Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Oatmeal cookies

Well, it's that time again...Christmas cookie time! Below is one of my favorite cookie recipes (seen here, from my latest batches, along the left and mixed with the peanut butter balls along the middle bottom).


Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Oatmeal cookies

¾ cup butter
½ cup peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup milk chocolate chips
Melted milk chocolate
Peanut pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl beat butter and peanut butter together. Add sugars, baking powder and baking soda, and mix. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, mix thoroughly. Stir in oats and chocolate chips. Drop rounded teaspoons of cookie dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.
When completely cool, dip one end of cookie in melted chocolate; immediately dip coated cookie end into peanut pieces. Return to rack to set.


Legally fired for being too attractive...

If this doesn't make you shake your head, nothing will. According to the (all male) Iowa Supreme Court, a boss can fire a female employee who has committed no infraction for the offense of being -- wait for it -- too pretty. And that is not unlawful discrimination. 

The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an "irresistible attraction," even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. Such firings may be unfair, but they are not unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.

An attorney for Fort Dodge dentist James Knight said the decision, the first of its kind in Iowa, is a victory for family values because Knight fired Melissa Nelson in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman.

If a woman is too pretty, she is a threat to her boss' marriage and can be fired accordingly. The boss has no responsibility to keep his own "feelings and emotions" under control, because it isn't unlawful discrimination if  he fires her. I'm sure that, though, like pay inequalities between the genders, is ultimately just the fault of women. If only Mrs. Nelson had the good sense to be unattractive, or not her boss' type, then she would still have her job.

Oh, and the icing on this cake? The firing was sanctioned by Knight's pastor.

The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.

Not only is it not the man's legal responsibility to control himself, it's also apparently not his moral responsibility. Now there's an anomaly...religion holding women accountable for men's behavior...imagine that!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hobbit: the good, the bad, and the awesome

Or, a long awaited review ;)

As you may have guessed (by, for one thing, my blog name), I am a big fan of Tolkien's The Hobbit (and LotR). So I was very excited to see Peter Jackson's first installment of The Hobbit last week. And very annoyed when the flu postponed that viewing. But, after an excruciating day and a half, I got to the theater. I chose 2D because I still had a headache and couldn't bear the thought of 3D glasses (which give me a headache even when I'm not sick). Yes, I was in pretty humble condition; but this was The Hobbit we're talking about. (And if you're afraid that such a level of devotion will find its way into my review/thoughts, you are probably right. But I will strive very hard to keep it as objective as possible.) So here's what I thought – late, I know, but better late than never.

The good

Screen adaptation – In general, this was very well done, especially considering that The Hobbit was written as a children's book, so it has some moments that would be very hard to represent on the screen without seeming excessively silly. There was a slew of variances from the text that the nerdy side of me took umbrage with (why, Jackson, why did the meeting at Rivendell have to be unpleasant, when it was so very pleasant in the book?!), but that, objectively, weren't bad and furthered the story well (although I still say the Rivendell meeting could have been more like it was written, without changing the story...but I digress). Jackson worked hard to give a bit of character to each dwarf, with mixed effect. On the one hand, many of them have distinct personalities (an improvement to the missing personalities for many characters in the book, heresy though it is to admit), which I like; on the other, Peter Jackson seems to have a very cheesy and somewhat juvenile sense of humor. We got glimpses of it in LotR, but it is exercised with much greater liberty here. This also true of his flare for the absurd (more on that later). All in all, however, the story is well told, and moves along quickly – once you get past the lumbering beginning (more on that as well).

Bilbo/Martin Freeman – Martin Freeman plays the lead role in this as Bilbo, and I thought he did a very good job. I have to admit, this Bilbo is not how I imagined Bilbo when reading. I saw him as more of a stuffy fellow, a county bigwig who is very self-important. Which isn't to say there isn't some of that; there is, and it is very well done. I cannot think this role was easy – to play a proud, somewhat cowardly yet surprisingly brave person. Excuse me, hobbit. Freeman did a very good job (he was particularly good against Smeagol, but more on that in a bit), and I look forward to his continuation of the saga.

Gandalf/Sir Ian McKellan – this, for any fan of LotR, practically goes without saying, but Ian McKellan was, as always, excellent. The only reason I have not put him in the “awesome” category was because I thought the character at times not very consistent, particularly when weighed against the Gandalf portrayed in LotR. Like, for instance, when he grimaces at the sight of Saruman – when, 60 years later, he will speak with deference and the utmost respect.

The bad

Flare for the Absurd – The dwarves' costumes are one example of this, but there is a much better one.

Radagast the Brown – ...which brings me to Radagast the Brown. What Peter Jackson was thinking with this, I will never know...but a wizard with bird poop running down his face? Really?! And I'm not even going to get into the bunny-drawn sleigh...

The Goblin King – This is another continuation of the above. But the rotund king of the goblins, complete with his foot of swaying chin fat, hardly brings to mind the ferocious goblin Tolkien wrote about, or anything ferocious. Maybe I'm being picky, but I thought he was just too...absurd.

Time – the movie, particularly the beginning, stretches on for too long. I'm not saying I didn't like seeing the first chapters adapted for the screen. But, objectively, it just drags on too long, and doesn't do much to further the story.

Characters that added nothing – Galadriel and Saruman, anyone? For all the awesomeness of seeing them again, they added nothing to the story, and ended up seeming like a tacky way to include beloved characters from LotR despite the fact that they are irrelevant to the movie.

The awesome

Thorin Oakenshield/Richard Armitage – anyone familiar with Armitage's work (North and South, Robin Hood, etc.) will know what caliber acting to expect. And this is no exception. Armitage brings life into the proud dwarf, Thorin, and you can understand both Bilbo's respect and his trepidation of him.

Smeagol/Gollum/Andy Serkis – Again, this is no surprise to any fan of LotR. But Smeagol is as good – dare I say, better? – this time around. And, as Andy Serkis remarked, 60 years younger, so that much sexier. ;) He is not onscreen for a long time, but he will manage to scare the daylights out of you, and move you to compassion in the next minute.

All in all, I liked the movie. I didn't love it, but I did love portions of it. I will certainly see it again.

4/5 “stars”

Placing blame where it belongs...or anywhere it'll stick, as long as it isn't over here!

Anyone listening to the conservative blogosphere or talking heads, or the typical conservative POV expressed on social media and elsewhere, is by now pretty clear as to where conversations can go regarding the Sandy massacre.

A discussion about limiting accessibility to assault weapons is verboten, for instance. There is no practical way to keep guns out of the hands of violent, mentally ill people, because that would infringe on the rights of good guys. We do not need a discussion about a culture that conflates masculinity and gun ownership, and what impact that has on insecure, mentally ill young men – a culture that is, coincidentally, fostered by the companies producing these weapons (like the following ad by Bushmaster – who produced one of the guns Adam Lanza used).

But you must understand that guns are not the problem here, unless it be that there are not enough guns floating around. To say otherwise is to be akin to Hitler, Stalin, and pretty much every other evil dictator out there – to want to leave the people defenseless to the wicked whims and evil machinations of tyrannical government. (Nevermind that, for all the villains you can dig up who disarmed the populace, there are plenty of countries who have implemented very strict gun control laws without butchering their people; you must be afraid, very afraid, that anyone who talks about in anyway regulating your right to bear arms [curse those fascist founding fathers!] wants you to be defenseless against the government. Because you, good American, with your cache of assault weapons, are the valiant guard of freedom, against the tyranny of our government...and their tanks, jets, drones, and everything else. That's a charge not to be taken lightly! And ignore, for that matter, that almost no one is talking about disarming the populace [you know, what those dictators actually did], but about limiting the types of guns that people can own to ones that are, say, well suited for hunting, self defense and target practice, but that aren't well suited to, say, taking into a public place and massacring large numbers of people or outgunning the police who have come to stop you). Guns, after all, do not kill people. People kill people, and they would do the same whether they had assault weapons or not; pay no heed to the fact that there were multiple gun massacres this year alone, because we can dig up a few people from the last century who managed to put together bombs and kill people (and we'll very disingenuously ignore that we tightened restrictions on the materials that went into making those bombs after the fact, because we want no such tightened restrictions on the weapons used in these massacres). We can point to people committing crimes without guns, like the assailant who attacked twenty-some kids on the same day with a knife in China; again, we'll ignore that all of those kids survived their wounds, while none of the Sandy Hook victims did. Yes, you may be able to inflict vastly more damage with an assault weapon than a knife, but you could still hurt people with a knife; and if you're going to restrict the one, you'll have to restrict the other. And since everything can cause damage (even flat screen tv's!), we'll be in a lot of trouble if we go down that slippery slope.

So we know what we can't talk about – where absolutely no blame lies and no discussion can happen. But the inevitable question, when such a senseless taking of innocent life occurs, is why, and how can we prevent it in future? Since none, absolutely none, of the discussion can involve guns, let's look at the creative ways that conservative/gun-rights activists have tried to explain the massacre, and where they've put the blame. (Warning: you will be weeping for humanity by time you're finished. Also, don't read if easily pissed off, because sensitive or compassionate these Grade A obfuscators are not).

Women and femininity. Charlotte Allen writes for the National Review that the real problem was that there wasn't enough “male aggression” at the school. You might be tempted to think that there was exactly one aggressive 20 year old male too much, but you'd be wrong – because, while “[w]omen and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers,” “male aggression” would have, Allen would have us believe, miraculously carried unarmed men to victory against a skilled, armed assailant. Because they're men. Aggressive men. It's hard to tell who she's more offensive to in this piece – men, who are, by her accounting, raging, aggressive magicians who can apparently withstand gun fire unlike mortal women (because they're men!), or women, who, even when performing feats of heroism, are given a tepid tribute of “seemed to have performed bravely” “according to the reports”. Well, yes, I do. Heroic women gave their lives to defend others (not through a failure on their parts, but because, as human beings, we are all – even men, believe it or not – susceptible to bullets), and they are all but dismissed as being not only useless but the problem. Still, I can't imagine too many men thrilled at being nominated for the honor of bullet absorption by virtue of being born male.

Video games. Newt Gingrich sees the issue as lying with less church and more video games. Specifically, “war games”. Unless something's changed recently in the Party that I'm not aware of, joining the real military and killing actual people where necessary is still a good thing; it's when you do it in make-believe that it's an issue. Violent video games, then, where you take fake guns and kill fake people (or aliens, or monsters) are bad. (Interestingly enough, it's video game legislation that made it to Congress before anything to do with guns).

Teachers and teacher's unions. Yes, you read that correctly. You know those heroes, who gave up their own lives to protect children? According to Tea Party Nation, the solution lies with taking power from the “radicals in the classroom” and busting teacher's unions. How or why doesn't matter. Only know that “if people are serious about stopping this sort of thing,” we need to eradicate the power of those “radical” teachers and bust their unions. Or so goes tea party logic.

Abortion and God. God is angry about abortion, thus, as a “consequence”, 20 children are murdered. That may not make sense to you, but it did to James Dobson, who listed as other sources of God's murderous rage gay marriage and atheism.

Not enough God. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association declared that “God is not going to go where he is not wanted” – and the solution to school shootings, in his eyes, is morning prayer. One can only wonder what sort of feeble minded deity would avenge himself on elementary students who were insufficiently sycophantic, but such musings are probably best kept out of Fischer's earshot.

God's been fired. Mike Huckabee, former presidential candidate and fountain of sanctimony, declared that we've “systematically removed God from our schools” and turned them into places “where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability”. Which might have been a better argument if Adam Lanza was or had been recently a student at the school. But considering that it was an elementary school, and he was a 20 year old man with a mind of his own, blaming the victims really doesn't achieve much here.

Abortion, and not enough God! Huckabee again. The issue is, according to him, that “we’ve escorted [God] out of our culture and marched him off the public square and then we express our surprise that a culture without him reflects what it’s become.” This would be a better argument if the places where God reigned supreme were in a better state; if, say, churches weren't rife with pedophile scandals. If, historically, Christian lands weren't bastions of cruelty, paranoia, superstition, and ignorance. If Christians didn't, say, wage the Crusades, or eradicate peaceful “heretics” like the Cathars, or kill scientists and physicians, or burn so-called “witches”, or torture confessions out of people; if there were less massing killings and wars between the Huguenots and Catholics, and “Papists” and protestants, and every sect of Christianity; etc., etc. See, for this sort of argument to be valid, the instances where Christianity reigns and secularism is banished have to be the good times. They have to be better then what we're talking about. And, quite frankly, they're not.

Gun control advocates have blood on their hands. And other such nonsense, put forth by various gun advocates. Again, the solution isn't to keep the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them; it's to put more guns in the hands of more people who should. A ton of cure is totally better than an ounce of prevention, you see.

So there you have it. Women, gun control activists, teachers, video games, abortion and gay people...we can have conversations about how much those things are to blame for school shootings. But not a word about guns.

Monday, December 17, 2012

From the Facebook group "Stop the World"

A look at, and word to, the worst-of-the-worst of the Connecticut massacre pontificators

It didn't take long after the Connecticut mass-killing of children and teachers for the accusations to start flying. There were the predictable responses, across traditional media, social media, and by word of mouth: there are too many powerful guns too readily available to the mentally ill; there aren't enough guns in society. Sometimes people phrased those things in reasonable manners, and sometimes it seems like they deliberately tried to be as abrasive and obnoxious as possible (like, suggesting that the victims were partially to blame because they weren't heavily armed or in the vicinity of weaponry – as if that is or should be a normal expectation for life – while at the same time ignoring that the only victim who was near arms was murdered with her own weapon by her son; or suggesting that said victim, Nancy Lanza, was responsible for and even deserved the massacre because she owned a weapon).

Then, of course, there were the people who threw any shred of decency to the wind, and decided to exploit the murders of multiple children and adults to the fullest degree in order to push their religious or political views.

I'm not even talking about the widely shared screen cap of the Christians on Facebook “observing” that the murdered children were actually getting the “BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER” by being shot – so that they can be with God, of course. While I've got my opinion of anyone who could look at a child's murder as a positive, much less 20 kids' murders as good things, random nitwits, one would hope, are not representative of a larger problem.

For the larger problem, we look to the talking heads, the thinkers (and I do use the word lightly) and the movements whose thoughts become the beliefs of their faithful followers. And we needn't look far.

Tea Party Nation, for instance, was happy to oblige with this screed on the Tea Party Nation blog (there are other posts there in a similar vein; one, for instance, is entitled, “Liberals are responsible for the tragedy”):

If people are serious about stopping this sort of thing they will take a number of steps:

1. Homeschool. Take away the power of the radicals in the classrooms. Makes your kids safer, too.

2.Back Right to Work legislation for the public sector. Teacher’s unions have helped cement much of this in place. As long as we have group think in the classrooms we will never see the end of this.

While there are a number of interesting points addressed in the piece (including the need for a “frank discussion of race” -- from which discussion we learn the ever important lesson that no tragedy is exempt from conjuring the specter of “black thugs,” even if the perp in question is an “evil white kid”; or the bit about how George Zimmerman, had he been there, would have kept those kids safe), these two are particularly noteworthy because of the sheer, callous irony of blaming “radical” teachers and “teacher's unions” for tragedies where teachers died to protect their students. The very same people that he vilifies as being responsible for these types of tragedies were the ones who died to save those kids. Whether the author appreciates the absurdity of his point or not, I cannot venture to guess; but he and others like him are pushing these ideas as if they should be taken seriously: we need only to get rid of evil teachers and teacher's unions, have more “George Zimmermans” around kids (because that worked out well), go to church more often, etc., and voila! Problem solved. Nevermind that teachers' unions have absolutely nothing to do with this, nor did, as far as any one can reasonably ascertain, race: this is where we need to look. Don't ask why (because you won't be answered). Just believe. And, of course, be afraid of those “black thugs” (actual quote).

But it wasn't just the Tea Party Nation at work showing its' “heartless asshole” bona fides. Prominent Republican and former (potentially future?) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and other Christians, were hard at work doing the same, being the Scarecrow to the TPN's Tinman in this scenario.

In the response to the shooting, he said:

We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability?

Unsurprisingly, attempting to conflate an atmosphere respectful of all faiths with a godless carnage breeding machine, particularly in an instance where the perpetrator was an adult, not a student of the elementary school where he committed the massacre, raised some eyebrows. Which isn't to say that it was not widely repeated. Of course, it was. Social media and religious outlets were abuzz with similar pious nonsense, spouted by a bunch of people who apparently miss the contradiction between a merciful, loving god and a god who sits back to make a point to completely unconnected people while elementary students are being massacred. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association had an even more pointed explanation: “God is not going to go where he is not wanted”. 
 His remedy is to start every morning with a prayer. Fischer's God, it would seem, is indeed a petty, cold-hearted creature, if a few words of praise and adoration each morning will turn his head enough to ignore the whole “free will” bit in order to stop the shooter (which, really, turns on its head the classic answer to the question, 'why doesn't God stop evil if he exists?', but I digress), but he'll condemn to death a bunch of innocent kids because he didn't receive his daily dose of flattering.

At any rate, Huckabee had no intention of backing down from his comments. On the contrary, he reaffirmed them, and took them to an even more astonishing height. Not only is Huckabee's God on strike when it comes to answering the desperate pleas of elementary school students as they're being murdered because he's mad at some secularists or atheists somewhere else, but he's also teed off about “tax-funded abortion pills”:

Christian-owned businesses are told to surrender their values under the edict of government orders to provide tax-funded abortion pills. We carefully and intentionally stop saying things are sinful and we call them disorders. Sometimes, we even say they’re normal. And to get to where we have to abandon bed rock moral truths, then we ask “well, where was God?” And I respond that, as I see it, we’ve escorted him out of our culture and marched him off the public square and then we express our surprise that a culture without him reflects what it’s become.

It would be interesting to remind Huckabee that we've also stopped calling a lot of things that he would probably not consider sinful sinful, if only to hear his response: like eating with forks, being left-handed, having migraines, being a woman who practices medicine, etc. At any rate, the problem seems to be that Huckabee wants to be able to cast guilt-free judgments on particular persons. Excuse me: God wants Huckabee to be able to cast guilt-free judgments on particular persons. And as a result of that not being the case, he will sit idly by and let school kids be murdered. But, let us not forget, this god, whose opinions coincidentally align so well with Huckabee's, and who will let kids die over the “abortion pill”, is a merciful, loving, benevolent god. And I suggest that you let go of any thoughts that that is contradictory...because I've no doubt that too is a grave sin.

But never fret. Huckabee isn't alone out there on the "God's letting kids die because he hates abortion" limb. Social conservative James Dobson's god is also ignoring the pleas of dying children for the same reason. Much like the pro-lifers who are content to see children around the world starve and die while they fight for the "rights" of non-sentient fetal tissue, Dobson's God is willing to let elementary school students die as a “consequence” of the destruction of zygotes, embryos and fetuses. And the fact that we allow people to exercise their free will (that he supposedly gave people) to believe, or not, in God. And, of course, the gays!

I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition.  Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.

Ultimately, for these people, it all gets down to this: if only we had more God in government and public life, he'd be saving us from carnage, horror and death. I imagine the crusade, jihad, inquisition, witch trial, and heretic-burning victims of history would beg to differ. I imagine the Cathars and the protestants massacred by Catholic governments, and the Catholics massacred by Protestants, would disagree. Indeed, I imagine any of the victims of theocracy, past or present, Christian or otherwise, would have something to say about the joys of theocratic realities.

So please, people tempted to spout off that your god would have been happy to protect innocent kids if only we did what you say he wants; remember that he's not protecting innocents even in his own house (think: sex abuse victims), nor has he ever. Pretending that your self-serving, snake oil solution will make it all better only fools the already fooled; but it exposes your own cynical motives to the rest of us, and clearly. The same goes for those of you who think that spouting off about the evils of teachers while discussing hero teachers who sacrificed their own lives for their students. You don't have an argument there; it's simply rhetoric. Some people will nod along; but those are the people who already believe what you're saying! If that's your goal, to assuage the troubled consciences of the base that virulently attacks teachers as well as any attempt to regulate weapons, consider yourself successful, at least amongst the willing-to-believe. If your attempt is to sway others to your way of thinking, you're going to have to try a little harder. Formulating a cogent argument, and actually illustrating how your solution applies, would be a good start. 

And until such time as you can offer pertinent input, please, for the love of all that is good, shut the hell up. No, I'm not trying to take away your freedom of speech. You have the right to talk. But please remember that there are people, real, living, people, who are grieving dead mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons. You might score some points with your followers; but you do so at the expense of dead innocents and living sufferers. Please show some humanity. That too would go a long way in making the rest of us take you seriously.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A few days old, but if you haven't seen it...Hobbit clips

Six clips from The Hobbit. Some more exciting, some less. The "Not talking to you" one is especially good.

Watch at your own discretion, though, as there will be some sequences spoiled (nothing huge story-wise, but still...).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hobbit soundtrack

Enjoy the Hobbit soundtrack :

Yesterday Peter Jackson and team unveiled Neil Finn’s song from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Today, Empire has the full soundtrack for your listening pleasure. Listen, enjoy and get a taste of what we’re in for come December 13 when the film hits screens

Friday, November 9, 2012

Protecting the right-to-life...of the mother

 This is something I wrote a few months ago. I plan to put forth some more ideas about abortion, examining the Christian arguments against it, discussing "personhood", etc.. The following specifically deals with the pro-life push to ban abortion even when a woman's life or health is imperiled. I am not arguing for or against abortion access in other cases in this piece. I will put forth my thoughts on that elsewhere.

Q. Why should a pregnant woman have the right to end a pregnancy if her health or life is imperiled?

A. A pregnant woman is as much of a human being and therefore has as many rights as the rest of us, including to choose medical care that will save her life and health. To say otherwise is to create a special subclass, reserved for pregnant women, such that they must die or sacrifice their health rather than get life saving or health-preserving care. Nowhere else, even when lives can be preserved by the use of someone else's body and the subsequent inconvenience or death to them, do people contemplate depriving some people of life or healthcare access to better others.

We may consider it a tragic situation when a woman would have to decide to preserve her own health or life and abort, or continue the pregnancy and die or end up with life-long complications. But it’s not a unique situation. You and I, and every one of us, make that choice every day that we do not give up our own organs to save other people’s lives. There would probably be someone alive today, somewhere, if I had given up “spare” organs; maybe if I donated blood more often. But the fact that I could be saving someone’s life while imperiling or even discomforting mine is not sufficient to compel me to do it.

As long as one being is inside another (if the fetus could survive without the mother, there would be no problem), one of those two will have greater rights than the other. When we decide that a woman does not have the right to save her own life or well-being, we simply take those same rights we all enjoy away from her and give them to the fetus (which, when the fetus is far pre-term, is pointless and decidedly vicious – as in the case of that poor girl who died recently after her cancer treatments were delayed so long, because she was 9 weeks pregnant [;]). No matter what we do, we are making a choice – whether that is to give the fully formed, sentient, feeling woman the rights, or to give them to the fetus. We necessarily must give preference to one of them. In every other situation, we always give preference to the person whose body would be used for the preservation of the other person. It may be decidedly sad, but so is the fact that people die all the time because they need organs that other people have and won’t give up – even in death. And yet we do not, nor would we, compel someone to die or suffer grievous bodily harm to sustain the life or well-being of another person. We do not even compel the dead to give their organs to the living. The rights of a dead person, then, are considered to be of greater import than the rights of a living pregnant woman under personhood laws.

Nor does the fact that the mother was willing to be pregnant (excluding cases where this is not the case, such as rape pregnancies) mean that she loses the rights we all have. If I agreed to give up a kidney to save someone’s life, and discovered that so doing would kill me, no one would – or should be allowed to – compel me to do so, whatever promise or consent I had given – and even if my refusal meant the death of the potential recipient.

The pro-life movement did itself a grievous disservice when it decided to pit the right to life and health of women against the rights to life of fetuses. We all have a basic right to use our own bodies for our own survival, even if that end the life of someone else (whose survival would need and imperil our own body) – or to choose to save the other person. As it should be. It is a right and a privilege, and not one to be taken lightly; but it is a choice that should be each individual’s, and theirs alone. No one should be able to force an independent person to surrender the use of their body, health and/or life for the sake of a being dependent on that, and we recognize that in all spheres of life except pregnancy. And, curiously enough, the pro-life movement only asks this outwardly imposed sacrifice of pregnant women.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election 2012 Retrospective (Where Does the GOP Go from Here?)

As of some time last night, the GOP lost its second presidential election to Barack Obama. The first time, it was perhaps more inevitable, but this time seems much less so. This time, the GOP was facing an incumbent president, who had the usual lot of issues facing an incumbent -- promises not kept and mistakes made – and not a candidate who promised great things and had no failures to weigh him down. Candidate Obama ran on new ideas, new direction, and change. He didn't have a record to point to, promises he'd made and not been able to keep, and mistakes he'd made. He had inspiring rhetoric, and the promise to break from financial decisions that had not done us any good. His opponent, to many people, symbolized all those things that had not worked. This time, though, the shoe was on the other foot. All the optimism in the world can't undo high unemployment, or bring down the ever increasing costs of fuel, or erase the deficit. So now, disappointed and perhaps embittered by yet another politician proving to be so much less than he promised, voters would head to the voting booths again. With that much working against the incumbent, it would seem like an excellent time to be the challenger.
Factor into that the 2010 midterm elections, and the GOP victories picked up then, to say nothing of Scott Walker and his recall victory in WI, and it seemed a seismic shift was under way, from “hope and change” to fiscal responsibility and “tea party austerity.” It's hard to imagine a better scenario for the challenger.
And yet, rather than winning, the Republican candidate, and the ticket, was pretty thoroughly trounced. Tea partiers and social conservatives around the nation lost; the folks who were meant to grab critical senate seats lost; and the party's presidential nominee lost. So how did the GOP go from poised to win, to another defeat?

Appealing to the hardcore base, and paying for the sins of his party
After John McCain's defeat, the party seems to have come to the conclusion that moderation is bad, and that moderates are a losing ticket. Thus the primaries saw an array of whackadoodles, a veritable freak show lineup, soak up the spotlight for their fifteen minutes, until, at last, they each proved too ridiculous, and the next one was brought forward. At last Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts moderate, was welcomed most begrudgingly, and only after every one else either dropped out right away or proved too volatile, stupid, insane, or some combination of the previous, to lead the ticket. But by that time, moderate Mitt had morphed into “severely conservative” Mitt to prove that he had what it took to lead the new party. Thus pro-choice Mitt Romney became anti-choice, anti-Planned Parenthood Romney; pro-Obamacare type health care Mitt Romney became anti-Obamacare type health care Mitt Romney; fiscally moderate Romney became “let's cut taxes without a way to pay for it” Romney. In short, most positions that Mitt Romney had ever held were reversed, and the principled moderate became a shape shifting “severe conservative” – that neither his base nor the rest of the electorate could respect.
This process was only furthered by the degrees of crazy that preceded him. Let's not forget that prior to Romney heading the ticket, “no minimum wage” Bachmann, “it's the president's job to preach the 'evil' of birth control” Santorum, “there's a snake in my boot” Perry, “moon colonies” Gingrich and “let me put my hand up your skirt” Cain all had a turn at the top. With each new wave of bonkers, Romney had to (or felt he had to, at least) morph into some new version of severely conservative. And, in the process, he alienated, well, lots and lots of people.
More importantly than the people Romney himself alienated (if only because of the mass of those affected), however, were the overwhelming numbers his party alienated – women, Hispanics, students, people with pre-existing conditions, the poor, etc., etc. Remember that (at one point) viable candidates were running around the country telling gay mothers that their kids would be better off with a dad in jail than a lesbian mom, university education being accessible to everyone is snobbish, that birth control and gays are evil, and that a kid who can't afford extremely expensive medication has no right to life, unlike a rape fetus (Santorum); that there should be no minimum wage (Bachmann & Gingrich); that poor kids should work as school janitors (Gingrich); that we should eliminate the department of education, and two others (Perry); that abortion should be illegal regardless of anything (all of the above); etc., etc., etc. More than Romney's morphing positions, the positions of his fellow Republican contestants, to say nothing of the Republican legislators who made a point of going after women, gays, etc., tarnished Romney.

Lack of minority support
As part of the above, Romney lost and lost bad amongst minorities. Hispanics preferred Obama by 44 points. Women by 18. These wins proved crucial to Obama, and extremely detrimental to Romney.

War on Women, and an 18 point gender gap
Again, women preferred Obama to Romney by 18 points. Why? Because, aside from alienating women over abortion access (which Romney said he would allow in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, although much of the party opposes it even in those cases), Republicans were hard at work these last few years proving that their ideas about women were antiquated at best. Republicans opposed equal pay measures, with some Republicans, like Glenn Grotham of Wisconsin, suggesting that there is no problem – simply a preference amongst men for money. Others suggested that, while pay is disproportionate, this is right and fair, as this is simply the market at work; and others chose to deny the issue altogether. Those who supported it in principle opposed it in practice, while offering no solution of their own. Birth control became a focal point – from Santorum's insistence that the president should be tasked with illuminating its “evils” to the Blunt amendment and numerous other state-wide movements to prevent access, allow employers to fire employees on the pill, etc., etc. Then, of course, there were the infamous “rape” statements. Paul Ryan – who Romney, in a horribly misguided move, chose as his VP nominee – declared that rape was just “another means of conception”; Todd Akin insisted that “legitimate rape” doesn't result in pregnancies, and Steve King informed us that he had never heard of anyone getting pregnant through incest. Tom Smith thought that his daughter conceiving a baby through consensual sex while not being married was the same thing as her being forcibly impregnated by rape. Joe Walsh told us that there is no possible way that a woman's life can be endangered by pregnancy, so he is pro-life in all cases. Richard Mourdock declared that God intended rape pregnancies, and John Koster didn't think “the rape thing” was sufficient reason for a woman to get an abortion. Mitt Romney declared multiple times that one of his first acts would be to completely defund Planned Parenthood.
If you think that women deserve equal pay for equal work; should be able to decide when and if they'll be pregnant without government interference; shouldn't die because saving their lives will be damaging to a fetus; can get pregnant through rape, and should not be disdained or regarded as liars when it happens; this can only serve to dampen your enthusiasm for the Republican ticket. It dampened women's enthusiasm to the tune of an 18 point gender gap in Obama's favor. And while Chris Christie seemed content to dismiss women's concerns about GOP policies regarding them with “we won't pander to women”, it seems that when the GOP stopped listening to women, women stopped listening to the GOP.

Raiding the cuckoo farm
Remember what I was saying about the rape crew? Them, Santorum, Bachmann, the Man on the Moon, and all the state-level GOP crazies helped sink the party. I'm talking about the people who put forth all manner of bizarre propositions throughout the nation – from no lunch breaks and removal of domestic violence protections (the removal was strongly protested by law enforcement, btw) in New Hampshire, to a move to let doctors lie to patients even if they would incur severe bodily harm if they thought it would prevent an abortion in Kansas, to the multitude of anti-Hispanic moves in Arizona, to proposals to classify single motherhood as a factor in child abuse in WI, the crazies were making their voices heard. The problem? They were Republicans. And such a deluge of anti-woman, anti-Hispanic, and pro-business at the cost of everyone else proposals helped only to solidify the image that Republicans were anti-woman, anti-minority and anti-middle class. Not a winning strategy.

Paul Ryan
Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan, the economic Darwinist and arch-Randian of our day, as his VP candidate is baffling. Yes, he received a boost of popularity amongst the hardcore base. But that same base so overwhelmingly loathed Obama that he already had their support! By choosing a guy whose solution to economic difficulty is to eliminate all capital gains taxes (look it up – it's part of his “roadmap to recovery”) while selling off national parks to private entities for commercial development, cutting Pell Grants, and giving big credits and breaks to Big Oil, Romney shot himself in the foot. That might appeal to the wealthy within his party, but it doesn't appeal to the middle class; and you can't buy votes. Plus, Ryan brought some more hardcore anti-women crazy to the party. Amongst other things, he cosponsored a bill that would grant “personhood” to a fertilized human egg – meaning that even a measure to save a woman's life, such as neutralizing an ectopic pregnancy, would be illegal, because in saving the woman's life, you would have to kill a “person” (nevermind that both the embryo and the woman are going to die anyway if you don't intervene). Ryan has also made his objection to “life of the mother” exceptions well known. Again, he would prefer women die rather than end a pregnancy that will kill them (and the embryo/fetus). And while he might justify his actions by blaming those beliefs on God, it's a hard sell to convince people that withholding life saving medical care from a loved one is a good thing to do because your God tells you so.

Lack of specifics
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan gave us very little in the way of specifics. They were going to cut taxes and close loopholes and eliminate deductions, for instance; which ones, though? No answer. Will the mortgage deduction be preserved? No answer. We're most likely going to bring our troops back home; but what could keep us there? No answer.
In the end, much of the message came down to, “The other guy screwed up, and we're not going to! We'll fix it all. We won't tell you how, exactly, so trust us.” The problem? The numbers didn't add up, and people tend to like when numbers do that.

The 47%; the moochers; the producers vs. parasites
Romney's assertion that 47% of the country are a bunch of worthless dependents, unsurprisingly, did him no favors. Nor did Republican endorsement of this Randian sentiment. It might sit well with wealthy donors to think of “the little people” as parasites and moochers, but I think I speak for most people when I say the rest of us don't think of our soldiers, the elderly, the disabled, etc., in these terms. And when your candidate and talking heads express those sentiments, it doesn't go over well. Additionally, these comments aligned so well with Ayn Rand's viewpoints that the attraction between Romney and Ryan (who is a long time Rand devotee, as he has stated many times) becomes clearer; but not more comforting.

Hurricane Sandy (& Chris Christie)
Hurricane Sandy gave President Obama a chance to show that he has what it takes to lead in a time of crisis. Chris Christie went out of his way to show his gratitude toward the president, and, perhaps unsurprisingly when one considers his propensity to hijack moments for his own glorification, his own ability to put aside partisan politics and lead in time of crisis. He was dismissive of Romney and eloquent in his praise of Obama. The result? Obama and Chris Christie both show that they have what it takes to reach across the aisle and put politics aside, and Romney is nowhere to be seen.
Obviously, Romney had no part *to* play in this scene – and so his absence is entirely appropriate. But it painted a very good picture of his opponent, and made him seem irrelevant. This was beyond his or the GOP's control, but it was the final nail in his coffin.

The above explains, I think, why Romney lost. But it wasn't just Mitt Romney who lost. Sure, he was the top of the ticket, but it's worthy of note that the “rape guys” (most of whom were previously poised to win) lost too. Akin, Smith, Mourdock, etc. – they're all toast. Gay marriage was approved in several states, and a measure to oppose it overturned in one. Even tea party firebrand Allen West lost re-election, while Michelle Bachmann barely held onto her seat. “Severely conservative” Mitt Romney, hardcore social conservatism and anti-woman, pro-rape politics took a sound beating yesterday.

The midterm election victories left the Republican party with the mistaken sense that far-right wing politics were the way to go. America wants fiscally responsible leaders, and the Tea Party was elected when it preached those principles. It, and the GOP, was defeated when it beat the rape drum, and marched to the hard-core social conservative, “producers versus parasites” tune. My hope, as an American and a Republican, is that the GOP will get its act together, and leave the antiquated ideas about the role and right-to-life, dignity and equality of women, the Randian economic principles, the obsession with fetuses over sentient human beings, the anti-gay fervor, etc., in the dust heap, and focus on things that will truly help America and Americans. My fear is that from the ashes of this campaign will rise the Santorums of the party, trying to drag us further right yet.

We can't afford that. Not as a party, and not as a country. We will not benefit from having a party of hardcore religionists, economic Darwinists, and crazies as the only alternative to the Democratic party. The two parties together should function to balance each other, but if the GOP continues to pull to the right it will leave moderates with no choice but to gravitate leftward if they dare not venture into crazyville. There will be no balancing, no moderation left. This is not, I think, in anyone's interest – not even the Democratic party, because competition makes us all better.

So, please, GOP, get it together. Take a lesson from yesterday, before it's too late.

This pretty much sums up the Republican party's gender gap...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shame amongst the ranks

This is how I feel. Some people I know and am related to have wondered why I share so many things critical of the GOP, with the implication (sometimes stated, sometimes only vaguely alluded to) that I'm not a Republican or a conservative because I criticize. 

I'm a Republican, but I'm not a sheep or a party line Republican. I am ashamed when I see my party trying to overrule the law of the land and the clear intention of the founders by pushing their particular beliefs on all of us. I'm ashamed when I see them attacking education and educators, trying to push laws that would kill women, suggesting that if you can't buy healthcare you don't have a right to life (unless you're a fetus, of course), suggesting that the poor and unfortunate are nothing but "moochers", opposing equal pay for equal work, giving voice to bigotry, etc., etc.

People have also asked why I haven't "jumped ship". I don't like the direction my party is going, but it doesn't mean I'm going to abandon it without giving it a chance to right itself. The Republican party is going through a transition; it's either going to end up the party of religious fanaticism, the party of the Rick Santorums of America, or it's going to find its place as a conservative counterbalance to the Democratic party. I think the country benefits from having conservative and liberal elements at play, to keep us from going to far in one direction or the other. The country will NOT benefit from having a viable party that wants to turn us into a Christian Iran. If the moderates leave, that is what the Republican party will become. 

But I am not blind to the situation. In the last ~ 4 years, the people rising to power in the party have been the fanatics, the bigots, and the extremists. It doesn't look like that's changing, any time soon. As I have said, I am not a "party line" Republican, and never have been. I vote for whoever I consider to be the best candidate, whatever party. I will always do that. And if the Republican party does not redeem itself, and soon, it will not be my party any more. It cannot be.

Friday, October 19, 2012

On Twitter!

The Hobbit Hole is now on twitter, @rford191

Tweet on, my friends!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why Mitt Romney didn't win last night (and why he didn't lose as badly as he might have)

I'm seeing a lot floating around in my different feeds from my politically active friends and relatives (on both sides) trying to ascertain why Romney didn't win last night. In a lot of ways, it mirrors what happened with the first debate, only without as much certainty.

There was, for sure, a lot of “moderator blaming” the first time around, but it seemed to quiet down
fairly quickly. It was hard to deny that President Obama's performance was significantly less than impressive. But people tried. It was the moderator. It was the altitude. It was his anniversary. It was all manner of things, except the obvious one: he messed up.

Now I'm seeing the same thing, except from my Republican friends. Candy Crowley seems to be bearing the brunt of their disfavor, but there have been other points mentioned. (Nothing yet about altitude, but it wouldn't surprise me if it doesn't pop up eventually – although I'm not holding my breath waiting for it. At this height, I might faint!)

Some of the critiques in question were that Candy Crowley allegedly interrupted Romney more times than she interrupted Obama. But Romney took it upon himself early on to play at being the moderator, and attempted several times to allot himself extra answers, while Obama did so much less frequently. I can only imagine that this would wrack up an additional “interruption” count. People have also claimed (I wasn't timing them, nor have I seen the claim from any reputable, non-partisan source, so I can't say) that Obama ended up with more time than Romney. Whether that is true or not, I cannot say; but I do know that Governor Romney, on several occasions, made the mistake of giving up his own time to allow Obama to answer questions he had posed. And Romney, on quite a few occasions, was allowed to run well past his 2:00 minutes – so to suggest that either of these things, even if true, are evidence of “bias” or contributed to Romney's less impressive showing is hogwash.

Of course, the big one they are slamming Crowley on is the fact-checking moment, where Obama and Romney were engaged in a “Did to!” “Did not!” “Did so!” moment, and Candy Crowley interjected with fact. This was when discussing Libya, and the President's remarks following the attack. Mitt Romney correctly asserted that the President's administration did not label the attack a pre-planned September 11th follow up attack; but he made the mistake of using the word “terror”. President Obama did use the word terror to describe it, even as his administration believed it was a spontaneous act of terror in response to a YouTube video. The main crux of Mitt Romney's argument was true, but the insistence that Barack Obama had not used that particular word was incorrect. So, when the two devolved into arguing that particular (which was inconsequential, in view of the overall argument), Candy Crowley – correctly – stepped in, and provided the facts: the president did refer to the attack as an act of terror, but he did not assert that it was anything beyond a response to the video. The Libya attack is a very weak point for Obama, but Governor Romney simply didn't handle himself well during this question. He stumbled, and stuttered, and got lost in bickering back and forth over the particular use of the word “terror” rather than the source of that terror (which was his ultimate point). Crowley's interruption, had Romney not been so befuddled at that moment, could have served him very well indeed, because, in essence, she agreed with the President on a technicality, but him on the main point. There could be a thousand reasons why Romney missed that opportunity, but none of them are Candy Crowley. She had just given him the point.

So what factors, if not Candy Crowley,contributed to the stark difference between this debate and the first? I would posit that it was a combination of the following.

  1. Expectations for his opponent had been lowered already. To be frank, Obama's first debate was pretty awful. As Romney did with the Libya question this time around, the president missed quite a few opportunities then. It was the domestic policy debate, for heaven's sake, and somehow Obama didn't even mention the 47%, or half the other things he should have said to win. It seemed like the President had bought into the rhetoric of his own campaign, that Mitt Romney was a gaffe-prone amateur, and not a real contestant. As a result, his performance was very bad; even where he could have, if his head was in the game, trounced Romney, he still lost. And, after such a bad showing, a strong, steady performance this time seemed better even than it was, simply by virtue of the contrast between it and the previous debate.
  2. President Obama did very well. This is the counterpart to the first point – not only had expectations been lowered, but Obama put in a very strong showing this time around. There were several times – equal pay, for instance – where he really knocked it out of the park. He also took Romney to task for his own failings – his vagueness, his outsourcing, etc. He got in a mention of the infamous “47%” comments. Perhaps one of the most memorable lines from the debate was when President Obama chided Romney that he, as a businessman, would never take “such a sketchy plan” as he was offering the American people. This was not only not the sleeping Obama of the first debate: this was an able, articulate opponent, ready for a fight.
  3. Romney made some mistakes. Some small, some bigger. First of all, he tried to moderate, right off the bat. Maybe he was trying to channel some Joe Biden (a risky bet, seeing as how Biden's performance was both widely heralded and derided for that aggressiveness); maybe he was hoping it would be another night of both contestants steamrolling the moderator. Who knows. But the problem? Obama didn't do it, and Crowley didn't let Romney get away with it. So Romney looked like a jerk, while Obama didn't, and he gained nothing for it. This was a bad move, all the way around. He also looked very uncomfortable, especially at first. It was that old Romney “robot” look, replacing the lively candidate of the first debate. Stiff and uncomfortable doesn't do you any favors, especially when you're trying to live down a reputation of being...well, stiff and uncomfortable around people. Romney also directly engaged Obama several times with questions, with the object of forcing a damning answer from him – but which, in practice, meant he gave up his own time to let the President make points. He got a little smarter about it later, and tried to force Obama to answer questions quickly and concisely, but Obama wasn't playing that game. So a losing strategy, any way you look at it. And he got flustered. Particularly during the foreign policy question. This one, honestly, should have been one of his strongest; this is one where the Obama administration is pretty weak. When Crowley affirmed that Obama had used the word “terror”, but that Romney's assertion was otherwise correct, this could have been a moment of triumph for him: they had both been “fact checked” by an impartial third party on national TV, but his error was minor and inconsequential to the overall point. He could have scored big points here, but he let it slip away. This was unfortunate, but less preventable than the others.
  4. Romney's comments about working women & single parents. You know, where his solution to equal pay for equal work was to basically say that we women need special, not equal, treatment, and that single parenting more or less causes gang violence. Simply cringe inducing. Single parents are favorite targets of right wing moralistic outrage, but penalizing and stigmatizing them helps nobody. Some on the right just haven't got that memo yet, or so it would seem. Families – not just women, not just men – are increasingly demanding more flexible and accommodating employment, to allow them to raise kids. But less and less, these days, are the responsibilities of child rearing falling solely to women, and more and more women are prioritizing their careers. Thus this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an answer to equal pay. Working women aren't asking for special favors. Working women aren't upset because we don't get to leave earlier than our male counterparts or do less than them; we're pissed because we make $.75 to every $1 that a man, doing the same work, makes. We're pissed because thinking like that – that hiring women means making special accommodations for us – is still pervasive in certain sectors of the workforce, and it makes it harder for us to get hired and harder for us to advance.
  5. Lack of specifics. Romney was vague on a lot of things. For instance, beyond PBS, we still don't know what subsidies are going. We don't know which loopholes are going. We have the $25K deduction cap, but that – as he said last night – was “just a number”. And it's 25K less than he put forth the last time. In other words, not specific or certain at all. There were times when he didn't answer the questions that were asked, also – or answered with campaign trail rhetoric, rather than specifics. Now, he wasn't alone on this one – President Obama did the same, and Governor Romney was far more specific than Paul “the Eel” Ryan was last week. But it didn't do much to make his message resonate.

These are the five points that kept Romney from winning, in my opinion. It was not as bad as it could have been for the Romney campaign, though. This certainly was not a loss of the magnitude of Obama's first, nor was it a terribly damaging debate. Nor were his mistakes likely to have a huge impact on voters; it would take someone with a stellar history of advancing the cause of women's equality, for instance, to undo Obama's lead in this area, so reiterating dated BS on the topic probably didn't lose him many votes. And Romney effectively argued several points, particularly where energy was concerned. Even though he did not make much of it, the moderator affirmed that Obama's response to Libya was more or less what Romney had been claiming. He more or less held his ground on most topics. He lost some points, but won others. In the end, he didn't win the night, but he didn't lose very badly. And, if he follows Obama's example, and learns from his mistakes...well, it will be an interesting final debate!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Question with Boldness

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear." -- Thomas Jefferson

This is one of my favorite Jefferson quotes, for quite a few reasons. Since the dawn of our church, blind faith has been the byword. Why? Because a person afraid to question is a frightened, easily manipulated slave. A thinking person is not so easily bullied and made to do what you would have them do, thus it is not in the interests of churchmen who would control to have a thinking flock. Ignorant, unthinking sheep are certainly easier to fleece and herd wheresoever you would direct them.

And a believer who doesn't think, who doesn't stop and ask, “So what if my faith tells me to do it? Is it right?” That's a dangerous person. That's the Muslim who puts a bullet in a little girl's head, because she wants an education. That's the Christian priest who tortures a “witch” into confessing to “obscene acts with Satan”, and burns her to death, and the Christian who watches and cheers. That's the parent who beats their child senseless to drive out “evil spirits”. That's the person who tells women they have no place outside the home because “God says so”. That's the politician who tries to legislate that pregnant women should die rather than have access to life-saving care, because his religion tells him so. 

And yet it is so commonly done. Why? Because it takes no courage to keep believing what you were taught. It takes no courage to hold to the beliefs of the majority of your country or region. It takes no courage to turn off your mind, and just nod along with what your pastor, priest or imam tells you. It's easy and self-satisfying to think that you are on the path of rightness; it's easy to push away any pangs of conscience, where they appear, with condemnations of the people you will hurt. Whereas it takes a great deal of courage and uncomfortable thought to put those beliefs to the test of reason, and discard them, no matter how cherished, where applicable. It takes a great deal of courage to say, “So what if my church teaches it; what if that isn't the right way after all?”

The fact of the matter is, every religion has been used to harm people, and most (even the most ardent) believers will agree that some at least of the actions justified by that faith were wrong. Slavery, oppression of women, racism, anti-Semitism, persecution and murder of gays, absolute monarchies, the inquisitions, heretic burnings, “holy wars”, purges of Catholics of Protestants, purges by Catholics of Protestants, Sunni on Shiite and Shiite on Sunni violence, etc., etc., etc. … all of those things have been justified, at one time or another (and a lot of them are still justified by some practitioners) by pointing to church teachings, holy doctrines, etc. Where these things have stopped, it's because people *started* questioning, started thinking, started reasoning for themselves. They stopped listening to people who told them “don't you dare question that!” and questioned anyway. 

The power to reason is our tool against fear; reason is the enemy only of those who would keep others willing fools to be manipulated for their own political or financial gain, or to further their own prejudices and fears. Reason is the friend of anyone who would do right by their fellow man, and it is the friend of truth as well. Truth does not suffer from inspection, but rather profits from it. Only lies suffer from inspection. Thus I put no stock in anyone who tells me that I have no business questioning something. “How dare you question that doctrine?” is the equivalent of “My position is so weak that I dare not defend it with logic, thus I will resort to threatening you with hellfire!”