Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Awesome Military Might of NATO

The AP reports that NATO strikes badly damaged the Qaddafi compound in Libya.

Hooray NATO!

The headline reads "Qaddafi Compound Nearly Crumbled in NATO Attack"

Then it turns out that they didn't hit anything vital, just a library and a ceremonial meeting hall, equipped, we are told breathlessly, with sofas and chandeliers!

Oh, the horrors of war!

The AP goes on to give a lurid description of the damaged facility:
The main door was blown open, shards of glass were scattered across the ground and picture frames were knocked down.

Picture frames were knocked down! How uncivilized! Are there no bounds to war anymore? When picture frames, sofas, and chandeliers aren't safe in wartime, then who is?

In essense, what the AP is saying is that NATO packs all the punch of a three year old toddler who missed his nap.

Pardon me for a moment. I have to lie down and collect myself.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trans Siberian Orchestra: Beethoven’s Last Night Tour

Most people, if they are familiar with Trans Siberian Orchestra at all, know them for their three albums of Christmas music, or that you tube video of the house with rocking Christmas lights. but what a lot of people don't know is that TSO has released two albums of non Christmas music and they are currently touring for one of them, Beethoven's Last Night. They came through Knoxville last night and put on a show like I've never seen before.

Yeah, there were lights and pyro and smoke and frickin' laser beams, as well as loud guitars, gorgeous voices and beautiful singers just like you'd expect at a rock concert, but the level of musicianship and the theatricality of the performers blew me away.

If you've never seen TSO perform, take the showmanship of Kiss without the makeup, the bombast of Meatloaf without the motorcycles, the lyrical depth of Paul Simon without the pretension, the musical virtuosity of the New York Philharmonic, without the stuffiness, throw it all into a blender with a dash of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, sprinkle it with Yes, and you are coming close to the TSO experience.

Lissa and I have seen the TSO Christmas show twice since we've been together, and would have seen them two more times except that they skipped Knoxville the last two times through. So, when we saw on the internet that TSO was coming through town with the Beethoven show, there really was no question about whether or not we'd be going. The only question was where we would be sitting and how early we'd get there.

The concert was produced by AC entertainment, and promoted by WIMZ, and as we walked towards the Civic Coliseum, I remarked to Lissa that it was probably the first time a lot of these folks had been to a concert promoted by WIMZ. On the other hand, given that WIMZ has the exact same playlist they were using when I was in high school, I could be mistaken in that assumption. (Since when did my music become "classic"?)

Unlike most music performed today, Beethoven's Last Night tells a story. The songs are woven together with a narration to tell the tale of Beethoven's last night on earth. It's a story of temptation and redemption, mistake made and overcome, and the eternal war between Good and Evil set to a thundering score that's part Beethoven, part Mozart, and all Paul O'Neill, the musical brain behind TSO who has been producing larger than life stage shows and recordings for decades. He's the guy Jim Steinman wants to be when he grows up. The short version of the story is that Beethoven is told that he will die on this very night, and the Devil appears, telling him that his soul is forfeit, but that if he agrees to allow the Devil to take all of his music away from the world forever, then his soul will be freed. This dilemma is what drives the music.

While BLN frames the songs with narration in a way similar to Christmas Eve, the feel of the two shows couldn't be more different. The Christmas material is light and playful; it lends itself to humor and there's an air of fun throughout the performance. BLN is many things, but fun is not a word that springs to mind. The themes are heavier and the music matches that tone, conveying the pain of loss and regret as well as the joy of transcending those emotions. It's uplifting and a joy to experience Ludwig's triumph but also draining. The songs generally aren't catchy little ditties that you find yourself humming after the show. Instead, they are more like arias, provoking emotion through the combination of the music and the lyric. In fact, the entire production felt more like an opera than a rock concert, despite the wailing guitars and the leather clad backup singers/dancers.

But this is not a bad thing. It's nice to be challenged every now and again, and the payoff is worth the effort.

When you go to see TSO, you expect stunning sound and visuals, and BLN does not disappoint. The stage was smaller than what they use for Christmas, resulting in a more intimate feel, but the video screens, lighting, lasers and fire pots filled the space, making sure your eyes were just as dazzled as your ears. Lissa is a synaesthete, which means she sees sounds (Nope, no drugs involved.) and she tells me that a TSO concert is the closest thing to what she experiences whenever she listens to complex music. Imporperly done, the amount of visual effects would distract from the music; here, it not just compliments the songs, it completes them.

One thing that's clearly evident is the joy the performers feel while they're on the stage. Violinist Roddy Chong covers the stage, leaping, bending, and stretching as he plays his instrument flawlessly. Keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij attacks the piano with the touch of a virtuoso and the energy of a raging river. Pitrelli leads the guitars, allowing them to shine, but reminding them that he has a few licks of his own.The energy coming off the stage is incredible, and you have no doubt that these people love what they do.

The BLN album runs about 70 minutes; during the show it runs just under 2 hours. But just because the album is done doesn't mean the music is. After finishing the BLN story, guitarist/musical director Al Pitrelli introduced the members of the group, then continued the show with a 45 minute excerpt from the newest TSO album, Night Castle

The music from Night Castle is just as hard and edgy, but not as heavy. In fact, I think the inclusion of the Night Castle material added some needed balance to the show, providing the audience with a way to release some of the tension built by BLN. And yes, I'll be going to see that show when it goes on tour.

Finally, after over two and a half hours of music, the concert was over. But not the show. TSO continued their tradition of coming out to meet the fans and sign autographs after the show was over. The physical stamina it would take to put that kind of energy out on the stage for over two hours, then spend an hour or so shaking hands with their fans before climbing on a bus to do it all over again tomorrow is staggering, yet these performers will continue this tour for another few weeks, and take a few short weeks off before they start preparing for this winter's Christmas tour.

If you haven't seen the Christmas show, get tickets and go. If you have, then I know you'll be going back. And if you get a chance to see BLN live, take it. Like I said, it's way different from the Christmas show, but every bit as entertaining.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Obama Calls Me a Pessimist; I Wish I Were that Hopeful

Do you like being lied to? Do you enjoy having the folks who represent you in Congress just make stuff up to win your vote?

Remember that $38 billion in reduced spending that Cry Baby Boehner so bravely forced the Democrats in Congress to fork over?

Yeah, well, it turns out then when you look at it through the lens of real world math, it's more like $352 million.

That's with an m.

Folks, by any measure, our fiscal picture is bleak. Real inflation is up, the economy is stagnant, the housing markets are on the verge of another collapse, states are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, an all our President can say to those of us who see these problems is that we are pessimists.

Seriously? Like if we all join hands and sing a couple of choruses of "High Hopes" then all our problems will just disappear?

Talk about out of touch.

And just when you think it can't possibly get worse in Washington, we get Ross Perot: the Sequel, with another billionaire with bad hair running for President. I guess it's only to be expected. Obama is a Jimmy Carter retread; why not a reboot of Ross Perot? With an exciting new director and cast, I mean, campaign manager and staff, Trump might actually win this thing.

It's not like he's an unknown, untried, and untested Senate freshman or something silly like that.

I have to admit, I'd love to hear his victory speech come November. "Mr President, You're fired!"

Folks, I just don't know anymore. I don't see a clean way of getting through the mess we're in. More importantly, I don't see anybody in our government with the will to make the tough decisions that it will take to dig ourselves out of this hole. And ultimately, I don't think 'we the people' possess the moral fiber required to dig out. We're spoiled, soft and weak. We all want spending cuts, but only for the other guy. We talk a big fight but when it comes down to it, we vote for the guy that promises to keep us safe from the cuts.

Face it. Come election time, who will you vote for? The candidate that promises you rainbow farting unicorns, pie in the sky, and peace and prosperity all for the low low price of your freedom? Or the guy who looks you in the eye and tells you that you're going to have to cut back, pay more in taxes, accept fewer government services, work longer, harder and for less, forget Social Security, and accept a seriously reduced standard of living for at least a decade, probably two, and all to try to reduce a debt that's been building for a generation?

That's how deep the hole is. That's where we are. Most of us have experienced getting in over our heads with dept. We run up bills on our charge cards, buy cars or houses we really can't afford, and then we have to struggle for a couple of years to get back on our feet. America has overspeant way beyond that point, and instead of cutting up the charge cards, our politicians are applying for more.

It's going to end, and it's going to end badly. We're now to the point where instead of making good choices, we'll have to choose the best of the bad ones.

But we won't.

We'll try to keep the game of musical chairs going just a little longer, trying not to be the one caught standing when the music stops.

We're on a ship at sea that's sinking and instead of bailing out the water and patching the holes, we're all trying to be the last guy on board before she slides beneath the waves forever.

And folks, I'm not leaving myself out of that. I'm doing the same thing. I'm doing what I can to protect and provide for my family, and I am spending some effort at damage control, but in truth, I avoid thinking about this as much as possible. It's unpleasant. It's scary. I'd rather build a garden shed and play with my grandkids. I tell myself that I'm not infallible, that I could be wrong, that there might be some magical way out of the crushing debt we've laid on ourselves. Just because no other country in the history of the world has managed to find a workable solution doesn't mean that we won't. After all, we're America!

The illusion is comforting, but in the end, it is an illusion. The way forward goes through a very dark place and I don't know what America will look like comes out the other side.

So yeah, I'm a pessimist.

Finally, something Obama and I agree on.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Does Anybody in Washington Know what the word Cut Means?

Republicans are ecstatic over Boehner's deal to avert a government shutdown. Tea Partiers rave over Ryans's budget proposal. And today, Obama proposed a plan that would add $4 trillion dollars to the national debt over the next 12 years.

These plans have two things in common:

Every one of them, even Ryan's "extreme" budget, results in increased spending every year, more borrowing every year, and an increase in the federal debt every year, and every one of them is touted as a"spending cut."

Only in Washington can increased spending and debt be called a budget cut.

Do they really think we're that stupid?

Are we?

Posted by Rich
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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Budget Deal: What Congress Does instead of Doing Something

Forgive me for not joining in with the celebratory crap flowing from the Washington media over avoiding a government shutdown. As far as I can see, we've gone from a $1.6 trillion deficit to a $1.57 trillion deficit. If my math is right, that's a 1.875% reduction in the annual deficit. While our Congress and President hail these cuts as historic in size, when compared to our actual spending, they're nothing more than a rounding error. As much as Democrats cried about how "extreme" the cuts were, I'm disappointed that republicans didn't go for more. Anyone who looks at current spending honestly can only come away with one conclusion; we're spending way too much money, 40% over revenue at last count.

I can't run my home that way; a business would go bankrupt trying to borrow that much, and a country is no different. If we keep this up, we will go bankrupt as a nation.

What really pisses me off is that there is nobody in Washington right now willing to admit how bad things are. Paul Ryan is taking heat for his budget proposal which takes a stab at fiscal sanity but it still doesn't balance the budget, even 10 years out.

As Tam says:
We are so boned.
So John Q. Public is wheeled in with an arterial bleeder, and Dr. Reid says a bandaid should fix it, while Dr. Boehner wants one of those little 3" gauze squares. They compromised on a 2" gauze pad, but with only one strip of tape.


My neighbor's dog has more foresight than these yahoos

So, what would it take to make me happy? I'm glad you asked.

  1. Roll back spending to 2008 levels before Obama and the Democrat Congress exploded the budget. And yes, I know Bush signed TARP into law, but TARP came from a Democrat dominated Congress, and Obama voted for it so even though he likes to claim he inherited the deficits, he didn't. he voted for them; he owns them. TARP was supposed to be a one time event, aiming to prevent a full economic crash. Once he took office, Obama and the Democrats have tried to make spending at this level permanent and our economy can't handle it. We need to return to sustainable levels of spending and going back to where we were before the spending orgy is a good start.

  2. End stimulus spending, and make sure that every dollar given out in bailouts is returned with interest. And no, GM's bullsh*t claim doesn't count. Obama loves to tout all the jobs created or saved, and Democrats trip over themselves talking about the great success of TARP and the two stimulus bills.

    OK, great. They worked. The economy is saved and we can go back to living within our means.

  3. Pass a Constitutional Amendment that
    • requires a balanced budget.

    • If there is cause for a deficit, that budget must be approved by super majority in the House and Senate, must include Constitutional justification for the spending, and a plan to pay back the deficit.

    • links congressional pay to the GDP. If it goes down, so does their pay. Alternately, Congressional pay raises should be linked to the whatever calculation they use to determine military pay raises.

    • caps government spending at a percentage of GDP, which historically runs at just under 20%. Exceeding that cap would again require super-majorities of the House and Senate.

  4. Make it illegal for the Fed to purchase US debt. Monetizing the debt is no different than monetizing mortgage debt. It didn't work in the housing market, and it won't work for federal debt either.

  5. Make a rule forcing Congress into continuous session starting Oct 1st if there is no budget. Limit continuing resolutions to 2 weeks in duration and cap spending at 90% of the previous budget, to include Congressional and federal pay, with the exception of military pay and benefits. That gives Congress incentive to do their jobs.

  6. Replace the tax code with one that rewards saving, simplifies returns, and distributes the burden more equitably. A flat tax with deductions for food, clothing, and housing and an income threshold of the poverty level would be a good start. That would come out to something like 23% or so to fund government at the current level of spending.

  7. Abolish capital gains and inheritance taxes. Income should be taxed once, not multiple times.

  8. Welfare payments should be repaid just as student loans are. Payment can be in cash, or time spent in civic service.

I could go on, but you get the point. Almost every one of these ideas is a political non starter, which is too bad because TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) isn't just good idea; it's fairly close to being a natural law. Any culture that flouts that law generally fails within a generation or two. We're in our second generation now. Time is running out. We can take charge of our fiscal affairs and get America back on a sound financial footing, or we can continue on the path to insolvency, default, and ruin.

Unfortunately, based on what's been going on in Washington, and some of the conversations I've had with folks lately, I think the choice has already been made. Too many people have an entitlement mentality and they are unwilling to face the truth, that America is on a path that will lead to financial ruin. We won't change our direction.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

I Love Living in East Tennessee

I've been building a garden shed in the backyard for the last couple of weekends, and today I went to Home depot to get the materials I needed to sheath the walls and cover the roof. It was a big load for my pickup, but by putting the tailgate down, I fit it all in. For safety, I grabbed my trusty bingee cords and secured the load by running the bungees from the side hooks to the hitch and then back up.

Sure that the load wouldn't move, I drove home.

I went up hill; I went down hill; around curves and through bumps, dips, drops, and occasionally stretches of level roads and no problems.

Until I got to the last intersection where I had to cross Highway 66, the main route from Sevierville to I-40.

I was stopped at the light, waiting to cross 66 and get home to start work. The light changes. The truck went forward into the intersection; the load of plywood, shingles, roof felt, siding, and kitty litter did not. It slid slick as you please right out of the back of my truck and landed with a loud thud in the perfect place to block two lanes going south and one lane going west.

Not good.

I pulled over and swung back around so I could get to the shoulder and grab all the stuff but I didn't feel too good about it. There were 15 4X8 sheets of plywood, 5 bags of shingles, a roll of felt and none of it was light. With all the Sunday traffic leaving Sevier County, I expected to here from disgusted drivers already tired of sitting in traffic for 45 minutes trying to get out of town.

Instead, 5 different guys pulled over, none of whom were stuck behind my mess, and helped me get the stuff back in my truck. All in all, the stuff was in the road for less than 5 minutes. These guys were already past the intersection. They could have gone on their way without being slowed down for a second, but instead, they stopped, both to help me clean up the road, and to make sure that other drivers could get on their way as quickly as possible.

Like I said, I love living in east Tennessee!

Posted by Rich
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Friday, April 08, 2011

Let’s Make Sure We Shut Down Truly Non Essential Government Agencies

Since Obama appears desperate for a government shutdown, believing that it will hurt the Republicans more than him, I say let him have one, as long as we shut down the truly non essential portions of government.

Starting with Congress.

Congress had a duty to pass a budget over six months ago. They failed to do so. If they can't do their job, why should they get paid?

"But Rich, if we don't pay them, then they can't work to fix the problems!"

Hey, Obama expects the military to work without being paid, forcing their families to cope with bills, rent, and groceries with no money: surely we can expect the millionaire lawyers that make up Congress to do the same.

In fact, in solidarity with his government employee brothers and sisters, I think Mr Obama should also go without pay during the shutdown. I'm sure Michelle would understand the need to forgo spending trips and vacations during the crisis.

Let's furlough the White House staff as well. I don't have hundreds of servants to keep my house clean, food on the table, and my clothes washed. In these tough times, we need tough measures. During the shutdown, let Obama wash his own underwear.

Let's lay off the White House PR department, including the press secretary. Let the President speak for himself, without speech writers teleprompters and flacks. We might actually hear the truth for a change.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I'm liking this idea of a shutdown. Let's strip government down to its bare essentials and see how much of it we really need.

Posted by Rich
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Compromise Obama Style

Democrat operatives, party loyalists, and the mainstream media have been blasting Republicans for refusing to compromise on budget cuts and are saying that they will be held to account if the government shuts down.

"Why won't the Republicans compromise?" they ask. "Do they want Americans to suffer?"

They point to John Boehner who indicated that the last CR that passed would be the last one, that he and the House Republicans were going to hold out for a budget agreement that lasted the rest of the fiscal year, and that they were willing to go through a partial government shutdown if that's what it took.

Ahh, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in DC was audible clear out to Chicago. It seemed that all the media could talk about was how many people would be hurt by the shutdown and how irresponsible the republicans were being by trying too force the Democrats to meet their demands for real spending cuts.

Then a funny thing happened. As we got closer to the shutdown, the Republicans gave ground and reached for a compromise. They reduced their goal from $61 billion to $40 billion. But that was not enough for the Democrats, and they continued to hold out for more spending, higher deficits, and bigger debt.

Then we all discovered that because there had been no appropriations bill, and because Obama had decided to vacate an OMB directive that authorized payment of the military during a government shutdown, Boehner changed his mind, and authored another CR, this one lasting a week, calling for minimal spending cuts, and funding the military through the end of the fiscal year, making sure our troops, including those in three different combat zones, would continue to get paid.

Their wives would be able to pay rent, bills, and buy groceries and their spouses in harm's way wouldn't have to worry about their families being held hostage to political gamesmanship in Washington.

In short, the Republicans put the well being of our troops ahead of politics, and compromised by proposing and passing another CR.

So of course, Obama and his Democrats, in the spirit of compromise, and having gotten significant compromises from Republicans, acted immediately to pass the CR, fund the troops, and keep the government running.

Yeah, right.

Obama said he would not accept any continuing resolutions, that he wanted a budget to last to the end of the year, and that if the Senate passed Boehner's CR, he would veto it.
This bill is a distraction from the real work that would bring us closer to a reasonable compromise for funding the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011 and avert a disruptive Federal Government shutdown that would put the Nation’s economic recovery in jeopardy. The Administration will continue to work with the Congress to arrive at a compromise that will fund the Government for the remainder of the fiscal year in a way that does not undermine future growth and job creation and that averts a costly Government shutdown...If presented with this bill, the President will veto it.

That's what Democrats mean when they ask for compromise. Do it their way, or somebody gets hurt.

This President is willing to force our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to face combat without pay, leaves their families back home without money for groceries, rent, or other bills, all so he can get his way. republicans showed a weakness, concern for the troops, and Obama and the Democrats are going to exploit that weakness.

Obama may call this compromise; I call it extortion.

The man has no shame whatsoever.

If you're a Democrat, and you support this man using our troops, including those in harm's way, as bargaining chips, then I have absolutely no respect for you.

As for compromise, it takes two parties to compromise. Democrats have shown that they view compromise the same way all bullies do; as a sign of weakness.

A trait they share in common with union thugs and Islamic terrorists.

Imagine that!

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Things to Remember in the Budget Mess

As we draw closer to a potential partial shutdown of the federal government, there's a few things you need to keep in mind to ward off the inevitable propaganda onslaught from the media trying to apportion blame on the Tea Party.
  • Democrats failed to pass a budget through cowardice.The fiscal year runs from Oct 1 to Sept 30 which means we've been operating without a budget for over 6 months. While past administrations have had trouble getting a budget deal passed before, never have we gone an entire year without a budget, not even in wartime. Now, for the first time in history, we will go without a budget for the fiscal year 2010. The reason why this happened is very simple.

    2010 was an election year, and given the bad economy, Democrats knew they were in a tough spot. Historically, sitting administrations lose seats during mid term elections as administrations find it impossible to live up to all of their campaign promises. Given a crashing economy and several unpopular initiatives, Democrats knew that passing a pork laden deficit busting monstrosity would hurt their chances even further.

    So they punted. Rather than standing up for their principles and voting their platform, they passed a series of Continuing Resolutions to allow the government to operate without having to go on record as supporting massive deficit spending.

  • Republicans are not responsible for the failure to reach a budget agreement last year. In the days leading up to the end of the last fiscal year, Democrats controlled the White House and both branches of Congress with veto proof majorities. Republicans couldn't have stopped a Democrat budget if they wanted to. Remember this when the press yammers about Republican obstructionism. The Democrats had the chance to pass their budget and failed to do so.

  • Extreme doesn't always mean what we think it means. Right now, Republicans are aiming to reduce spending for the rest of the year by 61 billion dollars. Democrats are saying that's too much, that the cuts are extreme.

    But are they really?

    Right now, the deficit for this fiscal year is predicted to be $1.6 trillion. That works out to $4.3 billion dollars a day we have to borrow to fund our government. So the cuts the republicans are asking for would make up for just over two weeks of deficit spending. Or to put it another way, we'll reduce the daily amount we have to borrow by $339 million. Wow! That's a lot, right?

    Yeah, now we will have to borrow only $4 billion a day instead of $4.3 billion.


    The scary thing is that Democrats are railing against this relatively minor spending adjustment as extreme.

  • Obama is not serious about cutting the budget remember when Obama created a bi-partisan, blue ribbon commission to study the deficit and come up with a plan to cut it down and to balance the budget? remember when they came back with a plan to cut spending by bout $6 trillion over 10 years, resulting in a balanced budget and real job creation?

    You don't?

    That's ok. Niether does Obama.

    His budget ignores nearly every single provision the commission came up with.

Despite the above, all you will hear as we draw closer to Friday is that it's George bush's fault, aided by those extremists in the Tea Party.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, April 04, 2011

What He Said

Victor Davis Hanson:

Bottom line: It is always a dangerous thing for a president to start a war without Congress, without a consistent mission, without a coherent methodology, without a plausible end game, and without a clue who our rebel allies are or just how strong their opponent actually might be — contingent on a fickle UN, impotent but oil-enthused allies, and a passive-aggressive Arab world, all to prove a point that we could reinvent our military into a humanitarian rescue force, subordinate to international unelected bodies — and all the more dangerous during the golfing, basketball-playoffs, and resort seasons.

Posted by Rich
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I’m a Betting Man

What's the over/under for the date US ground troops enter Libya? Given that the air campaign is yielding less than successful results, and that Obama has wagered his political capital pretty heavily on bringing Khaddafi down, I don't think he can just walk away, leaving Khaddafi still in power. His only choice will be to escalate and NATO is already showing that they can't cut the mustard even with just an air war.

I'm betting on June 27th.

Posted by Rich
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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Religion of Peace?  Or Pieces?

If you can show me the last time a group of Christians rioted, killing 7 people just because somebody in another country burned a Bible, them I'll accept an argument that draws parallels between Christianity and Islam.

Until then, anybody drawing such parallels is by definition a moron.

In case you haven't been paying attention, there are Christians dying in other countries just for being Christian and most of the time, it's Muslims doing the killing. As far as I'm concerned, being a moderate Muslim is like being a moderate Nazi. Moderate Nazis weren't happy about the slaughter of the Jews, but they sure didn't do much to stop it.

I'm certain that this stand will cause some people to write me off as an intolerant extremist.

That's okay. Unlike the Muslims, I won't behead you for not believing as I do.

Posted by Rich
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