Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Major League Escort Service

Ya know;  at first, it sounds pretty cool.

A Major League baseball player getting a police escort to arrive at his game on time.

Who wouldn't like a police escort when your plans are changed at the last minute, and you have to be someplace really important really, really soon?

Yesterday afternoon, that's the predicament in which Texas Rangers rookie Joey Gallo suddenly found himself.  He was trying to make it up from suburban Austin along a traffic-choked I-35 to the Rangers' ballpark here in Arlington, smack-dab between Fort Worth and Dallas.  And it was rush hour, which here in North Texas starts at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon, and ends around 7pm.

In the best of circumstances, it's a three-hour drive between there and here - four with moderately-bad traffic.  Reaching the Fort Worth area during rush hour?  Well, just make sure you have plenty of gas.

If you're an important employee at one of the biggest companies here in the Lone Star State, you might get a chauffeur-driven SUV, but you're still not going to get a police escort.  However... if you're an employee of a popular company in town... then it seems the cops are all too willing to help you out.

Gallo admits that he was speeding fairly recklessly on his way up from Round Rock, near Austin, through the exurban town of Alvarado, on the southern fringes of Fort Worth's sprawl.  He had played in Colorado the night before for the Rangers' minor league team, and had gotten back late to their hometown of Round Rock.  He was asleep at 1:30 yesterday afternoon when he got the call - literally - up to the major leagues, which meant he had to be in Arlington for last night's game, which was scheduled to start a little after 7pm.

Why the Rangers waited so long in the day to call him up is their business.  I don't understand the mechanics of baseball, which is as much of a business as anything these days.  But if Gallo was so important to the team last night, why didn't they put him on a plane?

It's not like either Gallo, with a Major League contract, or the Rangers are hurting for money.  Southwest Airlines as three daily non-stops between 3:10 and 5:00 in the afternoon, costing $231.

I realize that police escorts are fairly standard practice for signature sporting events and buses for prominent teams.  I've seen police escorts on our freeways for the fleet of Dallas Cowboys buses on gamedays here in Arlington.  When we've had big-ticket college events, I've seen tour buses for those teams being escorted by a squadron of motorcycle cops.  But those are rent-a-cops, off-duty officers, hired in advance so on-duty cops don't have to give the appearance of favoritism.  And it's for the entire team, not just one player.

Perhaps it's being generous to allow that the Rangers figured getting Gallo a police escort was a better use of public dollars than Gallo wrecking out at a high speed, and tying up first responder dollars all afternoon.  But how many heart surgeons rushing to the hospital for a critical surgery, for example, get a police escort?  For 40 miles?  That's approximately the distance Gallo was escorted.  According to Google Maps, the trip should take 42 minutes in normal traffic.

As it was, a pop-up thunderstorm delayed the game's start by about an hour.  And Gallo hit a spectacular fifth-inning home run clocked at 110 mph.  So things worked out just fine for him.  However, despite Gallo's homer, the Rangers ended up losing the game.

When it comes to reinforcing the perception that our society's elites just get more special privileges than the rest of us, however, the Rangers lost just a little bit more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Brooklyn's Finntown has Officially Died

Back in the 1970's, my aunt enrolled in a Brooklyn driving school.

A New York City native, and living fairly close to a subway stop, she technically didn't need to drive, but being an independent woman, she figured having a drivers license provides a measure of independence.

Half-way through her first drive with an instructor, she was so exasperated by the experience, she pulled the car over, in the middle of Brooklyn traffic, put it in park, got out, and stalked home - on foot.

I'm sure the instructor was as relieved about my aunt's decision as she was.

My aunt, Helena, passed away yesterday at a memory care facility in Florida, never having gotten a driver's license.

My aunt never married, never had children, never earned a lot of money, and never was what I would call "happy."  Contentedness proved elusive for her.  Yet she had many friends, could be extremely generous, and was loyal to the point of obsession.

A century ago, her childhood neighborhood in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was America's center of Finnish culture.  It was called Finntown, but the number of Finns in Sunset Park was never more than 10,000, which isn't large by New York City's ethnic standards.  New York's Finns tended to be clannish, living within several blocks of the picturesque city park with stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. 

There were at least three Finnish churches; Lutheran, Congregational, and Pentecostal.  They had a large social hall called Imatra, built in 1908; a rambling, rickety wood structure notable for being the first public building in the neighborhood with its own electricity, provided by an on-site generator.  At first Imatra did not allow liquor, but by the time I visited it in the late 80's, about the only thing people frequented in it was its bar.  Yeah, Finns are known for their prodigious consumption of alcohol, and they had several bars in the neighborhood.  And a newspaper, New Yorkin Uutiset, for which Helena's father often wrote short stories.  In Finnish, of course.

My grandfather was one of those Finns who loved his liquor.  In fact, he was one of Finntown's biggest boozers, squandering on alcohol whatever money he and my grandmother, a cleaning lady, earned.  Family life for Helena and my father was utter misery.  The horror of having that kind of person as a father and male figurehead in her family deeply scarred my aunt against the male gender, and I heard her comment frequently about how much she generally disdained men.  That's one reason why she never married.  She was going to prove with her life that she could be happy without a husband.

And she found some solace in hard work, for which even that purportedly egalitarian bastion of capitalism, cosmopolitan Manhattan, was supposed to reward employees regardless of gender.  Yet Helena constantly fought the economic stigma of being the clerk, the secretary, the editor, the legal assistant.  Even when she worked for a powerful female attorney at a prestigious Midtown law firm, just off Park Avenue, both the female attorney and my aunt would commiserate about how both of them didn't receive the same pay for their efforts as men in the same positions.  And Helena's boss would know - her husband was also an attorney, and she knew how much more he earned than she did.

(At least Helena's boss and her husband could mourn how much less female attorneys earn in Manhattan while enjoying their sprawling Central Park West apartment, Pennsylvania country house, and live-in nanny.)

Despite being good at the jobs she held over the years, however much she was paid, Helena's main identity came from her native Finntown, even while the neighborhood changed completely during her lifetime.  As white flight surged through New York after World War II, Helena and her mother, my grandmother, remained committed to Finntown.  When they pooled their money to purchase a better home than what they'd endured during the worst of my grandfather's inebriation, they didn't move out to the suburbs like their Finnish friends were doing.  No, they moved to a bigger apartment one block up the street - the same street on which Helena ended up living about 98% of her 88 years.

My grandfather died before my parents ever met.  An apparent heart attack killed him in the foyer of their new apartment.  My grandmother got home from work first, then Helena.  Then my Dad, who said he literally had to step over his father's corpse to get inside the apartment and close the door.  For quite a while, the three of them stood, silent, looking at the lifeless body of one of Finntown's most incorrigible boozers.  They were relieved, mostly.  Finally, my Dad said aloud, "I guess we need to call somebody to take him away?"

For my aunt, my grandfather's death provided a sort of freedom, but she couldn't escape the shadows and demons with which he'd tortured his family in that neighborhood.  Some people would flee the place where so much pain had been inflicted upon them.  But not Helena.  As much as she loved Finntown culturally, I think the main reason she stayed was so she could somehow try to redeem her awful childhood as the tall, angst-ridden daughter of a hardened alcoholic.

A few years later, my parents got married and set up housekeeping in a much better Brooklyn neighborhood until I was born. Then Dad was transferred Upstate, and we left the city. Mom and Dad spent years trying to cajole Helena and my grandmother to at least move to a better neighborhood, especially since the thought of suburbia made them blanch. 

Mom came to believe that my grandmother was willing to move, but she didn't want to leave Helena.  And Helena was adamant about staying, even as the neighborhood was disintegrating before their very eyes.  Crime became rampant, buildings became vacant, hoodlums moved in, stores on the avenues closed.  Vandalism exploded, and graffiti was everywhere.  The streets were dangerous, even in broad daylight.

One of Helena's single girlfriends moved to Virginia and raved about how beautiful and safe it was.  "Come to Virginia," her friend nagged Helena.  Others were nagging from New Jersey, Long Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Florida.  Even Staten Island.  But no, Helena and my grandmother would insist:  All the Finns can't abandon Finntown.  Things would improve any day in Sunset Park.

Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse.

I remember one afternoon when we were visiting Helena and my grandmother, and other friends were also in their third-floor apartment, when suddenly, shots rang out down the block.  We all fell to the floor, except my elderly grandmother, who after years of scrubbing floors on her hands and knees, could no longer get down on her hands and knees.  The gunshots kept coming, and police car sirens screamed and whooped.  Before long, the entire block was full of cop cars, people shouting; pandemonium.  My grandmother sat in her chair, looking at all of us on the floor, listening to the shoot-out outside, her face in her hands, laughing with embarrassment at the absurdity of it all.

Then the church which Helena had faithfully attended since she was born closed. Its pastor and his wife, dear friends of Helena and our family, moved to Florida to minister to the legions of Brooklyn Finns who'd resettled down in the Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, and Boynton Beach area.  It seemed as if all of my family's friends were encouraging Helena and my grandmother to escape Sunset Park while they still could.  But they didn't.

One day, while at her job in Manhattan, my aunt received a call from the police back in Brooklyn.  Apparently a gunshot had gone through the living room window of their apartment, and would she come home to let the cops inside, so they could retrieve the bullet for their investigation?

I remember Helena found particular encouragement in the fact that, while the city was going to you-know-what-in-a-handbasket, the police still wanted to follow up on that one bullet.  See?  Things can't be all that bad, right?

Up the block, in Sunset Park itself, thugs literally bombed the Olympic-sized swimming pool, and the cash-starved city left it in shambles for years, unable to fix it.  Mass transit, upon which my aunt and grandmother relied almost exclusively, since Helena refused to get a drivers license, became ridiculously dangerous, dirty, and unreliable.  Yet they stayed put.

Things got so bad, when my grandmother had an aneurysm and fell backwards down a flight of stairs in their apartment building, it took Helena about half an hour, frantically scanning the yellow pages, to find an ambulance company willing to enter their neighborhood after dark, before the days of 9-1-1.

After my grandmother's death, we again tried to convince Helena to at least move to a better neighborhood in the city, if she didn't want to leave it entirely.  Yet she refused.  She had plenty of excuses:  Sunset Park was so crime-ridden, she couldn't get anything if she tried to sell her apartment.  If she left Finntown, who'd be left to carry on the Finnishness of the place?  Anyplace else, she'd have to learn to drive, and she didn't want to try that again.  Things had to get better; how much worse could they get? 

But it wasn't optimism that fueled her determination to say.  I believe it was an overwhelming urge to somehow redeem her awful childhood.

Thankfully, Helena was never mugged, raped, or even physically threatened.  Her apartment was never burglarized.  As one of the few white women left in the neighborhood, and an exceptionally tall one at that, I think Helena came to relish her distinguishing presence on the sidewalks, the bus, and at the subway station.  She came to represent resistance, and tenacity despite the neighborhood's stunning decline.  She had grit, she was strong, and she wasn't going to let a bunch of punks and welfare cheats drive her from her home.

And it certainly seemed like there were a lot of welfare cheats.  Young men sat on brownstone stoops all day long, ogling their personal luxury cars parked at the curb, obtained through no legal means.  When Helena went shopping at the only grocery store left in the neighborhood - a filthy den of rotting produce and past-sell-by-date staples - she was often the only customer not paying with food stamps.  Or purchasing copious amounts of beer and cigarettes.

She'd yell at the neighbors on her block who were doing and selling drugs.  She wasn't scared of the dealers; she was indignant towards them.  She'd scream out her third-floor windows at Latinos playing their salsa music too loudly.  She'd walk up to parents on the sidewalk whose kids were using foul language, and she'd angrily critique their lax parenting.  Sure, some of the newbies in the 'hood who grew accustomed to Helena's rants would curse her to her face, but it only fueled her defiance.

And plenty more people pretty much left her alone.

Indeed, except for some chatty neighbors in her apartment building, my aunt was soon very alone in her neighborhood.  She'd visit dear friends who'd moved elsewhere in Brooklyn, and she had her work in Manhattan, but on her block, she was the last holdout.  The last Finn.  A few elderly Finns remained scattered around the old Finntown, but the good old days when Finns didn't need to speak or write any English to flourish in the neighborhood were long gone.

As best as I know, today, there are approximately five - maybe six - Finns left in Sunset Park and the original Finntown.  Down from 10,000 at their peak.  The handful who remain keep to themselves, and were never as involved in New York's Finnish cultural community as Helena was.  They live on 41st Street, between 7th and 8th avenues, across the street from a revitalized Sunset Park, and amidst a boom of Chinese immigrants that has driven housing prices through the roof.  Indeed, Helena enjoyed a bit of validation for her years of holding out, as the Chinese practically invaded the crumbling shell of her neighborhood, beginning in the 1990's.  Storefronts that had been empty for decades were re-opened.  Restaurants moved in.  Decrepit vacant buildings were torn down and shiny, modernistic, ugly new ones - tall ones! - were erected in their place. 

On Helena's block, the Chinese crammed into every house, even living in illegal basement apartments.  Helena would stand at her third-floor windows every morning, marveling at the swarms of Chinese who would emerge from every doorway and march towards the subway station.  That many people hadn't gone to work on her block in a generation.  She was pleased to see such industriousness, even though she knew that many of those poor souls were in Brooklyn illegally, having sold themselves to human traffickers who were literally holding each of them for tens of thousands of dollars in ransom.  Money Helena's new neighbors faced years of repaying, many working long hours in virtually sweatshop conditions.

When she began to develop dementia several years ago, my family finally convinced her to move to a retirement center in Florida.  She sold her 700-square-foot apartment for $300,000, a staggering sum for her, but still a pittance compared with similar apartments in far better neighborhoods in trendier parts of the city (and not quite half what similar apartments are selling for today, just a few years later).

Her death yesterday represents dementia's continued toll on my family, after my Dad's passing from Alzheimer's last fall.  Thinking back on all of the friendships both Dad and Helena maintained from their childhood days, growing up in Brooklyn, nearly all of those friends have died from some sort of memory-related illness as well.

One of the responsibilities Helena assumed for herself back in the old Finntown was being a nurse for older Finns who had remained, like her.  And in Florida, as her mind was taken from her, Helena was visited by younger friends who'd long ago moved from Finntown to Florida.  It wasn't the most ideal set-up; we'd asked Helena if she wanted to relocate closer to family in Michigan or Texas, but she chose Florida, because that's where most of her Finntown friends were now.

Throughout her entire life, Helena obsessed over her Finnish roots far more than the rest of us in her small family have.  But it wasn't just her Finnish roots that gave Helena her identity.  She seemed driven by a desire to re-craft for herself a life that could suffocate all of those painful childhood years as the daughter of a Finnish alcoholic.

Sunset Park's dismal decay during the worst years of New York City's urban blight couldn't shift Helena's focus.  The crime, the graffiti, the stolen, stripped cars junked on the avenues, the empty stores, the vandalized subway stations couldn't force her to abandon an intention I doubt she herself fully understood.  It was as if she'd already become hardened to the hardness of life in a ghetto.  She saw what was happening, but instead of making her flee, it made her more fierce in her resolve to fight.

Was it foolishness on her part?  Some would say it was.  Was it unrealistic?  Without knowing if Helena really knew why she refused to move away, it's hard to tell if she found any measure of peace by staying.  It certainly never looked to the rest of us like she did.

Of one thing we can be certain, however:  My aunt hated giving up.  Yes, she gave up on driving - car, instructor, and all.  But that was about it.

Yesterday evening, as her caregivers were putting her to bed, she stopped breathing, and one of them gently jostled her.  "Helena!"  She called out in alarm, "You've stopped breathing!"

Reportedly, Helena's eyes briefly opened, and she shot the caregiver one of her trademark cold, hard glares.  And then she closed her eyes, and softly took one final breath.

She always did like having the last word.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Doesn't Individual Agency Still Matter?

Have you heard about it yet?

It's the new non-fiction book by J.D. Vance about why poor white people seem disproportionately enamored by Donald Trump's candidacy for president.  Entitled Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, it's become an instant best-seller and a topic of conversation across several prominent conservative websites.

And while I haven't read the book, I'm struck by how it helps to represent the eagerness with which a certain segment of American conservatism is trying to figure out the hold somebody like Trump has secured across a vast stretch of of a mostly white, mostly less educated, mostly poorer cross-section of the electorate.

And it's not just the legions of faceless, nameless middle Americans who are gushing over Trump.  Evangelical blue-chips like Focus on the Family's James Dobson are eroding their credibility by championing the billionaire developer.  They're twisting Scripture and invoking platitudes about a religious Americanism that brazenly defy orthodox theology.  Churchgoers across the country are lapping it up, fretting amongst themselves about what is going to happen to our country if people don't overlook Trump's glaring flaws and vote for him anyway.  And people like me who are voting third party this year?  Many conservatives who've reluctantly decided for Trump say we're throwing away our vote, and saying we're part of the Hillary problem.

Actually, if Democrats weren't so busy fighting amongst themselves, they would see that all of this hand-wringing by Republicans actually spells deeper trouble for Hillary than whether or not the Russians helped expose the DNC's obstructionism towards Bernie Sanders.  These past eight years have not been kind to this country socially and economically.  More single women are raising families than ever before.  Wages for all but the One Percenters have been stagnant.  Even with a black man in the White House, racism seems worse now than when the Obamas first moved onto Pennsylvania Avenue.  The wars started by George Bush and his neo-cons have spiraled out of control and out across the Middle East like Whirling Dervishes.  Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - of all things - at the start of his presidency, Obama has instead presided over an incessant drumbeat of terrorism and bloodshed.

People are afraid.  Americans are watching their paychecks purchase less and less, and we're watching Europe being bombed by disgruntled Muslims.  Our government is currently fixated on existential topics such as men using the women's restroom, while voters want to see genuine progress on bread-and-butter issues such as the economy and national security.  It doesn't matter that Trump has no concrete plans for how he's going to strategically and effectively address the problems he clearly can identify.  Shucks, we all know what the problems are.  Yet both Trump and Hillary seem more preoccupied with name recognition than policy creation.

Which is where Vance, the author, chimes in.

One of the reasons Vance says he wrote his book is to provide a bit of a kick to the American electorate's rear end.  In one of the more provocative interviews he's given during his book's publicity tour, Vance is asked by's Rod Dreher if voters will even tolerate being told that many of their problems aren't the fault of their own government:

"We’re no longer a country that believes in human [individual]agency... To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives.  Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help.  And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose."

In other words, our elections have turned into one big "look what you've done against me" and "what can you do for me?" parody of self-reliance that actually perpetuates the notion that, contrary to what many conservatives say they believe, the government holds the key to a better life.

So we get really afraid when we consider that people like Hillary could be at the helm of the entity that supposedly influences our lives the most.  And that fear makes people like Trump practically salvific in terms of his audacity to suggest that, first, America is a decrepit morass of dysfunction (which, as the world's largest economy, we're obviously not - yet, anyway); and second, that all it will take is one loud-mouth CEO to build walls and renegotiate contracts, diplomacy and civil rights be damned.

Of course, other countries have had leaders like that in the past, and what usually ends up happening is some sort of upheaval, when the ordinary people realize that their individual liberties have become diluted by the person they hoped would do the opposite.

When it comes to the concept of "individual agency," that scenario is what our elections are supposed to help us avoid.

(That's another reason I'm voting Third Party.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Prayer of Christ-Loving Voters

Dear Lord, our Creator, God

We come to You as Your children, living in this time and place in Your universe, right now, in the United States, facing yet another election season, with difficult choices to make. 

Perhaps many of Your faithful children have already been approaching Your throne of mercy to find grace to help our need for direction, solace, and encouragement.  If we are acting on what we believe, You have received many prayers such as this from us, as we realize that our only hope is in You.

Yet, considering the attitudes many of us take, at least in the public square, it doesn't seem like we're behaving like people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You.  And maybe that's because we're not coming to You with our concerns for our nation as You invite us to.  You tell us in Your Word that You delight to hear our pleas, because our prayers indicate our dependence upon You, and remind us that You alone can work for our good and Your glory.  We may be Your agents of change upon this planet, but the extent to which we can represent Your change is based on the degree to which we allow Your Holy Spirit to reveal Your truths to us, and produce Your desired fruit in each of our hearts and lives:

Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness.  Gentleness.  Self-control.

Perhaps it's because we're Americans, proud citizens of a nation with a history of self reliance and individualism, that we often forget to let You lead us.  We invoke Your name in our pledges and civic pageantry, but then we often seek to work out our own ways for our own ends, with Your truths as a metric of mortal morality instead of the very source of eternal life.  We believe what we want to believe, we listen to whomever we want to listen, we fear what mortals tell us to fear, and we enjoy what mortals tell us to enjoy.

We forget that prosperity is not guaranteed simply by hard work.  We forget that to whom much is given, much is required.  We don't love our neighbors nearly as much as we love ourselves.  And often, it doesn't seem as though we love You more than we love ourselves.

We confess that sin can seem relative to us.  We confess that Your holy standards aren't necessarily ours.  We confess that with the easy hype and rabid rhetoric which consumes our politics, it's simpler to trust in platitudes and promises made by those who want our vote, rather than Your promise that walking Your path of life isn't going to be easy.  The more we read Your Word, we learn of the many warnings You give those who would follow You; warnings of oppression by people who don't love You; warnings against being gullible towards people who say they love You, but don't; warnings about being seduced by the pleasures of this world that are only temporary.

Indeed, perhaps it's because we're Americans, and proud of our democratic heritage, we think we can vote our way out of problems, peril, poverty, or persecution.  Yet You tell us that affliction is part of the call for people who claim Your holy Son, Jesus Christ, as their Savior.  We tend to balk at things that make us uncomfortable, or may even kill us, yet Christ took sin itself on His shoulders for Your people.  He knew agony that we will never know, thanks entirely to Your mercy, and Your promise to never give Your people what we deserve because of our sins, failings, shortcomings, and hardened hearts.

We thank You for calling us to Yourself.  We thank you that You have given us the promise of eternal life in Heaven with You.  We thank You for the promise of Your Holy Spirit to be here with each of us, now, in real time, to give us comfort and guidance.  Thank You that when we avail ourselves of Your holy resources, You provide what we need, when we need it, and in the amount that we need.  Please help us to realize that what You provide might not match what we expect, and might not come when we expect it.  Nevertheless, please help us remember that Your grace does not expire, or run out.  Thank you that Your love for us will never end.

Yet here on this Earth that You have created, many other things will end.  Peace eventually ends, as do wars.  Wealth is seldom permanent.  Nations rise and fall.  Political parties come and go.  Companies are launched and go bankrupt.  Technology is invented and becomes obsolete.  Illnesses come and go.  You even tell us in Your Word that You alone enthrone kings, and You dethrone them.  So please remind us, again, Lord, that Your love for us will never end.  Spare us, O Lord, from despairing for things that have never been designed to last.  And strengthen us, O Lord, to be advocates for those things that will last forever.

Your name, O Lord, will last forever.  Your Love, O Lord, will last forever.  Your glory, O Lord, will last forever.  Even if we can't see it now, it exists as surely and as strong as it ever has.  Even more so than anything any political party or politician could ever hope to achieve for themselves, or for our country.

So help us to remain strong in You, dear Lord.  Help us not to waiver in temptation.  Help us not to become impatient.  Since we cannot possibly know what You have planned for our country, help us to remain confident in what we do know:  That You want us to remain faithful to You.

And as we are faithful to You, O holy Father, You will be to us ever more faithful, since although it is not in our nature to be faithful, yet faithfulness is part of Your character.  And You will deliver us in Your time.  You will be merciful to us.  May people around us see us hope in You, and be themselves convicted and transformed by Your Holy Spirit.  Despite the challenges facing us individually and as a nation, help us to be steadfast in You, and You alone, being salt and light, and doing the religion You describe as being pure and faultless:  Caring for the disenfranchised, and keeping ourselves from evil.

May this be so, dear Lord, even now, even this election season, and through whatever comes, through Your sovereign providence, we pray:

In the holy, righteous, everlasting name of Your resurrected Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trumpless Cruz Got This One Right

Can you hear them?

The howls coming from Cleveland, Ohio, and the legions of Republican parrot-heads dithering over Ted Cruz's non-endorsement of Donald Trump at their convention last night.

It's pretty ugly when conservatives boo somebody encouraging them to "vote their conscience."

Hey, everybody else is caving in and mortgaging their integrity to support Trump, the most bizarre candidate the GOP has ever fronted for our presidency.  Why can't Cruz?  After all, in many respects, Cruz is Trump-light, especially when it comes to ego, hyperbole, and schoolyard dust-ups.

Why is he getting so holier-than-thou now, especially since even Indiana's venerable Mike Pence has agreed to butler Trump in the White House?

Well, my friends, if you don't believe the religious, Scriptural reasons for why people who vehemently disagree with Trump shouldn't feel compelled to vote for him anyway, consider this.  It's something your parents probably told you when you were a kid.  If you are a parent, it's probably something you've told your kids.  And it directly applies to politics.

"It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."


Even in politics, it isn't whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

How do Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump play the game?  And it really is a game to each of them, isn't it?  Granted, the American presidency involves a lot more than a kiddie league scrimmage, or even a major league rivalry.  Yet the principle still applies, doesn't it?  Especially since so much more is at stake?

Indeed, there's a bigger picture here than who will occupy the Oval Office during the next four years.  This election is bigger than political parties.  It's about whether integrity still matters.  It's about whether we're serious about putting somebody in the White House who doesn't see the presidency as a vanity play.

And as a voting American, you get to affirm your convictions.  Do you believe the person who, euphemistically speaking, would be the "leader of the free world," should be accountable to somebody other than themselves, or are you merely a lackey in their quest for power?

This election really isn't any more complicated than that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Milo Tweets May Absolve Cake Bakers

Before yesterday, I'd never heard of Leslie Jones, or Milo.

I'd heard a new Ghostbusters movie was out, but that's about it.

Well, Leslie Jones is an actress who stars in the new Ghostbusters.  And Milo is a right-wing, flaming gay writer for the ultra-conservative Breitbart website.  And for the record, since this will become pertinent shortly, Jones is black, and Milo is white.

And yes, you read that right about Milo's sexuality and politics:  His name is Milo Yiannopoulos, and he's a Roman Catholic, pearls-and-rhinestones-wearing, loud-and-proud homosexual activist who hates Islam, advocates against ultra-feminism, and embraces the Republican party.  And he's not just a Log Cabin Republican, with a button-down Oxford dress shirt over a rainbow tank top.  Milo flaunts his sexuality in virtually everything he does, and writes.

And yes, he writes passionately about his distinctly unique worldview.  It's a worldview not unlike Donald Trump's, to whom Milo refers saucily as "Daddy."  Blatantly narcissistic, entirely unconcerned with how he might offend others, and convinced (or trying to sound convinced) of his own innate legitimacy.

Consider just a brief portion of his now-infamous Ghostbusters review, which he brazenly entitled "Teenage Boys With T---."

"I went into Ghostbusters with a clear and impartial mindset, like some tall, slim, and devastatingly handsome statue of justice.  (But no blindfold. It would be a crime to cover up these eyes.)  Ugh, I don’t know what to tell you.  Ghostbusters is terrible.  It’s more obvious than the reading on an EKG-meter in Zuul’s bedroom... The beloved franchise from our childhood with a stake driven through its heart, head chopped off, body burned and buried at a crossroads... Ghostbusters, the film acting as standard bearer for the social justice left, is full of female characters that are simply stand-ins for men plus a black character worthy of a minstrel show..."

It gets raunchier, but you get the point.  Indeed, this is not your father's GOP fanboy.  Conventional liberals consider Milo a conundrum at best, and a turncoat at worst.  How could a guy who stereotypes say should be left-wing actually be so right-wing?  Talk about radical.

For her part, Jones is a comedienne who plays on NBC's Saturday Night Live, and has worked her way up through the entertainment industry moonlighting in occupations as various as a UPS driver, justice of the peace, and an interpreter, even though she only speaks one language.

And as a black woman earning a living as a comedienne, Jones has adopted a particularly stilted persona on the social media website Twitter, posting such bombastic tweets as the following:

She's posted more stuff like that, but you get the idea.

So anyway, you put two people like Milo and Jones on the same website, and let them duke it out with tweets, and you can imagine the stuff that gets posted online for all the world to see.

But then, a few days ago, Jones cried foul, and Milo's Twitter account got deactivated.  And many pundits within the liberal media industry are elated.  One more conservative voice silenced, and on the politically-correct Twitter to boot.

After all, Twitter is a for-profit company, not a public utility or a branch of the government.  It can set its own policies for how its customers use its product, and it can do what it wants with its customer's accounts.  Violate the user agreements on any social media platform, and the company owning that platform can revoke your privileges.

As popular and ubiquitous as many social media platforms have become, a lot of us forget virtually all of them are privately-owned and controlled.  And apparently, in this case, Twitter's user agreement states that it will not tolerate the "targeted abuse of individuals" on its platform.

For its part, as a proud provocateur even before Milo came along, Breitbart has wasted no time plastering its website with articles seething with rage at Twitter's treatment of its rising star, Milo, and complaints of censorship.  It's almost beside the point that Milo's tweets (which we can't see anymore, since his account has been deactivated) were directed at one person, Jones, whereas in many of the racist-sounding tweets chronicled by Breitbart, Jones rarely calls out any one individual for her brand of excoriating humor.

Shades of difference, perhaps, but it looks like there's enough of a difference for Twitter to feel justified in its banning of Milo, without a similar action against Jones.  And if that's how they want to parse their user agreement, I guess that's Twitter's call.  At least, unless Breitbart wants to sue.

Yet, doesn't the duplicity already seem obvious here?  Sure, there are laws against defamation of character, which include libel and slander.  But is what a movie reviewer considers a good review of a bad movie defamation?  And can what a professional comedienne considers humor be defamation?

That would be for a court to decide.  Meanwhile, it sure appears as though for all of its sanctimonious lip service to free speech, plurality, and progressivism, the arch defenders of political correctness are whittling away the First Amendment whenever what's said under the First Amendment doesn't suit their ideology.

Remember when so many Americans burned flags during raucous protests around the country?  Many conservatives wanted to ban flag-burning, considering the act a despicable lack of patriotism.  Yet isn't flag-burning actually a robust (albeit misguided) demonstration of the vitality of the First Amendment, upon which our patriotism is based?

Sure, a person who burns the flag is saying more about their personal lack of appreciation for the entirety of what our flag represents.  And it also underscores how little the demonstrator knows about how good they have it in this country... such as having the very right to desecrate one of America's basic symbols.

At this point, you may be wondering:  What does flag-burning have to do with Twitter's deactivation of Milo's account, which is reported to be permanent?  His account has been temporarily deactivated twice before, a history which is fueling the debate over Twitter's actions, which look like an egregious violation of free speech.  Legally, since it remains unclear if Milo's tweets are legally defamation of character, don't we have to give him the benefit of the doubt?

And if we don't, and we say that private enterprise can self-police the activities they deem appropriate with their product, do you see what that means?

If Twitter can censor Milo, why can't cake bakers respectfully decline business that doesn't honor their religion?  (Even if progressivism and its intolerant tolerance is becoming its own religion these days.)  What about photographers who say their faith prevents them from photographing a gay wedding?

"Hmmm...!"  Right?

I'm not sure what Milo believes about gay marriage, except some of the things he's written seem to indicate that he's not entirely convinced gay marriage is essential for homosexuals to feel like a legitimate part of American society.

Ironically for Milo, this third - and apparently final - account deactivation is the latest in a string of Twitter-involved conflict in his life.  Last year, at an event he was headlining in Washington DC, a bomb threat was tweeted in and the FBI evacuated the venue, only to find no bombs.

It doesn't appear as though Twitter deactivated the account of the bomb threat tweeter.  Instead, the account was deleted by its user hours after they'd tweeted their threat.

Queries for Christ-Loving Voters

[God] removes kings and establishes kings...  Daniel 2:21

By [God], kings reign...  Proverbs 8:15

The authorities that exist have been appointed by God.  Romans 13:1

Far be it from me to tell you how to vote.

As far as any of us knows, Americans still live in at least a semblance of a democracy, so we have the right to vote for whomever we like.  Yet this particular presidential election year, for almost all of us, the person for whom we'll vote has become perhaps the most contentious presidential decision of our lifetime.

How did we get to this point in our country?

How many die-hard Democrats and Republicans truly like and endorse their respective party's presidential candidate?

How many partisan voters are simply going along with their respective party's marching orders, convinced that at least their opposing candidate has to be the worst option?

And true, while there are some differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how can anybody really argue that those differences aren't merely various shades of black?

How can America's voters of any party be able to identify what needs to change in our country, yet support either Hillary or Trump?

Why do we continue to let our mainstream media tell us that Hillary and Trump are our only two choices?

Why do we perpetuate the fallacy that following Christ is a society's mainstream thing to do anyway?

Why do liberals consider Hillary a Democrat, considering the types of people who have funded her family "charity" to the tune of billions of ill-gotten-dollars?

Why do evangelicals continue to insist that God is a Republican, considering the character of this year's Republican candidate?

Consider this poetic description of God's sovereign power over our affairs, from Psalm 18, written by King David:

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies...

With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.  For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down... 

[God] trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great... 

You delivered me from strife with the people; you made me the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.  As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me; foreigners came cringing to me...

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation - the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, who delivered me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you rescued me from the man of violence. 

According to this psalm, Who has the right to take vengeance?  Do we voters?  Does Trump, or Hillary, or any other politician?  Or does God?  Note that even King David credits God with avenging the wrongs done to the nation of Israel.  And what does God value?  Our submission to Him, mercy, purity, humility, gentleness... even in a time of war.

How much do you think the hedonistic mindset of conventional politics, nostalgic patriotism, and brittle ethnocentrism have warped the perspective with which we Christ-followers should be voting?