Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Few Recent Examples of Right Wing Lunacy

Yeah, I know. It’s been a while. Sorry. Busy, busy. And, frankly, there just hasn’t been much that I’ve really wanted to write about over the last few weeks. Or, if I did want to write about it, I didn’t have the time or patience to do so. (You know me: Why say in one paragraph, what I could say in a few thousand words instead…)

Anyway, I thought I’d take some time to briefly highlight a few stories that caught my attention recently. You can probably files these away in the “this is what we’re up against” category. And they’re indicative of what I’ve been referring to as the “stoopid” or just crazy. Or bigoted. Hateful, maybe. Choose your own preferred descriptions.

First, I’d like to direct your attention to a July 15 forum for candidates running to represent Iowa in the Senate. According to a story in The Iowa Republican (“News for Republicans, by Republicans”), at a forum sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, one of the questions posed to the candidates was “How do we know you won’t join “the brotherhood” once elected to the U.S. Senate?” The author of the article (remember this is “News for Republicans, by Republicans”) noted that “[e]veryone in the room knew that ‘the brotherhood’ was code for the gang of moderate senators who seek compromise instead of advancing a conservative agenda in the Senate.” So how did Senate candidate David Young answer the question about “the brotherhood”?

Young said that what really needs to happen in Washington D.C. is a change of hearts and minds. Young said as a Senator, he would invite New York Senator Chuck Schumer to lunch so that he could share the good news of Jesus Christ.

That’s right. In order to show just how “conservative” he was and prove that he wouldn’t “compromise” (because, you know, compromise is evil), a Senate candidate from Iowa expressed his desire to go to Washington to proselytize a Jewish senator. I mean, nothing says “conservative” like wanting to use the Senate as a place to try to convert your Jewish political opponents. And lest you think that Young is some country bumpkin that doesn’t know his way to Washington let alone around the the halls of power, apparently he was formerly the chief of staff for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). So what does it say about Republican candidates and conservative thought that someone would even contemplate this as an answer? For that matter, just thing about the question itself or the notion that compromise is unacceptable.

After reading this article, I also broke one of those cardinal rules for reading online news stories: I read the comments. I think that a two are worth noting (remember, this is “News for Republicans, by Republicans”):

  • Seems to me that Schumer could use a refresher in some of the beliefs of his religion…just like Pelosi and Reid do… [¶] Perhaps if people like Schumer, Reid and Pelosi actually remembered some of the tenants of their faith — they might actually understand why their political positions are 180 degrees out of phase with their professed faith.
  • Jews are supposed to believe in the exact same Ten Commandments as Christians. [Recitation of four of the Commandments.] Today's Democrats believe in killing unborn babies [¶] ALL of today’s Democrat lie, lie, lie. Truth is irrelevant. [¶] Today’s Democrats steal from producers and redistribute the wealth to the parasite class. [¶] Today’s Democrats depend on many to covet what belongs to others.

Why do I highlight these two comments? Because they are indicative of how at least some people on the right actually think. There is this common thread that only conservatives (and only Christian conservatives) really know and understand what G-d commanded and what the Bible means. I mean, there’s no better way to get someone to want to sit down and work with you that to tell them that they are acting opposite to what you think that their faith demands. And to think that so many Christians wonder why most Jews vote for Democrats. Hmm.

And on a somewhat similar note, please watch this video. It’s from a recent meeting of the Alabama Public Service Commission. The woman speaking at the beginning is Twinkle Cavanaugh (and no, I did not make that name up), the head of the Public Service Commission. Listen to her introduction. What follows is hard to hear (but clicking through to YouTube will give a full transcript). The most interesting bit comes at approximately 5:20 (and I’ll provide a transcript of that below). Just watch (but you might want to put a cushion under your jaw, first).

Did you catch the last bit of the prayer?

We’ve taken you out of our schools; we’ve taken you out of our prayers; we’ve murdered your children; we’ve said it’s OK to have same-sex marriage, God. We have sinned.

First, ask yourself why the Alabama Public Service Commission needs to open with a prayer at all. Really. What is the point? Are these folks unable to get in enough prayer at home, at church, in their cars, or wherever else? They have to pray before this meeting? And then think about the fact that the leader of the Alabama Public Service Commission doesn’t just introduce the person who has been selected to give the prayer; no, she goes beyond that to really endorse the message that will be delivered. And, if all of that wasn’t enough, Twinkle (OK, fine, Ms. Cavanaugh…) then asks those in attendance to stand. But wait, there’s more! In addition to standing, those in attendance at this governmental meeting were then asked to raise their hand if they believe in prayer, believe that G-d answer’s prayers, and believe that people need prayer. Finally, what relation do the issues of school prayer, abortion, and same-sex marriage have to do with the business of the Alabama Public Service Commission? And when did we take G-d out of prayers?

So tell me, how many Jews would be comfortable in this environment? How many Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or atheists would be? But shouldn’t all citizens be comfortable attending a public meeting, especially one that seems far removed from issues like church-state, abortion, and same-sex marriage?

What is the job of the Alabama Public Service Commission, you ask?

To ensure a regulatory balance between regulated companies and consumers in order to provide consumers with safe, adequate and reliable services at rates that are equitable and economical.

Yep. Sounds like gay marriage and abortion sure could interfere with that. Better call Jesus. Oh, and the meeting that this prayer was offered before? Yeah, it was a meeting to discuss power rates. Remind me what Jesus said about how much people should pay for their electricity. And remind me what school prayer, abortion, and same-sex marriage have to do with electric price rates.

Or perhaps you might consider some of the objections raised last week to Kentucky’s Next Generation Science Standards. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, in a hearing at the State Department of Education, opponents to the new science standards offered several … um … interesting reasons that those new standards should be rejected:

Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister in Louisville who runs an Internet talk-radio program, called teachings on evolution a lie that has led to drug abuse, suicide and other social afflictions.

“Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God,” Singleton said. “Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state.”

At one point, opponent Dena Stewart-Gore of Louisville also suggested that the standards will marginalize students with religious beliefs, leading to ridicule and physiological harm in the classroom, and create difficulties for students with learning disabilities.

“The way socialism works is it takes anybody that doesn’t fit the mold and discards them,” she said, adding that “we are even talking genocide and murder here, folks.”

Did you catch all that? New science standards are part of a “rich man’s elitist religion” and somehow prohibit Kentuckians from worship. And the teaching of evolution is apparently “fascist” and “teaches that our children are property of the state”. What does that even mean? But those comments almost pale in comparison to those of the woman who claims that the standards are socialism (wait, are science standards socialist or fascist?) and that they will lead to “genocide and murder”. Seriously. The teaching of evolution (and climate change) will lead to genocide and murder. Oh, and note her concern about the marginalization of students with religious beliefs. What do you bet that woman would have no problem with requiring children to pray in school or allowing gay kids to be be bullied. Yet another example of perceived Christian victimization.

But it wasn’t just science standards that led to really poor comparisons. Nope. One of my “favorite” members of Congress, Louie Gohmert (R-Texas, where else?), at a hearing on civil rights legislation, compared the legislation under discussion to … are you ready? Well, I’ll let Rep. Gohmert speak for himself. But first, it’s worth understanding that the legislation under discussion would prohibit “third parties from intervening in any regulatory action that prevents or is intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or other protected characteristic”. Got that? So here’s what Rep. Gohmert said:

There is nobody in this chamber who is more appreciative than I am for the gentleman from Tennessee and my friend from Michigan standing up for the rights of race, religion, national origin of the Delta Smelt, the snail darter, various lizards, the lesser prairie chicken, the greater sage grouse and so many other insects who would want someone standing for their religion, their race, their national origin and I think that’s wonderful.

Isn’t that just precious. Instead of talking about real challenges facing human minorities, Rep. Gohmert decides to compare those issues and minorities themselves to endangered special of animals. Yet Republican voters in Texas just keep reelecting this guy.

And down in Mississippi, the Governor is worried about important things, too:

Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi has long wanted children to pray at public schools. This week, with his grandmother’s worn Bible on his desk, he signed a bill that gets him closer to that goal.

The new law requires public schools to develop policies that will allow students to pray over school intercoms, at assemblies and at sporting events.

While not allowing school-sanctioned prayer, the law permits students to offer public prayers with a disclaimer by the school administration. “You might put on the program that this is not a state-sanctioned prayer if a prayer does break out at a football game or graduation,” Mr. Bryant said.

Although the state is not in the business of establishing religion, he said, “we are about making sure that we protect the religious freedoms of all students and adults whenever we can.”

Gee. Let’s see. We have a policy to let kids use the school’s public address system … but the school isn’t sanctioning what’s said. Right. OK. So can a Muslim student offer a Ramadan prayer to Allah? Can a Jewish student offer a prayer, perhaps in Hebrew? Can a Wiccan student … oh, hell, I don’t know, do whatever a Wiccan might want to do? More importantly, can an atheist student borrow the school’s PA to tell students that G-d is a figment of their parent’s imagination and that religion is evil? I’m sure that the school, if it permits prayers to Jesus (non-sanctioned, of course), will also allow competing views. Right? Right?

I’d love to hear the outcry when the Muslim or atheist 2nd grader uses the school’s PA, shortly after a pre-Christmas prayer from a Christian child (non-sanctioned, of course), to tell his or her classmates that Santa isn’t real. And when the Scientologist decides to relay his religion’s creation story… “Boom!”

And finally, who could forget the words of Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas, because you know, most of the batshit crazy far right wingnuts seem to come from Texas…) in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (footnote added):

“If you look at other nations that have gone down the road towards gay marriage, that’s the next step of where it gets enforced,” Cruz agreed. “It gets enforced against Christian pastors who decline to perform gay marriages, who speak out and preach biblical truths on marriage*, that has been defined elsewhere as hate speech, as inconsistent with the enlightened view of government.”

“I think there is no doubt that the advocates who are driving this effort in the United States want to see us end up in that same place.”

You see, though he went to Harvard and seems to think that he’s therefore a smart guy, Sen. Cruz has no fucking idea of how the First Amendment works or what it is that gay rights advocates are fighting for. First, whatever may have happened in another country in this regard is largely irrelevant because those countries don’t have our First Amendment protections (and for that matter, I’m not even sure that whatever Sen. Cruz thinks has happened elsewhere has really happened**). More importantly, though, can anyone show me a single example of gay rights activists saying that Christian pastors should be required to perform gay marriages? Yet again, we have an example of perceived Christian victimization. It’s not the loving same-sex couple who is the victim of homophobic behavior and laws; rather, it’s the poor Christian pastor who … well, um … who never be required to do something he doesn’t want to do except in the fictional, paranoid world he and his leaders have created.

Sen. Cruz may be correct that some people view preaching against people who love one another as a form of hate speech. But so what? We don’t ban hate speech. To see the truth in that, Sen. Cruz just needs to listen to some of his colleagues talk about Muslims and immigrants (I’d suggest Rep. Steve King [R-Iowa] as a good starting point). But show me an example of where “it gets enforced” (it being what, exactly?) against pastors who preach against same-sex marriage or use any form of hate speech. Have pastors gone to jail for saying bad things about Muslims? Did the pastor who publicly prayed for President Obama’s assassination go to jail? Have pastors gone to jail for claiming that Jews killed Christ (and if that isn’t hate speech, then what is…)? Of course not. But idiotic ideologues like Sen. Cruz don’t care about reality or the law or even the First Amendment (but they do care about the Second Amendment!). No, all he and his ilk want to do is scare the red meat Tea Party base who are xenophobic, racist, homophobic, or just want to take their country back (to a time before black Kenyan Muslim Marxists could be elected to the White House, non-Christians could be treated fairly, and gays could be open about, well being themselves); after all, those are the voters who elect people like Sen. Cruz.

I’d love to take the time to talk about what’s been going on in Texas (banning tampons but allowing guns during abortion debates) and North Carolina (using anti-Sharia and motorcycle safety laws to restrict abortion rights) or to discuss the revelations about former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ efforts at state censorship of a historian he disliked. But time is short. So, that’ll have to be enough for now. See ya soon.

*“Biblical truths on marriage”? Really? Perhaps Sen. Cruz should listen to Betty Bowers (in a clip I originally posted back in August 2010):

Now, remind me again about those “biblical truths”.

**And don’t just take Sen. Cruz at his word. This wingnut has argued that the Harvard Law School faculty includes a dozen Marxists committed to overthrowing the US government, but won’t (or can’t) back up his claim, even though he stands by it.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Big Country. Live. At Last.

Sunday night is going to be very special for me. Back in August 2011, I wrote about my favorite band: Big County. In that post, I noted:

I never did manage to see Big Country live. I had tickets to see them in early 1984 when they played in Indianapolis, but for the one and only time ever, my parents prohibited me from going to a concert (it was on a school night and I had a test the next day). For our honeymoon, my wife and I went to London. We had our fingers crossed that Big Country might be performing while we were there; alas, it turns out that they were in Chicago while we were in London. I finally had a chance to see Stuart Adamson perform with country artist Marcus Hummon in 1998 in Nashville, Tennessee. I even had a chance to get my picture taken with Adamson (sadly, the photo did not turn out well because the flash didn't work) and had him autograph a copy of the liner notes for the “Through a Big Country” Japanese box set (once a sort of Holy Grail of Big Country CDs). Adamson’s autograph can be seen on the Photo Gallery at my Big Country Book of Lyrics site (along with my name and my kids’ names in the liner notes of a Big Country single).

When I wrote that paragraph, I had no expectations that I would ever have a chance to see Big Country live, even in their new incarnation (with original members Bruce Watson and Mark Brzezicki, plus Watson’s son Jamie, Derek Forbes [formerly of Simple Minds], and, of course, Mike Peters of the Alarm on lead vocals). Then earlier this year, following the release of The Journey, the first new Big Country album since 1999, a batch of US concert dates was announced, the first shows the band would play in the US since 1993 (with the exception of a small show in 1999). Alas, to my dismay, all of the dates were on the East or West coast, in Texas, or in Colorado, and with everything else going on in my life, I just couldn’t make any of those shows.

And then more dates were announced for the Midwest.

Sunday, I’ll be driving to Newport, Kentucky (just across the river from Cincinnati) to see Big Country perform at Thompson House.

It’s hard to articulate the emotions brought about by this opportunity. I know that to some people, “it’s just a band” or “it’s just music”. But to me, Big Country has always been … well, more. Maybe it was spending time in the forests of Michigan in the summer of 1984, listening to The Crossing and Wonderland over and over and over, letting the sounds, the moods, the stories, and emotions of those records wash over me as I sat under towering trees beside clear lakes. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was listening to those songs as I was going through the mental preparations involved with being ready to head off to college that fall and needing to take my first steps into adulthood. I don’t know. But I do know that the music of Big Country has been a near constant with me from that summer through now.

And now I’m going to finally have a chance to see the band perform live. Finally. Thirty years after The Crossing was released. I can’t put into words how truly excited I am for this occasion.

I just wish that I could share it (and my excitement) with my family, but alas, the kids aren’t interested and my wife, for several reasons, won’t be able to go with me. So it will just me me. And the band. And hopefully, a venue full of fans just as excited as I am. And, hopefully, finally, I’ll have the chance to sing along to “Chance”.

Oh Lord where did the feeling go?

Oh Lord I never felt so low.

They’re also going to be playing in Evanston, Illinois, next month, literally about 2 blocks from the apartment that I lived in for my junior and senior years at Northwestern. I’m thinking about going to that show, but I’m delaying buying a ticket because there is still apparently a (slim) chance that an Indianapolis date might be added in August. But I didn’t want to wait for that date and miss a chance to see them. So Newport, here I come.

With a little luck, I’ll have a chance to meet the band before of after the show, if for nothing more than to get a photo and to simply say thank you for years and years of putting a smile on my face.

And for those interested, here are two videos from the new Big Country album The Journey that was released earlier this year. The first track, “In a Broken Promise Land” is probably my favorite track from The Journey. The second track, “Hurt” is, in all honesty, not one of my favorite tracks from The Journey; however, the song does evoke very strong emotions because it is all about Stuart Adamson.

In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive


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Friday, July 12, 2013

George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin: What Should the Result Be?

I’ve avoided writing about the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. And I’ve managed to not watch any of the trial notwithstanding the seeming wall-to-wall coverage (though, I’ll acknowledge that I’ve seen some coverage to the extent it was included or discussed as part of a news program that I was watching or listening to). So now, as the case is almost ready to go to the jury … I’m still entirely not sure what to think.

I don’t want to write a treatise or exhaustive analysis of the issues; rather, I just want to take a quick (at least for me) look at what I see as the big picture and sort of walk through those issues in one of my thought experiments, with the hopes of reaching some kind of solution or resolution.

First, it appears that Martin did nothing wrong … at least until the beginning of the altercation between he and Zimmerman. He was walking in a place he had reason to be. So far as I’m aware, walking while black is not a crime, even in the South. Nor is wearing a hoodie in the rain. Or eating Skittles. Having been suspended from school or having previous experience (even recent experience) with marijuana may be a problem … but neither of those things were a problem that night.

So, just as it’s not a crime to walk while black, it’s also not a crime to walk while having done something wrong in the past. If that were the standard, I guess most of us would have to worry as we walked through neighborhoods, wouldn’t we? Walking while previously having disobeyed a traffic signal. Walking while having been yelled at by an employer. Walking while having been late filing taxes. Walking while having lied to a spouse. Pick your poison. But none of them justify being profiled or shot.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Back to the discussion.

And it appears that Zimmerman was doing something wrong. Several things, actually. First, he was profiling a person based, apparently, on nothing more than his race (certainly he couldn’t have know that Martin had been suspended from school or had in the past used marijuana). Second, Zimmerman got out of his car and followed Martin even after being told not to do so by the police.

So, up until the moment that the altercation began, it appears that Martin was in the right and Zimmerman was in the wrong. It doesn’t really matter which, if either was a choir boy and which a bad dude. Maybe they were both good guys; maybe both were punks. But either way, in the moments leading up to the altercation, it looks like Martin had done nothing immediately wrong while Zimmerman had.

But that’s when things get complicated.

I don’t think that anyone has alleged that Zimmerman just shot Martin without some kind of physical altercation between the two. If that were the case, it would be an easy case. “You don’t belong here so I’m gonna shoot you” is rarely a viable defense and that doesn’t appear to be the case that the prosecution has made.

So let’s accept the notion that there was, indeed an altercation. How does that change things? Did Martin confront Zimmerman? Did Zimmerman confront Martin? Obviously, we’ve not heard Martin’s side of the story. But I’m not sure it really matters.

Let’s play it out both ways. First, let’s suppose that Martin got pissed about being followed and confronted Zimmerman. Maybe Martin even through the first punch. What was Zimmerman supposed to do? I guess, in a perfect world, the answer would be that he should have extricated himself from the situation. Run away. Maybe if he’d identified himself as the community watch or even apologized (“Gee, sorry, I thought you were a burglar…”). But it’s hard to fault a guy for trying, in the heat of the moment, to do what he thought he needed to do to defend himself. I guess we need to remember that this isn’t like a case of a bank robber confronted by an armed guard or civilian. In that case, the robber was committing a felony and has no right to defend himself. But even if what Zimmerman was doing was wrong or even racist, it doesn’t appear to have been illegal. There’s no law that says you can’t follow someone for racial reasons to be sure that they’re not a criminal. It may be stupid and wrong, but it’s not a crime. So if the situation turned on Zimmerman and retreat no longer seemed a viable option, was he just supposed to lay on the ground and allow Martin to beat him until Martin was bored? That doesn’t feel like the right answer. I don’t think that getting yourself into a bad situation means that you have to then surrender your right to try to keep yourself safe. To a point.

Or what if Zimmerman initiated the altercation? Does that really change things? If I start a fight with you at a bar because you looked at my wife crosswise, and then you start to kick my ass, must I just sit there and take it because I started the fight? Or am I, at some point, allowed to hit back? And if my only defense is my gun, am I prohibited from using it because I started the fight? Must I allow you to beat me to a bloody pulp? That doesn’t sound right, either.

So, I’m not really sure what we wanted Zimmerman to do, other than either not follow Martin in the first place or run away as the altercation or confrontation commenced. But once there was violence, no matter who started it, is our expectation that person who was in the wrong up to the commencement of the altercation lay down his defenses and accept his punishment? No. Probably not.

But that brings me back to the core problem. A teenage boy is dead. And not because he was committing a crime. He is dead because a fight broke out with someone who was doing something wrong (even if not illegal). Thus, it seems that even though Zimmerman should be allowed to “defend” himself in the fight, neither the fight nor the shooting needed to occur and, most importantly, both occurred because of Zimmerman’s conduct. So while it seems right that people be allowed to defend themselves, it seems wrong that they not be punished for causing situations that lead to the violence in the first place.

I’m not a criminal law attorney and I don’t play one on TV. I didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I don’t know whether criminal law has worked out these sorts of issues over the last few hundred years, whether here in Indiana or down in Florida (and I haven’t read many criminal cases since passing the bar or so many years ago). But, if the issues were simple, I doubt that there would be so much attention to the case. There may be answers to the queries that I’ve posed; if so I’m unaware of them (perhaps, thankfully so).

But I guess in the end, my thought is that though Zimmerman had a right to defend himself, he still must answer for what appears to be a situation of his own creation. He didn’t need to follow Martin. He didn’t need to become involved in an altercation. If he could have run or escaped or used words to defuse the situation, then he should have. But when he couldn’t, he used the only defense that he thought he had. OK. So Zimmerman didn’t allow himself to be beaten to a pulp. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t ultimately responsible for the death of that teenager. Zimmerman’s actions: profiling, disobeying police instructions, following, and eventually pulling the trigger, were the events that led to Martin’s death. And for that series of actions, I think, Zimmerman must answer.

I don’t know what Florida law requires for second degree murder or manslaughter. But I do believe, based on the little hard evidence that I know, that Zimmerman is responsible for his actions and should be punished for acting in a way that led to the death of an unarmed teenage boy.

If you disagree, let me know. But please premise your response to either the law or what you think that the law should be. If you disagree because Martin was black … well, then, you have bigger problems.

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