angel named Moroni appeared to him and disclosed the existence of two golden tablets, buried under a tree, written in an unknown tongue along with a translation key known only to Smith.

The plates contained a history of the “former” inhabitants of the American continent and that Jesus had delivered the gospel to them in person. Oh?  Among these claims was that indigenous people of the American continent were really a Lost Tribe of Israel, having migrated here and being led by a man named Lehi who fled Jerusalem in 600 B.C. An ancient American named Mormon condensed this bizarre history and inscribed it onto the golden tablets. Later, he divulged all of this to his son, Moroni, who was somehow transmogrified into an angel.

That Smith was a fraud and a con artist is enshrined in New York State court records.  He was arrested for fraud and brought before the court on March 20, 1826, claiming he could divine the existence of hidden coins by looking at a certain stone. It was not long afterwards that he fled New York, frauds and necromancers not being particularly welcome after fleecing the locals.

 Nonetheless, Smith’s claim of translating ”ancient” and unknown Egyptian tongue of the golden tablets, despite his being illiterate, is accepted by Mormons, including the insufferable Mr. Romney. So that no one unworthy could see the purported tablets, Smith placed a curtain between himself and the transcriber. The tablets, of course, disappeared, having been claimed by an angel.

And Romney believes this? The Republican Party of America will serious allow this insufferable pig to be its nominee?

So, what else do Mormons claim? Smith said the moon was inhabited by people six feet tall, dressed like Quakers and lived to be 1,000 years old. The gulf stream existed because the city of Enoch was lifted from the Gulf of Mexico before the time of Abraham. The planet Kolob exists, well, somewhere up there, and is where God lives. This is contained in the Book of Abraham, which the illiterate and criminal Joseph Smith translated from some Egyptian scrolls he purchased at a carnival but have since been proved to be fakes.

Mormons believe in the ghoulish practice of baptizing corpses. High schoolers are forced into “divine” revelations before going on bicycle missions. I can go on. Google the Book of Nephi. The list of preposterous, damaging, cultish, totalitarian features of this monstrous fraud is mind-boggling.

In my lifetime, Mormons believed that black people were an accursed race and denied entry into the priesthood, which comes from the (male) laity. Hamites, in the fundamentalist tradition. In 1978, Mormon President Spencer Kimball, following the national upheaval in civil rights, had a convenient revelation that blacks should be admitted to Mormon priesthood. Oh, gosh.

To its credit, Mormonism denies the virgin birth of Jesus. For this apostasy, Christian fundamentalists term them as a cult. Indeed.

Nothing explicit or inferential in the Obama administration's rule protecting women's reproductive rights infringes on Romney's right to believe this hokum. Yet Romney, incredibly, claims the moral authority to declare what's right, that women taking birth control pills somehow impacts his right to baptize dead people or dispatch boys on bikes to peddle salvation.

The caricature of a human being must be exposed for the threat he poses to humanist society. This is not someone with whom a virtuous person must simply disagree. He, and all his ilk, must be stopped and channeled back under the excrementous rock from which they poked their ugly heads.  They have no place in American political discourse.

P.S. Santorum, you're next.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Side Streets of Istanbul

In America, it’s Main Street versus Wall Street.  In Istanbul, it’s Main Street versus Side Street.

Don’t get me wrong. Main drags are really important. You have to use them to get wherever you meant to go.  E.g., how can you get to the Arc d’ Triomphe without using the Champs d’ Elysees?

In Istanbul, the same rule pretty much applies. Unfortunately for visitors, streets often change names every block or so. Fortunately, main streets are paved, while the less traveled streets are cobbled. Unfortunately, get a cab driver into an unfamiliar neighborhood, and he’s as lost as you are.  Inshallah.
Side Street in Sariyer Neighborhood

Fortunately, most of what visitors want to see is all pretty close. From the Hippodrome, you could almost throw a rock and hit the Blue Mosque, the Cisterns, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia. The Grand Bazaar is only a couple of Metro stops away, just off—you guessed it—the main street.

But side streets dangle off the main road like Christmas ornaments. When I walk down the main streets of Istanbul, I linger at nearly every corner to gaze down the twisty, cobbled, side streets that snake away and disappear into some mysterious end. Cramped buildings with engaging shops and cafes rise into five or six stories of balconied apartments whose occupants could reach across the street and shake hands. Their sort of Four-square, sort of Craftsman, sort of Edwardian, sort of French, sort of Dutch Colonial, but totally Ottoman architecture are tales from some dusty book.
Side Street in Taksim Square

The guidebooks don’t say much about side streeets. Ask a Turk, and you’ll get a palms-up, Inshallah response, which is not so much religious as it is to say, “Who can know these things and if it matters, it’s lost on me and should be on you, because if it mattered it would be in your guidebook and I would know but I don’t.”

In my life, I have always gravitated to side streets. Most people keep to the main road, the Rue Principale, and why not? If you want to get someplace, that’s the way you go. Admittedly, side streets often don’t advertise much and staying too long on them could be a waste of time, especially when you have more to do and see than hours available.

What’s to gain? Most of us pretty much have what we want most—food and shelter, good friends, significant others. Stuff we love. Tolerable work. Time off.  Sure, there could be more. We might want a Mercedes, but a Toyota will do. Having that Mercedes won’t change us all that much, we seem to accept.
An Entrance to the Grand Bazaar--The Mother of All Side Streets

And having pretty much what you want is a big part of happiness. Stick to the main paths toward the goals you’re supposed to have set, stay determined and focused, and chances are that you will attain an acceptable level of happiness.

But the side streets? Linger there, and you suspect, if only for a moment, that maybe you want something you can’t have. That somewhere along the line, life has sold you something that maybe you didn’t want to buy, and maybe you don’t quite want to close the deal.

Which, I guess, is the inherent worth of side streets’ distraction: No matter where you are right now, no matter what you think, you have your imagination. What’s snuggled inside some dark alley, whatever mystery lies concealed behind some nameless door, is always out there.

For me, to steal from Frost: That has made all the difference.

The Passages in the Grand Bazaar are a spaghetti of Side Streets