Thursday, January 10, 2008

Something a bit more eloquent than usual.

(Originally posted at )

The below article was written by the rabbi at our synagogue, and was the sermon he presented last weekend. After services ended I spoke to Rabbi Silverstein and expressed my feeling that he was, pardon the pun, 'preaching to the choir', and the sermon should receive more exposure. The article has now been published in the New Jersey Jewish News, but I still believe the world would be better served if the article gains some secular exposure. I think the only people that read this blog are my brother and my Mom, but hopefully I'm wrong and somebody else might come across this.

Defending separation of religion and state

by Rabbi Alan Silverstein
religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell and past president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues.

January 11, 2008

The results of the Iowa caucuses revealed the prominent role religion is playing in the 2008 presidential campaign. Many caucus participants were reported as saying it was “important” that a presidential candidate “share their faith.” Their feelings notwithstanding, the Sixth Amendment prohibits a “religious test” for holding public office.

It should be a source of concern to Jews and members of other religious minorities that campaign ads promoted Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, as “the Christian candidate”; this evidently was catering to potential evangelical supporters in order primarily to contrast Huckabee with Mitt Romney, a Mormon. On the stump, candidate Huckabee has cited verses from Christian scripture to illustrate his civic policies and has delivered unabashedly theological sermons at churches. He also presented a holiday television message not simply extending wishes for a “Merry Christmas,” but encouraging viewers to celebrate “the birth of Christ.”

On the Dec. 30 edition of Meet the Press, the former Arkansas governor defended his 1998 charge to the Southern Baptist Convention: “I hope we…can take this nation back for Jesus.”

Widespread acceptance of this assumption — that our country was founded as a “Christian” country and must be restored to an alleged “original intent” — is harmful. It is untrue and needs to be addressed. The Founding Fathers shaped an American polity in which advocacy of policies in the name of a specific faith was to be avoided. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God….”

What led these masters of statecraft to pursue religious pluralism and tolerance?

First, they were acutely aware that, according to the American Jewish Committee, “this country had been settled, in large measure, by Christians — Puritans, Quakers, Mennonites, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Huguenots, and many others — feeling persecution at the hands of other Christians who controlled the machinery of state, and were absolutely certain that they were doing the Lord’s will in oppressing minority sects….” They structured a nation to protect all faith groups from tyranny by the majority. In James Madison’s words, the goal was to create a society “with the mantle of its protection [extended to]…the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu and the infidel [secularist] in every denomination.”

Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and other key founders were Deists, or adherents of the Enlightenment’s so-called “rational religion.” Having tired of doctrinal differences separating faith groups, they suggested that only affirmations that can be derived from a person’s rational faculties are essential: God exists, God is to be worshiped, the true worship of God is virtue/morality, man must resist and repent wrongdoing, there are rewards and punishments in the hereafter. Deists also asserted that while elites could arrive at necessary elements of religion via reason alone, society should provide a spectrum of organized religion to assist the religious tutelage of the masses.

In 1790, only 7 percent of American citizens were affiliated with any religious institution. The founders realized that no single church body was strong enough to prevail as an official American faith. Similarly impractical in the view of these visionaries was the option of “multiple establishment,” official support of several faiths. The only viable remaining choice in their eyes was to totally sever the government’s legal and financial support for any and all churches.

In addition, the Founding Fathers intuited that religion would thrive best amid a “free marketplace of souls,” a public square in which diverse faith adherents could persuade others to affiliate. By keeping faith groups apart from government, they would be spared the taint of political inefficiency, corruption, and bickering.

In the process, America emerged as the world’s most God-intoxicated democracy. As noted in a 1976 “Williamsburg charter” issued in honor of America’s bicentennial and signed by hundreds of dignitaries including Presidents Ford and Carter, Supreme Court Justices Rehnquist and Burger, and religious leaders Coretta Scott King and the Rev. James Dobson: “Far from denigrating religion…the separation of Church and State is…the saving of religion from the temptation of political power…. Far from weakening religion, disestablishment has, as an historical fact, enabled it to flourish.”

Thus motivated, America’s founders carefully crafted a separation between church and state. The Declaration of Independence makes no mention of God, Jesus, or Christianity. Similarly, the Constitution avoids any mention of Jesus and Christianity. The First Amendment to the Constitution further clarifies that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” The Sixth Amendment adds that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust in the United States.”

As we approach the selection of an American president, let us reaffirm the words of John F. Kennedy as a candidate in 1960: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…where no man is denied public office because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

(Originally posted at )

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Electronics developers, are you listening?

I've always got my cell phone on me. Whenever I'm in my car, I also have the remote to my satellite radio sitting next to me on the seat. If I'm at home, I have a cordless phone handset next to me.

I nearly always have some handheld device with a keypad. I think every single handheld device with a keypad should have an infrared emitter.

When I'm sitting on the couch, with both my cellphone and my cordless phone next to me, it's senseless that I should have to use the TV remote to change the channel on the TV, or grab the DVD remote to control it. If the cellphone had an IR emitter, it could be programmed to control the TV or DVD player.

If all of these various handheld devices could beam the infrared signals that TVs, DVD players, stereos, PDAs, etc... worked with, than users could use whatever device was at hand to operate the various devices. Seems very sensible to me.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Learn Something New, January 8, 2008 Edition

I've got playing in the background. I heard a song I didn't know, but it was pleasant enough as background music, so I brought up the window to see who the singer was. The singer was Fiona Apple, an artist I'd heard of, but am unfamiliar with.

The brief artist biography on the page mentioned that Fiona Apple was born in 1977. A quick mental calculation told me that people born in 1977 are now 30 years old. Ouch.

Friday, January 04, 2008

My Response to The Democratic Party fundraising apparatus.

(The below is a copy of my email to the Democratic Party, in reply to a solicitation they emailed to me this morning. For the record, I have donated NOTHING to them since the Mukasey confirmation.)

For 7 years I've been dismayed and disgusted to watch the Bush misAdministration systematically destroy our country. At every opportunity, and even at the opportunities they go out of their way to create, the Constitution is ignored or violated outright.

Last November I was very excited to see the Democratic party achieve amazing victories, after I'd spent aboout 5 years donating what I could afford to various Democratic fundraising campaigns. Many of my donations were in response to pleas from you, Governor Dean.

Since the historic November 2006 election, however, I've seen nothing from Congressional Democrats but capitualtion to Bush, time & time again. I have seen NOTHING positive at all in the way of results, only a lot of talk that sounds good to me, until I examine the non-existent follow-through.

The confirmation of Mukasey was the last straw, as far as I'm concerned. Until I see meaningful results, not just talk, from Congress, I will donate nothing more to the Democratic Party. I sincerely believe that the active members of the various Democratic Party offices, as well as every Congressperson, can afford to maintain & support their lifestyles much more easily than I can afford to support them, for them.

Rest assured, against any of the flat-out insane candidates running on the Republican side of the contest you've got my vote in November. BUT, until I see something concrete come from the Democrats, you will no longer get my money.

As for the Presidential campaign, my first choice was Dodd. My second choice would be Richardson or Edwards, either of whom I'd be thrilled with as my President. How about throwing some support their way every once in a while?

Steve Jacobs

On Fri, 04 Jan 2008 12:45:03 -0500, Howard Dean wrote:

The Democratic Party
Keep the momentum from the Democrats' big night in Iowa going, and don't let the Republicans recover from last night's disastrous results. Make a donation to the Democratic Party now:

Dear Stephen,

The Republican Party is falling apart today - and we are in a place to take advantage of it.

Iowa caucus voters rejected the mainstream Republican frontrunners, and gave right-wing extremist Mike Huckabee a surprise victory in Iowa last night. He made a last minute surge - without money, and without staff - and has suddenly become a contender in the upcoming primaries.

Mike Huckabee had a big night, but the clear winner in last night's Republican caucus was President George W. Bush. All of the Republican leaders promised four more years of the Bush Administration's failed policies, from continuing the President's war in Iraq, to pursuing his efforts to privatize Social Security, to extending his budget-busting handouts for special interest friends.

Regardless of your personal candidate loyalties, there's one thing for certain: we can't let Mike Huckabee or any of the Republican candidates take over where George W. Bush leaves off.

We must win the White House and that hard work begins today. Will you help?

Seven years after taking office, President Bush's approval rating is stuck around 33 percent. Roughly two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.

But on issue after issue, while Democrats offer real solutions and new ideas to provide the American people with the change they want, the Republicans offer a third Bush term.

Keep the momentum from the Democrats' big night in Iowa going, and don't let the Republicans recover from last night's disastrous results. Make a donation to the Democratic Party now:

For three years I've asked you to help me build a party that could compete in every state and take back the White House from George W. Bush and his Republican cronies. The excitement we saw from Iowa Democrats, and the total lack of enthusiasm from Iowa Republicans, says a lot about how far we've come.

The wait is over. 2008 is here, and the elections are in full swing. Don't wait another minute to let Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John McCain or any other Bush supporter get the upper hand on the next Democratic President of the United States.


Howard Dean

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