Archive for the “Off-Topic” Category

Posts having nothing to do with the topic of this blog

Screenshot from Twitter, via the Torrington Register Citizen (http://www.registercitizen.com/articles/2013/03/20/news/doc51493e14b1a0a944806262.txt)I’m marking this post as “off-topic,” even though I’ve blogged a number of times about misogyny — mostly because it lies at the heart of many religions. That said, it’s often found elsewhere, and is certainly not solely a religious problem.

Most of you know by now about the Steubenville, OH rape case which made headlines over the last few months and for which a trial was just concluded (WebCite cached article). This case was a long and disgusting parade of bad behavior by many people in and around Steubenville: Kids who sent pictures of the incident, and even video commentaries on it, to each other; bullying of the victim; conspiracies to cover up what happened; football coach Reno Saccoccia threatening a reporter (cached); intervention — on the victim’s behalf — of the Internet group Anonymous; and many more examples of hideously bad behavior.

Among the problems has been that the perpetrators have been defended by a chorus of folks, locals and others alike, who presume that the victim was responsible for the rape, since she partied with football players and got drunk. In other words, she had “asked for it.” At times, even media outlets seemed to have more sympathy for the rapists than for the victim (cached).

Another point that’s been frequently made, is that high school football is “king” in Steubenville, a place where football players are revered and granted hallowed status, given carte blanche to do as they wish. The implication is that Steubenville is one of those rare places where this sort of thing could happen.

I’m sorry to report, however, the idea that this is a localized, unique phenomenon, turns out not to be true at all. A very similar situation is playing out unnervingly close to me, in Torrington, CT, as the Torrington Register Citizen has diligently reported over the last several days (cached):

As international media scrutiny fell on Torrington, police confirmed Wednesday that charges against two 18-year-old Torrington High School football players, as well as an unidentified 17-year-old city male, stemmed from the alleged sexual assaults of two 13-year-old girls.

Both Joan Toribio, 330 Highland Ave., and Edgar Gonzalez, 18, of the same address, but different apartments, have pleaded not guilty to felony charges of sexual assault and two charges of risk of injury to a minor. Toribio is charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault, while Gonzalez is charged with one.

Before the story gained media attention, it had already created a storm of controversy within the school community. Students flocked to social media in the days surrounding the arrests of Gonzalez and Toribio, with several students offering support for the two football players and others blaming the victims for causing the incident. References included calling a 13-year-old who hangs around with 18-year-olds a “whore,” and claiming the victims “destroyed” the lives of the players.

The RC, to its credit, actually published the full contents — including names! — of kids who’d posted comments on the Internet deriding the victim and supporting the accused rapists (cached).

Similarities between these cases are rather obvious, especially since Anonymous has gotten involved with the Torrington incident (cached):

Twitter users from around the country — including some affiliated with the hacktivist group Anonymous — reacted Wednesday morning to allegations of sexual assault and victim-bullying at Torrington High School.…

Anonymous, the online group of hackers and activists, have begun to take up the Torrington case as their latest cause. In the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, also involving football players, Anonymous members dug up Youtube videos, tweets, public records and hacked private files to post a Wikileaks-style dossier of information, pushing the rape into the public eye. They called that “operation,” #OpRollRedRoll.

“#OpRaider is the new #OpRollRedRoll,” tweeted @YourAnonNews late Wednesday night, refering to the high school’s mascot, the Red raiders. “Torrington better take note of #Steubenville because they’re about to go on blast. #endrapeculture”

YourAnonNews is one of the larger news distribution accounts for Anonymous members.

(For benefit of those not native to northwest Connecticut, Torrington High School’s athletic teams are “the Raiders.”)

One of the worst parts about this case is how Torrington school officials have reacted to it:

“If you look at crime statistics these things happen everywhere and we’re not any different than any other community,” said [Athletic Director Mike] McKenna.

Even though the 13-year-olds went along with what happened, that doesn’t make it right. This is statutory rape, plain and simple. 18 year old men know they aren’t supposed to do what they’ve been accused of.

What’s worse, the school, and football coach Dan Dunaj (who’s since resigned) allowed Gonzalez to play last year, in spite of felony and misdemeanor charges against him based on a March 2012 incident. (He claims not to have been aware of them. Yeah right.) Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko referred everyone to the aforementioned McKenna.

Yeah, these people are a wonderful crew who really care about the victims … Not!

That Kloczko, the Torrington school system’s chief, sloughed off this affair to her athletic director … after having ordered him and the rest of the school system to silence on the matter (cached) … is the pinnacle of cowardice. If she refuses to discuss the case, she should at least have the fortitude to take reporters’ calls and tell them, “No comment,” instead of avoiding them entirely and using her employees to wall herself off from the world.

On the whole, I’m not surprised at any of this. I’m not surprised a couple of 18-year-old high school football players decided to have sex with 13-year-olds despite knowing it’s illegal to do so. I’m not surprised a bunch of kids in their school are defending them and targeting the victim for having reported the incident. I’m not surprised there are Torringtonians — kids and adults — who figure that “boys will be boys” and that statutory rape is all just a normal part of growing up, or worse, that the victims “wanted it,” so it shouldn’t be illegal. I’m not surprised the folks who run the school system are acting like sniveling little cowards and avoiding having to give any answers.

Really, I’m not surprised at any of this. Nor should you be. Why? Because we’re seeing simple human nature at play.

It’s inevitable that teens will misbehave. It goes without saying it will happen. The point is, how do people deal with it, when it does? An honorable school system and community would admit the wrongdoing occurred, would comfort and help the victims, discipline the perpetrators, and stop the perpetrators’ defenders. Unfortunately, all of these things require something very few human beings have: Courage. When faced with unpleasantness, it’s much easier to deny it than to accept that it occurred. It’s much easier to bully victims than to provide them help and support. It’s much easier to let juvenile delinquents stay delinquent, than to do the work of disciplining them. It’s just so much easier to act as if nothing went wrong, and that by having brought the incident to people’s attention, the victims are actually the perpetrators, rather than the other way around.

In general, human beings are cowardly and lazy, always preferring “the easy way out” to getting off their asses and doing what needs to be done. Bullies — including teen bullies — are by nature intimidating people, and most folks, even school personnel, prefer to avoid confrontation; so they cast a blind eye toward bullying and act as though there’s nothing wrong with it.

As for the idea that the intense coverage of this case somehow is doing a disservice to Torrington, and that it’s all just so unfair … well, that’s just whiny crybaby talk. The cold fact is that all of this happened. That the RC posted full images of nasty, hateful Internet comments — not shielding the posters’ identities — is entirely appropriate. They originally posted their viciousness in public on the Internet without any consideration of who might see it. They are not entitled, later, to any privacy or protection. They said it, they did so very publicly, and now they need to fucking own it. If it makes them look bad, well, they’ve earned it and they have no one but themselves to blame.

P.S. The Torrington Register Citizen has published an online FAQ about this case, providing background information as well as the current “bottom line” of how things stand at the moment. It’s fully linked to the RC‘s own prior coverage, as well as other sources of information. It should be a useful summary for those who haven’t followed it over the last several days.

Photo credit: Twitter screenshot, via the Torrington Register Citizen.

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Red Sox logo (upside down to show how terrible they are)Note: This post has been updated a few times since it was originally posted.

Pardon yet another off-topic diatribe about the putrid stench that now surrounds the Boston Red Sox. The wanton childishness going on within that team has reached epic proportions. The team fell below .500 some time ago and remains there. They’re now 6 games back in the hunt for the 2nd American League wild-card slot, with a number of teams — all better-performing — ahead of them. While it’s mathematically possible for them to reach the playoffs, with a month and half left to go in the season, it’s safe to say they’re out of contention. They’re toast.

But as I’ve blogged before, this is not new. The team’s woes go back at least to the pathetic ending of their 2009 season. Since then they simply have not gotten much done, and last September’s collapse was record-setting. I’m sure none of this is news to anyone in the organization; you’d think they’d have buckled down to improve their play and salvage the season. I mean, it seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

Sadly, it turns out this is anything but obvious to the Red Sox. Rather than double-down on their baseball in an effort to climb out of the American League cellar, the players and staff have worked overtime, whining, complaining, and milking grudges all over the place. The main point of contention seems to be manager Bobby Valentine, a lightning-rod if ever there was one. Yesterday, Yahoo Sports reported that players demanded — and got — a meeting with ownership over him in July (WebCite cached article). There, several of them stated overtly that they refuse to play for Valentine any more. He’s too brusque for them. It’s true that Valentine is too mouthy for his own good (cached), but that’s not news to anyone in baseball; everyone knew what they were getting. It’s also true that Valentine is being blamed for the team’s failure and lots of fans — not to mention many in the sports media — would love to see him fired ASAP.

But despite Valentine’s flaws — and yes, there are plenty — he is most certainly not the problem (even though it now appears he’s not the solution). He was not with the team when it flamed out of the ALDS in 2009. He was not with the team when it failed to reach the playoffs in 2010. He was not with the team when it collapsed cataclysmically last year. He didn’t mismanage so many players’ recovery from injuries over the last three years (including David Ortiz, who should have been back on the team by now, but for no reason anyone can discern, is nowhere near returning). He didn’t go 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position last night (cached). While the players would love to have the milquetoast Terry Francona back as manager, nearly all of that happened on Tito’s watch. There’s no valid reason to expect the Sox would be any better if he were still managing, even though a lot of the Fenway Faithful are (stupidly) pining for his return.

In the wake of this “mutiny” report, Dustin Pedroia — supposedly one of Valentine’s most ardent foes — backpedaled on this (cached), and said the players had not agitated for a new manager. Sorry, but I’m not buying his double-take, and neither is most of Boston’s sports media (cached). It’s safe to say the Yahoo Sports report has come credibility, especially given that Sox principal owner John Henry admitted to being mystified about (cached) the discontent with Valentine (if there hadn’t been any, this admission would not have made any sense).

It’s already long past time for everyone on the team — players, coaches, management, and owners alike — to pull on their “big boy” pants and start acting their ages. Stop with the fucking meetings already. Stop with the whining and kvetching. Stop using injuries as an excuse for your own failures. Stop the finger-pointing. Stop mouthing off all the time. Stop running to reporters when you’re unhappy about something. Stop playing games with players’ recovery from injuries. Just get back to fucking work, and play ball (or coach, or manage, or whatever) as though you’re actually worth the millions of dollars a year you get paid to do it.

I wrap this up by pointing out — once again — that the ultimate responsibility for this debacle belongs to the Red Sox ownership. They’re the ones who write the checks to everyone working for the team. It’s their job to fix the situation — and not respond to it, as John Henry did, with a deer-in-the-headlights style “I’m mystified” response. That you don’t know what’s wrong with your own fucking team, Mr Henry, is perhaps the worst thing about all this. Either take control of the Red Sox, or sell the team to someone who cares and isn’t obsessed with becoming an English soccer mogul.

Update 1: The English soccer mogul added confirmation of the Yahoo Sports report in an email he sent to the media (cached). It ends with some of the worst bullshit I’ve ever come across:

But what is important for Red Sox fans to know is that ownership, players and all staff especially Bobby Valentine are determined to turn around what has thus far been an unacceptable, failed season. We are all on the same page in that regard and will not waver.

It’s been almost 3 weeks since those meetings. Since then the Sox have gone 8-11. There hasn’t been any improvement in their play. They were a sub-.500 team before the meetings, and they’ve played sub-.500 baseball since. Sorry, Mr Henry, but your claim that your team “will not waver” in its efforts, is simply not credible. I’m tired of hearing whiny platitudes and baseless assertions: Either get your team to play the way it should, or sell it off to someone who will.

Oh, and to add insult to injury … this poor excuse for a baseball team just threw tonight’s game away, too (cached). Well done, guys! What a great way to demonstrate that you “will not waver.”

Update 2: The Boston sports media are weighing in on this disaster of a team and its latest kiddie-style drama; it appears the days of mindless cheerleading for the home team are over. Kirk Minihane at WEEI radio agrees with me that ownership is at fault here, more than anyone else (cached):

It has to end. John Henry, not Larry Lucchino, not Ben Cherington, not Dustin Pedroia, not Bobby Valentine, needs to stand up, show some backbone and gain control of this organization. Because right now there is no question — none — that the players are in charge. …

It’s time for the owners to stop rolling over. Take a look at the standings for the last three years and then read Passan’s story. What they are doing simply isn’t working.

And Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe agrees with me that the team’s ills have been years in the making (cached):

The Red Sox last made the playoffs in 2009. They last won a playoff game in 2008. It is now 2012. This core group of players was underachieving a long, long time before Valentine showed up. That is undeniable.

The Red Sox have become accustomed to losing. With a few exceptions, most of the players shrug their shoulders and go about their business. That business, with few exceptions, is not winning baseball games.

There, ’nuff said. (Bonus points to anyone who gets that allusion!)

Update 3: As unbelievable as it may seem, last night the Red Sox outdid themselves in incompetence. The Oakland A’s obliterated and shamed them last night, blowing them out 20-2 (cached). This leaves them with an August 2012 record of 9-20, hardly much better than their disgusting, shameful, inexcusable 7-20 record in September 2011. Despite the earth-shattering blockbuster deal with the L.A. Dodgers that sent the team’s three largest contracts packing (cached), it’s plain that absolutely nothing whatsoever has changed among the rump team left behind by that massive trade. If we hadn’t realized it already, last night’s debacle ought to make it crystal clear: The Red Sox are no longer a major-league team. They’re a fucking disgrace.

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Red Sox logo (upside down to show how terrible they are)Unfortunately I have to go off-topic again, and once again, it’s about the Boston Red Sox. So I must once more ask your indulgence, Dear Reader.

In September of last year, the inept denizens of Fenway Park racked up a record-breakingly horrific 7-20 record. That was after having failed to get into the playoffs in 2010, and after a truly dismal April 2011.

For a team that went through the most catastrophic collapse in major-league sports history, they seem awfully oblivious to how devastatingly awful they are. Despite having a new manager, Bobby Valentine, and a new general manager, Ben Cherington, most of the same old characters who participated in last year’s collapse are still with the team. So one would think, by now, that they’d be tired of being as pitiful as they are.

But they’re not. They remain a team in denial of their entrenched mediocrity. And they don’t seem capable of changing their minds on the matter.

The Red Sox have been in decline since the end of 2009, when they shamefully flamed out of the ALDS. They haven’t made a playoff appearance since. And it certainly doesn’t look as though they will this season, either. As of this morning, their 2012 record is a pathetic 12-18. They’re not even close to reaching that famed boundary of mediocrity, the .500 mark. Most Boston fans and the Boston sports media are also largely oblivious to the fact that the Red Sox have been in decline for over 2 years. They don’t seem to care. Wins don’t matter to them, nor does getting into the playoffs. I’m not sure why this is the case, but it is. Fenway Park continues to be packed, and the sports media keep reporting on the Red Sox as though they’re suddenly going to become contenders, at any moment.

As I’ve noted last year, the team’s lack of performance — aside from a couple individuals who are doing well — is across the board. Pitching is bad, hitting is lackluster (especially clutch hitting), and despite having a number of Gold Glove winners on the team, the fielding isn’t that great either. There isn’t any single weak point, and no easy explanation for the team’s long, slow, 2-year-plus decline.

I hadn’t planned even to comment on the Red Sox — I haven’t watched very much of their games and had no interest in following them too closely — but yesterday, a news story came out that really was just too much to take. Because he’d complained of a lat strain earlier last week, supposed “ace” Josh Beckett was told he could skip his scheduled start last Saturday. But what did he do, shortly after getting this news? Why, on Thursday, as WBZ-FM the Sports Hub in Boston reports, he went and played a round of golf (cached):

… 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Hardy learned that Beckett wasn’t exactly resting with those injuries. Instead, the Red Sox’ injured hurler was out on the golf course.

Hardy reported that Beckett and Clay Buchholz were golfing in the area on Thursday, just days before Beckett’s skipped start.

Unbefuckinglievable! Not only did Beckett pull this off — apparently heedless of how bad it looked — but teammate Buchholz went along with it … literally. Neither is commenting at all. There has been no coverage of this issue at the Red Sox’ house organ, NESN, either. In fact, the team as a whole seems not to care one iota (cached). When two players decide this is acceptable behavior, folks, that tells me we have a problem. When the rest of the team yawns over it, it’s even worse. And it’s complicated by the fact that last year’s cataclysmic end-of-season collapse ought to have made clear — to Beckett, Buchholz, and the rest of the team — that this sort of bullshit behavior just can’t be tolerated any longer.

That’s not to say that nothing good has come from the Red Sox in the last couple of years. For example, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury — who unfortunately is injured at the moment — had a stellar year in 2011, defying the rest of the team’s ineptitude and lackadaisical play. There have been a few other standout performances. They just haven’t been able to compensate for the rest of the team’s decay.

It’s time we all faced facts: the Red Sox don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Most of the players don’t give a shit. Most of the coaches don’t give a shit. The ownership certainly doesn’t give a shit. Quite unbelievably, no one in the organization has been shamed by their embarrassing demise last year. Perhaps the only thing that sticks out over the last couple of years, by way of explanation for their two-year-plus slide, is the diversion of the ownership’s attention; 2010 was the year that Fenway Sports Group angled to buy the Liverpool soccer team and purchased it that October. Clearly, the Red Sox are no longer the focus of attention for principal owner John Henry. It’s time he admitted that he no longer has any interest in running an MLB team, leave the country entirely, become a full-time English soccer mogul, and hand the Red Sox over to a new owner — one who actually gives a flying fuck.

For the record, I haven’t watched the Red Sox this year. Except for blogging — on rare occasions — about how horrible they are, I don’t intend to have anything to do with them. At least, not until I see evidence that the team understands it’s in a decline, apologizes to fans for being as awful as they are in spite of all the money they make being that awful, and start playing as though their fans matter to them.

Update 1: Last night against the Indians, golfer-in-chief Beckett imploded, was yanked early in the 3rd inning, and the runs he gave up cost the Sox the game. At the post-game press conference (cached), he proved to be the Josh Beckett we all know so well: defiant, surly, unapologetic, and petulant. It was a disgusting enough display to get Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, one of the deans of Boston’s sports media, to finally pin the blame for Beckett’s childish antics on the team’s owners and management (cached):

Beckett gets to prepare for games the way he wants. Beckett gets to drink beer in the clubhouse during games. Beckett gets to throw too many cutters. Beckett gets to do what he wants, basically.

Terry Francona used to say that the best way to deal with Josh was to leave him alone. Bobby Valentine seems to feel the same way.

Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, John Farrell, Curt Young, Bob McClure, etc. There are probably a dozen men who could have gone up to Beckett at any point and told him to fall in line. Nobody ever did.

It’s absolutely true that punkish, juvenile prima donnas don’t become that way without the consent of their superiors. The folks who own and run the Red Sox consented to this situation. They wanted it; they got it; and Boston fans should no longer put up with it.

Update 2: The Red Sox as a team continue not to get it. Beckett continues to resist admitting having done anything wrong (cached). Pitching coach Bob McClure keeps insisting there was nothing wrong with letting a position player pitch the 17th inning Sunday when a well-rested Beckett could have hurled an inning without harm (cached). Manager Bobby Valentine keeps insisting there was nothing wrong with Beckett golfing when his injured lat prevented him from pitching (cached). He also insists there’s nothing wrong with Beckett or the team, everything will be just fine, fans just need to shut the fuck up and ignore that Beckett is a self-important asshole and his team can’t play its way out of a paper bag (cached).

By this point I must sound like a broken record, but I find I must repeat it: With a few exceptions, everyone connected with the Red Sox is utterly clueless, blind to the team’s two-year-plus free fall, unwilling or unable to admit there’s the slightest thing wrong, and they stubbornly refuse to change one damned thing in order to make it better.

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If it's a mysterious white powder then it must be ANTHRAX ... because we all know there's no such thing as CoffeeMate (PsiCop original image)Although I mostly focus on religious issues in this blog, I try to think critically about lots of things, all the time. Human beings are incredibly irrational and overemotional over a lot of things, not just religion. One of the things that doesn’t take too much “critical thinking” to realize is a fucking joke, is the absurd “security theater” debacles that crop up all over the country, from time to time. I have blogged about the joke that is TSA, but the full-blown ten-alarm freak-outs that happen go beyond the Homeland Security Dept. or even the federal authorities more generally.

In the last few days, Connecticut has been host to a rash of ridiculous overreactions. A week ago a white powder was reported found at a Meriden courthouse (WebCite cached article). A few days later, a white powder was found at a school in Enfield, and a lockdown ensued (cached). And a white powder arrived at schools in Newington and Madison, today (cached).

I honestly question the official reactions to all of these events. Sure, these things all “might have” turned out to be serious. Those mysterious “white powders” certainly could have been pathogenic or toxic agents that “might” have sickened or killed people.

But in all of these cases — and in many others that I could have listed here, but didn’t bother to — they weren’t. Officials were right to test the powders to find out if they were dangerous … but it turns out, they were harmless. (Curiously, even after testing, we seem never to be told what these things actually turned out to have been. Hmm.)

I seriously question the wisdom of “locking down” a school where a “white powder” has been found. Is it really that great of an idea to lock children into the very same building in which a substance one initially assumes to be dangerous was found? Really!? Somehow I don’t think so. Call me crazy, but I would think you’d want them outside that building, and as far from it as you could get them — if, that is, you truly believed that the mysterious white powder had the potential to kill them.

Also I seriously question the wisdom of closing a courthouse for a day … after it was found that a mysterious white powder was determined not to have been dangerous. What is the point of that? There was never any danger, hence, there’s no reason to continue acting as though there had been one. Grown adults are capable of pulling on their “big boy pants” (or “big girl pants,” as the case may be) and getting back to fucking work, once they realized they’d been hoaxed.

And that, of course, is what this is about. Officials can’t — or won’t — admit they’ve been fooled by things like this. They want us to know they’re “protecting” us; the only way to do that is for them to act as though everything weird that happens is an apocalypse-in-the-making. When they end up with egg on their faces, they can’t just admit they were swindled; they have to behave as though the danger remained — even though they (and we!) damned well know there never had been one in the first place.

I know the old mantra of the “security theater” perpetrators is, “But when something like this happens, we don’t know it’s not serious, so we have to act as though it is!” To that I say, bull-fucking-shit. It takes minutes for someone to come in and test a mysterious white powder to see if it’s dangerous. If it’s inert, the problem is over; vacuum up the shit and let everyone get back to their lives. Why lock down an entire building, over a little bit of white powder inside one room? Why close a building for a full day, after you realize you’ve been swindled? Why the overreaction? Why the tantrum? Why the absurd dance of bullshit that goes on around these things?

I’ll tell you why: Because otherwise, people won’t be aware of our “security officials,” and they won’t have any way to exercise the power they possess. They do this sort of thing, in short, because they can, and because none of us can say boo to them about it while it’s going on. Really, it’s all very juvenile — but no one in authority will ever admit it.

Update: The rocket scientists in charge of these white powder freak-outs, are still freaking out — even after any danger has been ruled out. Some of the schools affected will remain closed for the rest of the weekeven though the powder has proven harmless (cached). Why? I have no idea. I can only assume it’s in order to maximize hysteria and inconvenience in those communities.

Photo credit: PsiCop original.

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Don't Copy & Paste! by PsiCopMy thanks to a correspondent who emailed me to notify me of this. I’m indebted to him.

I haven’t a clue who Pastor Michael Frisbee DD/DM is. But it seems he knows my work and liked it enough to copy it and use it as his own.

That’s right, we have someone who calls himself a “pastor” who copied passages from one of my own blog articles, did some editing, and added them into one of his own (WebCite cached article). Here are some examples of his copying (I’ve removed hyperlinks and styling, for simplicity).

  • Mine: Christians have always celebrated “Christ’s birthday”: This is just not the case. For the first several centuries of Christianity, the birth of Jesus was not celebrated — at all. There are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the most significant is that the earliest Christians viewed the celebration of birthdays, by definition, to be a pagan practice. Christians were discouraged from celebrating their own birthdays, so it’s hardly likely they’d have wanted to celebrate Christ’s.

    The Pastor’s: Christians have always celebrated Christ’s Birth. For the first several centuries of Christianity, the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. The earliest Christians viewed the celebration of birthdays, by definition, to be a pagan practice. Christians were discouraged from celebrating their own birthdays, so it is unlikely they celebrated Christ’s.

  • Mine: The customs of Christmas are age-old: This is also not true. We think of things like gift-giving as an old Christmas tradition, but really, it’s not. From the time Christmas was first observed by the Church — intermittently in the 4th century, then more steadily by the middle of the 5th — and on into the Middle Ages, the only Christian activity performed on Christmas, was the celebration of a special Christmas mass — and in the first few centuries these special Christmas masses were attended only by clergy, not the laity.

    The Pastor’s: Christmas customs are centuries old. This is quite false. We think of things like giving gifts as an old Christmas tradition. From the time Christmas was first observed by the Church, intermittently in the 4th century, then more steadily by the middle of the 5th and on into the Middle Ages, the only Christian activity performed on Christmas was the celebration of a special Christmas mass. Within the first few centuries these special Christmas masses were attended only by clergy, not the congregation.

  • Mine: All Christians celebrate Christmas: This claim is absurd on its face. There are, even now, some Christians who refuse to celebrate it, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Historically, there have been Christian sects who also did not celebrate it, and they even repressed it where they could (such as the Puritans did in colonial New England). The truth is that the only holiday that all Christian sects have in common, is Easter — but even then they don’t all observe it on the same date. Most sects also observe Pentecost in some way, even some that don’t observe Christmas.

    The Pastor’s: Christmas is celebrated by all Christians. This claim is ridiculous on its face. Even now, there are some Christians who refuse to celebrate it, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Historically, there have been Christian sects who also did not celebrate it, and they even repressed it where they could. The truth is that the only holiday that all Christian sects have in common, is Easter. Even then they don’t all observe it on the same date. Most sects also observe Pentecost in some way, even some that don’t observe Christmas.

  • Mine: Christmas has always been celebrated only on December 25: This is not true, not only because not all Christians have designated December 25 as “Christmas,” but because not even all of those who do, actually celebrate that day. Some Christian sects — e.g. the Russian Orthodox Church — assign Christmas to days other than December 25. Other sects celebrate Epiphany, the annual commemoration of the visit of the Magi, in preference to Christmas. This is more common in Orthodox Christianity, but it’s found even among some western Christians, e.g many Hispanic cultures, which celebrate what they call “Three Kings Day.”

    The Pastor’s: Christmas has always been celebrated on December 25. This is not true, not only because not all Christians have designated December 25 as “Christmas,” but because not even all of those who do, actually celebrate that day. Some Christian sects assign Christmas to days other than December 25. Other sects celebrate Epiphany, the annual commemoration of the visit of the Magi, in preference to Christmas. This is more common in Orthodox Christianity, but it’s found even among some western Christians, among many Hispanic cultures for example, which celebrate what they call “Three Kings Day.”

  • Mine: Christmas is the most sacred holiday on the Christian calendar. This is commonly stated, but is absolutely, undeniably, 100% not true. The most sacred holiday for Christians, is Easter, the day which commemorates Jesus’ resurrection. Easter was celebrated long before Christmas ever was, to the point where its dating was a point of contention among Christians a couple centuries before Christmas ever was pegged to the calendar. Easter was observed on varying dates as early as the middle of the 2nd century, and dating it was discussed, for example, at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. At that time — as noted already — Christmas was merely a mass that was held annually, and attended only by clergy, only in some places. It was not a “holiday” in any conventional sense, not even in terms of the Greco-Roman culture of that period.

    The Pastor’s: The most sacred holiday on the Christian calendar is Christmas. Undoubtedly this statement is untrue. The most sacred holiday for Christians, is Easter, the day which commemorates Jesus’ resurrection. Easter was celebrated long before Christmas ever was, to the point where its dating was a point of contention among Christians a couple centuries before Christmas was a thought. Easter was observed on varying dates as early as the middle of the 2nd century, and dating it was discussed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. At that time it was noted that Christmas was merely a mass that was held annually, and attended only by clergy, only in some places. It was not a “holiday” in any conventional sense, not even in terms of the Greco-Roman culture of that period.

Now, I originally added a comment to the pastor’s blog article requesting credit for my “contribution” to his blog post. A couple of anonymous commenters replied to that, saying my link didn’t work (even though it clearly does), along with denials of the copying that took place (some of it lifted as-is, some of it mildly edited), and the truly fucking laughable claim that I was just trying to “use” the Pastor’s blog post to bring traffic to my own.

Unfortunately for these defenders of the Pastor, there clearly has been plagiarism here, and saying the Pastor is “honest” does nothing to change that. It’s a fact.

I wonder if Pastor Michael Frisbee has the fortitude to come here, admit what he did, apologize for it, then edit his blog post to give me credit. I don’t think this is too much to ask — even if his anonymous defenders think I haven’t been wronged. Really, it’s not up to them to decide.

For the record, all of my content on this blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Red Sox logo (upside-down to show their 2011 season performance)Forgive me for going off-topic again and blathering once more about the Red Sox. A lot needs to be said about them, which unfortunately is not being said — and likely won’t be said — so I have to say it.

Much of my commentary about the Sox back in the first week of May, applies to their September play. Actually, their last month was even worse than their first. The Sox were 7-20 in their last month of 2011, while they were a comparatively-much-better 12-15 for the same number of games at the start of the season.

At the moment, New England sportswriters are hanging their late-season collapse on injuries, the loss of Clay Buchholz at mid-season being cited as a particular culprit. I’ll admit that injuries hindered them, there’s no doubt about that. But by September, all MLB teams — good, bad, and in-between — were dealing with injuries. Even the Yankees, who ended with the best record in the American League, had their share of injuries this year. Basically, the injuries amount to a “wash” across the board of the MLB. Not to mention, they had a chance in April — while the whole team was in prime condition and uninjured — to build up victories. But they didn’t. (More on their pitiful April later.)

What’s more, the quality of play slipped, across the board. Red Sox pitching, hitting, fielding, and even base-running were all hideous in September. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, who’d been phenomenal at mid-season, couldn’t win any games in September. Adrian Gonzales, who led the league in batting average most of the season, couldn’t get much done, either. The entire team was just fucking hideous. And even their best uninjured players showed performance problems. That’s another reason not to chalk this implosion up to injuries … even healthy players weren’t up to standard.

As with their April, the Sox’ September implosion was systemic and pervasive throughout the team.

The wide scale of the poor play suggests that coaching is to blame. While there’s a widespread assumption that manager Terry Francona will be let go after this embarrassing debacle of a season, most of the New England sportswriters are saying he’s being unfairly blamed. Even so, it’s clear that he was at least partially responsible. He’s the head of the team’s coaching staff and is responsible for that aspect of the team. If the coaching played a role in the horrific first and last months of the season, then Francona has to take some responsibility for that. He can’t not be at least partially at fault.

Then, too, there’s the matter of poor acquisitions, which is the the responsibility of general manager Theo Epstein. Here, we have not just one or two seasons of spectacular failures, but several. The list of high-priced flame-outs that Epstein paid for is legion. Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, and most recently Carl Crawford are merely a few of the many names that leap to mind as examples of this phenomenon. While every team has to deal with an occasional overpaid underperformer, Epstein’s record in this regard is worse than most.

At the risk, then, of sounding like one of those raging sports-talk callers who’ve been screaming for Francona and Epstein to be fired, I can’t help but agree with them, that at least one of them needs to go. After two seasons of falling short of playoff appearances … and a season before that of flaming out shamefully in the ALDS … it’s clear that whatever they’re doing simply is no longer working. Continuing the same strategies, cooked up by the same people, but with the expectation of different results, is almost the definition of insanity. The Red Sox need to change as a team, fundamentally, and that can only begin at or near the top of the organization.

The really sad part about all of this is that John Henry & the rest of the Red Sox ownership really have no economic incentive to change the team that much. Fenway Park is sold out, every single game, and the team is consistently and highly profitable, even without having made the playoffs for two years. I doubt the passionate Red Sox fanbase is going to pull its support for the team sufficiently to dent those massive profits. So I don’t expect that there will be much change in the organization. Just a lot of excuse-making and claims that they will do better next year — which they’ve done previously, obviously to no effect.

The only bright light of the Red Sox 2011 season, is the one team member who was still actually playing the game at the end … and that’s Jacoby Ellsbury. After his “lost season” in 2010 (after having been demolished by the human tank known as Adrian Beltre and then poorly treated by the Red Sox medical staff), he came back — and gloriously! He’d long been my favorite player, and all through 2010 I kept insisting he’d eventually overcome his injuries. He proved me right, and then some! His play this year was nothing short of MVP caliber, and I certainly hope the sportswriters will consider him in their voting (although I’m pretty sure he’ll be overlooked). It will be a crime if he’s not made the AL MVP for 2011.

An honorable mention goes to Alfredo Aceves, a young pitcher who gave his all, and remained more or less steady on the mound while the rest of the pitching staff took a nosedive.

One last thing that’s not being addressed by the sports media, is the role that the team’s dismal April played in this horrible season. Had the Sox started 15-12 in their first 27 games instead of 12-15, they would not have been in this position; they could have absorbed their September collapse safely and still made the playoffs. I said before that their early-season mediocrity would cost them dearly … and unfortunately I was right; it did! But New England sportswriters refuse to discuss this. I can’t imagine why they don’t … but they that’s just how it is. (Enablers to the end, they all are.)

I’d like to point out, too, that the Red Sox advertising campaign all season long has used the mottoes, “We’re all in” and “We won’t rest.” As in, “we’re committed to winning.” Clearly, however, they were not, in fact, “all in,” and in April and September, they did more “resting” than “playing.” They ought to be ashamed of themselves for trumpeting their commitment to winning, when they were not actually committed to winning.

But, they won’t be ashamed. They’re the Red Sox, after all, and no matter how dreadfully they play, they just keep rolling in money.

One last thing: It’s clear the Tampa Bay Rays deserved to get the AL Wild Card this year; it was no fluke, even if some might think so. I wish them luck — even though they’re rivals of the Red Sox in the AL East. The other three teams in the AL playoffs — the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, & N.Y. Yankees — are all going to be tough competitors. So the Rays will need that luck.

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Watergate Complex from TR BridgePlease pardon another slightly off-topic post.

Over the years I’ve had correspondents accuse me of being a committed Leftist. It’s true I’m no fan of the Religious Right, but that hardly makes me part of the ideological Left, or a cog in the machine of the Democratic Party. For the record, I despise ideology in all its forms. Every single last one of them, wherever they are, and whoever belongs to them. All ideologies are arbitrary collections of notions, cherry-picked to work to the personal advantage of those who advance them, and detrimental to everyone else and to society as a whole.

If any of you really feel the need to label my political affiliation, I suppose the best one I could come up with, is “Cynicalist.” Basically I don’t trust any politician as far as I can throw him or her. It doesn’t matter what party he or she belongs to — I do not believe any of them! None are trustworthy, because — as Lord Acton once stated so truthfully — power corrupts. Even if an official isn’t corrupt before s/he is elected, s/he will become corrupted once in office. It’s inevitable, and as unavoidable as death and taxes.

How do I know this? If simple economics doesn’t make it clear, then examples from history should. And I can think of no better example of it — one that happened, as chance would have it, during my formative years — than the Watergate scandal. This was not really just a single scandal; it was a complex, multi-pronged affair, orchestrated by a lengthy cast of characters, all of whom were up to various forms of wrongdoing … some of them independent of each other. The entire convoluted debacle included burglary, espionage, extortion, perjury, obstruction of justice, campaign-finance hijinks, and more. It dragged on for years, and was extensive and significant enough to force Richard Nixon to resign as President … even though only about 4½ months into the scandal, he managed to be re-elected to his second term, and hung in until August of ’74.

The list of slippery characters whose names were trotted out each night on the evening news, almost every night as the scandal slowly unfolded, reached laughable proportions by the time Congressional hearings were held. The 18½ minute gap in the Oval Office tapes became legendary, and the words “not to the best of my recollection” — oft-spoken by White House staffers — a catch-phrase of the era. The whole thing, in fact, was almost surreal.

As the Watergate scandal was swirling around them, the Nixon White House — and while it still existed in 1972, his re-election committee — contrived other scandals in the lives and careers of other politicians. Nixon operative Donald Segretti famously referred to these dirty tricks as “ratfucking,” and he engaged in this practice with relish. For instance, he forged the so-called “Canuck letter” which ended the presidential candidacy of Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine. Since then, “ratfucking” has become a cottage industry in American politics, and has even gone beyond political campaigns; it’s now being done by bloggers and pundits (WebCite cached article).

So, how does one know a politician or pundit is lying? Whenever his/her lips are moving. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m neither a Rightist nor a Leftist, but rather, a Cynicalist.

Update: As luck would have it, no sooner did I post this story, than the National Archives released the Pentagon Papers (WebCite cached article). The leak of this document to the New York Times in 1971 ended up being a precursor to the Watergate debacle. The Nixon White House — which had had nothing directly to do with creating this document, it had been finished just prior to Nixon taking office in 1969 — nevertheless (in its paranoia) launched a concerted effort to find the leaker (RAND Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg). Once they’d found out who he was, they further worked to harass and discredit him, by any means they could find. Quite unbelievably, this campaign included a break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, as they sought desperately to find whatever they could to use against him. This particular operation, which had been approved by White House staffer John Ehrlichman, had been orchestrated by E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy — the two men who would soon after also burglarize the DNC offices in the Watergate complex, and touch off the much-larger scandal.

Photo credit: dbking.

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