A Holiday I Don’t Hate

Hello. In case we haven’t met, I’m the douchebag that hates everything fun. I figuratively poop New Year’s parties. I’m a boo-humbug in October. I wouldn’t celebrate my birthday if my friends (bless their hearts) didn’t drag me out of the house. I ignore so many reasons for joy that they don’t even have terms for me for each and every occasion.

No, really. Here’s proof that I can piss on every holiday on the Federal calendar:

New Year’s Day – The day we celebrate our arbitrary timing for changing a number.
Washington’s Birthday – Thanks, guy who won our independence. And we thank you by celebrating your birthday on a day that’s never your birthday.
Memorial Day – The day we memorialize our veterans by continuing to ignore their medical and emotional needs. New seasonal-wear!
Independence Day – We celebrate the day we said we were independent, rather than the day we actually were.
Labor Day – Great job, workers. Now, back at it. These sales aren’t gonna sell themselves.
Columbus DayColumbus was a douche.
Veterans Day – Okay, this one’s pretty damn legit. Maybe something about no one knowing how to pronounce it? “Vetrens Day?” “Vennerans Day?”
Thanksgiving Day – Hey, remember that one time we got along with Native-Americans before we drove them off their continent?
Christmas Day – Y’all know this is in December to co-opt indigenous religious holidays to hasten their conversion to Christianity, right?

Seriously, that took no time at all. My typing can’t keep up with my cynicism.

Thankfully, even my cold, dead heart softens a bit on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Sure, I could ramble off something cynical about holiday tokenism and probably be correct. However, if any one person deserves his own holiday, it’s MLK.

Today, you’ve undoubtedly heard the same four lines of his “I Have a Dream” Speech. You’ve heard that King was the leader of the American-American Civil Rights Movement. You’ve heard that he was a great voice for equality in the United States.

None of those things are wrong, but they are not why MLK was so damn important.

He taught us to not only refuse to fight back, but also to refuse to hate back. He knew that hate cannot be harnessed, but can only corrupt. He knew that nothing is more powerful than forgiveness. A person who turns the other cheek awakens another’s shame.

He also understood that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It’s why he endangered his domestic progress by speaking out against the Vietnam War. It’s why he spoke out against a society that refused to allow those born into poverty an equal opportunity to succeed. He was concerned for all people, not just his people.

Most of all, MLK is important because HE WAS RIGHT. Certainly, violence can bring about change. However, only nonviolence can bring about justice, which is the only foundation for lasting peace. We’ve seen it in India and South Africa. Sadly, we saw it only briefly in the United States. No one was able to fill King’s shoes.

That’s why we celebrate today. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the greatest voice for love, forgiveness, and justice the world’s ever seen. That’s why MLK Day is important.

Or at least, why it should be.

Fighting for Freedom

Recently, I published some thoughts on America’s relationship with its soldiers, both past and present. If you haven’t checked it out, I would advise doing that first, lest this post seem unnecessarily harsh.


Every Memorial Day, every Veterans Day, every Fourth of July, every possible moment of patriotism, we thank our brave soldiers and veterans for fighting for our freedom. Like I’ve said before, I think there’s better ways of serving your nation than killing or dying for it, but I still wholeheartedly agree with all the praise.

…Until the “fighting for our freedom” part.

When was the last time we actually fought for our freedom? When was the last time the United States fought a war in which our liberty or our way of life was in true peril?

The American Revolution, War of 1812, and the American Civil War are no-brainers. However, things get pretty shady after that. Continue reading

History Lives

One of the things that stuck with me most during my trip to London last year was the incredible diversity of the city. Anglo-Saxons, Indians, Sikhs, the whole nine yards. People from seemingly everywhere came to live or work in the English capital.

All of this makes sense for those who know anything about British History. Everyone comes to live in Britain because the British basically controlled everyone at one time or another. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 eventually led to Pax Britannica and an empire so large that the sun very literally “never set on the British Empire.”

That empire began to crumble when a war fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan for the freedom of the world revealed the inherent contradiction between colonialism and self-determination. When the Japanese Army swept across Southeast Asia, it showed the world that Europeans were not invincible.

From this history of cultural imperialism and exchange comes the incredible diversity of London. There, I saw the impact of history. History walked up and down the streets. History took the Tube every morning. History stopped at Greggs for a terrible-for-you, but so-dang-good breakfast roll.

Somehow it felt like London was doing it right, or at least better than Minneapolis. Minneapolis is certainly diverse, but it also feels divided in ways that London did not. Continue reading


(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by friend of Nothing But The Rain and blogger extraordinaire Kelly of Adventures in Poor Grammar. I’d recommend checking out her blog post-haste.)

It’s been a weird day.

September 11th, 2013 finds me in church.

To be precise, September 11th, 2013 finds me in a Quaker Meeting House.

I like the Quakers. They don’t give a damn if you believe in Buddha, Baby Jesus or Carl Sagan. They’re just happy that you’re there. And they don’t ask anything aside from silence from you while you’re there. That kind of worship is perfect for an atheist who is, in fact, probably thinking about Carl Sagan while she’s sitting there.

It’s not unusual to find me in a Quaker Meeting. I try to attend when I can.

Something about today just made me need . . . what exactly? Community? God? Reassurance?

I can’t think of an American born prior to 2001 who doesn’t feel a tiny bit of dread as the September 11th approaches, but personally, my dread has less to do with what happened on 9/11/2001 and more to do with the past twelve years.   Continue reading

Christianity, Islam, & Just War

(Editor’s Note: This is an essay written for a college sociology class in or around 2006.  While it oversimplifies the War on Terror and does not account for secular decisions, nationalism, or sectarian conflict, I think the Just War Doctrine comparison is worthy of publishing.)

While the conflict between Christianity and Islam long predates Charles Martel, Saladin, and King Richard I, the methods of warfare have changed much since then.  The 9/11 Attacks have brought a level of animosity between the United States and Muslims not seen since Thomas Jefferson, Stephen Decatur, and the Barbary pirates.  Radical Muslims have launched attacks on both U.S. military targets (Beirut in 1983, USS Cole in 2000) and civilian targets (Kenyan and Tanzanian Embassies in 1998, World Trade Center in 2001) (US Army).  In response to these attacks, the United States invaded and occupied the terrorist haven of Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, suspected of aiding Al-Qaeda. Neither the “Christian” nation of America nor fundamentalist Muslims understands the Just War Theories of their religions they profess to follow. As a result, the casualties of the War on Terror could one day belittle the Crusades.

While it would be a grievous error to characterize America as a Christian nation, its military thinking is clearly rooted in Christian Just War Doctrine. In the Bible, Jesus tells his apostles, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9).  Yet, he says, “and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).  In the Old Testament, we are told, “There is an appointed time for everything,” including, “a time to kill” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 3).

Lesson 10: Never Say Never

In war, the only certainty is that nothing is certain. If that is cliché, it’s only because it is too true to go unmentioned. The fog of war, combined with human unpredictability, can create outcomes or present opportunities that no one could predict. McNamara mentions, seemingly in passing, that he “learned very early” to never say never.

Although this might seem like a plea for optimism, I interpret it more as a reminder that we shouldn’t give up before we try something. The St. Nazarie Raid. Operation Entebbe. These were thinly-veiled suicide missions, if they were veiled at all. However, they still worked. Never say never.

If this lesson is useful in war, it’s even more useful in preventing it. Continue reading

Lesson 9: In Order To Do Good, You May Have To Engage in Evil

Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. It’s a law of the universe as we currently understand it. In a more general sense, every action has consequences, both positive and negative. A lot of ripples are going to be created when something as large as a nation or as blunt as military force throws a stone into a pond. McNamara urges us to remember that in order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.

Objectively, there is no greater evil than ending a human life. If one is religious, edicts against killing are found in every sacred text. If not, it’s a waste beyond measure to end a nearly cosmically impossible life.

Yet, the United States has certain values and certain responsibilities on the world stage. If the United Nations decides that genocide is occurring, it is our responsibility to stop it, with military force if necessary. If an ally is attacked, we are bound to protect them, with military force if necessary. If we are attacked, we must defend ourselves. A nation can do none of these things without engaging in evil.

The key is to minimize the evil as much as possible. Continue reading

Lesson 8: Be Prepared to Re-examine Your Reasoning

If Lesson 7 shows us that is that we perceive, not see, reality, then his next lesson is how to fix that problem. We are not omniscient. We make mistakes. We can’t trust ourselves. If this is the case, then McNamara suggests we be prepared to re-examine our reasoning.

One part of re-examining our reasoning is remaining open-minded when making decisions. If we know we are not perfect, we should remain realistic about the chance of being wrong. Bring in people who disagree. Listen to them. If their questions can’t be answered, there is a good chance you are headed down a wrong path. This was certainly the case with the 2003 Invasion of Iraq when President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and other national security advisors sidelined Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and others in the State Department who disagreed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction or links to Al-Qaeda.

Another part of this lesson is listening to our allies. McNamara’s belief is that the United States should never apply political, economic, or military power unilaterally. Continue reading

Lesson 7: Belief and Seeing Are Often Both Wrong

A common aphorism suggests that “seeing is believing,” suggesting that we shouldn’t believe everything we hear. Only when we see something with our own two eyes can we be certain of the truth. Of course, this is wrong. Instead, “believing is seeing.” Our minds are not blank slates that record data. Our biases and beliefs color our perception, changing our interpretation of what we see. McNamara’s advice is to understand that belief and seeing are often both wrong.

As an example, McNamara walks us through the Tonkin Gulf Incident. On August 2, 1964, the USS Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese patrol craft. Two days later, the Maddox and the Turner Joy reported being attacked once again. In response, President Lyndon Johnson asked for, and was given by Congress, a blank check to combat the North Vietnamese.

As it turns out, we were not attacked the second day, although that’s not the point. Continue reading

Lesson 6: Get the Data

In order to make good decisions, we cannot simply depend on rationality or our intellectual gifts. Just as dangerous as operational mistakes are structural mistakes. A bad process will spell disaster just as quickly as a mistake in a good process. After all, as much as people enjoy using hindsight to validate or condemn decisions, good decision-making is determined by the process, not by the result. McNamara certainly believes that in order to make good decisions, one must get the data.

McNamara uses his time at Ford Motor Company to prove his point. He discovered that 40,000 people died in car accidents every year, most of whom died not as a result of the impact, but from being thrown into the steering wheel. The egg carton inspired him to think about packaging, which led to all sorts of tests, and eventually, the seat belt. Thanks to McNamara and Ford’s research, some 250,000 lives have been saved.

This is an idea easy to relate to foreign policy. Continue reading