Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jefferson's Wall of Separation Letter

Thomas Jefferson was a man of deep religious conviction — his conviction was that religion was a very personal matter, one which the government had no business getting involved in. He was vilified by his political opponents for his role in the passage of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and for his criticism of such biblical events as the Great Flood and the theological age of the Earth. As president, he discontinued the practice started by his predecessors George Washington and John Adams of proclaiming days of fasting and thanksgiving. He was a staunch believer in the separation of church and state.

Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them written in October 1801. A copy of the Danbury letter is available here. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and they complained that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature — as "favors granted." Jefferson's reply did not address their concerns about problems with state establishment of religion — only of establishment on the national level. The letter contains the phrase "wall of separation between church and state," which led to the short-hand for the Establishment Clause that we use today: "Separation of church and state."

The letter was the subject of intense scrutiny by Jefferson, and he consulted a couple of New England politicians to assure that his words would not offend while still conveying his message: it was not the place of the Congress or the Executive to do anything that might be misconstrued as the establishment of religion.

Note: The bracketed section in the second paragraph had been blocked off for deletion in the final draft of the letter sent to the Danbury Baptists, though it was not actually deleted in Jefferson's draft of the letter. It is included here for completeness. Reflecting upon his knowledge that the letter was far from a mere personal correspondence, Jefferson deleted the block, he noted in the margin, to avoid offending members of his party in the eastern states.

This is a transcript of the final letter as stored online at the Library of Congress, and reflects Jefferson's spelling and punctuation.

Mr. President

To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.


The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson

The March of Christian Dominionism 4: How Dominionists Are Trying To Undermine Our Country

July 7, 2011
By Justin "Filthy Liberal Scum" Rosario

Or “So THAT’S why the GOP has been doing that!!”

We know what Christian Dominionism is (if you don’t, go back and read parts one, two and three. No skipping!). We know what they want and we know why they want it. Now the question becomes: how are they doing it and what are the signs of their influence in politics?

Again, we find there to be some overlap between your standard Right Wing, anti-government rhetoric and the goals of Christian Dominionists. But some of it is purely a creature of religious zealotry.

There are many fronts to the Dominionist attack on our way of life; one of them is the ongoing assault on the social safety nets that have been in place for decades.

Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are under constant threat of being extinguished so we’ll start there:
Social Security: Technically, the Right hates Social Security because it’s “Big Government” and costs too much money. That is, of course, garbage. The amount of money and resources consumed by our bloated military dwarfs SS but that’s never an issue. No. The “problem” with Social Security is that it represents the country pulling together (the “social”) to ensure that no one is left to die in poverty and hunger (the “security”). This reliance on others goes against the Right’s creed of “personal responsibility” which is code for “everyone for themselves.”
The Dominionists, however, have a slightly different take on SS. This collective pooling of resources for the betterment of all means that fewer people have to turn to them for their needs. Thus, Social Security deprives religious organizations of power in the form of less desperate people. Privatization is a good way to end it (and make Wall St. untold billions in profit in the process) but for Dominionists, the goal is simply to make it go away altogether.

Medicare and Medicaid: The objection to these stunningly popular and useful programs is similar to the objections against Social Security but the attack against them is far more insidious.
Instead of dismantling the entire program the goal is vouchers. But why vouchers? The GOP seems to be quite taken with them. They want them for Medicare, Medicaid and schools. This is a clear sign of Dominionist influence on the GOP because vouchers are an end run around the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The Establishment Clause forbids government money to be used to by an organization to evangelize as part of the disbursement of those funds. In other words, if you take government money to feed the hungry, you cannot promote your religion while doing so. Also, under no circumstances, can you withhold services based on your religious beliefs. So if the Westboro Baptist Church took government money to shelter the homeless, they could not turn away a homosexual.

Vouchers, on the other hand, eliminate this prickly proselytization problem. The legal argument goes like this: Since the money is not coming directly from the government, all bets are off. By giving the voucher to the “consumer,” the choice of where to spend that money is solely up to them. The Establishment Clause does not apply. In this scenario, a church can turn away any “undesirables” while still providing services. In addition, they can also pressure the sick, the elderly and the desperate to embrace their particular worldview. These groups are already susceptible to manipulation and vouchers leave them all the more vulnerable to the depredations of Dominionists.
School vouchers are even more easily abused as the schools will be free to teach Creationism and the Christian Dominionist worldview. Your tax dollars ALREADY get abused this way illegally as many schools corrupt the regular curriculum with religion until someone reports it. Imagine how widespread it would be if it was legal to teach our children that the world is only 6000 years old?

Grants work the same way. The government gives money to an umbrella organization, say, the Salvation Army, (a group that will no longer employee homosexuals) due to their “charity” work, and the organization disperses the money to smaller groups. Those groups are now free of the Establishment Clause to push their religious agenda, all the while using tax payer dollars.
When you hear the word “voucher” or “grant” in any discussion of entitlements or schools, what you are really witnessing is the Religious Right attempting to bypass the Constitution. If you take away one thing from this article, let it be that.
But the Dominionists’ agenda goes far beyond just undermining the social safety net or subverting it for their own purposes. Dominionists are hard at work undermining the very concept of America as a democracy.

Tax cuts & deregulation: Totalitarian regimes exist with an extreme concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very select few. Christian Dominionism is no different. To the Dominionist, there can be no such thing as democracy. The masses cannot be allowed self-rule; only those “chosen” by God (i.e., the Aristocracy) are worthy enough to divine “His” intent.

And exactly what is “His” intent? Why, that the rich should get richer, of course! “God” hates taxes on the wealthy and massive corporationd. This is why Big Business so readily gets into bed with Dominionists. They are very aware of the desire of Dominionism to concentrate all the wealth and power of the United States at the top of the economic food chain. In the schizophrenic world of the Dominionist, pollution is no big deal and natural resources are self-replenishing, even oil. Any toxins leaked into the environment are no difficulty to the faithful because “God” smiles upon those engines of enterprise, corporations. Therefore, government regulation is not just unnecessary; it’s against the will of “God.” Of course, the fact that deregulation only benefits an extremely small group of people while causing untold misery for the rest is just a coincidence and is probably punishment for our blasphemous ways.

When you hear a religious leader proclaiming that the government is seeking to punish others through taxes and regulation, that’s a Dominionist speaking.

Have you ever wondered why it is that Republicans, who seem to utterly despise the Government, seek to be in charge of it by any immoral, unethical and borderline illegal means necessary? Have you noticed how, when they ARE in charge, they do everything they claim to be against? Run up deficits. Explode the national debt. Massively expand government. And then complain about all of those things when a Democrat takes the White house? There’s a very clear pattern of deliberate sabotage of the country by the Right. Part of it is simple cronyism. When your political philosophy is “less regulation” you do not put an unfriendly expert in charge of the regulatory agency of a particular industry, you put in an industry friend who will do what you want; Specifically, not regulate. Later, when the corruption is exposed and the damage is done, for instance, FEMA leaving thousands stranded for days in a football stadium after a hurricane, you can point to the utter failure and proudly state that “Government IS the problem!” This is, essentially, the same tactic used against public schools. Break the system, use the resulting failure as proof that the system doesn’t work, rinse, repeat until you can privatize everything.

Part of it may be cronyism, but the main part objective is to tarnish the concept “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

When the Right is in control of the country they do everything they can to make the government look bad. When they’re in the minority, the chant of “Government is bad” is nonstop. No expense is spared, no boundary is left uncrossed, no taboo is considered too great in their quest to convince the populace that their Government is the worst thing to ever happen to them. But what’s the endgame? For a Dominionist, the goal is not to eradicate Government outright but to first subvert it and infect it with religious extremism. As the rot of extremism permeates and becomes the norm, it will become easier and easier to erect the Theocracy that is the ultimate goal.

When you hear a politician demand a smaller government and more “freedom” while simultaneously demanding that the government legislate who you can marry, what kind of sex you can have, who you can have sex with and what kinds of services your doctor can offer, they are not describing “freedom” as you and I understand it. They are describing “freedom” from sin and vice, or, in other words, the “freedom” to not be tempted by supposedly immoral behavior by making that behavior illegal. The louder the call for “freedom” while the greater the demand that restrictions be placed on your personal life, the clearer it is that a Dominionist is speaking.
The final aspect of Dominionist behavior that we will be taking a look at is the misogyny inherent in the movement. It’s never been more apparent that the Religious Right has some serious issues with women. The Religious Right is attacking Planned Parenthood, which provides affordable health care to millions of women across the country. They consistently blame the victim in cases of rape (although this is not strictly a Right Wing phenomena, they are the most vocal about it). They have started to speak, openly, about how women should not be allowed to vote because they are “too emotional”. This is 1950’s code for “too stupid.” The Religious Right wants to ban all contraception, taking away all reproductive options for women. Including the pill. Some have even gone so far as to enact laws that would place women that miscarry under criminal suspicion unless they can prove it was a natural occurrence. Women are already being held against their will if they so much as hint that they want to terminate a pregnancy.

The flood of anti-woman sentiment that has spilled across the country is unprecedented in my life time. It also makes no sense unless you look at it from a religious angle. Women have proven themselves just as capable as men in the workplace, in politics, in the military and in the classroom. Despite the setbacks of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians, women have easily earned a seat at the table and have made no small contribution to the country.

Yet they are under attack. Why?

It’s about control. Dominionism is always about control and in Extremist Chistianity, just as in Extremist Islam, the woman MUST submit to the man. It’s the “natural order” of things. A woman must dress modestly. A woman must defer to a man’s judgment. A woman should remain in the home, raising the children. To do otherwise is to challenge the male-dominated establishment.
Partly, the need to exert authority over women stems from the overwhelming insecurities of the Dominionist movement. Remember, the entire movement is built on the concept that they are under attack from all sides by enemies who would destroy them in a heartbeat. The role they have cast for themselves is one of perpetual victimhood and powerlessness. This is not a sustainable role for a man to be in that is engulfed by the machismo paradigm. You know what I’m talking about: I am a man! Master of my castle! I wear the pants in my family! I am the provider! Grrrr! Arrrggg! Blah, blah, blah.

How could such a walking stereotype NOT be threatened by a strong woman? Or even a mildly assertive one? And so, these manly men of the Christian Dominionist movement lord over (pun much intended) “their” women and try to reduce them to the cardboard cutout that was June Cleaver.

To this end, women are denied reproductive rights wherever and whenever possible under the guise of “protecting the unborn.” Somehow, though, all contraceptives are evil in the eyes of the Dominionist, even the ones that prevent fertilization, thus, exposing the lie of their opposition. A woman that has control over when she gets pregnant is free to live her life as she pleases. Unthinkable to the extremist.
Says Janice Crouse, of the anti-choice Concerned Women for America:
“…Radical feminists accurately see abortion as a woman’s ultimate weapon in the battle to escape the control of men. The issue is of power, of having the power to call the shots. With abortion as an option, a woman can escape pregnancy...” (emphasis mine)
Could that be any more clear?

When you hear a politician rail against abortion mills and the decay of morals among women, you’re hearing a Dominionist tell you that a woman must be put in her place.

If this series of articles has done anything for you, it should have helped you understand just what it is that is going on in this country and why. There IS a method to the madness of the GOP. It is not just conservative politics that are driving us to ruin, but a concerted effort from a group of deeply disturbed fanatics. Will they succeed in instituting Biblical law? Of course not, but they will do incalculable damage in the meantime. They will squander billions of dollars in tax payer money and resources and ruin the lives of millions with their radical agenda. For that alone, they need to be understood and stopped.

edited by Sherri Yarbrough

The March of Christian Dominionism 3: How Christian Dominionists Combat Reality

June 29, 2011
By Justin "Filthy Liberal Scum" Rosario

Or “Take your stinking evolution off my kids you damn, dirty liberal!”

So how is the Christian Dominionist movement different than the regular old Religious Right? On the surface they seem pretty much identical: both pursue social politics, both proclaim that family values are of prime importance, both encourage divisive bigotry of one form or another and both raise millions by appealing to the baser instincts of their followers. It is not easy to discern where they separate because Dominionists are not very vocal about their deeper plans for the country with outsiders.

The Religious Right is many things, but they do not actively work towards the destruction and replacement of the government with a Theocracy. Of course, this is exactly what Christian Dominionists want and the Religious Right is complicit in their drive to obtain it. These last two sentences might seem to be actively at odds with one another. They are not. The Religious Right is more than willing to make nice with groups they would ordinarily despise to further their agenda. One need look no further than the pro-Israel stance of the GOP for evidence of this. The vigor with which the Right defends Israel is a wonder to behold until you realize that the whole point of supporting Israel is so that the Israelis can rebuild the temple of Solomon and fulfill one of the key requirements of the end time prophecies. By the way, these prophecies also clearly state that most of the Jewish race will be exterminated at that time. I’m guessing the Religious Right doesn’t discuss that part too much with the Israelis.

In any event, Christian Dominionism is very much like the dreaded threat of “creeping Sharia” that has so many on the Right supposedly scared silly. A way of life that is antithetical to a secular democracy is slowly being enacted throughout the country. We shouldn’t even give a second glance to the “threat” of Sharia in this country when a much clearer and more present danger is among us. This is not to say that there aren’t people who would love to see Sharia law implemented in the United States. There certainly are. They simply don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it happen. Even in the dreaded Dearborn, Michigan. These religious fanatics do, however, make an excellent boogeyman for all manner of unscrupulous people. To the Dominionist, it is a way of forcing people to make a false “choice”: Will you allow Sharia to overrun the country or will you embrace God’s Law like all good Christians do?

This is, of course, ridiculous. One simply needs only embrace the Constitution to ward off the eeeeevils of Sharia. That doesn’t work well for Christian Dominionists for reasons that should be self-evident at this point. The Constitution explicitly states that religion and government are not to be mixed, and so it has become a Crusade among Dominionists to rewrite history. This is, perhaps, the single most dangerous aspect of their agenda, the wholesale erasure and replacement of reality and history with a more, shall we say, divine interpretation.

There are a number of reasons history and, to an almost equal extent, science are a threat to the “Christian” future. History tells us who we are and where we came from. George Orwell was entirely too aware of the need tyrants have to control over this information. In his seminal work, “1984,” Orwell called the apparatus put in place to accomplish this task the “Ministry of Truth.” They were in charge of making sure “history” reflected whatever current day agenda was in effect. With a push of a button, a war that had been raging for years with one enemy becomes a war that had been raging for all that same time with a completely different one. The State must be infallible.

In the same fashion, after centuries of understanding the First Amendment, specifically the Establishment Clause, of the Constitution in a very specific manner based on the words and intent of the founding Fathers, there are now questions. Despite numerous examples of most of the Fathers being Deists (not ascribing to a particular organized religion or even, necessarily, a supernatural force) or even actively derisive of Christianity, Dominionists insist that not only was the country founded on Judeo-Christian principles but that the Constitution is expressly a religious document despite it not containing a single word to that effect.

Once sufficient doubt is cast upon the secular nature of our country’s founding document, everything and anything becomes malleable. Please note that I use the word “sufficient” instead of “legitimate.” “Legitimate” would mean that there is a real debate over the facts. There is not. We have handwritten letters that explicitly state the original intent (there’s a reason Texas is trying to remove Jefferson from history text books) and they leave no room for doubt about their intent towards government and religion. But this is beside the point. Dominionists are more than happy to tell their flock whatever they want, secure in the knowledge that they will not question. To question is to lack faith. Ignorance is strength.

This is the genius of politicized religion. Once a person is a true “believer,” regardless of whether they actually believe or are too terrified of expulsion to admit they do not, they will consequently accept any lie they are fed. This serves the dual purpose of making any claim about how the country should be run seem perfectly normal and also of further isolating the flock: Of course the United States should be run according to Biblical law, the Constitution was divinely inspired, and who could possibly doubt that? Anyone that says otherwise is a liar and probably an atheist Communist Marxist unpatriotic traitor. It doesn’t matter how much evidence they provide or how solid their argument.

They MUST be lying.

This artificial schizophrenia extends to the realm of science as well. I say “artificial schizophrenia” because, in the phantasmagorical world of the Dominionist, everyday life is completely divorced from empirical reality. Miracles and prayer will solve all problems and if your particular problem is not solved in this way, the fault lies with your lack of faith. Again, some of the less religiously inclined are snickering that all religious people think this way. Don’t make me hit you with a rolled up newspaper! Those thoroughly ensnared in the corrupt mythology of Dominionism have no choice but to believe that every aspect of their life is being directly controlled. Cause and effect are as illusory as free will.

Now is when the massive assaults on science and education come into play. I’ve written about this before as well (Why do conservatives hate science so much? Or “How I learned not to learn and trust my beer gut instead”) but it bears a re-examination in the light of Dominionism. Science is the natural enemy of Fundamentalism and, by extension, Dominionism. Science encourages critical thinking and free inquiry, concepts that are pure anathema to a totalitarian religious philosophy. Science also reduces mankind from a divine creature, put on the earth to rule, to a not exactly random result of natural processes. We’re still the top of the food chain but only due to our unique and innate intellect, not because we were “meant” to be.

Without the divine origins of man, Dominionism loses much of its self-granted authority. If the Bible is not literally true, then religion becomes merely a guide for living a moral life and not the source of all morality and knowledge as Dominionists claim. To combat this, there has been a war waged against science in general and public education in specific for decades.

As I’ve said before, an uneducated population is far easier to manipulate and control. It’s hard to think of how to make the world a better place when you don’t know HOW to think. When you’ve been raised to believe that there is ALWAYS a Biblical answer to every question, it becomes so easy to dismiss actual experts and only listen to the side that says what you want to hear. It doesn’t matter that the religious argument can provide no solid evidence or facts, you don’t know how to judge for yourself anyway. This is the point of the Right Wing’s war on education and it’s all about defunding schools and colleges.

The Right wants to divert tax dollars to for-profit charter schools that have not proven to be any more effective than public schools (and that are far less accountable). Not only does this starve public schools of vital funds, but it enables the Right to complain how terrible public education is. It’s an awesome racket: make schools dysfunctional by underpaying teachers and ensuring the schools are run down and then use this dysfunction as proof that public education is unworkable.

The assault on colleges is different. The goal here is to raise tuitions so high that the choice is either to not go at all or spend the next 20 years paying off loans. Why do you think Republicans howled in pain when Obama did away with subsidized loans and cut out the extremely unnecessary middle man? It was a one-two punch for the Right. Not only did banks lose billions in revenue they did nothing to earn, it made school loans less painful for those who need it the most. Notice that this was not important enough to make any real news. Most of you reading this didn’t even know it was part of the Health Care Reform package. Obama tacked it on so the GOP couldn’t block it. Yet, you know all about Anthony Weiner’s weiner. This should tell you something about the state of the country.
So, to wit: make public schools function as poorly as possible, especially in low income areas. Make college too expensive for most to obtain a degree and then use the resulting failure to justify further cuts and convince people that home schooling is the best option. When you break the system of public education, the public will look elsewhere to educate their children and home schooling is the “answer.”

Home schooling is a rapidly expanding movement among the Religious Right. And it is a huge part of their war on science and history. Over one million children are currently being educated outside of the public school system; many of them being indoctrinated into the world of religious fanaticism. Do I sound alarmist? How does an entire generation raised to believe “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” sound to you? Does that sound like a group of people capable of objectively assessing the challenges facing the country and the world? Do you think they will be capable of overcoming their conditioning to embrace any solution that is not fully “Christian?” Neither do I.

This kind of parallel education has reached frightening heights as (former) candidates like Michele Bachmann, and maybe-maybe-not-but-who-can-really-tell-if-she’s-running Sarah Palin spit out gems like ““The very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” and “He who warned uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh by ringing those bells…” on a regular basis. Mike Huckabee, another powerful voice in conservative politics even has his own cartoon series for home schooled children. In it, a group of plucky time travelling kids can be found saying “What we see and hear isn’t always the same as what we read in books or see on TV. So what? We know the truth and that’s good enough for us!”
God said it. I believe it. That settles it!

So we have an “army” of Christian Soldiers whose main weapons will be pure ignorance, rigid, uncritical thought and blind obedience. Dominionists have built an entire culture that is separated from the rest of the world by a shield of dogma. They know how to insinuate themselves into the government at some of the highest positions and they know how to influence elections to their benefit. They have massive financial backing from both their followers as well as corporations that may not be interested in Dominionists’ social agenda but are very supportive of their economic goals.
But how will you know if a particular policy from the GOP is simple conservative greed or something darker and more sinister? How will you recognize the Dominionist agenda? That’s the question I will attempt to answer in last part of this series of liberal slander: How Dominionists are trying to undermine our country Or “So THAT’S why the GOP’s been doing that!!”

Edited by Sherri Yarbrough

The March of Christian Dominionism 2: Where Did It Come From and How Does It Work?

June 24, 2011
By Justin "Filthy Liberal Scum" Rosario

The Statue of Obedience

Or “It’s NOT a cult! My beloved leader and all of his followers tell me so!”
Now that you’ve read “The March of Christian Dominionism 1″ and have a basic understanding of what Christian Dominionism is, let’s take a look at its history and methodology.

Dominionism is an offshoot of Christian Reconstruction, a radical philosophy made famous by R.J. Rushdoony early last century. Reconstruction calls for the replacement of man’s law with Biblical law with all that it entails. Rushdoony was a great believer in the death penalty for blasphemy (such as my poor, hypothetical rape victim from the first piece of this series), homosexuality, infidelity and other transgressions that would make an al Qaeda fanatic feel right at home. He popularized the concept that America was originally a Christian nation founded explicitly on Judeo-Christian principles and that we have strayed from that original, righteous path. Hence, the needed “reconstruction” of America.

Reconstructionism (and, by extension, Dominionism) is a postmillennial theology. Postmillennialists believe that the way must be paved for the return of Christ by building the Kingdom on Earth, here and now. By way of comparison, Premillennialists believe that Christ will return and take the faithful up into heaven, regardless of the state of the world or even believe that the worse things are, the sooner he will return (this does not lend itself well to a political philosophy of making the world a better place). Postmillennialists view this as a somewhat lazy way to get into heaven and believe they are mandated, by God, to take possession of the Earth and implement Biblical law in order to fulfill the prophecy of the end times. This seems particularly odd to me since being successful in this endeavor SHOULD mean that the Earth is a paradise (according to a very narrow and disturbing worldview). Where, then, does Armageddon fit in? God looks down, sees the world being run according his rules just the way he likes it and says, “Good job! Now I’m going to destroy it!”? But then, I’m just an ignorant atheist, so who cares what I think?

Moving forward from Rushdoony to the 1960s, Francis Schaeffer picked up the torch. While not a theocrat in the same way Rushdoony and Dominionists are, Schaeffer was very much invested in the “America as Christian nation” concept even as he shied away from equating faith with patriotism. It was fairly clear to him (as it is to liberals) that attaching one to the other denigrates both. He was, however, one of first evangelicals to make a concerted assault on legalized abortion. He set the stage for the Dominionists’ take on secular law: “It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority” Sound familiar? It’s a religious version of “nullification” in which the law can be ignored but only when it was written by a Democrat.

As the movement solidified into a cohesive philosophy, Reconstructionist found that Premillennialists were beginning to embrace the idea of dominionism (obviously for different reasons but still…) and so they began to work together. This partnership was formalized with the establishment of the Coalition on Revival (COR). Formed in 1984, COR spent two years working out a literal blueprint of how life is to be lived under proper Christian guidance. Think of it as a Christian version of Sharia law (and that is exactly what it is). It dictates rules for law, government, education, science (no evolution, of course and Noah’s Flood was real), family – even rules for helping the poor and disabled.

Over the following years a number of “schools” have been set up to teach this singular worldview, and how to hide it from those who might recognize it for the extremism that it is. It’s not just a way to live; it teaches one how to think. Seminars are regularly held for activists to learn the proper way to disseminate these teachings among future political leaders to great effect. Tom Delay stood up before a crowd attending a “Worldview Weekend” in 2003 and said the following: “Only Christianity offers a comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world. Only Christianity.” These are the people that are infesting and corrupting the GOP.

This is a bare bones history of the movement; there are many more important figures in the rise of the Dominionist movement such as Tim Lahaye, author of the fantastically popular and seriously disturbing Left Behind series. Lahaye is also a founding member of the highly secretive Council for National Policy, an organization that I only recommend you read up on if you don’t mind losing sleep for a few weeks. Or months. Another leading figure in the movement is widely cited “historian” David Barton. David Barton is a favorite of Glenn Beck’s which, frankly, should tell you everything you need to know about his credentials. I strongly encourage you to read more about this troubling philosophy. Chris Hedges’ American Fascists and Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming are an excellent start. Have some antacid on hand. You’ve been duly warned.
Fear and Anger lead to the Dark Side of Religion

Despite being ostensibly “Christian”, Dominionists act more like a cult then a church. I know there are some irreligious people out there snickering that “all religions are a cult.” Stop that!! Don’t make the mistake of lumping Dominionists in with regular church-goers. They are radically different. They prey (pun very much intended) upon those who have little to lose or are lacking in a strong sense of self or have simply fallen into despair.

Just like a “traditional” cult, these “churches” teach their followers how to gain the trust of others by forging a bond (sometimes real, sometimes false) over a shared tragedy or hardship. This trust is then used to pull the mark into the social circle of the church. As time passes, church activities, picnics, concerts, meetings, etc. become all consuming. Coincidentally (but not really), previous social contacts are severed and atrophy. This is how a cult isolates the convert.

Once the isolation sets in, demands are made of the convert: You must stop listening to rock ‘n’ roll. No, you mustn’t read Stephen King’s books. Yes, you can go to the movies but only those that are church sanctioned, other films are degenerate. Sure, you can go to your friends’ wedding but your friend isn’t “saved” like we are and that would disappoint us. You don’t want to disappoint us do you? We’re your family! You mustn’t EVER disappoint your family!

It’s a bit more complicated than this but you get the gist. The convert is separated from friends and relatives. Perhaps not physically but certainly emotionally. This creates a psychological dependence while providing a constant threat of being expelled from the new “family.” For the kind of people that are susceptible to this kind of manipulation, expulsion from what they consider a safe harbor from the cold harshness of the real world is tantamount to a death sentence. In reality, it’s nowhere nearly that terrible but you wouldn’t know it from the blind obedience such a threat instills in these poor bastards.

But fear of expulsion only takes you so far. In order to form a cohesive group that will think and act as one (specifically, by following orders without question) there must be an external pressure. For Christian Dominionists, this pressure takes the form of a vast conspiracy arrayed against them.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: “Homosexuals are destroying this country! Radical, Godless liberals are assaulting Christianity! If we don’t stop these Socialists they will round you up and put you into camps just like the Nazis!” If you need more of this, just turn on Fox, go to a Tea Party or listen to AM talk radio. It will become very clear, very quickly, that, to the Right, there is a literal war going on and the Left is, literally, trying to destroy them, the country and everything that is good and decent in the world.

We have met the enemy and they are completely made up.

This siege mentality is incredibly dangerous to democracy. The threat of invasion or attack can weaken the knees of even the staunchest Liberal and the need for revenge can be all-consuming. One needs to look no further than the months and years after 9/11. In response to this attack we curtailed our civil liberties, decimated the Constitution, quashed legal (and perfectly legitimate) dissention, invaded two countries, pissed away our moral high ground, angered the entire planet… the list goes on and on and on. All in response to the threat of a few hundred or thousand religious fanatics hiding in caves (and one very comfortable compound but now just caves again). If we were willing to go that far to counter a threat from that small of a group, how far do you think Dominionists can get their followers to go to combat the shadowy forces of a vast secular, gay conspiracy?

While fear binds them together, anger is the force that drives them. A constant thread of violence and warfare runs throughout the movement. They are not just Christians but “Christian Soldiers” in battle against Satan and his minions, Liberals. These “soldiers” are inundated with images of the Apocalypse and how the sinners will be destroyed even as they themselves are saved from the horrors to be unleashed. Anyone that opposes the “will of God” is an enemy. Suspiciously, the “will of God” is strikingly similar to the will of the Right Wing and, even more suspiciously, extremely dissimilar to what the Bible actually says.

But that doesn’t matter. Dominionists MUST have an enemy to focus on to motivate the troops. For the moment, it’s homosexuals, abortion and Sharia law. In 2004, there was a massive effort by the Religious Right to paint gay marriage as THE defining issue of the election and it worked. During a time of war and an economic downturn, millions of conservative voters were somehow convinced that the terrible threat of gay marriage was far more important than the bungling job Bush and the Republican Congress were doing. Where was this idea planted? Christian Dominionist churches (as well as plenty of other, non-Dominionist but still conservative ones).

This may sound like a big old conspiracy but what would you call it when pastors from all over the country have a monthly teleconference to discuss strategies and issues of a decidedly political nature? Not sure? Ask Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council. They’re one of many Religious Right Wing groups that organize churches nationwide and essentially hand them marching orders. The politicization of houses of worship is a deeply disturbing trend. It is in these sanctuaries that people are most vulnerable and the most easily swayed. Millions are organized to support whatever agenda a select few at the top have crafted. The irony that the Gospels of Jesus are used to rally the unwitting faithful to oppose aid to the sick and the poor and to further the goal of Dominionism is lost only on these abused worshipers. Despite the restrictions supposedly placed on churches by the IRS, these bastions of Right Wing politics preach a very specific message of how the congregation should vote. Their growing numbers and fervor make them a powerful voice in politics.
And Bush’s “Faith Based Initiative” gave these groups quite the boost.

Imagine a lobbying group that had unrestricted access to the President and his staff, played a key role in crafting policy, and received billions of taxpayers’ dollars to further their work of undermining the framework of democracy. Your blood would boil if just a regular lobbying group, say Big Oil, engaged in such borderline illegal activities. Now imagine that it was a group that is expressly separated by the very Constitution the President is sworn to uphold from intermingling too closely with the government. That was life under the Bush administration and the damage continues to unfold today.

Supposedly, the Faith Based Initiative was to provide billions to religious organizations in order to help the homeless and hungry. In reality, it funneled all of that taxpayer money to sympathetic churches that were then empowered to spread the Good Word about religious conservatism. How do we know this? Because one of the more vocal critics of this scheme was the late Jerry Falwell. Oddly enough, Falwell seemed to be one of the few conservatives aware of the fact that the Presidency might not always BE occupied by a Dominionist. What happens when a centrist or, God forbid, an actual liberal takes office? That money won’t go to just good and decent Christian churches, but might end up in the hands of Jews and Muslims! This very real concern (Obama did exactly this when he took office) gives the lie to the philanthropic conceit of the original program. If the true goal is to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, who cares what religion takes up the task? But, of course, that was never the intent. The Bush Administration, (deeply steeped in Dominionism or did you think their Crusade against Islam was a coincidence?), abused its power to erode the barriers between Church and State and fatten the purse of the Dominionist movement at the same time.

Since then, Dominionists have lost their hold on the White House, so they have turned their focus towards Congress and the State legislatures. Now, conservatives are ANGRY! Republicans are OUTRAGED! The supposedly “grassroots” Tea Party is FURIOUS! Why? GAY MARRIAGE and ABORTION and SHARIA LAW!!! Just as in 2004, a flailing economy and two wars (and two half-wars) just aren’t as important as stopping these supposed engines of social destruction. Yes, these issues took a back seat to the economy for the 2010 elections but what did the newly triumphant GOP House majority tackle once it took power? Did they immediately focus on the economy and create millions of jobs? No. They attacked gay and reproductive rights and held hearings on encroaching Sharia.

The Religious Right has lapped it up. Their anger at these sinful activities is undiminished. Gays want to make their children into sex slaves. Abortionists want to wipe out black people. Never mind that 60 years ago, these were the same people declaring that mixed race marriages were the devil’s work, now THEY are the defenders of the black race against the depredations of secular liberals. Consistency is not a strong point for Dominionists and it doesn’t need to be. As long as they keep their flock angry and afraid, there is no limit to the lies they can sell. A prime example of this is, again, none other than Jerry Falwell who, during the Civil Rights movement, often championed the cause of George “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” Wallace. After 1970, when blatant racism became a liability, Falwell dropped his public bigotry. Instead of standing up and announcing his “change of heart”, Falwell quietly had copies of his old speeches destroyed. He moved forward as if he had never supported the Segregation movement. Down the memory hole it went and the Religious Right played right along with the lie.

Fear and Anger, the very core of the Dominionism movement. Is it any wonder they are impossible to engage in rational debate or compromise? We’ll look at this parallel world where science is bad, women are obedient, the Founding Fathers were all Christian and home is where the school is in my next frothing liberal lament.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The March of Christian Dominionism 1: What Is Christian Dominionism?

February 27, 2012
By Justin "Filthy Liberal Scum" Rosario

No. It's not. And it never was.

Or “Welcome to the Theocratic States of America”

Thirty years from now, a protestor stands alone on a corner. She is visibly pregnant. Her sign, written in blood red marker, says “I’m carrying my rapist’s baby! Thanks a lot, Jesus!” She has only been there for five minutes but has been called “slut” and “whore” by several passersby. One elderly woman stops long enough to tell her she deserved to be raped for not loving Jesus enough. Others look at her with sad eyes but quickly avert their gaze lest one of their neighbors notice.

Finally the police arrive to take the woman into custody. She has not spoken a word. She has no bullhorn. She has not accosted a single person on the street. Yet she is still arrested by men who barely contain their contempt for her. She has broken no laws that we would recognize but still, she is roughly handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser. Of course, they take great care not to harm the baby she is carrying; the bruises she’ll have later won’t be anywhere near life-threatening. In this, she is lucky to be pregnant; others do not fare as well.

She is not read her rights because she has none. She is a blasphemer against the Lord and has been stripped of all legal protections. Her pregnancy will ensure that she survives long enough to perhaps repent and beg forgiveness. If not, she will be stoned to death in a public square by devout followers. Her child will be raised by the State to be a patriotic, loyal and, above all, God fearing citizen.
Welcome to the Theocratic States of America.

This may seem like a scenario out of a bad science fiction film but you would be wrong. This is what the world should be according to Christian Dominionism.

What is Christian Dominionism? It’s exactly what it sounds like: a world dominated by Christianity. Not just under the control of Christianity but completely and utterly dominated by it. According to Dominionists, every aspect of our lives is subject to the strictures of the Bible. Our personal lives and social lives must be lived in accordance with the word of God. Economics, politics, science, the arts and the law are all to be placed under the auspices of Christianity. It is, in essence, exactly what people claim Sharia law is. Minus Islam.

Such a system is, by its very nature, a totalitarian one. There can be no freedom of expression. There can be no free press. There can be no freedoms of any kind except the freedom to obey the Word. This is a very appealing concept to those interested in power for its own sake. Such a concentration of power would be free of morality, ethics, decency or accountability of any kind. The ability to shape the world at will is very alluring and the perversion of religion is a powerful tool to reach that goal.

At the same time, to those without power or hope, the idea of surrendering to such total control is more than a soothing balm; it is something to be craved. The world remains cold and indifferent to the struggles and pain we all go through. Self-direction can be hard and messy. Deciding what is right and what is wrong by relying on your own moral compass can be exhausting. In an environment where a steady diet of pious, theocratic messaging can make it seem a virtue to let someone else tell you how to live and what to believe it is easy to surrender control. At that point, the absolute moral certainty of Dominionists becomes an anesthetic for the confusion and doubt of the everyday world. Is it any wonder the desperate seek it like an oasis in the desert?

Let us clear up two possible misconceptions; while I am an atheist, this article is not an “ATTACK ON CHRISTIANITY!!” as many on the Right, and no small amount on the Left, will claim. This is NOT about religion at all, that is, beyond its use as a means to an end. Dominionists do not care about the teachings of Jesus. They care about the control those teachings will provide over the desperate, the lost and the wounded. Their cries of persecution by evil liberal God-hating heathens like me are camouflage. By wrapping themselves in the trappings of piety, they deflect, successfully if you allow it, any direct critique of their agenda.

This creates an obstacle on both ends of the political spectrum. First, while Dominionists are always found among conservatives, not all conservatives are even remotely Dominionists. The problem is that many on the Right use religion in much the same way: as a prop to claim a moral high ground they have laughably failed to reach. This makes it difficult for Right Wing opportunists to separate themselves from the Christian Dominionism movement. In fact, it is nigh impossible to reveal Dominionists for the power hungry hypocrites they are without leaving themselves open to the very same charge. How does the wolf in sheep’s clothing denounce the other wolf hunting the same flock and stay hidden?

On the other hand, the Left does what is ALWAYS does refuse to make judgments. Oh sure, they’ll cluck their tongues and shake their heads but they won’t meet the threat because they are afraid of being accused of secularism or not being “tolerant” of diverse viewpoints. Excuse me, but that is load of bull puckey! Should we “tolerate” the Taliban? Or Eugenicists? Better yet, WHY should we “tolerate” a group that seeks to install a theocracy where democracy now flourishes? It is madness to think otherwise but that is exactly what liberals do. Terrified of offending someone, somewhere, many stand impotently by and wring their hands when faced with anything that falsely cloaks itself in piety.

Of course, we’re not ALL afraid of our shadow. Some of us are proud to be filthy liberal scum and we don’t give a sack of beans about hurting someone’s feelings. Sometimes it really is OK to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. Particularly when the theater really is on fire!

 The other most likely misconception is that this is a full on assault against the Right.

Well, yes and no. Don’t get me wrong, I despise the Right Wing of this country and take pretty much every opportunity to knock the GOP as the greedy, selfish, corporate whores that they are, but this is less about the conservative movement than it is about a specific subset of it. You could write an entire book about how much  you hate Catholics or Mormons and still not have anything negative to say about Christianity itself. In fact, Christians do this all the time. Dominionists, however, naturally gravitate to the Right because, among other things, that is where the anger and fear is. Christian Dominionism relies heavily on these two emotions to attract, shape and, ultimately, control their followers.

You may be thinking that such a small, radical group (and they are a small group in comparison to the overall conservative movement) would be marginalized and ineffective. Not a threat at all. Yet, somehow, in 2004, seven of the Bush White House’s interns were students from Patrick Henry College. Sound like a small number? It sure does! Until you consider the total number of interns was 100 and they can be picked from any of the thousands of colleges in the country. Also consider that Patrick Henry College accepts less than 100 students per year and specifically caters to homeschooled evangelicals. Suddenly, seven percent seems to be a remarkably high number for a college you’ve never heard of with such an incredibly small student body. Just to make you more uneasy, over twenty conservative Congressmen have had one or more Patrick Henry interns on their staff. And here’s the icing on the spooky cake: Patrick Henry College was only founded in 2000! So many interns attached to high powered conservatives is quite the achievement in so short a time.

In the same vein, caucuses are flooded with the furthest of the Far Right Wing ideologues. This forces would-be Republican candidates to veer wildly to the Right, usually on social issues, in order to even be nominated. This, in turn, drags the entire GOP to the right, not always willingly. We’ve seen a sharply accelerated version of this with the Tea Party but Dominionists have been at it much longer. You may recall the days when Jerry Falwell and his so-called “Moral Majority” exerted a tremendous amount of influence despite being, in reality, a small, widely dispersed group that merely made a lot of noise.

This is how a small, but highly organized and extremely well-funded, group of fringe radicals can control the entire process. Put the right pressure on the right spot at the right time and you elect Congressmen and women who do not believe in science and wholeheartedly support turning the country into one nation under a very specific God.

This concludes our short introduction to the concept of Christian Dominionism. Next we will examine how they capture and hold their followers.

Edited by Sherri Yarbrough
Why Are We So Afraid of Creativity?
By Maria Konnikova | February 26, 2012

Creativity: now there’s a word I thought I wouldn’t see under attack. Don’t we live in a society that thrives on the idea of innovation and creative thought? The age of the entrepreneur, of the man of ideas, of Steve Jobs and the think different motto? Well, yes and no. That is, indisputably yes on the surface. But no in a way that you might not expect: we may say we value creativity, we may glorify the most imaginative among us, but in our heart of hearts, imagination can scare us.

We're not always willing to take the risks that come with innovation. Image Credit: Creative Commons license.
As a general rule, we dislike uncertainty. It makes us uneasy. A certain world is a much friendlier place. And so, we work hard to reduce whatever uncertainty we can, often by making habitual, practical choices, choices that protect the status quo. You know the saying, better the devil you know? That about sums it up.
Creativity, on the other hand, requires novelty. Imagination is all about new possibilities, eventualities that don’t exit, counterfactuals, a recombination of elements in new ways. In other words, it is about the untested. And the untested is uncertain. It is frightening—even if we aren’t aware of just how much it frightens us personally. It is also potentially embarrassing (after all, there’s never a guarantee of success).
Consider a common paradox: organizations, institutions, and individual decision makers often reject creative ideas even as they state openly that creativity is, to them, an important and sometimes even central goal. Or another one: teachers have repeatedly been found to dislike students who show curiosity and creative thought, even though creativity is held as an important goal of education.
As Matthew Pearl reminds us in his new historical thriller, The Technologists (out this week), this general distrust of innovation is nothing new. The story, set in the Boston of 1868, follows students from M.I.T.’s first graduating class as they try to unravel a series of disasters that threaten the city (compasses going berserk in Boston Harbor, glass melting from the windows of the Financial District).
William Barton Rogers, the founder and first president of MIT. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

And while the disasters themselves are products of Pearl’s imagination, the extreme distrust of the fledgling technological college—Tech, as its students call it—is not. The school’s incorporation was resisted by the Massachusetts Board of Education. Funding was perpetually hard to come by (the more established Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard received the majority of donations from scientifically-minded patrons). And the Institute faced a steady stream of threats to its existence, from the possibility of being incorporated into Harvard to dissolution from lack of money and leadership.
Luckily, we know how this particular story ends. M.I.T. remains one of the most respected institutes of higher education in the world. But not everything works out so smoothly. If you’re a student whose teacher constantly thwarts you when you try to do something your own way, you may not have the stamina of M.I.T.’s founders—especially if you come across such resistance at an early age. Instead, you may find yourself trained to stop your creative thoughts before they are fully formed, lest you get in trouble for voicing something that is “wrong.” And before long, you may form a bias against creativity in all its forms—even though you will likely remain unaware of your negative views (after all, don’t we live in a society that values creative thought?).
While that chain of events is hypothetical, the final step is not. New research suggests that we may hold an unconscious bias against creative ideas much like we do in cases of racism or phobias.
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a tool that was created to look for discrepancies between consciously held beliefs (i.e., a belief in racial equality) and unconscious biases (i.e., a faster reaction time when pairing white with positive concepts and black with negative ones than vice versa). The measure can test for implicit bias toward any number of groups (though the most common one tests racial biases) by looking at reaction times for associations between positive and negative attributes and pictures of group representatives. Sometimes, the stereotypical positives are represented by the same key; sometimes, by different ones. Ditto the negatives. And your speed of categorization in each of these circumstances determines your implicit bias. To take the racial example, if you are faster to categorize when “European American” and “good” share a key and “African American” and “bad” share a key, it is taken as evidence of an implicit race bias.
Over the years, the IAT has shown a prevalence of unconscious biases in areas such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, mental disease, and disability. Now, it has been expanded to something that had never appeared in need of testing: creativity.
In a series of studies, participants had to complete the same good-bad category pairing as in the standard IAT, only this time, with two words that expressed an attitude that was either practical (such as functional, constructive, or useful) or creative (novel, inventive, original, etc.). The result: even those people who had explicitly ranked creativity as high on their list of positive attributes showed an implicit bias against it relative to practicality under conditions of uncertainty.

Innovation has never been altogether welcomed by society. Image credit: Portrait of Galileo Galilei, Justus Sustermans, 1636. Wikimedia Commons.

And what’s more, they also rated an idea that had been pre-tested as creative (a running shoe that uses nanotechnology to adjust fabric thickness to cool the foot and reduce blisters) as less creative than their more certain counterparts. So, not only were they implicitly biased, but they then exhibited a failure to see creativity for what it was when directly faced with it.
True, that effect was only seen in uncertain conditions—but doesn’t that describe most decision environments? I’m finding it hard to think of a time when we have to make actual judgments or choices or form real opinions that doesn’t involve some degree of the unknown.
I still find myself surprised at Mueller’s findings. Not surprised, necessarily, so much as disappointed. And yet, if you consider the evidence, they do make perfect sense. As Albert Einstein put it, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  I guess I’d just hoped that society as a whole had left such bias behind it sometime circa 1868.

Maria Konnikova 
About the Author: Maria Konnikova, a writer living in New York City, is a doctoral candidate in Psychology at Columbia University. Her first book will be published by Viking in 2013. Follow on Twitter @mkonnikova.

Piracy Doesn't Impact US Box Office

 Deadline Hollywood

Film piracy has a very little impact on box office results in the U.S. but likely cuts into studio profits overseas depending on the time lag between a film’s American debut and rollout overseas. Those are the surprising conclusions of an extensive study titled “Reel Piracy: The Effect of Online Film Piracy on International Box Office Sales,” spearheaded by Brett Danaher of Wellesley College and Joel Waldfogel at the University of Minnesota and the National Bureau of Economic Research.
While researchers in the study acknowledge an increase in piracy — especially for genres such as science fiction and action films — U.S. audiences still prefer the theatrical experience. The study found that Americans are heading to theaters in about the same numbers they would have otherwise in the absence of piracy, suggesting that perhaps people opt to see a film in a theater despite an initial pass online, or word of mouth from a pirated copy of a film may push others to the multiplex.
The study also concludes that since the advent of piracy software BitTorrent in 2003, the longer the lag time between a film’s release abroad compared to its U.S. opening, the greater the depression in box office receipts. Generally, the study found international returns were 7% lower in the sample set than they would have been had piracy not existed. Hollywood films normally bow in the U.S. before heading abroad, with opening dates varying by country; countries like Denmark, Finland, Italy, Poland, and Turkey generally have longer lag times than the UK, Switzerland and Australia.
Researchers found that in 2003-2004 a movie released overseas eight weeks after its U.S. premiere had lower returns by about 22% in a given country. That figure shot up to nearly 40% in 2005-2006 as each additional week of lag time decreased returns for science fiction and action titles by an extra 1.3% compared with other genres.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Exercise Fuels the Brain

Does exercise keep your brain running? 
Shannon Stapleton/ReutersDoes exercise keep your brain running?

Moving the body demands a lot from the brain. Exercise activates countless neurons, which generate, receive and interpret repeated, rapid-fire messages from the nervous system, coordinating muscle contractions, vision, balance, organ function and all of the complex interactions of bodily systems that allow you to take one step, then another.

This increase in brain activity naturally increases the brain’s need for nutrients, but until recently, scientists hadn’t fully understood how neurons fuel themselves during exercise. Now a series of animal studies from Japan suggest that the exercising brain has unique methods of keeping itself fueled. What’s more, the finely honed energy balance that occurs in the brain appears to have implications not only for how well the brain functions during exercise, but also for how well our thinking and memory work the rest of the time.

For many years, scientists had believed that the brain, which is a very hungry organ, subsisted only on glucose, or blood sugar, which it absorbed from the passing bloodstream. But about 10 years ago, some neuroscientists found that specialized cells in the brain, known as astrocytes, that act as support cells for neurons actually contained small stores of glycogen, or stored carbohydrates. And glycogen, as it turns out, is critical for the health of cells throughout the brain.

In petri dishes, when neurons, which do not have energy stores of their own, are starved of blood sugar, their neighboring astrocytes undergo a complex physiological process that results in those cells’ stores of glycogen being broken down into a form easily burned by neurons. This substance is released into the space between the cells and the neurons swallow it, maintaining their energy levels.
But while scientists knew that the brain had and could access these energy stores, they had been unable to study when the brain’s stored energy was being used in actual live conditions, outside of petri dishes, because brain glycogen is metabolized or burned away very rapidly after death; it’s gone before it can be measured.

That’s where the Japanese researchers came in. They had developed a new method of using high-powered microwave irradiation to instantly freeze glycogen levels at death, so that the scientists could accurately assess just how much brain glycogen remained in the astrocytes or had recently been used.

In the first of their new experiments, published last year in The Journal of Physiology, scientists at the Laboratory of Biochemistry and Neuroscience at the University of Tsukuba gathered two groups of adult male rats and had one group start a treadmill running program, while the other group sat for the same period of time each day on unmoving treadmills. The researchers’ aim was to determine how much the level of brain glycogen changed during and after exercise.
Using their glycogen detection method, they discovered that prolonged exercise significantly lowered the brain’s stores of energy, and that the losses were especially noticeable in certain areas of the brain, like the frontal cortex and the hippocampus, that are involved in thinking and memory, as well as in the mechanics of moving.

The findings of their subsequent follow-up experiment, however, were even more intriguing and consequential. In that study, which appears in this month’s issue of The Journal of Physiology, the researchers studied animals after a single bout of exercise and also after four weeks of regular, moderate-intensity running.

After the single session on the treadmill, the animals were allowed to rest and feed, and then their brain glycogen levels were studied. The food, it appeared, had gone directly to their heads; their brain levels of glycogen not only had been restored to what they had been before the workout, but had soared past that point, increasing by as much as a 60 percent in the frontal cortex and hippocampus and slightly less in other parts of the brain. The astrocytes had “overcompensated,” resulting in a kind of brain carbo-loading.

The levels, however, had dropped back to normal within about 24 hours.

That was not the case, though, if the animals continued to exercise. In those rats that ran for four weeks, the “supercompensation” became the new normal, with their baseline levels of glycogen showing substantial increases compared with the sedentary animals. The increases were especially notable in, again, those portions of the brain critical to learning and memory formation — the cortex and the hippocampus.

Which is why the findings are potentially so meaningful – and not just for rats.

While a brain with more fuel reserves is potentially a brain that can sustain and direct movement longer, it also “may be a key mechanism underlying exercise-enhanced cognitive function,” says Hideaki Soya, a professor of exercise biochemistry at the University of Tsukuba and senior author of the studies, since supercompensation occurs most strikingly in the parts of the brain that allow us better to think and to remember. As a result, Dr. Soya says, “it is tempting to suggest that increased storage and utility of brain glycogen in the cortex and hippocampus might be involved in the development” of a better, sharper brain.

Given the limits of current technologies, brain glycogen metabolism cannot be studied in people. But even so, the studies’ findings make D.I.Y. brain-fuel supercompensation efforts seem like an attractive possibility. And, according to unpublished data from Dr. Soya’s lab, the process may even be easy.

He and his colleagues have found that “glycogen supercompensation in some brain loci” is “enhanced in rats receiving carbohydrates immediately after exhaustive exercise.” So for people, that might mean that after a run or other exercise that is prolonged or strenuous enough to leave you tired, a bottle of chocolate milk or a banana might be just the thing your brain is needing.

Thank you New York Times

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Generational angst

Pop demographers would have us believe we're all card-carrying members of various birth cohorts - leading to clashes, of late, between boomers and millennials. But is that really the case?

By Robert Wright, For Postmedia News February 11, 2012 

Members of the Occupy movement in Vancouver and around the world were looking for a redistribution of wealth.

Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG Files, For Postmedia News
The Occupy Movement that swept across North America this fall was widely criticized for lacking focus, for having no firm demands, and for its refusal to coalesce into a structured political organization. As a result, the various encampments attracted all manner of protesters, objectors and social outsiders.

But one constantly recurring sentiment has been the feeling of intergenerational grievance: that youth unemployment is at record levels, that student debt is skyrocketing, and that this generation of kids will be "the first generation to do worse than its parents."

It has been more than a decade since North American educators and other sympathetic observers began sounding the alarm on the chronic downward mobility of youth and young adults.

In those days, the plight of marginalized, impoverished and debt-ridden kids was exacerbated by the propensity of older citizens to blame the mess on the kids themselves.

When Canadian pollster Michael Adams dismissed 1.9 million Canadian youth as "aimless dependents" and "slackers without a cause" in his celebrated 1997 bestseller Sex in the Snow, he captured the '90s zeitgeist.

That was before the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street. Now, instead of slackers, we have a new pop-demography zeitgeist: boomers versus "generation debt" or "the screwed generation."

But here's a news flash: How-ever appealing this model of Canadian society may be to tabloid journalists, opportunistic cool-hunters, overpaid cyber-gurus and angry young job-seekers, it is a complete fiction.

Thanks to pop demographers like David Foot (remember Boom, Bust and Echo?), we have been fully conditioned to think of ourselves as card-carrying members of various birth cohorts - boomers, Gen-X-ers, millennials.

For Foot and his count-less imitators, the only social dynamic that matters is generational competition, where each cohort occupies a distinct social, cultural and especially economic space that must continually be staked out and defended vis-a-vis the others.

Generational conflict displaces all other forms of social struggle, pitting parents against children, middle-aged boomers against both the elderly and the young, even the living against the unborn.

In this brave new world, Canadians have vested interests rather than traditions. Far from having anything of value to teach each other, each cohort lives in a world of its own making, deeply suspicious of the others and concerned only to prevail in a world of shrinking resources and growing demand for them.

There are two main problems with this way of looking at the world. The first is that pop demographers get it wrong - sometimes really wrong.

Foot once singled out 1961 as the worst year in which to be born in North America because "you're one of a huge crowd of late baby boomers."

Really? Canadians born in 1961 include Jim Balsillie, Tony Clement, Douglas Coup-land, Wayne Gretzky and k.d. lang. Barack Obama was born in 1961, and he seems to be doing fairly well. Ditto George Clooney, Sarah Brightman and Wynton Marsalis.

One of the most notorious books in the pop demography oeuvre is The Big Generation, written by Canadian business consultant John Kettle in 1980. Never heard of it? That's because the ink had barely dried on the page before Kettle's scathing attack on baby boomers had become completely anachronistic.

According to Kettle, self-absorbed boomers had conspired to turn Western Civilization on its head, abandoning the Protestant work ethic along with earlier generations' noble willingness to "live vicariously on future hopes and their children's prospects."
Patriotism? Forget it. Boomers could never "identify them-selves and their interests with national interests."

Law and order? Same. The boomers' "capacity for hostility and violence is enormous."

Seen from Kettle's pre-boomer, pro-business, civic engagement perspective, the future was a nightmare. Lazy, unambitious and cynical about power, the boomers would elevate the NDP to official Opposition by the end of the 1980s, Kettle predicted, and elect it the Government of Canada before the end of the 20th century.
Of course, things did not turn out this way. Most of the political watersheds in recent Canadian history - Pierre Elliott Trudeau's Charter federalism, Rene Levesque's sovereignty-association, Jacques Parizeau's separatist gambit, Preston Manning's neo-conservatism - were pioneered by pre-boomers.

Exempting Kim Campbell's brief (and unelected) tenure as prime minister in 1993, the first boomer PM is Stephen Harper, the man credited not only with obliterating Canadian socialists, Red Tories and natural-governing Liberals, but with fundamentally redrawing the Canadian political map and catalyzing a new form of right-wing Canadian nationalism.

In the hyper-caffeinated late 1980s, somebody predicted that the 1990s would be the "leisure decade."

But as we all know, life in the wired, globalized, 24/7 world grows more and more frantic, and less and less human, with each passing year; futurologist Jeremy Rifkin's 1996 book The End of Work was obsolete before it was even published.

Anyone who believed the boomers would usher in a Jimmy Buffett world of unencumbered hedonism must still be reeling from the frenetic, real-time, on-demand world that boomers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell actually gave us.

The only thing that appears not to have changed is the timeless refrain of intergenerational warfare: kids these days are all ungrateful, self-absorbed slackers, while their elders are the bloated beneficiaries of a demographic lottery.

"Occupy a job," shouted the signs of the thirtysomething stockbrokers on their way past the Occupy Toronto protests.


The second problem with pop demography is less obvious, but more pernicious.

The basic social unit in Canada is not the birth cohort. It is the family. This is not the fabled "working family" invoked by our politicians' cynical sound bites, but real, actual Canadian families, in all of their intergenerational complexity, working quietly to do the best they can with the hands they have been dealt. In most Canadian families, "generations" are not at war.

They work together. And in most boomer-headed house-holds, parents are not "committing younger generations to a fate of austerity and stagnancy," as one newspaper article so elegantly put it. They are supporting their children and even their grandchildren well into adulthood.

To begin with the obvious, not all boomers are the leisured, jogging beauties of the "Freedom 55" commercials. They are as varied by class, ethnicity and gender as other Canadians. Their wealth mostly takes the form of real estate equity - the one advantage of being part of a large "pig in the python" demographic.
Big cohorts like the baby boom may have had to compete tooth and nail for jobs, but the same competition also drove real estate values into the stratosphere.

Inflated housing values not-withstanding, not all boomers are wealthy, and many never will be.

Some, like female boomer divorcees, face a bleak future. According to research sponsored by the Salvation Army, the number of "financially vulnerable older women" in Canada is about to jump dramatically.

Financial planners also report a statistically significant number of boomer women leaving the workforce to care for elderly parents and young grandchildren - evidence, as if any were needed, that social services, once underwritten by the state, are quietly being privatized within families.


One of the enduring myths of our time - you can read it practically daily in the financial pages - is that boomers who have been hammered by declining investment returns since 2008 have decided to "cling" to high-paying jobs that would otherwise fall to young Canadians.

The reality is that older Canadians are delaying retirement as part of a family-based strategy for economic survival, and they have been doing so since the mid-1990s. They are keeping their well-paying jobs precisely because their own kids do not have access to them.

The labour market is, after all, the labour market. Com-plain all you like about boomers clogging it up but, to state the obvious, there is no way for older workers to hand-pick their successors.
Boomer entrepreneurs may leave their businesses to their children, but for the rest, in this dog-eat-dog economy, where is the material incentive to hand a lucrative and rewarding job to somebody else's kid? In the academic world, for example, faculty renewal would be a growth industry if professors could hand-pick their replacements from their favourite graduate students.
Boomers are also pilloried for adopting a careless "work till you drop" attitude toward their poorly planned retirements, but this, too, is a myth.

The overwhelming threat to boomers' quality of life in retirement is longevity, itself the product of medical advances and healthier living. Thus, while it is true that Canadians are retiring later than earlier cohorts, what is less well known is that the length of time they will live in retirement is not changing.

Male boomers retiring in 2008 could expect to live 15 years in retirement, females boomers, 18 years. Boomers may be the first generation to live decades past the conventional retirement age of 65, but they won't be the last. By 2100, Canadian life expectancy is likely to exceed 90.

Academic studies show that older working boomers still con-tribute massively to the national tax base, and also that Canadian productivity would drop if their expertise were to disappear from the economy en masse.

One Canadian pundit who has begun thinking seriously about Canada's aging population, Jeffrey Simpson, acknowledges that the government should be encouraging boomers to retire later - to fatten government revenues and to reduce the bur-den on public pensions.


What about "skiing," an acronym for "spending the kids' inheritance"?

Contrary to prevailing stereotypes, financial planners report that boomers are keenly interested in inheritance tax planning. Why? Because many know that young Canadians' best shot at a decent start in life begins with a leg up from their parents and grandparents.
A recent TD Canada Trust "boomer buyers report" reveals that the adult children of boomers are directly affecting their parents' retirement and investing decisions. Seventeen per cent of boomers who expressed a desire to "downsize" their residences (i.e. move to smaller homes or condos) added that they were postponing such plans in order to accommodate their adult children and grandchildren.

Have boomers conspired throughout their lives to vote their generational interests in a selfish and ultimately socially destructive way? Iain Reeve, a grad-student contributor to the Queen's University Journal, believes so.

"After benefiting in their youth from the most permissive social welfare state ever," says Reeve, "the baby boomers moved into career employment and the years where most people's dependence on government ser-vices declines. The result was a gutting of the welfare state, lower taxes and a greater reliance on the private sector."

But the myth of baby boomers as the most politicized generation, capable of mobilizing their electoral clout to advance their own selfish agenda, is simply wrong. Academic studies of the famed political disengagement of youth show that it started with the boomers.

The "generation" the politicians have been courting shamelessly since the 1970s are not boomers but today's seniors - roughly 90 per cent of whom can still be counted upon to cast a vote.

The greatest triumph in late 20th-century social policy was not the fattening of middle-aged boomers: it was the virtual eradication of elder poverty. As The Economist pointed out in December 2010, it is the over-65 crowd that self-identifies as conservative and votes accordingly.

In truth, far from rapaciously exploiting the ever-widening social safety net in the Canada of their youth, many boomers today concede that they completely missed the boat. Take university education. By the late 1970s, tuition was virtually free, and government grants and loans were extraordinarily generous. Nobody knew the party would not go on forever. Boomers who misread the tea leaves and opted not to go to university have been kicking themselves ever since.

Their regrets extend to their debt-burdened children. The best evidence that nobody thought much about saving for their kids' education is that there was no government-subsidized Registered Educational Savings Plan nor any demand for one. Boomers can hardly be blamed for failing to save for their kids' education when everyone believed it would remain a bargain.


Finally, where do Canadian kids themselves stand, those who ostensibly camped out in the nation's parks as part of the Occupy movement's 99 per cent?

Last month, the B.C. Securities Commission published the results of a remarkable poll. Three thousand recent Canadian high school graduates en route to post-secondary education were asked about their financial futures. They told pollsters they believe they will be earning $91,000 per year within a decade, that they will own their own homes within the same period, and they will have their student loans paid off in half that time.

Groping for an explanation for why young Canadians appear to be so utterly deluded, the authors of the report concluded bluntly that they must be financially illiterate.

Maybe. But there is another explanation. Maybe these kids have been so well sheltered by their parents' largesse and generosity that they expect it to continue indefinitely. Maybe boomer parents will continue to provide their children with free room and board, child care and a sympathetic ear, as well as money for tuition, tuition debt, home purchases, car payments, insurance, transit, grad school, start-up business costs, cellphones, whatever.

In the past, when youth problems were perceived to be "out of control" - delinquency, crime, unemployment, social tensions, drug problems - governments stepped in to restore stability.
This time, although young Canadians are obviously facing enormous challenges, the indicators of social tensions, particularly violent crime, are actually receding.

Is it possible that the net effect of Canadians' family survival strategies are creating a more conservative society overall? Is it possible that young Canadians' identification with their parents' economic interests, combined with a lifetime of deferred gratification, explains why they are less rebellious than their parents?

It does not have to be this way, of course. No one wants a lost generation of young adults delaying house-buying and child-bearing into their 30s and 40s.

As Paul Kershaw of UBC has said repeatedly, many of the challenges confronting young Canadians, particularly young parents, can and ought to be addressed politically, as matters of public policy.
Kershaw wants government to help out young families by introducing a $22-billion "New Deal" that would include a national child care strategy and more generous federally funded parental leave provisions.

He is right. These are things a rich country like Canada can and should do. We could also make tuition affordable and tuition debt manageable.

We could make more of an effort to redistribute wealth on a national scale and to redress the trend of worsening wealth polarization - priorities the Occupy movement has put squarely on the national agenda.

We could also find some creative financial mechanisms for redistributing wealth within families, so those with big homes full of adult children can "downsize" while providing their kids entrée into the real estate market.
We could do what we said we would do almost two decades ago and end child poverty.

The next decade is going to be difficult, everyone agrees on that.
Austerity is once again the watchword in the industrialized West, as we wrestle our deficits and debts to the ground and try to rebuild our floundering economies.

Now is not the time to engage in silly pseudo-demography about competing generations, as if this alone accounts for the myriad problems facing young Canadians. It is time for serious people to start thinking about serious solutions, and the kids themselves know it.

Robert Wright is a professor of history at Trent University in Oshawa, Ont.

Thank you to The Vancouver Sun