December 30, 2014

The GOP now the "Torture Party" and the "Klan Party."

And I am well aware that most Republicans are not racist, or not openly racist.  Most of the people I know would never associate with a Klan member any more than they would openly endorse torture.  But those who vote Republican are supporting both.  They just don't want to acknowledge it.

The most recent example comes with the incoming Majority Whip, who, as it turns out, spoke at a White Nationalist conference back in 2002.  Of course, he "didn't know" they were racists, even though he has always spoken well of David Duke, and the Iowa Cubs knew enough about the conference to move hotels.

But the reality is that since the Dixiecrats left the Democratic party, the Republican party has been growing more and more racist.  After all, it was Ronald Reagan who made his famous "state's rights" speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi--where civil rights workers were murdered.  Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond led the right wing of the GOP for years.  And now, the GOP is the party that has decided that reducing black vote is a good thing, and that prosecuting cops who kill black men is a bad thing.

But they aren't racist. Just ask them. They can't be racist. Racists are bad people and they aren't bad people. And me pointing out that their party has just named a racist to be their majority whip will not change a thing.

If torture is the new GOP horror, the existing original sin is racism. And not one conservative Christian I have asked has addressed this in any meaningful way. I might as well ask for proof that Sarah Palin treats her critics with something approaching Christianity. I might ask to see pictures of a Yeti. Or a Republican to acknowledge climate change.

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. 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.

July 24, 2014

Another botched execution

Though have no fear, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer assures us that he didn't suffer.  This, of course, following the Oklahoma botched execution and the Ohio botched execution.

But this much is also true.  Americans don't really care.  Certainly not enough to vote differently.  When it comes down to it, these are bad people dying, and if they suffer along the way, no conservative I know will stand up and say it is wrong.  And, of course, for the very same reason that they sat on their hands during the torture debate.  Bad people coming to bad ends is ok, even if the process makes us more like them than we would like to admit.

July 15, 2014

What would Jesus do, exactly? Surely not yell "go home" at immigrant child refugees, right?

The stories are amazingly gripping.  We read about the life expectancy in Central American countries and realize that parents there reasonably believe that sending unaccompanied minors on a long dangerous journey to the US is actually safer than just staying home.

Right.  As dangerous as it is to journey on their own to the Promised Land, it is less dangerous than just staying with their family.  It boggles the mind.

But as boggled as my mind is with that, I look at the conservative response to these children and find even less humanity and less reason.  We have border militia (thankfully, well protected by the NRA and 2nd Amendment groups) saying that we should shoot immigrant kids.  We have Republicans across the map suggesting every possibly conspiracy you could imagine--from Obama is doing this on purpose to bring in more Democratic voters (because poor illegals vote in such high numbers, right?), to Sarah Palin's brilliant suggestion that Obama is letting in all these kids to fundamentally transform America (because he isn't really American, of course, and hates it the way it is), or those who believe this is a plot to bankrupt the country (because illegals just go on welfare and commit crimes).  Now that I think about it, most of the conspiracies are that Obama is doing this on purpose for some reason or another.  And yes, the spelling skills that the Tea Party was so famous for (who can forget the famous "Get a brain, Morans" sign at one of their rallies?) has not disappeared.  We have seen all sorts of misspellings about illegals or immigrants, or whatever--though this one takes the cake--'No Illeagles' Graffiti Discovered On Proposed Shelter For Unaccompanied Children | ThinkProgress.

Then, of course, we had a prominent faith leader from Dallas (Southern Baptist, no less) who said that we should, of course, show compassion to the children, but first and foremost we should secure the borders.  He said this after noting that Christians were looking to people like him and Fox and Friends for the "right answer."

I know many people of faith who are dedicated to making the world a better place.  They volunteer and feed and house the homeless.  They work tirelessly for the disabled or the elderly or the immigrant.

But it is time to recognize that many American Christians are causing more harm than good.  The Reverend Jeffries comes to mind, but there is a long list of people who are so tribally conservative that they can't see the problem with yelling at immigrant children.  But then again, they don't seem to have a problem with their party actively discouraging people from getting health insurance.

July 4, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Decision: A Summary & Explanation

Nice to read that I am not the only one who questions aspects of this decision.  Good point in here is that the court decided that facts are irrelevant even when the belief in question is a factual issue.  Had they said that their religious conviction was that abortion is immoral, that would have been an understandable response.

Again, this analysis by the majority empowers people to claim anything violates their religious beliefs, and the Court will not even put them to the proof. At this point, it seems that the “substantial burden” analysis is an empty shell. You can simply assert that anything is a burden on your religious belief, and the Court is just going to let you jump immediately to the next step, the strict scrutiny analysis.

The Hobby Lobby Decision: A Summary & Explanation

July 3, 2014

I think this gets to part of my issue with the idea that Hobby Lobby (the corporation) has "religious convictions"

MoJo has a good take on the difference between the corporation as a legal entity and the individuals who own that corporation.

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the "corporate veil," and it's fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it's in question. By letting Hobby Lobby's owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.
"If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?" Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email.
Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?  If in seeking some kind of religious freedom angle, Hobby Lobby actually exposed corporate owners to the very liability they form corporations to avoid?  

July 1, 2014

Religious freedom

I started to write a post on religious freedom yesterday morning.  In that instance, I was referring to this example from Huntsville, Alabama, where locals suddenly realized that the right to have openly religious prayers start their city council meetings might also include people praying who weren't Christian.  Religious liberty for me, but not for you.

As I have noted before, I think this is one of the least understood freedoms in American history.  Skewed because Christians mistakenly held priority status (and not all Christians, just certain versions depending on the region) in the public square.  That has led many to cry "persecution" when that priority status changed to being just "one of the religious influences."  Hence the hue and cry about the Ten Commandments.

But yesterday, we learned that religious liberty applies also to corporations.  Evidently (and I missed this in Sunday School), corporations can be Christian.  I am not sure how that happens, of course.  Most traditions have an idea of how someone declares their faith, and many want that to be public and even followed by baptism.  I have no idea how a corporation becomes a Christian.  Perhaps through a press release.

The dust has not settled on the SCOTUS ruling on the Hobby Lobby case.  For one thing, there is a possibility that this ruling does not mean that HL employees don't get contraceptives--but that the contraceptive coverage might come directly from the government.  Kennedy suggested that there was, in fact, a state interest in providing contraceptives, but that the corporation should not be required to do so.  So what does that mean?  One of my friends noted that the government is unlikely to want to provide Plan B to women--we can only imagine the outcry from conservatives on this one.

But regardless of that outcome--we have a really weird ruling.  The court was explicit that this didn't apply to other religious objections (blood transfusions, vaccines, doctors), but as many have noted, there doesn't seem to be a clear reason as to why those other religiously held objections are not valid.  Why did the court decide that this particular corporation's particular religious objection to this particular healthcare issue was worthy of court sanction?

I think we are seeing the violent gasps of conservative Christians seeing their power and privilege fade away.  I am unsure how this will unfold, of course, but I do think that the law of unintended consequences might play a big role here.

June 12, 2014

Gun Culture in one perfect headline

"'Your Dead Kids Don't Trump My Constitutional Rights' To Have Guns"

Just tired of the gun people. Tired of school shootings. Tired.

And then I saw this:

I think what gets to me is that the "constitutional right" here seems to be incredibly muddy.  It has become the right to have whatever gun you want, when you want it, and in the amounts you want, without question.  It has become the right to own what are absolutely anti-personnel weapons that you need because government is coming for you.  And no dead children or teachers or just people on the street can possibly infringe on your entertainment.  That is what this is for most people.  Their constitutional right is to be entertained owning and shooting guns. 

Never mind that a good bunch of the gun rights people are rabidly anti-government.  And nevermind that the loudest mouthpiece for guns is a torture-endorsing GOP machine.  We will not possibly infringe on your right to be a crazy, anti-government nutjob for one instance.  Because your convenience and your right to play army is your constitutional right, and any other rights are beneath that.  Including the right to life, it seems.  

We should never mind that a good part of this is anti-tax conservatism trying to privatize security.  You want to be safe in your home?  Better buy a gun, because we aren't going to pay for good police, or for good community.  Better move to a gated community where your gun safe can keep you from the undesirables.  

June 4, 2014

Template change

I found that dynamic template a little frustrating, so decided to change back to something a little more traditional.

Bergdahl and the American right

I avoided this story for the first few days, but decided to do a little reading.  I have been a little amazed at how quickly the right has already jumped to "impeachment" for Obama over this.  As Sullivan notes,

The contradictions are, of course, bleeding obvious. Obama is to be excoriated for abandoning Americans in the line of fire in Benghazi and then excoriated for rescuing a service member in enemy captivity in the matter of Bowe Bergdahl. You’ll see that, not for the first time, the president cannot win. 
The details are still a little hazy.  Perhaps Bergdahl deserted, and if so, he will be prosecuted for that.  I think Sullivan is correct as well to note that if we decide about retrieving American soldiers based on their political beliefs, we head down a pretty dark and un American path.  From the other side, the right jumps on the swap for Taliban soldiers, but again, Sully points to a glaring contradiction:
You’ll also note that one of the American right’s heroes, Bibi Netanyahu, released more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, some of whom had actually murdered Israeli civilians, in order to retrieve Gilad Shalit. Somehow Netanyahu is not regarded as a terrorist-sympathizer by the Tea Party.
I have long since lost my ability to be surprised at how people like Palin respond to this President.  Their patriotism is really only reserved for people they like.  But I am also thinking about how consumed the right has become with conspiracy, yet they don't seem to think it through.  Conspiracies usually involve some kind of up-side for the conspirators.  I struggled to find that for Benghazi, or the IRS scandal, and failed.  I understand that cover-ups can be the upside, but am not sure that is what happened in either of those cases.  Fast-forward to Bergdahl, and I am still wondering what possible conspiracy up-side there is for Obama?  I think Sully is right here as well--it only works as conspiracy if you are convinced that this President is not really American.  Sure, he got bin Laden when Bush had failed.  And he killed al-Awlaki as well.   His use of drones is of great concern, but those drones have been used to kill suspected muslim terrorists.  Yet, for the right, he is actually still on the side of the terrorists and trying to undermine our country.  You know, by getting people health insurance.


June 3, 2014

NRA Apologizes For Calling Guns-In-Restaurants Crowd 'Weird'

Just when I was almost going to consider respect.  Yeah, but the power of guns in more places is more powerful than reason or common sense.  When you have a board with Ted Nugent, I am stunned it took this long to correct the reasonable first response.

NRA Apologizes For Calling Guns-In-Restaurants Crowd 'Weird'

June 2, 2014

NRA Calls Texas Open Carry Protests "Downright Weird" and "Just Not Neighborly" | Dallas Observer

Fair enough.  They don't mind Sarah Palin joking about torture, and they don't mind Ted Nugent saying racist and sexist things about Democratic leaders.  But at least they stand up to this.  Perhaps they fear that Americans might just change their minds about them if enough wackjobs wander the streets with AKs.

NRA Calls Texas Open Carry Protests "Downright Weird" and "Just Not Neighborly" | Dallas Observer

Good job.  Now stand up to the evil in your own leadership and I will actually respect you.  Hell, I might even join.

May 29, 2014

So tired of mass shootings

And I am so tired of the NRA.  I so wish that responsible gun owners would take that organization back.  They won't, anymore than the responsible conservatives will reclaim the GOP, but it would be nice.

NRA finally meets its match: Why Richard Martinez should have them shaking -

I still say that the gun people are really flirting with disaster.  Every day I read about idiots carrying guns into restaurants just to be asses, or about accidental shootings.  At some point, the public sentiment could change, and if it does, gun owners will be as defensive as the tobacco industry.  Actually, they already are.

And let me add, that I am most tired of the fact that we have these mass shootings and the political culture is just ok with them.  We have idiots like Joe the Plumber attacking those who lost people--predictable, in that we will have that from the NRA in mere days.  But we as a nation just shake our heads and say, "oh well."  I think it is John Oliver who jokes that one failed shoe bomb has us all taking off our shoes going through security, but mass shootings has us loosening gun laws.

May 13, 2014

Taxes and guns

There is a case to be made that the 1% have played their hand badly.  After all, as Matt Yglesias points out, this guy made more last year than every kindergarten teacher combined.  Robert Reich does the math and suggests that Tepper made in the neighborhood of $1,750,000 an hour.  An hour.  Can anyone even imagine that much money?  I can't.  Yet, this guy pays a lower income tax than we do, since his wealth is considered capital gains and not income.  Add to that, the constant whining of the very same people that anyone talking about taxes is emulating Hitler, and you have a group of people who might be losing the perception war.

For the most part, our discussion on taxes has always focused on revenue and fairness.   Despite that approach, the right has chosen to depict calls for higher taxes as "class warfare," where we want to "punish success."  Of course, that isn't true, but maybe it should be.  Not to punish success, but at a certain point, perhaps we have to start taxing these super rich simply to keep them from being super rich.  Matt Yglesias, again, seems to be the first one to suggest it, but I think that more bad actions from these rich people, and the growing inequality is going to breed more resentment.  (Beyond the Laffer Curve — the case for confiscatory taxation - Vox)  Which, of course, is why many conservatives through history have called, at least, for a robust safety net, simply to keep lower class resentment from growing.  Or to make sure those lower class people can purchase the goods that make the wealthy wealthy.

But maybe at some point, we tax them simply because we don't like them.  I am not sure that is the best policy, but we are headed there--or we are headed toward complete oligarchy.

So why guns?  We are further away on this issue, but I would contend that the gun culture's tendency lately to wave their guns and gun rights in our faces will ultimately create a backlash.  Most non gun owners I know are content to support 2nd amendment rights, though they find, like I do, the NRA to be a group of fascist sociopaths.  They know that most gun owners are not like that.  But if the right decides to turn every street into an armed street, and every public building into one filled with gun people--at some point, that constitutional right might be amended.  Gun rights people might want to learn from watching the 1% annoy everyone.

I am quite confident that the NRA will continue to be offensive and horrible.  Just as I am pretty convinced the 1% will continue to wave their money in our face.  We will see how the people respond.

April 28, 2014

Sarah Palin, the Christian Right, and the evil of Torture

I haven't posted much Andrew Sullivan lately.  His new site is less accessible for me, and I haven't decided whether to subscribe.  But this post on Palin is dead on accurate, and he suggests, rightly, that this represents a clear rejection of traditional Christian values (cheered on by the NRA, I might add).

A couple of great lines:
"It is the kind of statement you might expect from the Khmer Rouge, or from the Chinese Communists who perfected “stress positions”, or from the Nazis, whose Gestapo pioneered “enhanced interrogation”, i.e. brutal torture that would leave no physical traces. Except it’s worse than that. Even totalitarian regimes have publicly denied their torture. Their reticence and lies are some small concession of vice to the appearance of virtue. Not Palin – who wants to celebrate brutal torture as the American way."
And this after he notes that evangelicals still support torture at somewhere around 60%:

Support for torture is highest among those who attend church at least weekly and lowest for those who rarely or never go to church. In America, torture is a Christian value. And some people wonder why I prefer to term “Christianist” to describe these people.
This was my canary in the mineshaft.  I thought maybe I should be more generous and extend to people the right to be fearful in the aftermath of 9-11.  But after 13 years, I thought that would have ebbed, and the people who flocked to Mel Gibson's torture film on Jesus would at least find some relative consistency on something this heinous.  But Palin's remarks demonstrate how deeply the tribal affiliations run.  Opposing torture, in that circle, has become akin to liberalism and speaking about climate change or evolution.

As I told a friend in an email, this is another little test.  If evangelical Christianity cannot see this woman for the evil she is, then they can't see any evil in their midst, and still cling to the notion that premarital sex and gay marriage are the threats we face.  This is disheartening.

Palin: 'Waterboarding Is How We Baptize Terrorists' (VIDEO)

I know we aren't supposed to take her seriously.  After all, she is just a failed Governor, VP candidate and realty show star.  She loves the spotlight and has figured out that she can make a lot of money off the Republican base.  I get that.

But just as with the Duck Dynasty fiasco, I am not as concerned with Palin, but with those who supported her and the party that nearly put her in charge.  And for my Christian friends, this is one of those areas that makes me angry.  I have defended (as I noted here) people of faith from the the fundamentalist atheists, but then turn back to this howling caricature and remember all the people of faith who told me they admired her for her "values," and that she stood up for Christianity.

In all seriousness, many of you owe me and the rest of the country an apology.  I won't hold my breath.  I have already asked for any evidence that Palin acted in any manner that was consistent with Christian beliefs, only to hear crickets.

But this is just awful.  Hard to ignore the gun culture here too in that her speech was given to the NRA.

Palin: 'Waterboarding Is How We Baptize Terrorists' (VIDEO)

Gun culture. I have a gun and you can't stop me.

Man Legally Stalks Children's Baseball Game: 'I've Got A Gun & There's Nothing You Can Do About It'

April 20, 2014

On Atheism and belief

This week has been a good one, mostly because we just adopted a new puppy.  More on that later.  But as today is Easter, I am writing about religion and belief.  I saw a post on Hobby Lobby today where the company had a published ad about Jesus writing the "ultimate love story" or something to that effect.  All fine and good--they have the right to pay for their advertisement.  But the cynicism struck both of us.  For those in the Christian tribe, this is a strident and courageous defense of the faith.  For the rest of us, it is a way to play to the victimization of the Christian tribe and, oh, by the way, get a few of them to come buy Chinese-made crap at their stores.  Oh, and we won't mention that they are more than willing to do business with countries with forced abortion or horrible human rights violations, but they will run to the Supreme Court to deny women access to contraceptives.

Back to the title.  Recently I had a few arguments with some atheists on Facebook.  One, I know, came from a fundy background, and that might explain his stridency now.  He seems to have replaced the absolutism of Christian fundamentalism with fundamentalist atheism.  You know, it isn't just that he no longer believes that God exists, but he doesn't think you should either.

So (and I know Tony probably found this rather funny if he saw it) I became the vocal defender of the faith.  And I am ok with that.  As many questions as I have on this Easter, I have respect for those who believe (and know that is shared by my friends here on the blog).  I know there is a great tradition of believers asking important questions and working very hard to make the world a better place as they can.

Which leads to my current anger.  After defending religious belief to a couple of militant atheists, I return to look at the state of conservative religion in my country and the rage builds.  I defend faith, and read about tribal attacks on World Vision for daring to embrace their current gay employees.  I read about Billy Graham's son praising the criminal Vladimir Putin for his anti-gay stances.  I read about conservative Republicans wanting to cut $125 billion from food stamps for hungry people.  And I am still mindful that these same conservative evangelicals thought that torture was ok as long as it was done to Muslims and as long as we remembered how scared we were after 9-11.

It is wearying.  And while I am well aware that many, if not most atheists are motivated by their own understanding of the universe, I can't help but think that modern Christianity is not doing itself any favors. The days of worrying about witness seem long gone, and while they would find this vulgar, my current view of the Hobby Lobby defenders is of people with the Bible in one hand and the middle finger up on the other.  After all, Hobby Lobby has to be proud that it has annoyed liberals, and Obama supporters.  Isn't that the goal of Christianity, after all?


April 8, 2014


The Westboro people found themselves "run out" of Moore, Oklahoma the other day.  I hate the self-congratulatory response from so many conservatives.  "See, we aren't intolerant, these people are."

Westboro is the perfect foil for so many people.  They can take a stance against this small church and believe they have accomplished something.  They won't take a stand on torture, or poverty, but they will bravely stand up against a church that no one defends.  Wow.  How courageous.

April 7, 2014

The Conservative Evangelical ethos

Much like Rachel Held Evans, I continue to grapple with what appears to be the decline of the Evangelical mission.  Watching that World Vision battle was instructive, and clearly I was not the only one horrified that evangelicals would bully the organization by threatening to withhold assistance for poor children because the organization briefly embraced homosexual unions.

Brian Gee, at deconstructed molskine argues that the conservatives genuinely believe that homosexuality is a deal breaker:
No amount of personal, intellectual, or emotional appeal will move conservatives on this issue. To move is to put the soul of the gay person in eternal peril. It would be like smiling and waving as someone edges toward a cliff, making no effort to warn them before they go over. 
Gee and others (myself included) have framed this as a zero-sum game for conservatives between accepting the morality of homosexuality v. assisting the poor.  This is the "better of two evils" argument where conservatives continue to back conservative policy because the opposite might embrace homosexuality.

But I now think this misses that the rot is much deeper in the conservative evangelical ethos.  Say, for argument's sake, we accept that homosexuality is a sin, and that for conservative evangelicals wedded to the Bible, they have no choice but to stand up to the gay movement.  Say all of that is true.  What is missing in this above battle is that conservatives have decided to openly attack the poor--regardless of what is going on in the battle over gay rights and gay marriage.  And while there might be a bit of an argument for a literal Biblical rejection of gays, there is absolutely no defense of attacking the poor.

Why do I say that?  Because the conservative evangelical movement has done nothing to oppose the Republican attacks on the poor.  When Republicans called for a massive cut to food stamps, I just heard stammering about "waste" and "get a job" from the right.  Even when confronted with the numbers of the hungry in our country of wealth--the religious response is to shrug and talk about food stamp fraud and budgetary needs.

Then there is the man most of them voted for as VP last election--Paul Ryan.  The supposed Catholic who loves Ayn Rand, and is often praised as the "Republican budget wonk."  Ryan has attacked the poor often, and last month was caught talking about "inner city men" while claiming that he didn't realize that was code for "black."  But his budget released this past week is the worst attack on the "least of these" that you will find outside of Ayn Rand herself.  As Michael Tomasky notes, Ryan proposes massive cuts to the safety net, and goes far beyond the most recent Republican cuts:
Let’s stop here and mull this food stamp cut. As you probably know, in last year’s farm bill negotiations, House Republicans proposed a $40 billion cut to food stamps. By the time the House and Senate agreed to a farm bill last month, that was whittled down to $8.7 billion over 10 years. That’s a small cut in percentage terms (about 1 percent). But even it takes $90 a month away from 850,000 poor families. Ryan’s proposed food stamps cut? $125 billion. More than 14  times the size of the already controversial current cut. 
I understand the sleight of hand going on in evangelical circles.  They all contribute to charity in some way, and that continues.  But they don't seem to understand that why they help out those few hundred with their local charity, they vote to harm millions.  And opposing gay people doesn't really excuse that.  At some point, the conservative evangelical world needs to explain how opposing the poor is somehow acceptable in a Christian worldview.

April 4, 2014

Angle of Repose, Part II

After I wrote this post, I spent several hours shoveling from my pile of crushed limestone, and had time to think about the physics involved in that angle of repose.  As metaphor, it is certainly limited, in that I fully intend, and actually need to remove that entire pile (and probably sooner, if you ask my neighbors).  But as I shoveled, I saw the obvious point not made in my last post, that the angle is disrupted most from the base.

To follow this further with evangelical Christianity, the problem is the erosion from the supposed principles of the base, or the faith's raison d'etre.  To put it plain, if Christianity can so easily abandon the poor and the "least of these," then, to quote another truism, "there is no there there."  I also see the obvious problems with that assumption, given that this is certainly not the first time that Christianity has aligned itself with evil.  Slavery easily comes to mind, and I know that is far from the only example.  And I also realize that we have to be fair in acknowledging that Christianity is powered by flawed and human people.  People who would deny Galileo's observations, or the humanity of Native Americans, or who would see an obvious inferiority in blacks and women.  To that point, this is a continuity, not a conflict with the church's history.

To me, however, this current incarnation represents one of the worst conflicts--not because it wasn't horribly wrong to endorse slavery or native genocide--because this represents a clear and conscious rejection of the faith's own basic and known tenets.  Slavery existed because there was no real clear legacy of equality.  By contrast, Christians absolutely used to see poverty as one of their primary enemies.  And by "used to," I mean in the past 25 years.  It isn't as if Christians are going along with the rest of culture in accepting some kind of inequality.  They are actually moving backwards here.

Following the logic of the metaphor, when that base is completely eroded, there is absolutely no Christianity left.  That might be worth a conversation or two in evangelical circles.  But I am not sure that will happen.  Sadly.

April 1, 2014

Beyond the Angle of Repose?

If you don't know, the angle of repose refers to the " the maximum angle at which an object can rest on an inclined plane without sliding down."  Or, in general use, it is the principle that determines how steeply you can pile gravel or rock or dirt where it will stay in a conical shape.  Beyond that angle, the pile collapses as the material slides down.

Anyway.  I was thinking about that a lot of late as I have been moving flagstone and crushed limestone into my back yard.  And, more relevant to the rest of the world, I have been thinking about how some events over the past decade or so have clarified my views on the evangelical world.  My relationships with evangelicalism has not been great since my high school days, but for much of that time, it reminds me of a pile of gravel with the occasional trickle.  Tension, for sure, but the shape held.

But over the past fifteen years, I have watched evangelicals support torture, deny climate change, and attacks on the poor and hungry.  I have watched evangelicals join the GOP call for people not to be insured.  The evangelical shape, if you will, has become incompatible with Christianity's internal logic.
Torture and war reveal much of that, but all you have to do is look to the last few years to see the crumbling of the Evangelical mission.  As David Michael McFarlane noted, "Fundamentalists have banded behind a fast food chain, racist reality TV star and discriminatory legislation in their attempt to police LGBTQ persons."   They will defend a racist Paula Deen, and jump to attack recipients of food stamps.  This last week, we watched World Vision welcome gay couples and then reject them a few days later.  Why?  As Rachel Held Evans put it, "The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear," and proceeded to hostage aid to poor children in order to bully World Vision out of their tolerant stance.  As Evan Hurst noted, "When given an explicit choice to love children or hate gay people, they chose the latter, and they chose it loudly."

Rachel Held Evans believes that evangelicals are winning the culture war and losing an entire generation of young people.  I think the damage is even deeper, but agree with her that "When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong."  They are moving past the angle of repose and headed to destruction.  Add to that the tribal defense of Hobby Lobby's anti-contraceptive stance, and you have the real possibility of evangelicals and conservatives both losing young women for the foreseeable future.  After all, Hobby Lobby will gladly use Chinese labor (and tolerate forced abortions) to produce very cheap goods.  If a promiscuous woman with multiple abortions in her past wants to purchase those goods, Hobby Lobby will gladly cash that check.  They will even pay her marginal wages to move those cheap goods.  But they will not provide her with good healthcare.  Because that would be un-Christian.


March 28, 2014

Billy Graham's sad legacy

I watched yesterday as World Vision back-pedaled from their statement that they would no longer categorize marriage as just hetero.  As Fred Clark from slactivist noted, it isn't as if they haven't had gay people working for them.  And I don't even think they were one of the organizations that required people to say they weren't gay (lie).  But they made a move, and the response was overwhelming.

I kind of understand the hard core evangelical response to homosexuality.  At least at one level.  But what I don't get is that evangelicals lined up to stop supporting poor children through World Vision because of this statement.  A statement that had nothing to do with the mission of helping the poor, and nothing at all to do with why those supposed evangelical Christians were sponsoring those people.  But crossing that Rubicon is simply not acceptable in the evangelical tribe right now.  It will change, mind you, but for now, it is a step too far.

But what I can't forgive is that evangelicals would bully World Vision into backing down.  But they won't even speak about cuts in food stamps.  They refused to speak about torture. They cheered war.  They avoid and ignore the healthcare of poor women.  They stand by while Republicans actually cheer people not getting healthcare and openly encourage people not to sign up.  But by God they will stand up when someone says that gay people are ok.


And the best example of this is the bigoted and awful Franklin Graham.  I have never been that big of a fan of his father, but Billy at least learned from his political missteps.  To a degree, anyway.  He still consorted with the anti-semitic Nixon, but he kept those ideas private, and he apologized when they were made public.

His hateful son is completely different.  Fred says it best in this post: Franklin Graham’s hateful lies and opportunism winning Huzzahs from white evangelicals, but it is worth reading and worth watching a bigot in action.  And a bigot who claims to be attacked for his faith.  I have news for you, Mr. Graham.  You are under attack from the left and gay groups because you say things such as that gay couples don't adopt children because they want to love them and care for them--they "recruit children" into their "cause."

Hateful.  UnChristian.  Unloving.  And everytime he does this, he gets cheered by the evangelicals who observe.  And none of them know why they are losing.

March 21, 2014

On developing new paths for history phds

This week has been frustrating for several reasons.  I am struggling to get traction with non-profits who don't seem to know what to do with my skills, and unfortunately, I still don't know enough to offer.  I have offered my services to several people locally, and I don't seem to get much in the way of feedback.  Part of that is they are overworked and underfunded, and part of that is my own lack of knowledge.

Second, my work on the arts board has been frustrating for reasons I think my father would appreciate.  After years of community organizing, he often talked about the difficulties of getting volunteers organized and moving.  I am working with a committee of really good people who are really busy and who often, actually usually, don't even respond to my emails.  Again, for most of them, I get that, but I had a pretty terse interaction with one other board member who pushed me into this particular role, but now can't find time to even email me back.  I think I figured out how to mollify him, but even that email went unacknowledged.

But the cherry on the top started with another recurring dream about my former profession.  That was followed by several people posting this story about the American Historical Association's grant to broaden career options for history Phds.  I suspect this is a good thing, mind you, as the numbers continue to show that my experience is far from unique and is closer to the norm.  But I found it incredibly frustrating to see this link coming from tenured or tenure track faculty friends.  I know they thought they were being helpful, but they weren't.  And they couldn't even see it.  I posted a friendly warning that I would be snarky to those with jobs posting something like this, and the only ones who "liked" the post were those who are outside tenure.  I suspect those inside were a bit taken back and didn't know how to take it.  As I said, this project is probably positive and even helpful.  But when someone inside posts it, it comes across as "let them eat cake."  "Oh good, there is help for those."

Personally, I can do without the condescending paternalism from people who are convinced they are simply better than those of us who didn't make it inside.  Spare me.

March 16, 2014

Reinvention update

It has been since last summer that I realized I had to reinvent myself.  The academic world spoke loud and clear in their decision that I was not one of them.  That was painful.  It still is at times.  I have recurring dreams where I confront the Community College people and remind them that I am actually a better teacher than they are--and that they betrayed me at a pretty deep level.  There are times when I want to send a letter, or email, or anonymous fax.

I don't do any of that, of course.  I know full well that will accomplish nothing.  Worse than nothing, it would fulfill a narrative that I was unfit for their job.

Those dreams are fewer now, which is nice.  I still have dreams where I struggle to explain being a failure.  I don't feel like that when I am awake, but think there are still vestiges of this sense of "not measuring up."  I felt that often when I was around tenure-track or tenured faculty friends.  It is that sense that my friend M labeled the "cult of academia."  Those inside often cannot even imagine qualified people being outside the cult, even as they know full well the arbitrary and capricious nature of the job market.  Perhaps that is necessary for their own mental health, I don't know.

I had two such interactions of late.  One was at a pilates class, where I am trying to work on my range of motion in my frozen left shoulder (no surgery planned for the immediate future, so that is great).  One of the ladies who attends regularly is a professor who teaches in Film and Video Studies.  I used to teach a film history class that was cross listed, and attended several of their meetings.  She and I didn't have a relationship, so I am more forgiving of what happened.  But the upshot was that she has no recognition that she has ever met me.  I am outside the cult, and so one of the ordinaries--the muggles.  Then yesterday, SOF and I took the dogs to a school yard for some frisbee exercise, and met a philosophy professor walking his dog.  He too didn't even recognize me, even though he and I have had several conversations.  Perhaps it is the facial scruff, or hat.  Or perhaps it is cult blindness.

Both of those stung, though not at the level of old hurts.  I am moving on.  I will continue to teach when I get the opportunities, but have pretty much lost my love of academia.  I now read colleagues complaining about students, or administrations, or about the pressure of for-profit colleges--and I have lost sympathy.

So what am I doing?  I am working on the board of a small non-profit organization.  We put on concerts, art exhibits, and poetry readings.  We manage a historic building.  I love the work, even though it costs me money.  I love meeting the artists, and don't even mind hauling chairs and setting up stages.

That got me thinking.  Last fall, I often told people that I was interested in volunteering for non-profit social justice, but I had "some physical issues and didn't see myself hauling food or stocking shelves."  Part of that was true.  My shoulder was painful.  But part of that was about pride and fear.  I have a Ph.d.  I am a doctor.  I am a published professor.  I didn't want to carry groceries or sweep floors.  I can admit that.

But the arts non-profit made me rethink that.  I started volunteering well before I joined the board, and I volunteered because I love the mission and I love the music.  I realized that could apply to the food bank, and the homeless shelter as well.  I had no problem hauling chairs or stages or picking up trash for the concerts.  No reason why I couldn't do the basics for another mission I value.  With that in mind, I did my first volunteer session with our state food bank last week. I spent about 3 hours sorting food with about 20 other strangers.  It was strangely intense and even fun.  I then toured Norman's only homeless shelter (the other one just closed) and found myself amazed at their work.  All with one hand tied behind their back (no state funding, and limited federal money).  They feed people on the street, in their kitchen.  They find temporary housing for single mothers and other homeless.

I had visions of doing consulting for non-profits.  But I realized I didn't know what to offer them, because I didn't know what they needed.  I am nopeful that volunteering will, as it did with the arts organization, help me understand where I can contribute.

March 12, 2014

Gun culture more important than poor people

From what I have seen, gun culture dominates everything.  No need to feed the poor, or help the sick, but we by god will put more guns in more hands.  What could possibly go wrong?

Campus gun bill sparks spirited discussion | News OK

March 10, 2014

Gun Culture

George Zimmerman Signs Autographs At A Florida Gun Show | ThinkProgress

Wayne LaPierre's poster child.  Famous for only one thing--killing a young black man.  Should make all the 2nd Amendment people just burst with pride.

March 6, 2014

Sigh. Crazy town.

LaPierre Warns Of Vast Media-Political Conspiracy Out To Get NRA

Of course, he is partly right.  Rational people all over the place think that LaPierre is nuts and irresponsible.  Just like his pal Ted Nugent.

This is gun culture.  For all the legitimate defenses of second amendment rights, the gun culture never looks at itself, only at critics.  It is never wrong.  It is never to blame for anything.  Only liberals who distrust guns can cause crime or accidental death or suicide by gun.  Never ever irresponsible sociopaths like LaPierre.

The moment the conservative Republicans jumped the shark

And even as I write that, I know that isn't true.  The conservative right saying something dumb is as common as Steve getting defensive when I dare criticize gun owners.

No, the right wing will continue to say dumb stuff--as long as the Party cares more about appeasing the base than proposing good policy.  From the guy who would have been VP, and the guy the right points to as their "budget-guru," comes this gem:

Paul Ryan: Free School Lunch Means Poor Parents Don't Care About Kids

Perhaps a little unfair (the headline, here), but the essentially meaning from Paul Ryan's quote appears to be a deep and horrifying misunderstanding about our social safety net.  I have heard this from others, but still.  The basis for this misunderstanding is the idea that our society never really needed a social safety net, and that the creation of one has created poverty and needy-ness.  Hence you have people saying stuff like, "before the New Deal, communities cared for poor people.  We didn't need no damn government program."

Of course the reality is that communities tried, just as they do today, to take care of the needy, but they failed miserably when the entire economy collapsed.  Turns out that private charities exist in the same economy that produces need, and when the economy goes down, so do donations and fundraisers.  This isn't rocket science, but seems to be something that needs to be said, so I will say it again.  When the economy struggles, so do those agencies that try to help the needy.  Not only are they likely to see a decline in their donations, but they will see a big increase in the demand for their assistance.  Because the economy is in bad shape.  See?  Of course you do, but evidently the GOP's "budget guru" does not.  He seems to think that school lunches either causes poverty, or reveals that liberals want kids to eat government cheese rather than a lovingly made pb&j.

It is a dumb thing to say.  But one that he will repeat, I am guessing, as it plays to what has become a very dumb audience at the annual CPAC conference.

March 1, 2014

The de-evangelization of American culture

For those uninterested in religion, or uninterested in my my grappling with my religion, feel free to just ignore.  It isn't exactly new territory.

We are planning to see one of our favorite singer-songwriters (Mark Erelli) tomorrow night.  We first saw him in the waning days of 2007, when my view on the world was pretty dark.  I think Zalm suggested Erelli's music, and it did help.  Yet, here we are almost 7 years later, and I feel even darker.  Here in Oklahoma, our Governor wants to further cut income taxes while she also advocates cutting funding for Medicaid, and other social safety net features.  She has the backing of the religiously conservative community.  In Arizona, religious conservatives pushed the Orwellian "religious freedom" bill that would allow them to discriminate against gay people.  As EJ Dionne put it, it is the process of de-evangelization. People from a faith that calls them to reach out to the leper and to feed the poor, and help the marginalized--are claiming as a part of their faith--the right to deny service to gay people because they don't like them.  There is no verse to support this.  Hell, there are verses supporting slavery, but there is no verse that supports turning your back on people simply because you don't like them.  As Dionne notes, this is turning an entire generation against people of faith as they identify religion with intolerance and homophobia.

I remember the emphasis on "witness" during my church years.  It took on a rather paranoid aspect where we had to be mindful of every little slight that might "lead someone astray," even if the offense was minor or not even completely wrong.  Dancing might be ok, but it could be wrong if it caused "someone else to stumble."  We were to be the "light unto the world."

Flash forward nearly 35 years, and the same denomination openly endorses torture, and openly denigrates working poor and those needing healthcare.  They vote every year for people who are openly racist or homophobic, or who despise sexual women, and they have no problem with cuts in food stamps, or Medicaid, or for the disabled, and they openly defend the people who have everything.  De-evangelization.

Evangelical Rachel Held Evans says it very well:

And yet despite enjoying majority status, significant privilege, and unchallenged religious freedom in this country, we evangelical Christians have become known as a group of people who cry “persecution!” upon being wished “Happy Holidays" by a store clerk.  
We have become known as a group of people who sees themselves perpetually under attack, perpetually victimized, and perpetually entitled, a group who, ironically, often responds to these imagined disadvantages by advancing legislation that restricts the civil liberties of other people. 
And even better here:

The truth is, evangelical Christians have already "lost" the culture wars.And it's not because the "other side" won or because evangelicals have failed to protect our own religious liberties.  Evangelicals lost the culture wars the moment they committed to fighting them, the moment they decided to stop washing feet and start waging war.   
And I fear that we've lost not only the culture wars, but also our Christian identity, when the  "right to refuse" service has become a more sincerely-held and widely-known Christian belief than the impulse to give it.  
 She could add opposition to the poor, or attacks on women, or believing that healthcare is a privilege to that "right to refuse."

Just when I find myself completely without hope for the faith in which I was raised, I read this amazingly powerful post from Ta-Nehisi Coates about his interview with the mother of slain teenager Jordan Davis.  Davis was shot by a white male who objected to the young black man playing loud rap music in his car.  Instead of moving, or ignoring it (this was at a convenience store, btw, not outside his hotel room), Michael Dunn pulled out his gun and shot into a car full of black kids--all of whom were unarmed.  As the car retreated with the bleeding Jordan Davis inside, Dunn continued to shoot at the vehicle.  The jury convicted him of "attempted murder," but could not decide if he intended to kill Jordan.  Unbelievable.  Unfathomable.  (This racist ass is part of gun culture too, but that is not the point of this post.)

But back to this post.  Like Coates, though for far fewer personal reasons, I found the verdict outrageous, and I find Dunn's actions reprehensible.  But read the discussion with the slain boy's mother.

She said, "It baffles our mind too. Don’t think that we aren’t angry. Don’t think that I am not angry. Forgiving Michael Dunn doesn't negate what I’m feeling and my anger. And I am allowed to feel that way. But more than that I have a responsibility to God to walk the path He's laid. In spite of my anger, and my fear that we won’t get the verdict that we want, I am still called by the God I serve to walk this out."


February 28, 2014

Gun culture

Here is a good example.  I read recently that we are getting close to where gun deaths (including suicides, accidents, etc) will surpass traffic deaths as the leading source of fatalities.  Say what you will about the second amendment, but doesn't that make it a public health issue?  Isn't it reasonable to ask questions about the role that guns play in our society without being accused of not respecting the constitution?

Rand Paul adds hurdle for surgeon general confirmation - The Washington Post

February 11, 2014

This is how families go hungry

Starting to feel like a redundant blogger, but I really, honestly have no idea how to process the push to cut food stamps in a slow growing economy where the deficit is going down, and the upper class are doing more than fine.

This MSNBC piece does a nice job of detailing the story.  In the 70s, while we had certainly not conquered poverty, or racism, or sexism, we had put hunger on the back bench.  Food pantries existed only as a rare "get me to that next paycheck" or rainy day source of food.

In New York, says Berg, there was so little need for emergency food services that in 1978 the city had only 28 operating feeding agencies. By 2014, that number had ballooned to about 1,000 agencies.
That occurred across the country, of course, to the point that more people rely on food pantries for the bulk of their food.  Meanwhile, Republicans and some Democratic allies have cut into that safety net to strengthen requirements, reduce benefits, and overall reduce the food available.  What conservatives seem to miss is that when the economy goes down, a couple things happen.  Not only does need go up, and with it pressure on non-profit private charities, but the same economic factors that harm the economy harm the very nonprofits that conservatives think will take care of the "truly needy."

Nonprofits rely on a lot of sources for their funding.  Some of it is private donations, but I will bet you right now that there are very few successful ones that rely only on private donations.  Most supplement donations with grants from other nonprofits and government grants.  Of course, those other nonprofits have the exact same pressure as the food bank--more demand and fewer incoming funds.  And also of course, we are cutting those federal and state dollars that the granting nonprofits use to help the variety of smaller nonprofits who serve people.

I am working with a nonprofit right now, though not one that is devoted to anti poverty.  But it has given me a new insight into the pressures of that world.  The constant push toward privatization means that more and more organizations are competing with more and more other organizations for fundraising dollars.  Schools fundraise for equipment and books, competing with charities who feed the hungry, or house the abused.

I started to write "what bothers me more than the cruelty," but realized that was not true.  The Republican cruelty toward the most vulnerable in our society bothers me the most.  But second, I am stunned by the ignorance of most conservatives as to how government works.  I truly believe they have no idea that federal money goes to the alzheimers daycare center that provides needed respite care for the families.  Or that federal money combines with private money to assist the disabled.

Or just the simple fact that cutting food stamps means that people go hungry.

February 8, 2014


When I read back through  my blog, I am struck by how at each conservative jag to the right, I was stunned by their lack of compassion.  This all started in 2000 when during a good economic time, all conservatives could focus on was tax cuts.  Not helping people.  Not building things.  Not taking care of our parks or our research.  Tax cuts.  Gimme.

It got worse.  Compassionate conservative George Bush told people to go shopping to fight terrorism, but refused to ask Americans to pay more taxes for his wars.  Or his Medicare Part D.  Or anything.

Fast forward to 2009 when Republican priorities after the crash were to see that Obama was not reelected.  Not to fix the economy, or get people back to work.  Stop the black Democrat from being reelected.  2010, they decided that expanding healthcare was either fascism or communism, or that Obama was like Hitler.  They openly lied about death panels to the point that reasonable people I know believed they were in the bill.

Yesterday, I read about Arkansas Republicans gleefully planning to take back the Medicaid expansion, meaning that people who had coverage last year won't next year.  And the Republicans are happy about that.  Harvard study says that thousands will die because of the unwillingness to expand, but Republicans insist that if they allow it, Obama will get the credit.  And they cannot have that.  Cruz, Rubio and Mike Lee are all urging the court to not allow federal subsidies to people in states that haven't formed their own exchanges.  No cost to the state, just spite.  We won't set up an exchange and we don't want people to have healthcare.  About that simple.

I read about a man on food stamps.  He used to be a plumber, but then had a stroke.  He is just a few years older than me.  Now disabled and can't work, he relies on food stamps to eat.  His food stamps run out with 10 days left in the month, and he knows that the farm bill will reduce that by more.  I go to the grocery store every day to prep for dinner.  He can't buy food for 1/3 of the month.

Here in Oklahoma, our governor wants to cut taxes on the rich from 5.25% down to 5%.  We have a budget shortfall.  She still wants to cut taxes.  And pay for that tax cut by cutting public art, history, and of course, healthcare for the poor.  Who does that?  Who looks at the well-heeled and comfortable and says, let's give them more money, but those people who don't go to doctors at all because they can't afford care?  They need fewer services.

My Republican friends still stun me.  I get their opposition to abortion.  I get that they are fearful of gay marriage and cultural shifts.  I get that they fear the government getting too big.  I get that they fear the Mexicans are taking over.  I even get their fear of Muslim extremists.

But I do not get, nor will I ever get, their acquiescence in the face of cruelty to the poor and the sick, especially for those who speak often of Jesus.  This isn't rocket science.  If Christianity doesn't care about the sick and the poor then Christianity is no longer a religion or a belief system.  If their God cares more about teaching bad science and forcing kids to pray in school than he does about hungry children--then he is not God.

February 4, 2014

The Super Bowl and failure

I have been a Bronco fan since the 80s, and remember well the painful Super Bowl losses of the past. This last Sunday was one in that mode, though one I didn't suffer through long.  I know well enough that putting my mental health in the hands of a game I can't control is a losing bet.

But the aftermath has been a little unsettling, though rather predictable.  Today, SOF and I enjoyed a nice lunch at our favorite Mexican place while the muted TVs had panels discussing whether or not Peyton Manning was to blame for the game, or if his legacy was tainted by the game.

That game has little to do with the life.  Of course, I knew that, but was reminded of it when the Broncos won their first Super Bowl.  I had believed that was a big deal, but when it happened, the joy was fleeting at best.  We often forget that the joy is in the journey, not the end game.

But while this game has no bearing on how I live my life, I feel a personal connection to Peyton Manning.  I feel for someone who has been so good at his craft that he is often considered to be one of the best to ever play the game, yet constantly has to hear idiots on TV question whether or not he is really that good, all because of two or three games out of many.

I have never been that good at anything.  But I do understand a little of how it feels to be looked down for not measuring up to a certain standard.  I was a good teacher.  Some of my students would say even better than good.  Yet, for all the people who told me how good I was, no search committee thought me worthy of their faculty.  And I have watched people with (frankly) lesser minds go on to tenure and security.

I would never have been as good at history as Manning is at football.  No question.  I don't have the drive.  But anyone who doubts that man as an athlete and competitor reminds me of the people who sneer at phds who never make the big time.  There is something to be said for experience being a really bad teacher.  Those who find a profession easily can often mistake that ease for ability, and that translates very quickly into entitlement.  It is a simple step to then assume that those who haven't made it into the cult simply weren't good enough.  To complete the circle, those who watch football understand that Joe Montana didn't win those SBs because he was a superior athlete.  He was a very good QB with an excellent defense and offense.  The same could be said for Aikman or even Elway for his two victories.  Or, for that matter, Manning's own individual Super Bowl championship.  How odd that idiots on tv could compare him to Marino in this way and forget that season where the Colts ran the table.

But none of them did it on their own.  That is one of the redeeming parts of football.  It is team.  It means that those who win championships are fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.  Archie Manning, after all, never had that luxury.

So for those who have succeeded at life, be wary of assuming that success comes only because of your ability.  Or because God smiled on you.  Experience doesn't always teach us well.