Sunday, May 31, 2015

A musical followup

to what I was saying; because what says it better than music?


More entries for the commonplace book

And apropos of this post (and to introduce a few entries from another of Niebuhr's books):

We had a great Easter service today....We received our largest class of new members into the church thus far, twenty-one in all.  Most of them had not letters from other churches and yet had been reared in some church. We received them on reaffirmation of faith.

This matter of recruiting a membership for the church is a real problem.  Even the churches which once believed a very definite conversion experience to be the sine qua non of entrance into the fellowship of the church are going in for "decision days" as they lose confidence in the traditional assumption that one can become a Christian only through a crisis experience.  But if one does not insist on that kind of experience it is not easy to set up tests of membership.  Most of these "personal evangelism" campaigns mean little more than ordinary recruiting effort with church membership rather than Christian life as the real objective.  They do not differ greatly from efforts of various clubs as they seek to expand their membership.

Of course we make "acceptance of Jesus as your savior" the real door into fellowship in the church.  But the trouble is that may mean everything or nothing.  I see no way of making the Christian fellowship unique by any series of tests which precede admission.  The only possibility lies in a winnowing process through the instrumentality of the preaching and teaching function of the church. Let them come in without great difficulty, but make it difficult for them to stay in.  The trouble with this plan is that is is always easy to load up membership with very immature Christians who will finally set the standard and make it impossible to preach and teach the gospel in its full implications.

--Reinhold Niebuhr, "1919."  Leaves from the Notebooks of a Tamed Cynic. Louisville, Kentucky:  John Knox/Westminster Press, original publication date 1929.  p. 23.

This is Reinhold Niebuhr, recording contemporaneously his experiences as a new pastor in Detroit at the beginning of the last century.  It is the conclusion that makes the point:  what is church for?  For anyone, including non-believers?  And how many of those can be allowed in before it is "impossible to preach and teach the gospel in its full implication"?  Yet I have pastored churches where that was already impossible, and no one in that congregation would admit to being an atheist.

They were more likely to label me a heretic.

"Make it difficult for them to stay"?  The only person who would find it difficult to stay in that church would be the pastor.

And I've held fast to the idea that church membership today means nothing more than the "efforts of various clubs as they seek to expand their membership."  It makes me sound terribly cynical to out-Herod Herod on this point, but it is my experience nonetheless.  I served two churches that insisted increasing membership was a necessary goal; but all they really meant was to make the club more popular, by enticing more people like them to appear on a more permanent basis.  There is comfort in numbers, but greater comfort in people like us.

But for many churches, there are fewer and fewer such people around.  Interestingly, in 1919 only about 41% of Americans considered themselves affiliated with any kind of religion.  (I use this study constantly because I find context around these issues constantly important).  So Niebuhr is contemplating an America even more different from our own, but not in the way we might imagine.  Like the church today, Niebuhr had to work with, and accept into his church fellowship, the "unchurched."  Believers, but believers who really don't want to be asked to do anything for the sake of their belief.  Should they be winnowed later?  Willow Creek Community Church uses that model, but studies have found it doesn't really lead to any greater commitment than to show up on Sunday morning for the show.  Especially in the "seeker service" that was "a pretty good show for a buck."*

Robert Wuthnow makes much of something that never seems to occur to Niebuhr:  the need for the church to raise the money it takes to continue being a church:  building, programs, employees, etc.  But is that what church is for?  Upon re-reading his book I want to introduce him to Walt Kallestad:

Walt led Community Church of Joy in Phoenix, a megachurch that had been an average congregation of 200 before he took over in the 80s and oversaw it's growth. But in 2002 he suffered a massive heart attack requiring six-way bypass surgery. The heart attack, says Walt, was a "wake up call" for the leaders to develop a succession plan to ensure the megachurch continued to thrive after Walt's tenure.

Kallestad began networking around the country looking for a young pastor he could bring onboard and eventually hand the church over to. One conversation stuck with him.

"It's a pretty good opportunity," Walt said. "We have 187 acres just off a major freeway, multipurpose buildings, and a great staff."

The leader looked him in the eyes and said, "Who'd want it? Who in their right minds would want to run that?"

"That's when it dawned on me," Kallestad reflected. "By the time we service the $12-million debt, pay the staff, and maintain the property, we've spent more than a million before we can spend a dime on our mission. At the time, we had plans for a spectacular worship center with a retractable roof. After that conversation, I scrapped it."

Making those changes, by the way, cost Kallestad 4000 church members.  I've never been even associated with a church with that many members, much less one that could lose that many and still exist as an institution.  And maybe the lesson of the Crystal Cathedral is instructive here:  when Schuller died, the church had to sell the building to the Catholic diocese just to pay its debts.*

So how do we make Christian fellowship unique?

*An old joke I picked up in seminary, about what it "costs" to attend worship on any given Sunday.

**I got carried away with this, but you can have my footnotes.  I couldn't find any numbers on the membership of CCJ, a church I had some encounter with in seminary.  According to Internet Monk, at it's height CCJ had 12,000 members.  In 2009, when it broke with the ELCA over the ordination of gays and lesbians (CCJ was agin it), they reported 6800 members, an attendance of 2500.  Where their membership is now is anybody's guess, but Internet Monk provides more information on how two megachurches decided "seeker services" weren't the alpha and omega of Christian discipleship.  We always come back to the Church of Meaning and Belonging v. the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging.  And if I keep repeating all of this it's only because I long for a serious conversation on these topics, and the best I get is people misreading and misunderstanding the latest Pew polls.  No, I don't mean to be haughty; but damn!, the signal to noise ratio on the internet is low!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Waiting for the Big One

And all I got was this lousy sign.... 
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."
Thoreau, Walden

If you are reading this within a week or so of when I publish it, check the front page of Religion Dispatches for all the articles responding to the latest (again!  Timeliness!  The internet is out of date faster than the dailies!) Pew report on why we are all godless heathens.

Well, no, we aren't, but we are supposed to think something on those lines.  Pastor Dan has one; there's another by Peter Laarman (another UCC pastor, along with Pastor Dan); another by Timothy King; still one more by Kaya Oakes;  and there's still one by Sarah Posner.*

And frankly, no offense to any of those writers, but none of them tell me anything I didn't already learn from Robert Wuthnow in the late 90's in seminary.  I just pulled one of his books off my shelf, something I marked up in 1997 or so; and I was struck how nothing has really changed in 18 years.  Except, of course, that we keep rediscovering the wheel that is the church in crisis.

The same crisis, as I've said ad nauseum, that T.S. Eliot was describing almost a century ago, now.

When does this disaster finally arrive and sweep all of Western culture before it?  I feel like I've been waiting 60 years for the fulfillment of this prophesy, and it still won't come.  Maybe it's something to do with messianism?

Wuthnow in '97 was very earnest about the crisis in the churches, which he blamed largely on middle-class pastors not relating their preaching to middle-class lives.  And yes, I did know pastors who still hadn't quite recognized, in the late '90's, that the average American family included two adults working outside the home, and schedules of play-dates and athletic practices and all manner of "extra-curricular" activities that would challenge the organizing skills of an events director on a cruise line, as well as the pressures (building since the '70's) to run as fast as you can just to stay in one place (because no child can be left behind without a cell phone/iPad/iPod/what have you; and no adult, either!  Nor be denied satellite TV and Netflix and Blu-Ray and...and...and....).  Pastors were, curiously, caught in a  time warp where it was perpetually 1959 and June was in the kitchen in her high heels and pearls worried about the Beaver.

Wuthnow was describing that 18 years ago, and advising preachers to talk about the daily lives of their parishioners, and encourage them to give so the church could stay open and pay its bills (and especially give its pastor a raise).  And he was completely wrong; because the churches he described with staff and middle-class congregations were not the churches full of the elderly on fixed incomes with no vision for the future except God's waiting room, and no interest in the future either except as an undisturbed continuation of the present; and who quit working shortly after June stopped worrying about the Beaver, because the show had gone off the air.

Or they might as well have, for all they were aware of the radical changes in the American home and business since the inflationary days of the '70's gave way to the yuppies of Reagan's Morning in America.

Nobody knows the changes I seen, nobody knows but Jesus.....

And the French are right:  the more things change, the more they stay the same.  But the changes are different for each church, and the causes of the changes are different, and the same.  Some of it is the American determination to go bowling alone.  De Tocqueville marveled at how many private organizations we started as Americans.  My father was an Optimist.  He went to regular meetings, we sold Christmas trees at Christmas and cokes at the parades in the spring to people standing on the street watching, and they are some of my favorite childhood memories.  He was a member in good standing.  Who joins the Optimists now?  Who is an Oddfellow, an Elk, a Shriner?  People used to go to church for the same reason they joined such clubs:  because it is what people did.

People don't do that anymore.  There's a reason for church decline that isn't connected to disillusioned Millenials or disinterested Gen X'ers or the corrosive influence of knowledge flowing into homes through the internet.  Church attendance, as even Wuthnow was noting 18 years ago, has been in decline since its peak in the 1950's.  When does it finally decline to the point that we can say there has been a significant change?  Or has that already happened, and we just won't admit it?

Harvey Cox made a splash in 1965, coat-tailing on the "God is Dead" movement with his book The Secular City.  The church, he said, was defunct.  We had to accept, as Christians, that we were living in a secular city into the foreseeable future.  By 1969 he was writing about the revival of Christianity in Feast of Fools, and praising the spirit he identified in that book, in the 1973 play "Godspell."  Which hit Broadway largely because of the reception of the rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar."

When does the collapse finally happen, so I can quit anticipating it?  But more to the point: when does the internet finally start providing information that is true and can be trusted?  Because the latest favorite meme is that religion is in decline because people can read about biblical archaeology or biblical scholarship or just the wit and wisdom of Lawrence Krause (who insists science is not a philosophy but Truth!, which makes it a religion) or Daniel Dennett (who insists philosophy must be a science to be True!) or Richard Dawkins (proud of his ignorance of subjects he disdains and disparages), and yet none of it is even on the cutting edge of the 19th century.  There is still more information in books (even if they are digitally available!) than on the whole of the internet, but books are tl;dr.  What matters in this brave new world is not facts and knowledge but opinion and stridency.

Which is not really any different from the world of the telegraph in 19th century America, when American skepticism, which became a branch of philosophy known as Pragmatism (see William James and, in the 20th-21st century, Richard Rorty), came into its own.  So what has the internet done for the dissemination of knowledge?

Little more than dump muddy water into the pond.  Maybe Thoreau was onto something:

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

If not by experience then by true knowledge.  We must learn.  We think the internet has made auto-didacts of us all, but the hardest part of learning is to learn what you don't want to know, to engage what you don't want to consider, to wrestle with arguments and ideas you cannot overcome.  Auto-didactism is so much sausage stuffing without the struggle.  It is the building of walls, not the removal of them.  And that is what education should do:  remove walls, make us aware of the complexity of the world, of the messiness of life, of the importance of the other to our Self.

So perhaps to reawaken ourselves we need to be less like Thoreau by the pond, and more like Jacob in the wilderness. 

Back to beginnings; again.

*And I forgot Richard Flory telling us U.S. Christianity is dead (at last!), so now we need to bury Caesar.  Or something.  Back to beginnings, indeed.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Why nobody wants to teach in public schools

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always
substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed
of life.

To elaborate is no avail, learn'd and unlearn'd feel that it is so.


I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.

Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat, Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your
tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach'd till you felt my beard, and reach'd till you held my
--Walt Whitman

And remember, this didn't happen in Texas, or anywhere in the 'benighted' South:

It was the kind of moment teachers covet. An Advanced Placement English class focusing on poetry, and a student brings in a poem that caught his eye, hoping to discuss in the waning moments of the period how the poet uses language in his work.

The teacher, David Olio, a 19-year veteran of the South Windsor School District and winner of Connecticut’s highest award for teaching excellence, didn’t know the poem in question, but he took a look and walked the students through it in the remaining time.

The poem the student discovered and brought in was “Please Master,” an extremely graphic account of a homosexual encounter published by Allen Ginsberg in 1968 that begins: “Please master can I touch your cheek / please master can I kneel at your feet / please master can I loosen your blue pants.”

Clearly, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” this wasn’t. But the students were 17- and 18-year-olds, some of whom were taking the AP course in conjunction with the University of Connecticut and receiving college credit.

One day after the class, Olio was placed on indefinite, unpaid leave by the district. Seventy-two hours later, the district began termination proceedings against him. Three weeks after that, he agreed to resign.

Reading the poem in class, the district found, showed “egregiously poor professional judgment,” Olio’s termination letter stated. “By so doing, you violated the trust placed by the Board of Education in you as a teacher, you brought discredit upon the South Windsor Public Schools, you undermined public confidence and parent trust in you as a teacher, and you put the emotional health of some students at risk.”

The unceremonious dismissal of a beloved teacher has thrown the town of South Windsor, population 25,000, halfway between Hartford, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, into tumult. The local newspaper denounced him in editorials. Alumni, town residents, and Olio’s current students crammed into Board of Education hearings to testify on his behalf.
It's the reference to the editorial against the teacher I like the best.  I teach a dual credit class on behalf of a local community college, in a high school (not a public school).  I teach a contemporary poem that includes the line "they can go fuck themselves."

It's a sentiment I find myself wanting to direct to the Olio Board of Education, especially for the language in their dismissal letter.  19 years of exemplary work, and this is what they do to you.

So far I haven't been fired for such an offense.  Maybe I should be more daring, and teach Whitman..... 

Something to chew on....

Tastes like chicken!

I should leave this stuff alone, but....

I can't.

Coyne and his fellow New Atheist writers are at their gadfly finest when they remind us that people really are motivated by beliefs, and that the specific details of ideas can indeed influence our actions. In the case of Coyne and many of his intellectual allies, what emerges is a vision of a world in which reasoned argument—in which being right—can cure religion and the social ills that supposedly accompany it.

That’s an idealistic, even utopian vision. One need not be cynical to call it naïve. “The ability of people to ignore inconvenient truths that conflict with their faith, whether or not the faith be religious, is astonishing,” Coyne writes, confused that not everyone may have the willingness—or the luxury—to let ideas trump convenience.

Actually, the use of the term “inconvenient” is rather strange here. If you’re a coal miner, the reality of climate change is probably more than an inconvenience for you, especially if climate policy costs you a job. Not everyone is an affluent, tenured Chicagoan who gets paid to think. With his obsessive focus on the correctness of ideas, Coyne is blind to the ways in which class and power can entangle themselves with any kind of belief (including, perhaps, Coyne’s own).

That blindness is chronic; there are essential questions that Coyne doesn’t even think to ask. For example, in a book about the harmful incompatibility of science and religion, he never explains why it’s inherently bad to sometimes hold logically inconsistent beliefs. Within the purity of this ideas-above-all mindset, that awfulness is simply a given. But for those of us curious about the inconsistencies and weirdnesses of actual human experience, it’s not.

Consider, alone, the case of Oscar Romero:  a man revered by the people of El Salvador, who were rewarded with his canonization as a saint.  He was not "an affluent, tenured Chicagoan who gets paid to think."  He was not "blind to the ways in which class and power entangle themselves with any kind of belief."  Indeed, I've learned to make trenchant critiques of class and power and belief, from seminary.

Not from any of my science classes.  How could I?  Lawrence Krause declares science has superseded philosophy and theology.  I guess this means we can discard ethics as well as aesthetics along with phenomenology and even empiricism and philosophy of science itself, because science has figured it all out!  Or has the worm simply devoured its tail?  I dunno; is that a scientific question?  If not, it's out of order!

"The blindness is chronic."  And I've never encountered any field of study which examines that blindness more persistently and perceptively than philosophy and theology and, far less technically but with equally valid insight, religion.  The idea of religion as imagined by Coyne and Krause is simply puerile.  It is the flimsiest of scarecrows.  Alas!

Even the wind in dry grass has more to say than these two, and the rat's feet over broken glass make a more intelligible sound.  Self-examination is not even a concept to them.  Finding common cause with humanity is beyond their ken.  Understanding actual human experience in all its complexity and strangeness and other-ness, is beyond their interest.  And no wonder they would reject philosophy; they aren't any good at it:

...take one of Coyne’s central premises, that “religious claims are empirical hypotheses.” In other words: religious groups make claims about the world that are directly comparable, in their aims and in their applications, to scientific statements.

If I have to explain what's wrong with that kind of reasoning, there is too much I have to explain to you to make you realize how wrong you are.  As a wise man once taught me (via talk radio):  "you can't fix stupid."

I do wonder, though, why it finds itself so easily published and publicized.!

I'm going to do this in two or more pieces (and then probably never finish it, so be warned), and I want to start here, because it came on the radio this morning after a few thoughts fit together on the bridge table of my mind (where the jigsaw puzzle is laid out; whether even all the pieces are there has yet to be determined, thanks to Godel and Schrodinger).  Call it synchronicity, call it coincidence (the mathematical model), call it what you will.

I called it odd and a little inspiring.

We like to speak of common sense — of understanding, shaped by common experience. You and I share similar sensory input, so we share ideas about reality. It's that common sense that keeps us from stepping out of a two-story window. We don't have to know Newton's law of gravity. But even Newton's laws are limited to our slow-moving experience. If we moved near the speed of light, Einstein's relativity would change what Newton tells us.

Common sense could never tell us that we'd return from a high-speed trip to Alpha Centauri less aged than those back on Earth. That's a most uncommon result of relativity theory.

Common sense gets really tricky when we think about time. After all, we never really experience time; we know only present moments. Yet we do have a sense that moments flow toward what we call the future. Common sense is what tells us that a teacup, fallen on the floor, won't repair itself and fall back up on the table.

Still, I'm told that the Comanches did not see time as moving ahead. Instead, their common sense told them that we live the same year, over and over, while people and events in that year change. And I wonder — just how would I contest that idea?

To get beyond the limited reach of common sense we use remarkable measuring instruments. And, when we reach the limits of what they tell us, we turn to tools of math and logic. As we do, we learn things that far outrun common sense. And, it's small wonder that people outside science often view it with distrust.

Once instruments, logic, and math have so magnified what our senses tell us, common sense stops serving us. We find things stranger than we ever imagined — that Earth is not flat, but also that space itself is curved. We learn that, if an object is small enough, it can no longer have a definite location.

So think about that narrow slit through which we look at a vast universe. Then think about science: Science is the way we finally manage to see more than that cramped view through the tiny window of our common senses — and of our common sense.

As you will see (soon enough, I hope), I'm intrigued by the idea of "common experience," especially as it impacts how we know what we know.  For example, children ask their parents "How do you know when you're in love?"  Nobody has an answer for that, exactly.  "You just know," we usually reply.  It's kind of like asking what coffee tastes like, or raspberries.  Aside from chicken, what comparison do we have for flavors?  Coffee doesn't taste like tea, but how is it different, exactly?  What does coffee taste like?

And yet no one worries about the common experience of enjoying a cup of coffee, or who prefers it to tea.  The tiny window of our common sense is very cramped, indeed.

I'm also intrigued by the experience of time.  We have one concept of time today, and we are convinced it is universal and immutable and inalterable.  Except for that Theory of Relativity stuff.  Or when we look at the experience of other cultures (which we seldom do).  I'm equally interested in the idea of the "adolescent brain," an idea important to us because of modern culture, not because of something fundamental to human anatomy.  For one thing, we don't mean the "brain" of the adolescent (whatever that is, but I'll come back to it in a second), we mean the "mind" more or less "arising" from that brain.  And what do we mean by "adolescent'?  It's a new term, like "teenager."  It's maybe less than 100 years old, as we apply it.  It suits our social order, not the biology of homo sapiens.  But we use it because it suits us, and because it suits us we decide it describes the substance of reality, a substance which cannot be altered, because it so much conforms to our "common sense."

Which maybe ain't so common after all.

Then, of course, there's the simpler fact, illustrated in the brief essay I quoted, that we have to take most of what science explains to us on faith.  Einstein tells us space and time are connected, and space can effect time, and time itself can be altered by velocity.  Do we really understand this, or do we just accept it as true because we trust science?  We are told that physicists with expensive particle accelerators at their disposal have discovered truths about reality.  Have they, or do we just believe them because so much of society's resources have been invested in the endeavor?  And how different is that from the trust in the "witch doctor" in non-Western cultures, or in the parish priest in medieval Europe (which trust was never 100%; just read Chaucer, that's all you need).

Yes, science can tell us that elephants hear infrasound (frequencies too low for our ears) and that ultraviolet light can be seen by insects.  But we trust science to tell the truth about these things, because how can we ever know such statements are true?  Without resort to more science, we can't; which is the same complaint commonly raised against religious thought.

So how do we settle this issue?  With common sense?  Or do we need to settle it at all?  After all, what does coffee taste like?

The better nature of our angels....

I'm not a fan of "Game of Thrones," mostly because I don't have HBO.  I tried reading one of the books on my daughter's Kindle, but I found the writing very pedestrian (YMMV, this is not a judgment on those who like "GOT").  Frankly, I've found a new appreciation for Tolkien.  For all that he wrote his story in an arch-"archaic" English, much influenced no doubt by the King James Bible and the tendency for churches to speak in fake Elizabethan tones for centuries after that age had passed into memory (translations of the "classics" suffered this fate, too.  In order to sound "serious" they had to sound "old and venerable"), his story was so affecting that even to watch the ending of the final movie (if you know the whole) is to be moved by the characters.  Even in the version told by the movies, which is not entirely Tolkien's (and not entirely an improvement on the source material).  The special effects and the complicated world (orcs?  Rings?  Gollum?) fall away, and the characters shine through.  The characters are what you care about.

Is that because Tolkien is such a good story teller?  Or because he's a Christian?

The tale of Harry Potter was particularly moving, too; and the ending could only have come from a deeply Christian core.  Harry makes a sacrifice; but so does Dumbledore; so does Snape; so, in the final battle, do several characters, major and minor.  They don't die, they make themselves a sacrifice, for the sake of others.  They struggle against evil (a common theme of modern fantasy) and they learn that in love there is greater strength than in fear and hatred; and that love is much, much harder to live up to, but also much, much more rewarding.  In sacrifice they even learn the power of mercy; not unlike the victors at the end of LOTR.   In the end, what shines through is not the chaos or the action (well, more so in the movies, perhaps) but the characters.  The characters are what you care about.

 From what I can tell, there is no such strain of mercy and self-sacrifice in "GOT."

Season 5 of Game of Thrones has been an exceptionally slow burn, especially in comparison to the previous season, where Joffrey was dead by the end of the second episode. However, we’re finally starting to see momentum gathering, as the characters are being pushed to the brink as we find out what they are willing to sacrifice to achieve victory, and whether the gods will view those sacrifices favorably. 
I don't know much about the gods of Westeros, but I do wonder if they have prophets to challenge the inhumanity of the kings.  Where are the calls for justice, for fair treatment of the widow and the orphan, care for the poor?  Not a call we associate with medieval Europe (and just how medieval is Westeros?  Well, as medieval as our imagined "dark ages Europe," I suppose); although tales of kings crawling through the snow to the home of the Pope to seek absolution from excommunication have filtered through; as well as the English king who used to bath the feet of peasants in honor of his Heavenly Lord, on Good Friday (a custom that didn't last nearly long enough, IMHO).  Small points of abject humility before either a spiritual leader, or perhaps more importantly (to us Protestants), a spiritual ideal.  And then there is the wisdom, not to say sense of justice, of the Wife of Bath.  And while Shakespeare admires (and makes proper obeisance to) power, it is the weak and powerless that most claim his attention, and our sympathies.  It is the characters that shine through.

Where is that in Westeros?  What hope is there of kindness and mercy in Westeros, or is it merely Rome with more petty empires, Italy without central Roman rule but all the lusts and corruption we associate with the Borgias?

Nothing, again, against Westeros, but if this is how we imagine life truly is:  nasty, brutish, and short, even under the rule of what passes for law, if our vision is more Roman than European, then we have to acknowledge the power (and the responsibility) of the Christian church in Western civilization.

And just how much, as Vattimo argues, it has been emptied into daily life, and changed us since the days of Rome.

We still admire the Roman fasces.  Who can doubt it?  Our proudest halls and monuments in D.C. are Greco-Roman revival structures.  The pediment above the Supreme Court building relies on Roman, not Greek, iconography, including the fasces.  E pluribus unum, we say, and we are united by law as the sticks are united by their bindings.  We are, under law, benevolent.  Rome was quite benevolent.  It was tolerant, just as we pride ourselves on being tolerant.  But actually, in Rome as now, that was and is mere toleration.  Acknowledge the supreme authority of Rome, and you were permitted to worship and live (by and large) as you please.   But keep that supreme authority ever before you; preach the wrong ideas and you wind up like Spartacus and his slave rebellion; or like an itinerant peasant healer and preacher in a far east backwater of the Empire.  Rome was benevolent; but only so long as it was pleased with you.

We don't live that way now.  Stephen Pinker insists the "angels of our better nature" have taken over.  But there did they come from?  The Renaissance?  The Enlightenment?  Sweet reason?  Swift skewered that when Gulliver traveled among the Houyhnhnms.  No, sweet reason leads to no finer a morality than utilitarianism, which is merely Roman rule with a kinder, gentler face, feudalism without quite so many landed gentry.  Pinker can't imagine that Christianity played a role in this.  Which doesn't mean it didn't; it just means he can't imagine it.

Is it a coincidence that we have removed religion from the popular eye, or let it be replaced with caricatures like Liberty University and the Duggar family, and so have fallen into despair about both the future (where chaos reigns in automobiles with, most fantastically, no industrial infrastructure whatsoever, but unlimited gasoline supplies?) and the imagined past?

I don't know.  I don't really want to be an old bible-thumper preacher finding sin the popular culture and inveighing against it.  I just wonder how we set aside the brutality of Westeros in history, or how we imagine that brutality changes in the fictional world of "Game of Thrones," with nothing to avail us except that "might makes right."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A little birdie tells me.....

I want to agree with Charlie Pierce that Rick Santorum is a....well, a little richard.

But I can't quite make that argument right now.  It seems Rick Santorum is "sickened" by the Josh Duggar story; and rightly so.

In other news, Dan Savage wants to do to "Duggar" what he did to "Santorum."  But apparently Twitter can't quite get around the fact the victims here, and the perpetrator, share the same last name, so using that name to become a new pejorative just seems, shall we say, "sick"?

Even Twitter finds an acorn once in a while; and even supposedly clever people step on their....well, little richard.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015
Sometimes originality is not the key; sometimes solemn repetition is more appropriate....

Perhaps it began as "Decoration Day." Probably it was a memorial for the dead, like Samhain or Dios de los muertos. Now it is to remember that "freedom is not free," even though it was not won by war for the Founding Fathers but simply one's birthright. The militarism of society is a problem for another day. Today, as we honor soldiers we should also honor the dead, whoever they are. Because of them, we lead the lives we lead.

The characters are two African American Marines in the bush in Vietnam.

He was silent for a moment. Then he said "Ever'one here think it easy for me. I be this good little church boy from Mississippi with my good little church-goin' Mammy, and since I be this stupid country nigger with the big faith, I don't have no troubles. Well, it just don't work that way." He paused. Jermain said nothing. "I see my friend Williams get ate by a tiger," Cortell continued. "I see my friend Broyer get his face ripped off by a mine. What do you think I do all night, sit around thankin' Sweet Jesus? Raise my palms to sweet heaven and cry hallelujah? You know what I do? You know what I do? I lose heart." Cortell's throat suddenly tightened, strangling his words. "I lose my heart." He took a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. He exhaled and went on quietly, back in control. "I sit there and I don't seen any hope. Hope gone." Cortell was seeing his dead friends. "Then, the sky turn gray again in the east, and you know what I do? I choose all over to keep believin'. All along I know Jesus could maybe be just some fairy tale, and I could be just this one big fool. I choose anyway." He turned away from his inward images and returned to the blackness of the world around him. "It ain't no easy thing."

--Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press 2010).

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mother's laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.--Walt Whitman


O Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.
Arise, O Christ, and help us,
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.


O Christ, when thou didst open thine eyes on this fair earth, the angels greeted thee as the Prince of Peace and besought us to be of good will one toward another; but thy triumph is delayed and we are weary of war.


O Christ, the very earth groans with pain as the feet of armed men march across her mangled form.


O Christ, may the Church, whom thou didst love into life, not fail thee in her witness for the things for which thou didst live and die.


O Christ, the people who are called by thy Name are separated from each other in thought and life; still our tumults, take away our vain imaginings, and grant to thy people at this time the courage to pro-claim the gospel of forgiveness, and faithfully to maintain the ministry of reconciliation.


O Christ, come to us in our sore need and save us; 0 God, plead thine own cause and give us help, for vain is the help of man.


O Christ of God, by thy birth in the stable, save us and help us;
By thy toil at the carpenter's bench, save us and help us;
By thy sinless life, save us and help us;
By thy cross and passion, save us and help us.


Then all shall join in the Lord's Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Spare the rod and spoil the society

Just trying to think semi-rationally about this, but if you take this question (and ignore the fact we, a-historic peoples that we are, keep reinventing the wheel*):

Perhaps the most important question is the most basic: Why have American reformers repeatedly invested such high hopes in these instruments of control despite their track record of mixed results at best? What assumptions about human nature, individual psycholog y, organizational sociolog y, teachers, and students underlie these repeated efforts to “rationalize” schooling ? Politically, why have the recent movements triumphed despite the resistance of the strongest interest group in the arena, the teachers unions? Why do these movements draw support from both liberals and conservatives? In the most recent movement, why did a Republican president push for the most powerful version of this vision and in so doing buck the traditions of his own party and create the greatest expansion of the federal role in education in the country’s history? What have been the consequences of these rationalizing movements, not just for test scores, but for the teaching profession, for educational and social justice, and for the shape of the educational enterprise as a whole? And finally, if not rationalization of schools, then what? Is there an alternative that is more likely to yield the results that we seek?
And attach to it the fact we love 'top-down' answers in America (although we say we hate them), which is why we have more people incarcerated per capita than any country on earth (or is North Korea ahead of us?).  We love, in brief, punishment.  We love to lead, not with the carrot, but with the stick.

Which is why we are all so happy to blister the hide off Josh Dugger, rather than consider the strange cult-like family he was raised in could be the source of most of his problems (well, he doesn't fall into any category of "oppressed," so we must hate him, right?)

Although TLC goes to great lengths to mask this fact, the Duggar family is a cult. They forbid their children from exploring outside ideas and expression, carefully monitoring every word and image they are exposed to. They forbid them from wearing shorts. They homeschool them in order to indoctrinate them with backward beliefs. They refuse to let their adult daughters kiss or hold hands before marriage and demand to read every text between their daughters and their suitors. They adhere to a fringe Christian movement called the “Christian patriarchy,” which commands total female submission to men and limited education for women. The Duggars do everything they can to control their children’s minds, then brainwash them with misogynistic dogma.
Which won't excuse you from criminal liability for acting on that dogma (ask Patty Hearst); but it does make you want to reconsider the vitriol directed at Mr. Dugger.

Doesn't it?

Probably not.  We love right, and we want to punish wrong, and we want to do that most severely, in the most bright-line manner possible:

Would you want to send your son or daughter off to study at a university founded and long administered by someone who had opposed Martin Luther King, the desegregation of public schools, the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion; had wanted the United States to expand, not end, the war in Vietnam; had supported apartheid, fought legislation forbidding discrimination against gays, spouted anti-Semitic rhetoric, and had voiced the opinion that the Anti-Christ walks among us as a Jewish male; had thought Chief Justice John Roberts not conservative enough, and, to top it off, showed de facto sympathy for al-Qaida by blaming Americans – especially gay and feminist Americans – for 9/11?

It's pretty much the universal way of the internet:  if you don't condemn something, then you condone it.  Hate the sinner and the sin, or you aren't doing it right.  Which may explain why the majority of Americans refrain from voting at all, or bother only once every four years if there is a POTUS candidate inspiring and charismatic enough to stir their interest.  And why the two political parties we allow to exist are so polarized, or seem to be (even though it's still money that matters, in the end.  Ted Cruz is never going to try to slay that golden goose, even if he speaks hardly of it from time to time).

Our public discourse tells us we must hate the poor, or the rich, or the right wing, or the left wing, or the police, or the "gangs," or the "thugs," or the criminals; or anyone who disagrees with us.  We must not only hate them, we must expunge them from the community:  criminals to jail, the religious to expulsion (only the removal of all religious persons from the planet will satisfy Jeffrey Tayler); all who do not think as "we" do to purdah; and only by doing so can we ever hope to attain paradise, or at least secure "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  Which pursuit, more and more, seems to rest on who we can punish.

So we will punish the Duggers for their hypocrisy, and make Josh Dugger the whipping boy for our disdain.  We will excoriate those who don't call the bikers in Waco "thugs," and demand all speech about any new story containing violence expunge certain words when non-whites are a factor, and include those words only when whites almost exclusively are involved.  We will insist that all Muslims are crazed fanatics bent on our elimination, even as Muslims go about their lives among us unnoticed, wishing only to live and let live.  We will impose our ideas of "Them" upon "them," whoever "they" are, and we will not rest until our fear of them is dissipated.

The future scares us, so we blame the teachers who are supposed to prepare our children to be adults in the world we cannot imagine.  We blame the teachers, so we punish them:  everything they do is wrong, no matter what they do.  One teacher praised for "excellence" means the rest are terrible and damaging and must be punished.  One problem in any school system anywhere means they all are failing and we must punish them all with new solutions that will once and for all! fix these dreadful problems these dreadful people make, problems that can only be solved by Bill Gates or Michelle Rhee or Arne Duncan, problems that can only be solved by One Solution which will Fit All!

Just as more severe punishments and more people in jail will fix the crime problem in America, and one POTUS or Congress will finally solve all the problems we face so we can get back to worrying about what to eat for dinner.

And funny, if you read the Salon article, how much of this has to do with "science."  Or maybe it's the  perversion of science?  I don't know about that, anymore.  I'm quite willing to accept the responsibility Christianity bears for anti-semitism in Europe, up to and through the Holocaust.  It's buried in the gospel accounts where groups of followers of Jesus of Nazareth were careful to blame the powerless Jews rather than the too-powerful Romans for the crucifixion, so they didn't suffer the same fate for the same perceived sedition.  It may be there would have been anti-Jewish feelings in Europe without Christianity, but it was certainly there because of it.  It was a perversion of a message taught by a Jew, the son of a Jewish mother, herself venerated by Christianity.  How can we say it isn't?

That doesn't make Christianity less responsible for its creations than science is for nuclear weapons or poison gas or all the weapons of "efficient" killing brought to bear since the Industrial Revolution.

When we start down that road then the Prince of Verona in Shakespeare's most famous love story is right, and "All are punish'd."

And why must people be punished?  Because otherwise they will be soft; and there is nothing Americans hate more than "softness":

Each of these movements [to reform education] has been justified on the grounds that it would bring objective data to a “soft” and undisciplined field and standardization to a highly variable social landscape.
To dwell on that issue a moment, in America teaching is "soft."  "Those who can't do, teach," we say.  Teachers should be smart?  "If you're so smart, how come you're not rich?"  Founded by some of the leading intellectuals of the age, our nation now speaks of intellectuals as "eggheads" and "brainiacs," if we speak of them at all.  A few college professors are wildly overpaid, usually by sitting in chairs funded by industry, and so all college professors are rich, indolent, and contribute nothing to society.  Why, they don't even "get their hands dirty."

The people we draw into teaching are less than our most talented; we give them short or nonexistent training and equip them with little relevant knowledge; we send many of them to schools afflicted by high levels of poverty and segregation; and when they don’t deliver the results we seek, we increase external pressure and accountability, hoping that we can do on the back end what we failed to create on the front end.

This largely historical analysis dovetails with an emerging body of international research on the countries that are far ahead of us on respected international assessments, particularly the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Countries (or national subdivisions) that lead the PISA, including Singapore, Shanghai, Canada, Finland, South Korea, and Japan, very broadly share a model one could see as the inverse of ours: they draw teachers from among their most talented people, prepare them extensively and with close attention to practice, put them in schools buffered from some of the effects of poverty by social welfare supports, and give them time while in school to collaborate to develop and improve their skills. In some cases, as in Finland, such practices largely obviate the need for testing and external accountability, because selection and preparation on the front end makes extensive monitoring on the back end unnecessary. While the United States remains the world leader in assessments and accountability, Finland and Shanghai are the leaders in student performance, and they get there in an entirely different way.

Barack Obama continued the "reforms" of W., which is why Arne Duncan is still Secretary of Education 6 years later.  Bush and Obama are both the products of private schools, where teachers are generally more talented (you get what you pay for), and are in school buffered from most of the effect of poverty, and given time to develop and improve their skills, especially since any student who can't match the pace set by the teacher is quietly ushered out of the school.  Try that in a public school where no one can be turned away.

As Jal Mehta says, the current system of education provides little up front, and demands heavy accountability on the back end.  Punishment, in other words.  We provide as little as possible to those in poverty, and then punish them severely with a police state mentality that jails as many of the poor as society can get its hands on.  The police who deal in this punishment are not to be "sacrificed" unless absolutely necessary.

Punishment must not be undermined.

*this last time, btw, started with Ross Perot in Texas, who wanted to "fix" the education system without, as ever, talking to teachers but with the implicit understanding it was all their fault, so "accountability" (i.e., punishment) must be enforced.  It spread under Clinton (POTUS candidates influence national policy, remember?) and flowered into nightmare under W, to be continued under Obama (himself the product of private schools that closely monitor who gets in, unlike public schools which can refuse no one).  That little detail goes unmentioned in the analysis at Salon.  As I was saying about not learning from history.....

Scanning religious news on Sunday morning

Jim Gaffigan (like Stephen Colbert) is a committed Catholic.  But he also understands how problematic it can be to be identified as a believer in anything remotely religious.  At least, according to his new sitcom, which, interestingly, gets a very fair treatment in ThinkProgress.

The best part of the article, though, is this:

Conversely, liberals sometimes hide their faith when navigating the progressive cultural spaces they call home, wary of triggering the fury of those who are wounded by or critical of religion. (For a sneak peak, check out the anti-religion comments that will inevitably populate the bottom of this post.)
Without a trace of irony, the comments to the article furiously attack religion in all it's imagined forms, and tell it to go away and stop bothering them.   As the article points out:

And while liberal people of faith are increasingly proud of their religion, polls show they do so only with the caveat of not wanting to impose it on anyone else.
Most of the comments are about how imposing their faith on others is all that "religious" people want to do.

Honestly, "religion" is like a dog-whistle on the internet:  the very word provokes Pavlovian responses completely unconnected to the topic of the article.  As Ana Marie Cox said:  "Why do I need to prove my faith--and why should I try?"  Funny, too, because her attitude is not all that different from what one might expect to hear from Kathleen Norris:

It does come up: Since leaving Washington, I have made my life over and I am happier, freer, and healthier in body and spirit and apparently it shows. When people ask me, “What changed?” or, “How did you do it?” or, sometimes, with nervous humor, “Tell me your secret!” I have a litany of concrete lifestyle changes I can give them—simply leaving Washington is near the top of the list—but the honest answer would be this: I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray. 
Meanwhile Pope Francis is talking like what the Jesuits call a "free person":

Francis asked the bishops to reinforce the "indispensable role" of ordinary folk in their dioceses. "In reality, lay people who have an authentic Christian formation shouldn't need a bishop-pilot, or a monsignor-pilot, or clerical input to assume their responsibilities at every level, from political to social, economic to legislative," he said.

"Rather, what they all need is a Bishop Pastor!"

He complained that often official church documents are too heavy on doctrine and theory "as if our orientation isn't aimed at our people and country but rather students and specialists."
A comment at Salon attributed the decline of Christianity to the Internet, which provides more information about 'reality' and the falseness of religion than ever before.  The internet provides us more information, it's true.  But what is true and what is false requires must as much discernment as ever.

And as for that scary news that denominations are in decline?  You could do worse than reconsider that is more important:  your denomination, or God.  There are two ways to put this (or six, if you prefer a list).   You can pray the prayer of Church Anniversary of the old E&R Hymnal:

Grant that thy Church may be delivered from traditions which have lost their life, from usage which has lost its spirit, from institutions which no longer give life and power to their generation; that the Church may ever shine as a light in the world and be as a city set on a hill.

Or you can boil that list of six down to the essential:  Things don't matter.  Ideas don't matter.  People matter.

And lastly, it's Pentecost; have some art.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ta. Comhionannas

The conventional wisdom is that human rights should never be subjected to a referendum because that's not how human rights issues should be enshrined into law.

And today there's Ireland:

"We're the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world, of liberty and equality. So it's a very proud day to be Irish," said Leo Varadkar, a Cabinet minister who came out as gay at the start of a government-led effort to amend Ireland's conservative Catholic constitution.

People were apparently actually returning to Ireland from around the world for this vote.  Tens of thousands of young Irish voters voted for the first time, mobilized by a clearly effective social media campaign.

Well, and a sense of humanity:

Fianna Fail party leader Michael Martin, a Cork politician whose opposition party is traditionally closest to the Catholic Church, said he couldn't in good conscience back the anti-gay marriage side because "it's simply wrong in the 21st century to oppress people because of their sexuality."

I cannot but contrast that with the grieving father wondering still why "gun rights" trump his son's right to be alive, and the sheer hatred heaped up by people who will scream at grieving family members about their "right" to "bear arms."  Or, more relevantly, the right not to bake a cake.

And all I can say is, we are clearly a lesser country, and a lesser culture, and a lesser people, than the Irish today.  They are to be congratulated on their morality, and their humanity.

Friday, May 22, 2015

At least they called it a 'riot'

Because it looks like white kids were involved.

Maybe the cosmic scales of justice have been balanced now.

Breaking News

Nothing says "Dangerous thug" like "Veterans of Bell County" or the USMC logo

NPR has reportedly decided the real story out of Waco is the arrest of 170+ persons without probable cause.

Which falls more on the DA and the judge who arraigned them all and set the bail.

The story is supposed to be broadcast this weekend.

Stay tuned.....

Thursday, May 21, 2015


"I hope people always question government," [former Governor Rick] Perry continued, "but don't question your military. Don't question the men and women who have put their hands up and sworn this oath to our Constitution and defended this country.”

And while we're at it, let's get government outta our Medicare!

Perry's idea is even scarier than the one about not trusting government.

Location, location, location

Oh, and: film at 11. 

Coleman noted that protests, some violent, that flared up around the police killings of black men, most of which involved an overwhelmingly black crowd, were called "riots" while college and professional sports championship celebrations and losses that turned violent, most of which involved an overwhelmingly white crowd, are not.

"But when you look at Ferguson, or you look at a Baltimore, when you look at these sorts of incidents, we have a tendency vis-a-vis the media to actually question why it happened to the victim, and we go further and then we impute liability on the entire community and sort of do this systematic victim blaming of black America," he said.

Texas Monthly's Dan Solomon wrote Monday in a column that comparing Waco with Baltimore or Ferguson "was probably not an apples-to-apples situation."

"But it's nonetheless difficult to imagine that if a shoot-out involving dozens of young black men that ended with nearly 30 casualties had happened in a strip mall in Waco, it would be perceived as an isolated incident involving only the people who drew their guns — or that police would be chatting and friendly with people in the area in gang attire afterward," Solomon wrote.

The gathering at the Twin Peaks in Waco was not a protest.  Bikers didn't gather to object to the commodification of America, the strip-malling of America, the objectification of women in "breastauraunts," or the ugliness of urban sprawl (most of I-35 between Dallas and San Antonio is now a forest of signs and parking lots).  They didn't gather to protest the injustice done to veterans of foreign wars (biker gang actually started after World War II, and every war thereafter has added to their ranks), or even to their portrayal on the Fox Network.

They were there to make trouble over who had the right to wear a patch among their "colors."  And that's why Waco police and McClennan County Sheriff's officers were there.  And when the shooting started (because someone unjustly ran over someone else's foot in the parking lot; O, the humanities! O, the inequities and vicissitudes of an uncaring society!), people started shooting, and apparently a lot of people ran for cover.

As gunfire broke out in the parking lot of a Texas restaurant, dozens of motorcycle riders ran inside seeking cover and tried to guide others to safety, security video reviewed exclusively by The Associated Press showed Wednesday.

The video, shared by representatives of the restaurant, shows bikers on the patio ducking under tables and trying to get inside. At least three people were holding handguns. One biker was seen running with blood on his face, hands and torso.

The footage shows only one round being fired — by a biker on the patio who then ran inside.
Video shows police with assault rifles entering the front door at about the same time. As two officers enter, bikers can be seen lying on the floor with their hands spread.
Police didn't use tear gas and tanks because they didn't need to.  Law enforcement was able to arrest 170 people rather easily and quietly, once they got the shooting stopped.  It also explains why TV cameras weren't there to record that mayhem; by the time the media had heard about the story, there was nothing to photograph but bikers waiting to be hauled off to jail.  Events in Ferguson and Baltimore went on for days; the incident in Waco was over before evening.

I still think it's a pity the Twin Peaks restaurant wasn't burned to the ground (no great loss, but great video!).  But Waco is not Ferguson is not Baltimore because these are not at all similar situations.  The prisoners are all being held on $1 million bail, but Jay-Z and Beyonce (or Donald Trump and George Soros) aren't going to be bailing them out anytime soon, and the closest thing to a mother yanking her kid off the protest line is a wife who claims her husband was innocently in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong vehicle.  Whether or not that proves out, don't expect her to become a viral phenomenon or get invited onto any TV shows soon.

More importantly, this wasn't the protest of a community, of a neighborhood, of people tired of injustice and ill-treatment.  This was a bunch of idiots on motorcycles with too easy access to firearms and a too-stupid reason to use them (Territory?  Seriously?).

Yes, there is a severe degree of bias and even racism in news coverage and attitudes about who is responsible for acts of violence and what terms we should use to describe it (though the argument over whether or not these bikers were "thugs" is supremely silly).  But this incident is not the poster-child for that problem.

And it really doesn't do anything for that problem to complain so much about the narrative for this incident.  Especially because the real story here may end up being the mass arrests of people who can't be charged with any crime except going to a tacky restaurant on a motorcycle.  And will we then complain about the curtailment of their civil liberties?  Or complain the police didn't beat them enough?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One more reason motorcycles are not safe

So, to try to put this nonsense in Waco in perspective, and explain why CWP's are making us safe (and open carry would make us safer!):

Falco: You have a biker event—any time there’s a biker event in an area, the motorcycle gang that believes they control that area will show up and police it and make sure other motorcycle gangs aren’t there. They’ll protect that territory. So what happens is that, now that the Cossacks are claiming that territory too...

Neyfakh: When you say “biker event” what do you mean?

Falco: It’s just a day event. Like, a restaurant will hold a biker show or a bike contest. Hooters does it in different locations. It’s just a day event where you bring your family, look at some nice bikes, drink a couple beers, and then it’s over by 5 p.m. But when I was doing the Outlaw infiltration, the Outlaws would show up at Hooters looking for Hell’s Angels that might be in the area and try to show up, and waiting to have a shoot-out with them. And that’s what happened here.

Neyfakh: So that’s why they were all in the same place. And the guys who ended up causing the violence were probably planning to do that, right? Or do you think something sparked it unexpectedly?

Falco: Yeah, I mean, anything can do it—you park in someone else’s spot, you cut him off. But it was gonna happen. Something was gonna spark it. Because they didn’t show up there in big numbers just to drink beers with each other. And they were all armed, right?

Neyfakh: Yeah, they were all really armed. Is that normal, for gangs to travel with so many weapons?

Falco: So what happens is, in the states where they allow concealed weapons permits, all the big biker gangs have ordered all their members who aren’t felons to get concealed weapons permits.

Neyfakh: I guess what I’m so surprised by is that these are rivalries that are based on nothing—that they’re not fighting over anything more specific than intangible control over a particular area.

Falco: Yeah. Goofy, right?

Neyfakh: Yeah. I mean, how old are these guys?

Falco: Old! They’re old. They’re like 40s, 50s, 60s. Your average street gang is made up of Hispanic or African-American kids who grew up in an area where they didn’t really have a choice. These are guys that do have a choice—that didn’t grow up in an area like that, but later in their life decided to become part of a gang. A lot of these guys are ex-vets—they’re war vets. Most of these biker gangs were created by war vets in Vietnam, World War II, and now Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s attractive to the anti-social war vet. Your normal war vet is a hero, and comes home a pro-social person. But your anti-social Caucasian war vet is attracted to these biker gangs, and so a lot of these guys are very highly skilled with weapons.

Neyfakh: Do they live together?

Falco: No, but they have a clubhouse, and mandatory runs, and they have to hang out with each other. There’s a lot of that.

Neyfakh: Just to close, what do you think has changed since you were on the inside of this culture?
Falco: I was 2003 to 2006 with the Vagos, and then 2008 to 2010 with the Mongols and Outlaws. Not much has changed. The only thing that’s changed is more states are allowing concealed weapons permits, so you have more of these guys who are armed to the teeth.
Thanks, NRA!

It's kinda cute they have a clubhouse.  Then again, they're armed, and have decided to avenge the deaths and arrests of their club members.

Oh, boy.

This Twin Peaks ("because 'Hooters' just wasn't racy enough") restaurant has lost its rights to the name "Twin Peaks."  And Waco police and the sheriff knew this rumble/riot/melee/brouhaha was gonna happen.  They told the restaurant not to allow it, but it was allowed anyway.  Again, because Hooters wasn't racy enough; or something.

And the day after the Texas Lege took up the noble cause of allowing open carry of firearms, which would have made things worse in Waco, as the police there are saying.  But hey:  "FREEDUMB!"  And territory.

Besides, it's a buncha old white guys.  It's not like they're gonna start a riot, or somethin'.....

That argument, that this was a "riot" and that the media is not treating it as seriously as Baltimore, and therefore "RACISM!", is still making the rounds.  And there is a problem with the coverage of Waco.  Law enforcement there says it's one of the worst scenes of violence they've ever seen; but there are no burning buildings for the TV cameras to focus on, no lines of protestors hurling rock and epithets at police in riot gear, so according to the national news, it's just a "shooting."

Well, I suppose.

But Waco is being "downplayed," if at all, because it's in Waco.  Where's Waco?  It's in Texas.  But what's Texas?  Aside from being the second most populous state in the Union, it's nowhere.  There's Austin; everybody thinks they've heard of Austin.  There's Houston, fourth largest city in the country (and when was the last time it was in the news?). Rahm Emmaunel makes news in Chicago, Bill DeBlasio in New York; California has a drought worse than the Texas drought, but not by much, and Houston has a lesbian mayor for a second term.  But who cares, 'cause it's Houston, right?

Texas only gets mentioned on news websites when the Lege is in session and tries to pass crazy laws. Otherwise, Texas is too far out of the way to bother with.

But then, so was Ferguson.  Nobody knew where Ferguson was until the "riots" broke out (a word to be used advisedly, now).  Then there was some focus on the cities of St. Louis County, but it faded.  Shit got real when Baltimore exploded, because that's 40 miles from D.C., and well within the Bos-Wash where all national media is located and focussed.  Tell the truth, would anybody have ever taken Chris Christie seriously as a "national politician" if he was governor of Montana?  If the George Washington Bridge ran anywhere but into New York City, would national news have ever noticed it was all but closed down?

Once Baltimore was in flames, the national discussion of racism and police violence had to be taken seriously.  And now it's our media touchstone:  if Waco isn't treated like Baltimore, then something is rotten in the state of America.

Annie Dillard once wrote about an "out of the way" spot in South America, along the Amazon, if I recall correctly.  But "out of the way" from where, she asked?  Out of the way from whom?  Afghanistan is "out of the way", except we insist it is important.  But important and "out of the way" are matter of perspective, aren't they?  Rather like race and racism, in fact.

Is the coverage of the event in Waco a reflection of racism?  Or of regionalism?  Ferguson didn't really change our national discussion, but Baltimore did.  Why is that?

Maybe it has something to do with Waco.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Saucing the gander.....

I was going to leave this alone (Ntodd has a good link with other links to this entire story), but no one seems to be asking, aside form the pleasure of poking another Bush with a stick and the family legacy stench of W.'s administration, exactly why we care what the GOP candidates think about the invasion of Iraq.

I mean, it's not like we're going to invade again, is it?  Is it?

The reason is rather plain, I think, and it needs to be discussed more plainly.  Why do we care about the reasons we invaded Iraq, reasons which, within a few weeks of being there, had evaporated like water in the desert?


Lost in the domestic kerfuffle of what Jeb said last on this topic, or how Rubio and Walker answer the question, or what position Rand Paul takes now (check your calendar), is the pending agreement with Iran over processing uranium into nuclear fuel.  It wasn't that long ago Marco Rubio was promising to sanction the bejeezus out of Iran, international cooperation be damned!, and bring the mullahs begging to the American negotiating table where he would sternly teach them a lesson.

And, of course, if that didn't work, we'd bomb their nuclear processing facilities, as Israel had hinted it would do (and may still do; though those facilities may be so "hardened" as to be unreachable by conventional bombs.  The alternative, even for Israel and Rubio, is unthinkable.).  Rubio didn't say that, but like any good GOP candidate he is so belligerent that has to be the next threat.  We cannot, after, I mean, Iraq, be afraid to use military power in the world.  What's the point of being a hyper power if you can't hype your power, eh?

Whether we are still a "hyper-power" is another question.....

So, Rubio and the entire GOP field finds themselves in a round room, being told to go sit in the corner.  Even FoxNews mocks them on this issue:  no GOP candidate has gone to FoxNews and found aid and comfort there, when it comes to recent history in Iraq.  No one (outside John Bolton) dares say invading Iraq was a good idea, period.  And they can't say it was a bad one. So they prevaricate and revive the recent lies and insist history will not repeat itself.

Well, they don't insist on that last part, but that's what they are talking about.  Intelligence, not troops on the ground, tells us Iran has nuclear processing facilities.  Inspectors (remember those from Iraq?) will soon, hopefully, tell us just what those facilities are producing.  If this begins to sound like Iraq with a diplomatic, rather than military, outcome, you are getting the point.  The same conditions prevail, and any question about whether we should have invaded Iraq, becomes a question of whether we should show any belligerence toward Iran.

Sauce for the goose, after all....

So how can we be belligerent toward Iran, when that blew up so spectacularly in our faces in Iraq?  Round room:  find the corner.

It would be funny, if it weren't so serious.