December 19, 2014

"Torture is the sort of thing we Americans do."


The saddest sentence I have seen of late comes from this Dish post, "America’s Tortured Conscience":
We Americans like to think that we are good people. (“We are awesome!“) Now it seems clear enough that torture is the sort of thing we Americans do.
Let that sink in a second.

And this from Mother Jones. I knew that we prosecuted Japanese for waterboarding (and remember famously John Ashcroft vociferously objecting to the idea that our waterboarding was the same as the Japanese. But I didn't realize that we prosecuted Japanese officials for other treatments--some of them not as bad as what we did to suspected terrorists. Wow.

And this last note, and one I meant to add to yesterday's post. In 2004, the common defense from conservatives was fear; even from my Christian friends. I remember one of SOF's friends reminding me that "9-11 was scary," as if I had somehow not lived through that day.

But even if we excuse the fear from 2004 (and certainly from 2001), what is their excuse today? Why would these same people of faith have not even thought about the fact that they tolerate the evil of torture?

December 17, 2014

So conservative Christians still support torture

I wish I could be shocked by this, and I am very mindful that every other demographic group has far too many people who find torture a reasonable and moral way to confront terrorism. But I am so disheartened that people of faith are leading the charge in the wrong way. Still.

Readers will recall that when we first heard of the torture issue, I told SOF that this might be that wedge between the conservative Christian movement and the modern GOP. I didn't expect them to become Democrats, mind you. I just expected them to stand up to Bush and Cheney and tell them that if they tortured, conservative Christians would stay home. They couldn't support and defend torture. They just couldn't.

But they did. And they did with an edge. Our friend Tony and I ran into a SBC pastor from Oklahoma who suggested that me even raising the issue of torture was helping the enemy. Not that torture was bad, me talking about it was bad. Tony later said that he had to stop talking about it in SBC circles, because other Baptists pushed back so hard. When I posted this story yesterday, I had two friends tell me that they knew long term missionaries who recently returned to the US and were shocked by the torture news. In both cases, they were told by American evangelicals that they were wrong--torture wasn't anti-Christian.

In that same post, I felt so bad for the Christian friends who felt the need to point out they didn't support torture. But I also understood the non-Christians who shook their head in complete disbelief. How could a faith that was premised in overcoming the torture and execution of Christ somehow look at torturing Muslims and think that was ok? How could people who watched Mel Gibson's film on the crucifixion and focused on the issue of torture suddenly reverse themselves to find it acceptable?

Via Slactivist, I found this heartfelt plea to Christians to remind them that the practice is antithetical to the very basis of the faith. You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture - Brian Zahnd:
I don’t know of a greater indictment against American evangelicalism than the fact that a majority of its adherents actually admit they support the use of illegal torture on suspected terrorists! The release of that survey in 2009 was the point where I stopped self-identifying as an evangelical. Today I’m not quite sure what brand of Christian you should categorize me as, but it’s not that!

Evangelical support of torture is what we might call an “eruption of the real.” It’s a horrifying moment of unintended truth-telling where we discover that allegiance to national self-interest trumps allegiance to Jesus Christ.

I have one conservative friend who, I think, simply thinks I have lost my mind over this and other issues. Perhaps he is right. Yet, I can't stop thinking about the problem of a religious faith based in morality and sacrifice becoming one that more easily defends the powerful and attacks the weak. All of that makes more sense when you see them defending torture.

Anyway. About me continuing to rant on this. There are times when I feel that I should just give up and look the other way. It is useless and meaningless to shout into the darkness about poverty or racism or torture. I was pleased to find this very thoughtful essay by Bill Leonard on the issue of torture, race, and Christian conscience. (A nation confronted by conscience). He raised the hope that we could, as a people, question our assumptions about our own moral authority and the idea of American exceptionalism, as well as to discard the idea of a Christian nation. But his quote from Elie Wiesel spoke to me about perhaps why I continue to speak and write on this issue:
In Words from a Witness (1967), Elie Wiesel told of a rabbi whose conscience compelled him to declare: “‘Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent.’ He went on preaching day after day, maybe even picketing. But no one listened. He was not discouraged. He went on preaching for years. Finally someone asked him, ‘Rabbi, why do you do that? Don’t you see it is no use?’ He said, ‘I know it is of no use, but I must. And I will tell you why: in the beginning I thought I had to protest and to shout in order to change them. I have given up this hope. Now I know I must picket and scream and shout so that they should not change me.’”

November 28, 2014

Do black lives matter?

I have to ask.  It's not just Michael Brown.  Or Trayvon Martin.  Just this past week, cops in Cleveland shot a 12 old kid playing with a toy gun.  Just shot him down.  And then didn't even give him first aid.  Or remember John Crawford, who was shot down in a Walmart when he was playing with a bb gun.  Or Mirriam Carey gunned down in DC after approaching a Secret Service checkpoint.



Facebook has been grim.  I have read so many white people completely dismissing the concerns about race.  A Pew study reinforces that, suggesting that 63% of white people think that Michael Brown's death was not about race.  All while another study shows that black males are 21 times greater than their white counterparts to be killed by police.  



One of SOF's high school friends said, rather dismissively, that he didn't think of race.  Of course, he doesn't have to. He can choose to think about race or not.  He gets that option.  That is almost a perfect example of white privilege.



Others bashed Brown's parents and community for allowing that kind of behavior to continue.  (Should note, the right wing and media are already bashing the parents of the 12 year old.)  And again, in white privilege, you get to focus in on the details of the individual case.  You can choose to ignore the broader context.  You can argue that the cop acted correctly in this tragedy.  And you may be right, though I am not convinced.  But the broader context remains the fact that black people are killed at a much higher rate.  That should bother even conservatives.



But it doesn't.  John Fugelsang noted wryly that the people who boast about not trusting their government suddenly trust it when an unarmed black person is shot and killed.  I think that disconnect is about a lot of things, but including the idea that most well-intentioned whites (not Klan members, by any stretch) believe that racists are bad people--but they are good people--ergo, they cannot be racist.  And ultimately, they have to answer that nagging question of if this level of racism ends up with dead black kids, their own safety and security is because they are white and well-off.



This isn't right.  When cops shoot a kid playing with a bb gun and leave him to die, something is seriously wrong.  When people look at the tragedy of Michael Brown's death and opine that he was a "thug" who "probably would have killed others"--something is seriously wrong.

November 5, 2014

Tough day in Democracy

I knew yesterday's vote would be rough for us.  I read enough about Nate Silver's projections to know that my hopes for a better outcome would be dashed.  But it is still incredibly disappointing.  Republicans promise to harm the poor and the sick, and they still get elected.  Democrats actually provided healthcare reform, and they then stupidly run away from it.

As it is ever, my biggest disappointment is knowing that the faith of my youth has become so tribally Republican that I am not sure they can differentiate between conservative economic views and those of the Christ they worship.  I went back and reread my post the day after Bush's reelection, and it is still incredibly timely (to me, at least).  (Streak's Blog: One of my darkest days, (PS. American Christianity sucks!))

For the life of me, I just can't quite get my mind around good moral people voting for sociopaths who take great glee in "punching down" at the powerless and the weak.  Their religion says to feed the poor and help the prisoner.  Their faith says to help the sick and the old.  Their vote is diametrically opposite.  It shores up power and wealth, and erodes the fragile lives of the poor, sick, elderly, and middle class.

In the last year, we added a puppy to our house, and in the last week, we added yet another rescue, bringing our total dog population to four.  I have felt a little defensive about that as some seem to think we have lost our minds, or exceeded some norm for animals.  I feel just fine about it for several reasons.  1), our new rescue, Scooby was in a bad place and headed for trouble, and we helped him and his former owners.  My vote was to help people, and outside that, I am trying to do what I can in my circle to help people.

And 2), having four dogs reminds me of how much more I like them than people. Dogs bite each other when one is being abusive or bullying.  Republicans seem to elect them to office.

October 28, 2014

Good man with a gun becomes bad man with a gun

Report: 'Buzzed' Man Allegedly Killed Boy In Game Of 'Gun Tag'



This is how this works.  Up till this man killed a three year old with his gun, he was most likely a good man with a gun.   What is a good man with a gun?  Just a legal gun owner, and the gun rights people want there to be more and more of those.  Because freedom.  And because more guns is always better.



Gun culture demands it.  The NRA tells you to be very afraid--that criminals will break in, and the police won't respond, or that the UN and that evil Barack Hussein Obama will take your guns away.  Or that ISIS will come across the border and you will need that nine mil.



Gun culture doesn't filter our irresponsibility, or history of drunkenness, or youth or anger issues.  Nope.  More guns make us safer, they say.  Good people with gun will stop the bad people with guns.  And anyone who questions that becomes a bad person--presumably without a gun, though that is irrelevant.  The Gun Tribe doesn't like anyone who questions access to guns, and those people are bad.



So when a good man with a gun kills someone, the gun culture just says, "they will go to jail for using their gun wrong."   (unless they are a cop, of course, and kill a young black teen).  But you never know who the bad people are until they shoot someone they aren't supposed to.  And any effort at restricting those people, or even discouraging young and stupid people from getting guns is a violation of freedom, and makes you a bad person.

October 27, 2014

Just guessing, but this political message about guns will not upset gun right's advocates

NRA's Election Message: "Vote Your Guns" Because ISIS Might Be Outside Your House | Blog | Media Matters for America



Even more dishonest than the woman blogger.  Even more destructive.  Even more paranoid and crazy.



Yet, the supposedly adult and sober and reasonable gun owners will just look the other way.

September 9, 2014

Remember when Republicans talked about compassion?

Or even when they, under George W. Bush, spent a lot of money to fight HIV in Africa?



We may be to that place where even W looks reasonable by comparison, as the modern GOP House just moved to gut spending for Ebola.  Evidently there is nothing worth paying tax dollars for, if you are a conservative Republican.  Why don't those Africans just pay for their own medical care?



This isn't new, but every time I hear one of these Republicans quote the Bible or reference Christianity, I feel the bile in the back of my throat.  I keep wondering when the grownup Republicans I know will stand up to this stuff. There appears to be absolutely no bottom to their malevolence.

August 19, 2014

The end of chronic homelessness?

For a break away from my frustration about Ferguson, a note about my reinvention.  My networking resulted in an invitation to a stakeholder's meeting regarding homelessness in Norman, and my education continues.  I am learning so much about homelessness and about the effective (and no so effective) methods of fighting it.

Here in Norman, as in many communities, we have several different "shelter" agencies who all deal with aspects of the homeless population.  As one person put it this morning, they have effectively managed homelessness here, in that it is largely hidden from the population.  But that isn't solving the issue.  So, they formed the organization One Vision One Voice to combine forces and share information and resources.  Pretty cool stuff.

In addition, they are learning much about ways to address homelessness, and moving away from some of the older models.  That includes the idea of what was called "housing ready," where homeless people were given the possibility of getting housing if they completed some checkmarks.  Addicted people needed to prove their sobriety for ninety days, or the mentally ill needed to demonstrate some management of their symptoms.  This all worked for the short term homeless, but for the chronic and medically vulnerable population, this didn't work at all.  People living under a bridge have enough on their plate just living day to day to try to demonstrate some control of their demons.  It is basic Maslow's hierarchy of needs, if you think about it, but the model persisted because it had a logic to it.

But OVOV and The Homeless Alliance are following the new model of "housing first," where they put these chronic homeless people in housing of some sorts (with guidance and social workers helping them, of course).  The results are pretty startling.  In OKC, the retention rate was in the 90s after a year and a half, and only 2 of those were actually lost back to homelessness.

The other fascinating component here is that we may have been viewing the economics of fighting homelessness all wrong.  Most people agree that people should have housing, just as they think that people should have food.  But I can't tell you how many times I have heard the lament that we "just can't afford to feed or house everyone."

I am not sure about the economics of hunger (though I suspect it is quite similar) but the Homeless Alliance people have some great numbers on the cost of homelessness.  Turns out it is quite expensive to keep them on the streets.  I am not sure I wrote down all the numbers correctly, but here is one stat that I am sure of:  one individual chronically homeless individual in OKC cost the city's taxpayers $160,000 in one year.  He was arrested multiple times, or picked up for being in the wrong place or publicly intoxicated.  He was taken by ambulance several times to the emergency room, and spent time in the hospital for pneumonia.  All of that well before we look at any costs carried by the social workers or social organizations.

Turns out it is much cheaper to house people.  Here in Norman, they figure they can pay the annual rent and utilities for an individual for around $6,000.  Those who are housed are less likely to get arrested or harassed, and if you combine this with access to healthcare, the other costs plummet as well.

Several people made the point that economics should not be the only reason, but it is a compelling one for those who value fiscal conservatism.  If your value is to save money, then why wouldn't we jump on this effort of getting people into housing?  As I noted, I am guessing there is a similar economics to hunger and lack of healthcare--all the more reason to get people into Medicaid or get them fed.  Much cheaper to buy a meal than to pay for a night in the hospital, or for long-term chronic illness associated with poverty.

This fall, Norman's OVOV will undertake a comprehensive census of the homeless population.  Not just a count, but an assessment of where they are on the scale--temporary and unlikely to be homeless if they get their feet back under them to those who have enough mental illness that they would never be able to live completely unattended.  And many of those in that last category will simply die on the street.

I am hoping to get involved in this count and the entire effort to eradicate homelessness.  I am wondering about the response when people learn of this effort.  I fear that the "moral hazard" argument will overpower many who would otherwise want to help.

But we will see.

August 15, 2014

Another young black man shot by police

I am sure everyone knows about this recent event.  There is still much we don't really know about the shooting, but there are enough legitimate questions to question the police action in Ferguson, Missouri.  Vox.com has a nice rundown of the story here.  The Ferguson police released some images and video showing the dead youth robbing a convenience store, but then admitted that the officer who shot Michael Brown did not know of those allegations and was not stopping him for that reason.  The police say that the young man attacked the police officer and even reached for his gun, but several observers note that the young man was retreating from the cops and surrendering when he was shot.  One person live tweeted the shooting, and his account is chilling.

One of the problems with racial issues in this country, in my opinion, is the emphasis on denying the past or larger contexts.  We are told to accept the basic particulars in each individual case as if they occur in a vacuum.  This shooting is a great example.  Perhaps the police are telling the right story, and this young man threatened and attacked a police officer.  None of that matters if he was retreating--certainly not in my mind, but as I said, there is much for us to learn.

But this occurred in a context, and that context is not a good one for race relations.  For all the Supreme Court's conviction that racism is a thing of the past, Ferguson, Missouri is a largely black population run by an almost completely white police force and with only one black person on the city council.  Race, of course, tells us nothing about competence or ability, but this is horrible optics.  Those white police arrest black residents at a much higher rate (much higher) than whites.  The police department handled this badly by militarizing the city and treating those protesting as enemies.

To be fair to Ferguson, Missouri, however, the problem is much broader than this one community.  One only has to think of the different responses between the Bundy ranch in Nevada and this community.  At Cliven Bundy's side, white separatists pointed sniper rifles at federal troops.  That didn't end with tear gas or tanks rolling in.  On the contrary, the government backed off.  Contrast that with the police shooting an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, or the savage beating of a black grandmother on the side of an interstate.  Or that kid shot in Walmart holding a toy gun.

If that isn't bad enough, consider the difference between media portrayal of black victims to white suspects.  Right, not just between white suspects and black suspects, but even the portrayals of blacks shot in violent encounters.  There is plenty of room for criticism of individual criminal behavior, but that disparity suggests that the activists are not completely wrong when they say that the lives of black men count less than their white counterparts.




July 26, 2014

The Ghosts of Recurring Dreams

My career reinvention is still moving slowly.  I have reached out to several people in the non-profit world and have essentially offered my services pro-bono.  Of course, they all use volunteers, and I am willing to do that too, but am hoping that I can use some of my analytical skills as well.  My latest idea is to try to get on a few more boards.  My work on my current board has really given me a chance to use some chops.  To put it another way, when I volunteered for a session at the food bank, while it was a very worthwhile afternoon (and I need to go back), my contribution was no different than the teenage girl next to me on the assembly line.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that either, but I am hoping to do something for these orgs that she might not be able to.  Yet.

So, we will see.  I continue to talk to people in that world and the cool thing is that I am learning much about homelessness and hunger.  All of that is worthwhile, whatever comes of this tactic.

But back to the title.  I don't feel that stressed or depressed about my career right now, but I still cannot shake my recurring dream where I am, once again in the classroom.  The dreams always include the fact that my teaching is coming to an end.  I wake up depressed and it often takes me most of the day to shake the dream.

I am a little unsure why I keep having these dreams.  I have always understood dreams as part of unresolved business.  I used to have a dream every summer where I went to class unprepared.  That was my cue to get going on prep for the coming year.

Perhaps I am still unresolved about my career.  I find myself pretty angry at the state of higher education, and occasionally find myself annoyed with former colleagues when they complain about students or some university nonsense.  When I think of that world, I have to say that there is much I don't miss.  I don't miss the bored students.  I don't miss the texting and sleeping during class.  I don't miss the insipid questions about grades and exams.  I don't miss the consumer approach to learning.

But I do miss those moments with students when we connected on something cool.  I miss those connections with students outside class when they related how something from our class informed their life.  I know I made a connection with some of those students that may last for a lifetime.  I miss that.  Perhaps that is the source of these dreams.