Wednesday, June 29, 2016

SCOTUS Plays Doctor with Health


Planned Parenthood says clinics that provide abortions are all about women's health.  So can't we assume that the person who performs an abortion procedure is supposed to be a medical doctor?

After all, since pro-choicers allege that Roe v. Wade prevents women from having back-alley butchers cutting away on them, doesn't that mean the Constitutional "right" to get an abortion puts medical doctors in charge of the procedure?

Apparently not.  At least, not according to the Supreme Court, which ruled Monday that Texas cannot force abortion practitioners to have hospital admitting privileges.

Would you want a doctor working on your most private of parts to not have hospital admitting privileges?  Whether it's an abortion, or a colonoscopy, or something else you can't simply put a band-aid on?

Turns out, in most states, abortions can legally be performed by somebody who isn't a medical doctor.  According to a major abortion advocacy site, "abortion has become the most common - and safest - outpatient surgery in the United States."  But it can be performed by a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner.  A certified midwife can also perform abortions.

Maybe that's one reason it's so common - just about anybody can perform one, apparently.

Doesn't it sound like having an abortion is akin to having a splinter removed from your thumb?  Why all this louder noise about "health" from Planned Parenthood?

Of course, having hospital admitting privileges doesn't guarantee that a doctor never makes mistakes.  Yet having admitting privileges provides a doctor a greater degree of accountability - not to mention emergency accessibility - that must be better for patient care than not having them.

For the purposes of this discussion, we'll avoid pointing out the obvious:  That while abortion may be considered "safe" for the mother, it's absolutely lethal for the unborn baby.  Abortion is all about convenience for the mother, and most likely, the father.  Pro-choice folks argue it's about health, but hey; if a nurse practitioner without hospital admitting privileges can legally perform an abortion, who are we kidding when it comes to health?

Besides, Texas' HB2 wasn't outlawing abortion.  It was merely saying that as a medical procedure, abortion should be better managed in terms of contingency care factors.

So here we are, after a SCOTUS decision that places Constitutional "protections" for access to abortions ahead of general health.  According to the majority of justices, since abortion is already a Constitutional "right," creating impediments to accessing that right is unConstitutional, no matter how logical that "impediment" might be.

Of course, at this point, we also need to ignore the reality that, while abortion is a Constitutional right, it's a lopsided one.  After all, abortion only benefits the person arguing for it.  Not exactly fair, is it, since the victim of abortion has no voice in the matter.

So maybe women considering an abortion don't care as much about their health as pro-choicers say they do.  Granted, most women who have an abortion never need hospitalization, but again, if somebody was going to be prodding and sucking out parts of my innards, I'd want to scope out their medical pedigree first!  Why should women expect anything less?

Not that access to healthcare is a Constitutional right, as some argued during the Obamacare fiasco, but should SCOTUS be deciding against access to healthcare?

That's what Monday decision effectively does.  Maybe it means that abortions themselves are more accessible, but are they being performed by a reputable doctor?  Why the ambivalence on the part of pro-choicers when it comes to "reputable" doctors?  After all, hospitals don't give admitting privileges to disreputable medical practitioners.

And speaking of Constitutional "protections," let's talk about female genital mutilation.  According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation is considered a violation of human rights.  Yet it is also considered a religious practice, primarily in more primitive Muslim cultures across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.  Based on ancient principles of female subjugation, genital mutilation predates Islam, but it has been popularly perpetuated among Islamic cultures that inordinately emphasize chastity and virtue - at least among women.

Currently, the practice is illegal in the United States, and rightfully so.  It's even illegal to transport a young girl from the United States for the purpose of performing the procedure on her in another country.  Yet in the spirit of Islamic beneficence with which America's PC police are operating, how much longer do you think it will be before somebody sues to preserve their religious right to mutilate a female member of their family?

According to the SCOTUS ruling on Monday, health is not as important as Constitutional rights, which ostensibly includes religious rights. 

Is that a precedent our highest court really wanted to make?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Born-Again Trump, or GOP Religiosity?

Whether you like Donald Trump or not, we can all agree:  Trump always speaks his mind.

Trump has built an improbable march to the Oval Office on bluntness, hubris, hyperbole, and pugnacious political incorrectness.

Yet when it comes to what evangelical Christ-followers believe to be one of the most defining moments of one's faith, Trump appears to be letting a celebrity Christian do the talking for him.

Odd, don't you think?

In this case, it's Focus on the Family founder James Dobson who has outed Trump as a born-again Christian.  During Trump's flirtations with evangelicals in New York City last week, Dobson told Pennsylvania pastor and blogger Michael Anthony that Trump had recently entered "a relationship with Christ" that now makes him "a baby Christian."

According to Dobson, his bombshell news is second-hand information from the person who claims to have led Trump to salvation, an event Dobson said is relatively recent.  Yet Dobson wouldn't reveal his source, his source has yet to independently come forward and confirm Dobson's assertion, and neither Trump nor his campaign have confirmed it.

On the one hand, it would be nice if Trump is actually digesting his new salvation in a reverent manner, refusing to sensationalize it for political gain.  If that is the case, it's certainly not the Trump style we've all come to recognize, and it would be a welcome departure from his usual campaign bombast. 

Indeed, Dobson went on to cajole evangelical voters into cutting Trump "some slack" in our expectations of a quick change in Trump's demeanor and language.  "He didn't grow up like we did," Dobson explains, regarding the churchy attitudes and protocols that usually suffice in defining Christianity.

Although... anybody half-way familiar with Trump's biography knows the Trump family were devout Presbyterians in Queens, and that the Donald attended Manhattan's Marble Collegiate Church for years.  Marble Collegiate was the home of Norman Vincent Peale, the "power of positive thinking" guru, whose followers included the Crystal Cathedral's "possibility thinking" marketer Robert Schuller.

If Dobson is correct, it would be great news that Trump has indeed repented of his sins (something he's previous stated he saw no need to do); acknowledged his need of a Savior; agreed that no good works of his can get him into Heaven; accepted Christ's death, burial, and resurrection on his behalf as the sole atonement for his sins; and has received the Holy Spirit into his heart and life.  And with Trump, as it is with any of us who come to Christ, it is completely understandable that the full impact and implications of his salvation won't be genuinely understood or demonstrated within days - or months, or even years - of his conversion.

Expecting an instant about-face from the xenophobia, ebullient immorality, pro-life ambivalence, religious obstructionism, and sexism of Trump's campaign persona would indeed be miraculous, but not entirely realistic, even for the most common of converts, let alone the deeply narcissistic, like Trump.

After all, sanctification is the process by which our faith is worked out in our lives, and although it starts the moment we're converted (what evangelicals call "saved"), sanctification is rarely a smooth and seamless process.  It involves an often-grueling journey God calls "discipleship," which according to Dobson, has only begun for Trump.

Nevertheless, while I'm willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, at least at this point, what really obfuscates this whole story is the eagerness with which Dobson and other evangelicals, particularly Ralph Reed, so readily presume Trump's conversion to be authentic, while they continue to deny claims to Christian faith by Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.

Even more than Dobson, Reed is being blatantly hypocritical on this subject.

Trump "made it abundantly clear, 'I don't know the Bible as well as you do, I'm not a theologian, but I'm a Christian,'" according to Reed, as quoted by CNN. "He talked about his children and how he raised his children, moral values, don't smoke, don't drink, don't do drugs.  It's not really our job to judge other peoples' spiritual journey.  Just because they're not in the same place we are, we accept him for who he is now."

Okay, so now morality is a key to born-again authenticity?  Isn't that works-based salvation?  And how many born-again Christians actually do drink alcohol, and smoke?  Cigars are very fashionable within many hipster church circles these days.  What kind of born-again litmus test is that?

Yet Reed truly blows his credibility with his "judging other peoples' spiritual journey' line.  Seriously?  That's exactly what he and dozens of other evangelical celebrities have been doing for years with the professed faith of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, our current president, and many other Democrats.

We accept them in faith for who they are right now?  Seriously, Reed?  Do you really believe that?  Then why can't the Democrats you've been vilifying for years not also be born-again; just with flaws we think are pretty big?

Frankly, I don't believe that either Clinton, or Obama, or Trump are born-again.  I've been praying for their salvation for years, but if we can discern a person's heart condition in relation to Christ by their fruit, the jury is still out on all of these politicians.  And frankly, if Reed's salvation is works-based, I guess the jury is out on his as well.

None of us knows the mind of God, and only God knows the people who truly follow Him and love Him.  Some self-professing Christians may put on an excellent show of piety for us, all the while never fully confessing Christ as their Savior.  Others may live what appear to be exceedingly sloppy spiritual lives (such as King David, remember?) yet be people "after God's own heart."  It's like Christ in the temple, watching people give their offerings, and commending the widow's mite as being more valuable than all the rest.  We simply don't know the deep condition of anybody else's heart.

So not only is it too early to gauge whether Trump really is born-again or not, I'm in no hurry to even discern whether or not his personality and attitude are navigating the sea-change that would be indicative of desiring to please our Savior.  I will continue to pray for his salvation, at least until he publicly comes out and confirms Dobson's outing of his faith.  And I will continue to pray for the Clintons, Obama (I don't know enough about his wife), and even Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, I remain convinced that it is disingenuous for our evangelical celebrities to continue presuming that God is a card-carrying Republican in the way they fawn over GOP'ers while marginalizing Democrats.  While I admit that I don't see how a politician can enthusiastically advocate for things like abortion while also being a Christ-honoring disciple of His, I at least have the sense to realize that genuine Christ-followers can vote Democratic without giving up their faith.

And it smacks of heresy, if you think about it, for people like Dobson and Reed to make a political spectacle out of the holy miracle by which Christ can metaphorically turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.  Belief in Christ as Savior is not an act of convenience or gamesmanship.  Nor is it an appropriate topic of gossip, which is basically what Dobson is doing, since the convert in question hasn't made their own profession public.

Then, too, could it be that in his caution with broadcasting his literal change of heart, Trump is better honoring Christ in this election year than the folks who are broadcasting his testimony for him?

Update 6/29/16:  FYI: Adding insult to injury, James Dobson is now recanting his story about Trump's conversion, admitting it was the notoriously heretical Paula White who claims to have led The Donald to Christ. What is it about Trump that is turning so many admired evangelical celebrities into clanging gongs?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why Focus on the Guns?

I'm not the NRA.

So maybe I can help.

I don't own a gun, don't want to own a gun, and don't see a reason for me to own a gun.

I've only ever fired a pellet gun and a BB gun in my entire life.  I don't know if target shooting would be a fun hobby or not, although I must say that my one shot with the BB gun, fired in a River Vale, New Jersey backyard years ago, hit a beer can!

I remember even my impossible-to-impress brother being impressed, however briefly!

I have friends who conceal-carry, and frankly, I don't feel safer around them, or more vulnerable to something dangerous.  They're packing heat; I'm not.  So what?  Granted, none of my friends who have guns act foolishly with them, so why should I be concerned about their having a gun on their person?

I was not brought up around guns, my parents never owned guns, and our Mom didn't even like my brother and me playing with toy guns.  Guns were for soldiers, cops, and hunters - and none of us were any of those.

Suffice it to say that I'm not a big-time fan of guns.

Nevertheless, as our nation convulses each time there's a mass shooting, and louder and louder calls for gun control consume the political narrative, I can't help but wonder:  what would gun control achieve?

What is gun control, anyway?

If it's a catch-all phrase for anti-gun laws, look at Chicago.  They have some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, yet the Windy City is being riddled with bullets nearly every weekend.  The media doesn't even cover the violence much anymore, it's become so common.  If anything, Chicago's violence proves that gun control legislation doesn't fix anything, because criminals and thugs by definition don't abide by laws in the first place.  They have their weaponry - and have access to as much as they want - regardless of gun laws.

Besides, it's already against the law to murder somebody, yet people still commit murder.  If somebody has no regard for the life of somebody else, do gun control laws really matter?  There is such a thing as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.

And speaking of murder, is it inadequate gun laws in America that are the problem?  Or does America's disproportionately high murder rate owe itself to more than guns?

The United States has a per capita murder rate of 3.9, which is much higher than the rates for other high-gun-ownership countries, such as Switzerland (0.5), Serbia (1.3), or Canada (1.4).

Why the disparity?  Why is America a much more murderous country?

Seems to me Americans simply want to kill each other more than people do who live in other countries, even countries with easy access to guns.  Is that the fault of guns?  Or maybe that we're a much more fearful, dissatisfied, spiteful, or hateful country?

Now, remember:  I'm no gun enthusiast.  Frankly, I don't understand why people need to own some of the guns available on the open market.  It seems like many guns - particularly assault rifles - have a far greater capacity to fire way more bullets than would ever be needed to fend off a burglar, a rapist, or even a murderer.

A lot of gun owners like to champion a heroic interpretation of the Second Amendment - and its language about militias - to justify their ownership of such fearsome weaponry.  However, these patriots seem to forget that if our government were to declare martial law against us, they've got tanks, RPGs, warplanes, and bombs, which likely don't give even the most rapid-fire machine gun a fighting chance.

Still, the thing gun advocates have in their favor is, actually, the Second Amendment, which courts time and again have interpreted as a check-and-balance in favor of an armed citizenry.  And I don't have a problem with that.  But maybe that's because I don't have a problem with guns.

However, I do have a problem with people who don't value human life.

Legislating against guns may sound like a good way to combat the atrocities we've been witnessing in Orlando and elsewhere.  Maybe passing more laws makes citizens feel better emotionally.  Maybe the appearance of change can result in actual change, no matter how small.  But how do laws prevent guns from being used to violate human life in Chicago?  Or Orlando?  Or the next big gun-involved atrocity? 

Murder is already against the law.  Yet people - mostly angry men - still commit it.

How does their murder weapon make much of a difference?

Sample of High-Gun-Ownership Countries
(Number of Guns per 100 People):
#1  United States    (112.6)
#2  Serbia    (75.6)
#3  Switzerland     (45.7)
#10  Norway     (31.3)
#41  Mexico     (15)
#99  China     (4.9)
#100  Cuba     (4.8)

Sample of Countries by Murder Rate
(Number of homicides per 100,000 people):
#1  Honduras     (84.6)
#2  El Salvador     (64.2)
#3  Venezuela     (62)
#10  Guatemala     (31.2)
#26  Mexico     (15.7)
#52  Russia     (9.5)
#207  Indonesia     (0.5)
#218  Monaco    (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dallas DA's Depression Drama

Dallas County is big time.

It's mostly one big city - Big D - pockmarked by a handful of rapidly-shrinking undeveloped areas, mostly along the flood-prone Trinity River watershed.

It has a population of 2.5 million people, ranging from some of the world's wealthiest to some of this country's poorest.  It has deep social divisions rooted in racism and class.  Its courts have a painful history of sending black men to prison for crimes they didn't commit.  Its largest city is staggering under a steep rise in violent crimes, including a 75% increase in its murder rate.

Dallas County does not provide a supportive environment for somebody who wants to be its district attorney.  Although most of its wealth is conservative and Republican, most of its voters are liberal and Democratic, and the partisan politics between county officials can be fierce.  The media's scrutiny of the Dallas DA's office can be relentless, and the public's demands unrealistic.

Indeed, being the top lawyer of Dallas County is no easy job.

Two years ago, Susan Hawk defied the odds and became Dallas County's first Republican DA in years, after the tumultuous reign of her predecessor, Craig Watkins.  To much acclaim, Watkins became the first black DA in the entire state of Texas back in 2006, but his time in office unraveled to the point where he became a byword for incompetence.  These days, his reputation has sunk so low, Dallas' liberal media makes fun of him, saying he "can't even ambulance-chase correctly."

Being the top lawyer of Dallas County is no easy job.

Yesterday, Hawk's office announced that she has gone to Arizona for inpatient therapy to treat depression.  This is the third time Hawk has taken a leave of absence from a job she's held for 18 months.  And all three times, her absence has been due to her depression.  Last summer, she was out for two months, and this past May, she was out for three weeks.  It's unclear when she will return to work from Arizona.

So far, local media has been uncharacteristically subdued in its reporting of Hawk's medical travails, perhaps because complaining about somebody's mental and emotional health is considered being politically incorrect.  Even the Dallas County Democratic Party has refrained from commenting to the media about Hawk's leaves of absence.  But people are starting to wonder out loud:  Is Hawk up to the job?

Is being the DA for a county as conflicted as Dallas too much for her?  How stricken by depression was she before she ran for office?  Did the DA's office make her sick, or worsen her sickness?

Dallas County Republicans say Hawk's depression is an illness like cancer, and if a DA were to come down with cancer while in office, nobody would second-guess a leave of absence for treatment.  But is depression like Hawk's the same type of illness as cancer?

For one thing, cancer can be quantified far more readily than depression can.  Cancer can be identified and targeted, whereas depression doesn't show up in blood samples or brain scans.  Depression is a physical condition, but it also involves mental and emotional conditions that have become ingrained in the psyche.  Cancer isn't known to force its victim to act in ways we consider to be irrational, yet depression can, and often does.

Whether it's a broken bone, cancer, the flu, or any physical illness, can we say that a conventional malady equates to the type of depression that forces the district attorney in one of America's largest counties into therapy three times in less than two years?  After all, it takes an extraordinary amount of emotional ambition and physical energy for anybody to win Dallas County's DA's race in the first place.  Hawk didn't win her office without enormous mental resources, and she's not likely the type of person to flake out simply because she has a few stressful days.  So this means there are some serious problems taking place here; problems she couldn't hope to cover up or excuse away if she tried to stay on the job.

And it's not like Hawk's office is lavishing the public with details about her condition.  During her two-month absence last year, it took some prolonged hounding by the media before Hawk's people admitted that she was in therapy for depression.  Yet hers is a public position.  She ran for the office.  She knew that being Dallas County DA would put her under a microscope.  Shouldn't she and her office be more transparent with the public about what's going on?

Hawk herself has stated that she doesn't like people second-guessing her health decisions, or whether having depression disqualifies her from being DA.  But when a public figure complains about such things, doesn't it sound a bit hollow?

Besides, it's not like public officials haven't ever resigned their posts in the face of a severe cancer diagnosis.  There's no shame in recognizing that one's health may be compromising one's ability to perform one's job.  Especially a job that the public elected you to do.

The district attorney's job is a four-year stint, and it's a job chock-full of public responsibility.  So far, the DA's office says it can handle things in Hawk's absence, which actually should be a bit embarrassing to Hawk, don't you think?  If things are supposedly running so well in her absence, what is it about her presence that's required?  Or is the office really running as well as her staff says it is?  What would Hawk be doing, if she was in the office instead of in therapy, to make her office function even better?  Is she really an essential county leader, or is she a figurehead?

These are questions people are going to start asking, and they're going to be uncomfortable for Hawk.  It's not like she's discretely accountable to a select group of executives at a private company; she's got a big county's worth of voters, taxpayers, crime victims, crime perpetrators, and civic boosters with skin in her game, and frankly, they've got a right to know what she's doing and how she's doing it.

If she were to resign and go back into private law practice, the scrutiny would notch down several levels, and that might actually help her recover.

As it is, the longer she needs therapy, the louder people are going to second-guess her, and the worse things could become for her.  Mental illness still has strong taboos in our society, and while people might be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt at first, after a while, the good graces will begin to run thin.  And how will that help alleviate anybody's depression?

When the DA's job is done in a way that wins its officeholder widespread public acclaim, it's a reward that most any hard-charging lawyer type likely relishes.  However, in the punishing world of Dallas County crime politics, the risk of landing hard on the wrong side of public opinion can make public service unrewarding at best.

As a person who himself suffers from chronic clinical depression, I know enough about the illness to recognize that I'm no expert on Hawk's condition.  But like a lot of people, I can see the predicament that's building up around Hawk, and it doesn't look good.

It's been speculated that the reason Hawk is waiting to resign involves the reappointment laws in Texas, and whether her resignation now would trigger a vote to replace her (which Republicans could easily lose), or whether waiting a few more months would give Texas' Republican governor the chance to appoint somebody to take her place without an election.  Considering how political many district attorney races are, at least in Texas' largest urban counties, Hawk may indeed simply be biding her time for her party's sake.

But would that help her in the long run?  Dragging out her case in the court of public opinion, where depression is widely misunderstood and popularly ridiculed?  Or will the image of her fighting for her mental health work in her favor, and help her come back stronger than ever when this current stint of therapy is over?

If she was not a public official, her decision could more easily center on whatever is best for her.  Yet as a public official, isn't there more to be considered?

Often, people with genuine depression are suspected of actually have a problem with narcissism, which makes them exceptionally focused on themselves in a way that exacerbates their mental condition.

A person has to have a pretty strong opinion of themselves to run for an office like district attorney.  But don't strong people also need to know where their weaknesses lie, so they can address those weaknesses before others exploit them?

Let's hope Hawk's depression doesn't muddle her choices in charting her present, and her future.

Update:  Hawk resigned on Tuesday, September 6.

Update:  Hawk reportedly surprised her staff by returning to work today, August 11.

Update:  As of Tuesday, August 9, Hawk has yet to return to work, and reportedly remains in a treatment facility in Arizona.  It is unclear when she will return to work, but she has said she currently has no plans to resign.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Lynch Makes Transcripts a Distraction

It's a textbook case of political bungling.

It's a textbook case for why many Americans are fed up with Washington.

And it's a textbook case for why censorship is a dangerous thing.

It all started Sunday, when United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department would be releasing edited transcripts of 911 calls made by the Orlando massacre shooter.

Now, whenever authorities release 911 recordings and transcripts, it's usually a perfunctory exercise in providing full disclosure, but little else.  911 calls usually don't provide a gold mine of information we didn't already know.  Mostly, the release of 911 material serves as a somber postscript to an event that has already captured the public's imagination.

Indeed, in the case of Orlando's horrific slaughter, we already know a lot about it.  It was the worst mass-shooting in the United States.  It was perpetrated by a natural-born American of Middle Eastern lineage.  The media has already widely reported that the shooter had claimed solidarity with ISIS.

So, we have a self-avowed Muslim gunman targeting the gay community in one of America's most tourist-centric cities, further exacerbating a plethora of raw sociopolitical debates in excruciating intensity.  Islam, radical Islam, gun control, homosexuality, watch lists, police preparedness... all in one bloody, grisly, barbaric attack.

The transcript of any relevant 911 call would be anti-climactic at best, right?  Lynch's promise - or threat, depending on your view - to release the transcripts of the shooter's calls to 911 hardly seemed necessary.  So what?  They're public record anyway, so if anybody wants to see them, they can. 

Then came Lynch's caveat:  She wasn't simply releasing the transcripts.  She was redacting parts of them - censoring them - to remove certain words.

To be fair, if the Justice Department was deleting sensitive information, such as the legal names of minors, or the private cell phone numbers of innocent civilians, then who'd have a problem with that?  Neither innocent victims of a crime, or the general public, need to have such sensitive data in the public domain.  Withholding such information really isn't censorship; it's merely privacy protection.

For the truly ghoulish, what might be interesting would be transcripts of the shooter's other calls to behind-the-scenes crisis negotiators.  However, if the argument against releasing full transcripts of such calls rests on the ability of crisis negotiators to speak in the heat of the moment in ways that are, shall we say, "uninhibited," then I think we can understand that too, right?

Yet Lynch, basically the head lawyer in the United States, intentionally scrubbed these 911 transcripts of content that her boss, President Barak Obama, personally finds uncomfortable.  In particular, Lynch deleted references made by the shooter to the Islamic State and the personal name of an ISIS leader (a name I won't perpetuate by providing here).

Really, Loretta?  What?  As if pretending the shooter didn't reference ISIS helps the President maintain that radical Islam doesn't exist?  Or that referring to radical Islam is merely, in his words, "a political distraction"?

Political distraction, indeed.

This afternoon, as howls from conservatives reached a fever pitch over the Justice Department's transcript censorship, Lynch sullenly backed down.  She unceremoniously authorized the release of un-redacted transcripts of those otherwise unremarkable 911 calls.  But she wasn't ready to stop stirring the pot; she had the temerity to push her bosses' strategy and call the furor over her stunt "an unnecessary distraction."

Which, actually, it was:  Unnecessary, in the sense that this administration's broad-daylight gamesmanship over what otherwise would be a non-event - the dissemination of 911 transcripts - only weakens the President's stance when it comes to credibility over his stewardship of America's war on terror.

Unnecessary, in the sense that the censored content was pretty obvious in its omission anyway, so why was it even remotely possibly necessary in the first place? 

Unnecessary, in the sense that if the full, uncensored transcripts had been released without comment or edit, both liberals and conservatives would have looked at them and moved on, likely without commenting or editorializing.

Like this essay.  It wouldn't exist if the transcripts had simply appeared in full in the public domain.

Yet once again, the Obama administration has created a tempest in a teapot where a tempest wouldn't have otherwise existed.  On the one hand, this is a silly spat over something that didn't need to happen.  Yet censorship - and such blatant, needless, childish, petulant censorship - is something we Americans are supposed to oppose by nature.

Free speech, right?  Let the record show.  Let the facts speak for themselves.

As it is, the records don't show that ISIS was complicit in the Orlando massacre.  But the facts do show that the Obama administration loves to make political games out of non-issues.  In fact, the White House didn't even have the decency to admit that this censorship mess is their fault.  White House spokesman Josh Earnest passed all the blame onto Lynch, attempting to sound sanctimonious by rhapsodizing on the President's desire to refrain from meddling in the rule of law.

So much for not being a political distraction, huh?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

One or Two? Bridging NY's Z Crisis

Yo - fuggeddabout all diss Orlando, ISIS, Trump, Hillary fiasco, aww-rite?

You want controversy?  We got some hot sizzling controversy heating up for ya right now down in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, and our big, byootiful bridge!

Yes, indeedy, folks.  As if New Yorkers didn't have anything more to fuss about, now a group of Italian historical buffs are pressing the city, owner of America's longest suspension bridge, over the spelling of its name.

It's the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and no, they're not trying to simplify its spelling.

At least these history activists aren't calling for a completely new name for the iconic bridge, which links the middle-class neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with Staten Island, across the southern end of New York Bay.  Officials have been on a bridge re-naming binge lately in other corners of the city, much to the consternation of New Yorkers loathe to the fickle mentality from which such switches seem to spring.

And this bridge is truly a New Yorker's bridge - very few tourists likely ever cross it, since it's so far away from Manhattan, even though it's clearly visible from the borough's southern tip.  However, if you've ever tried to get from Kennedy International to Newark International, or from Long Island to the Jersey Shore, you've almost certainly crossed the Verrazano (or had a very deceitful cabby).

When it opened in 1964, it was the world's longest suspension bridge, surprisingly graceful and elegant for such a grimy and industrial city.  From a distance, the steel architecture of its designer, Othmar H. Ammann, has aged quite well.  However, up close, you can tell it's a workhorse of a transportation link.  Unless they've spruced it up recently, anytime I ever crossed it, the swaths of rust coating its surfaces made me wonder where the bridge's expensive tolls were being spent - certainly not on its meticulous maintenance!  These days, the normal toll for passenger cars is a whopping $16 each, although residents of Staten Island pay as little as $6.24.  Yet gridlock remains common, despite the prices.

And if you've ever set sail on a large cruise ship, even if you never docked in New York, chances are that the Verrazano played a role in your cruise ship's design.  You see, to reach any dock in New York's vast harbor, all of the world's major ships need to fit underneath the Verrazano's span, which actually can fluctuate by 12 feet between summer and winter, based on the temperature.

By any measure, the Verrazano is a significant structure, even if it's not as famous as its much shorter suspension siblings like San Francisco's Golden Gate, Manhattan's George Washington, and the world's granddaddy of bridges, named after Brooklyn itself.

Yet still, why does the Verrazano's name need to be fixed?  Because of discrepancies between the various ways the bridge's namesake spelled his name, or other people spelled it for him over the centuries.  You see, Giovanni da Verrazzano normally spelled his name with two "Z"s, whereas the city only put one "Z" into their bridge's official name.  And they did that because back in the 1960's, when the bridge was being designed and built, historical experts insisted that Verrazzano himself, ostensibly in a self-aggrandizing manner, would also spell his name in its Latin form, Janus Verrazanus.

So why didn't they call the bridge "Verrazanus-Narrows"?  Nobody seems to know.  But this issue bothers a lot of Italian-Americans who want the rest of us to remember that back in 1524, it was Verrazano, or Verrazzano, or Verrazanus, who became the first Eurpoean known to sail through the narrows, over which his namesake bridge soars today.

As if misplacing a "Z" is going to cause people to forget that, or refuse to learn it in the first place.

Whenever my family would visit relatives in Brooklyn, and we'd see the sweeping Verrazano, we'd call it "Daddy's Bridge," since my Dad used to work for a company that sold a lot of the construction products used to build it.  Dad made a number of on-site visits to the construction zone in the early 1960's on behalf of his employer.  He'd even chronicled the bridge's progress when he was a student at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute.  After Dad died last year from Alzheimer's, while I was cleaning out his boxes and boxes of old photos, I came across several photos of the Verrazano under construction, and the massive gutting of venerable neighborhoods in Fort Hamilton and Bay Ridge to accommodate the mighty bridge's "landfall" in Brooklyn.

Indeed, the freeway ramps and entryways leading up to the bridge and back down to the Belt Parkway wiped out blocks and blocks of established neighborhoods - with water views, even, making them particularly desirable.  Back then, it's what big cities did to accommodate the unprecedented demands of new vehicle owners, suburbanization, and what we've now come to know as white flight.

When the Verrazano opened, western Brooklyn was an aging urban core, although its far eastern waterfront was still being developed.  Staten Island was predominantly rural, and Long Island was still bucolic.  Today, property values have skyrocketed in all of these areas;  residential subdivisions and strip malls sprawl across Staten Island's former farms and forests.  While Brooklyn's Bay Ridge neighborhood still boasts iconic bridge views from almost any avenue, it's white population back when the Verrazano opened has become more Asian, more Middle Eastern, and more Hispanic.  Yet plenty of proud Italians remain in their traditional neighborhood, with its quiet parks, tree-lined streets, immaculate homes, and tasty restaurants.

Indeed, if I had to live again in New York City, Bay Ridge is where I'd want to be.

But getting back to the missing "Z" in the Verrazano's name:  How do you think the valiant explorer would feel if he came sailing up to the entrance to New York Harbor today?  And see that mammoth silvery span arcing across those choppy, chilly waters?

Yo, dude - we name dis after yoo!

Since the ways Verrazano himself spelled his own name have contributed to confusion over how we spell the bridge named in his honor, what do you think he'd say in response to today's controversy?

Everybody, say it with me:  FUGGEDDABOUDIT

Extra!  Three photos from the flotilla of ships, including warships, tall ships, and the QE2, celebrating the Statue of Liberty's 100th birthday over the 4th of July weekend in 1986 - thirty years ago.  And yes, that's me in those white pants...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Politicians Exploit Another Tragedy

Here we go again.

And we're not just talking about the latest horrific crime against humanity.

Early Sunday morning, 49 people were slaughtered at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, while dozens more were injured.

They were shot by a deranged Muslim man reportedly wielding two guns, who was himself shot to death by police during the chaos.

In our reductionist politics of today, and this being an election year, America's two main presidential candidates instantly took off running at the news, exploiting Orlando's tragedy in a pattern of kneekerk blame-pointing and reformist zeal that has become perfunctory within their class.  As if we instantly know all we need to know to make a fair assessment of what took place, and why.

Bodies were still stacked - stacked, we were told! - inside bathrooms, while forensics teams and investigators were methodically prepared the site for victim removal.  Yet Hillary immediately knew how the slaughter could have been prevented:  more gun control.  Then Trump trotted out his unConstitutional plan to bar Muslims from entering the United States, at least until we can figure out if they're good Muslims or bad Muslims.

And President Obama shrugged his shoulders:  what difference does it make if I go ahead and use the term "radical Islam," he theorized.  Of the three politicos, at least it could be said he's in no hurry to rush to judgment, even if he's sounding more and more like an Islamist sympathizer as these Muslim-linked killings proliferate.  Meanwhile, if Obama wanted to sympathize with Islam, you'd think he'd want to encourage distinctions between the religion's adherents who say they prize peace, and those who seethe with hatred.

If any doubt remained, Orlando erased it:  America's political class - and indeed, the mainstream media covering it - has completely lost focus, if this charade of intentional dis-compassion is meant to pass for consolation.  Why the need to jump on gun control so early in the aftermath, just because guns were used?  For the Republicans, things suddenly appear even more grim, with their one hope for the White House squawking religious bigotry as if he's some sort of genius.

Meanwhile, as scores of Orlando residents lined up Sunday to donate blood, and as a small army of first responders, investigators, and crime scene analysts combed over the scene of the massacre, restaurants all over the city cooked up trays of food and delivered it to the volunteers, free of charge.  Even a local Chick-fil-a, usually closed on Sundays, opened up its kitchen to serve up some hot food and iced tea to the many people who were doing all they could do to help.

No politician scripted that organic reflexive action on the part of Orlando's everyday taxpayers.

As for the shooter himself, eyewitness accounts have surfaced of him patronizing that very gay bar multiple times over the course of months.  One former male classmate claims the shooter once propositioned him.  The shooter's ex-wife says that during their three-month marriage, he displayed what she called "homosexual tendencies."

Being as devout a Muslim as the shooter's family claimed he was, might he have been conflicted about parts of his sexuality?  Some Muslims believe that homosexuality is a sin punishable by death.  Might this conflict have eventually led the shooter to act out his inner anguish on a community of people who shared his struggles?  And if that was the case, would stricter gun laws have made any difference, especially if he was being self-radicalized by ISIS?

We don't know.  Not yet, anyway.  All we know is that fifty people are dead and many more wounded in what - for now, anyway - is America's worst mass shooting.

At the end of the day, the Orlando massacre isn't about gun control, or even Islam.  And it's certainly not about politics.  It's about people who were slaughtered in cold blood primarily because of something as objectionable to their shooter as their sexuality.

Don't try to milk votes out of this.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Brock Turner's Gallantless Soap Opera

Brock Turner.

What a masculine name, right?  Sounds like the lead male character on a soap opera.  Or maybe the next big Olympic swimming champion.  Seducer of women, player of their hearts.  Instantly, it's easy to envision somebody tall, handsome, and compelling. 

With dark hair, too - although this Brock Turner is blond.

This Brock Turner could have been the next big Olympic swimming champion.  But now, Brock Turner can only hope for a job as shallowly respectable as a soap opera star.

He's been unanimously convicted of molesting a drunk woman at Stanford University.  He's blamed the school's party culture for his actions.  His father has publicly described his son's disregard for his victim as "twenty minutes of action."  His grandparents have complained that Brock is the only person being held accountable for his actions.

Which... is what courts do, right?  Hold people accountable for their actions?

Many of Brock's friends and family think the woman he molested should share part of the blame.  But when two Swedish grad students saw something going on behind that dumpster, Brock made no display of mutual consent whatsoever.  He tried to run away, and had to be held down until cops arrived.

Still, insist Brock's defenders, the fact that the woman admits to getting drunk, and not remembering anything about the attack, doesn't prove that she didn't give Brock her consent.

As if consent is all that's required for legal sex.  In California, it's illegal to paw or probe somebody who can't grant or deny their consent.

Besides, even if a drunk woman gives her consent, should that be the green light randy men want it to be?  Whatever happened to chivalry?  Perhaps romance really is dead these days, since most young people seem to prefer hooking up - not even shacking up, which was the longer-term arrangement their parents' generation tried.

Then again, maybe we're simply hearing about these egregiously sordid cases more, now that social media gives us access to all sorts of explicit things that people used to either sweep under rugs, or shrug off as boys being boys.

It certainly didn't help Brock when his father's ludicrous whining hit the Twitter feeds, in which Dan Turner complains to the judge that his son is suffering emotionally and physically after being convicted of - aww shucks, you know (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), that hanky-panky stuff all young studs do when they're away from home for the first time, euphemistically-speaking...

From Dan Turner's letter, it's hard to tell who the victim was.

Then, what really kicked the case into high gear - for the rest of us who'd never heard of it before this week - was the male judge's sentence of six months. 

What - too long?  For those of us who weren't in the courtroom, it was almost like Judge Aaron Persky meekly shrugged his shoulders at the Turner family, practically apologizing for having to render a prison term of any length.

For his part, Dan asked his lawyer to tell the general public that he's embarrassed that his "twenty minutes of action" quote is being taken out of context.

Um, right.

But do you notice what's missing in all of this?  An apology from Brock.

This is the closest he gets to an apology, in a letter to the court in which, like his dad, Brock whines about the situation into which he's placed himself:  "It debilitates me to think that my actions have caused her emotional and physical stress that is completely unwarranted and unfair."

Wow, dude - way to 'fess up!  Way to make amends.  Way to man-up and take responsibility for your actions.

He tries again, further down in his letter to the court:  "My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back."

Don't we all?

But then, just when the most softly-hearted soul might be willing to give Brock the benefit of the doubt, he doubles back and slams his victim:  "I want no one, male or female, to have to experience the destructive consequences of making decisions while under the influence of alcohol."

Hey, mister judge dude, she was drunk too, so don't punish me too much, K?

Turns out, Brock Turner's sentencing was a soap opera after all, wasn't it?  Only in this one, there is no gallant leading man.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Is How We're Doing Church Worth It?

In the Bible, Christians are taught that fellowship is important.

Don't "forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another..."  It's from Hebrews 10:25, and we use it as the Biblical justification for the thing we call "church."

In the Old Testament, God's people, the Israelites, had both mobile and stationary facilities where they would congregate for specific religious functions, such as sacrifices, worship, and preaching.  By Christ's day, the temple of the Lord had become a glorified marketplace, with so much ordinary stuff taking place that at one point, Christ Himself clears out moneychangers who He claimed had turned "His Father's house" into a "marketplace."


After that, for a long time, God's people gathered in private homes.  Then, after the Romans embraced Christianity, church buildings began to be constructed, approximately around 300 A.D.  The largest Christian edifice of the church's early years was the magnificent Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, credited to Constantine the Great.  Almost 1,000 years after it was built, it was captured by Ottoman Turks and converted into a mosque, which is what it remained until 1935, when it became a museum.

Along the way, of course, our planet saw the invention of Europe's grand cathedrals, and then the far humbler chapels that still dot America's New England countryside.  Our generation has seen the invention of stodgy megachurch facilities that look more like warehouses than houses of worship.

In post-Christian Europe, the grand cathedrals have become tourist attractions, relics of what people now consider to have been provincial fable-telling and cultural indoctrination.  In post-Christian New England, the quaint, steepled, boxy churches have become restaurants, nightclubs, apartment buildings, and private homes.  Buildings upon which centuries of congregants lavished money and effort are being torn down across France.  In aging American cities like Syracuse, New York, and Detroit, Michigan, abandoned churches are being torn down after having stood for a fraction of the time their European cousins did.

A number of American churches have begun installing columbariums, where urns containing the ashes of deceased congregants are laid to rest, ostensibly in perpetuity.  Yet how long will it be before many of these churches close, and their new owners wonder what to do about all those urns nobody wants anymore?  At least older churches in the Northeast that had their own graveyards can be parceled off and maintained separately as the sanctuary gets re-purposed.

Here in Texas, as the state's population continues to swell, we keep building churches like it's the normal thing to do... even as churches in those parts of the country from which our state's newcomers are coming close up and fade away.  You'd think we'd learn about the transience of church buildings and their congregations.  You'd think we'd be smarter now about how much money we pour into buildings that may have a relatively short lifespan, at least as far as their religious purposes are concerned.

Why do we need all these buildings?  Church buildings aren't mandated in the Bible, even though the Bible provides a historical precedent for them.  Are hotel ballrooms really inappropriate for worship?  For me, personally, I enjoy a mighty pipe organ accompanying congregational singing, but how many churches care about pipe organs - or even congregational singing, for that matter?  Most churches today front a pop-group type band of singers on a stage, heavily miked and deeply amplified so it doesn't matter if the congregation sings or not.  But if congregations did want to have a pipe organ, it would be awfully inconvenient trying to find a hotel that could store one during the week, when it wasn't in use.

Dallas' main symphony hall, the Meyerson Symphony Center, has a majestic pipe organ, but I don't think anybody uses it on Sunday mornings.

Some churches eschew fancy music altogether - whether it's with a pipe organ or "righteous" praise bands.  They sing psalms a capella, which isn't necessarily a bad idea, as long as enough of your congregants know how to sing.  After all, there's a difference between making a noise, making a joyful noise, and making a joyful noise unto the Lord, who expects His people to worship Him "in the splendor of holiness."

We humans love to complicate things, don't we?  And we love our options.  Choices are good, even for Calvinists, who believe in predestination.  So we've come up with different ways to baptize, different ways to serve communion, different ways to take an offering, and different ways we expect preachers to dress.

Oh yeah - we groove with our preachers.  We affiliate ourselves with celebrity preachers, buy lots of self-help books by Christian personalities, and go to churchy conferences with celebrity preachers as headliners.

We attend various Bible studies, and put our kids in Christian schools.  We spend tons of money on salaries for religious professionals.  In addition to our sanctuaries, we build Disney-esque romper rooms for children, first-class gymnasiums, bookstores, coffee shops, and (at First Baptist Dallas, anyway) computer-programmed fountains.

Churches used to build hospitals, but Christians eventually tired of having to pay the ever-escalating costs of caring for sick people.

We have over 100 versions of the Bible just in the English language.  And that doesn't include all of those goofy sub-translations, such as The Golfer's Bible, The Everyday Life Bible, or The Precious Moments Bible, even as approximately 180 million people around the world today have no part of the Bible in what's called their "heart language."

With all of this "forsaking not the assembly of ourselves together," though, are we Americans doing church the way we're supposed to be doing it?

We're assembling, but are we discipling?  Are we worshiping Almighty God, or are we worshiping the almighty dollar?  We're busy and all, but is Christ our all?

The full text of Hebrews 10:25 - in the New International Version, no less - includes a curious end-bit:

"...not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

At some point, the church universal will be united with God in Heaven for eternity.  And the "all the more" that we're doing right now will be a confection of activity that may or may not have any impact on that eternity.

Is church today worth how we're doing it?

Monday, June 6, 2016

Income Inequity or Economic Disparity?

Defining our terminology.

A lot of catch-phrases, sound bites, and chain-yanking buzzwords get used and abused, especially during an election season.

Phrases such as "income inequity."

Republicans bristle at the term, because it's generally used by liberals to criticize wealthy people for their wealth, especially as America's middle class continues to stagnate, and its earning power withers.

Yet it's hard to deny that, well, America's middle class has indeed stagnated, and that our earning power has indeed withered in comparison with previous generations.  Just look around within your family, your friends, your co-workers, and your broader sphere of reference.  How many of y'all are enjoying a higher standard of living today than you did growing up?

And if your standard of living today is higher than it was when you were a young-un, compare your lifestyle today with the one your folks had, when there was likely only one breadwinner in your family.  Or your family's breadwinners were less educated than you are today.

Are you bringing more to the table today, but getting the same meal?

Of course, many American families have been able to at least hold their own over the past generation or two.  Some American families have also eased their way into a higher economic class, since the number of wealthy Americans has steadily increased over the years.  Yet by and large, our poorer classes have grown in number as well, while our middle class is hardly robust.

Sure, I drive by daycare centers when parents are picking up their kids, and I see a lot of foreign luxury cars in the parking lots, but how many of those parents work longer hours, and with how much more education, compared with their own parents, back in the day?  Besides, how many of those foreign luxury cars are leased (which is far cheaper than buying)?

Indeed, much of the wealth we see may be for show only.

I have Realtor friends who tell me many of the big McMansions being purchased at astronomical prices in the best exurban neighborhoods across north Texas... surprisingly, they're sparsely-furnished.  Maybe a few big-screen TVs in the bedrooms, but some of those extra rooms sit completely empty.  Why?  Because families are spending their money to stage an impression of affluence, but behind the stage is a bare-bones mortgage-paying operation.

This evidence is anecdotal, but many of the statistics describing America's economy seem to have cooked data, depending on the slant its producers want to spin.  We know wages may be up, but the cost of living is up, too.  We know many high-paying manufacturing jobs have been shifted overseas, and have been replaced by low-paying service jobs.  We know that a college education can usually command a higher salary than a GED, but look at all of the part-time no-benefits jobs, and the low-skill workers flooding the United States - whether they're here legally or not.  And who still thinks a 401k really is as good as a traditional retirement package?

Add everything together, and Donald Trump has at least one thing right:  we're not as great a nation as we used to be.

But is "income inequity" the problem?

To a certain extent, incomes may indeed be inequitable, at least in terms of what workers think they're worth!  But capitalism has a funny way of determining which jobs are worth more than other jobs.  It may be hard to argue that a Wall Street hedge fund manager is worth more to society than a heart surgeon, but capitalism says so.  Besides, very few Americans could afford to pay their heart surgeon a hedge fund manager's salary.

We have a society based upon money and wealth (sorry, America is not about freedom as much as it is about money; the Revolutionary War was fought over taxes, remember?).  And if a hedge fund manager can make money off of somebody else's money (which in any other context would be the very definition of a shyster), that's going to be more valued, because all a heart surgeon can do is save somebody's life.

Is that inequitable?  Maybe, but debating the point distracts us from the real issue.

And what is the real issue?  It's that we have "economic disparity" in the United States.  And not just a disparity between income levels, which would be a normal function of the choices people make regarding the jobs they take and how they spend their money.  It's a disparity in access to wealth, and our ability to preserve that wealth.

A lot of people work very hard - physically hard - for not a lot of money.  And some people exert very little physical, mental, or emotional energy and yet are quite wealthy.  If we were to simply try and bridge the gap between these two lifestyles, we'd be flirting with Communism.  Pay as an incentive is not a bad thing, although assuming poor people don't work as hard as rich people often is.

However, some folks have access to greater revenue streams than other people do.  For example, some people have access to sophisticated forms of technology that poorer people don't.  Sure, a lot of poor people have smartphones, but that's not the type of technology that will help them land lucrative high-tech jobs.

Some critics say that an even greater problem exists in America's tax codes, which are written to benefit people who have money.  For all the folks who squawk about today's obscene taxes on the rich, learn your history:  During World War II, the top tax rate was over 90%.


But then again, that was back when Americans wanted to pay debts incurred by wars.

Consider, too, that while many middle class Americans are small-business owners, they individually can't wield the economic and political clout that far wealthier business owners can.  For example, small businesses can't wrest economic development incentives from cities and states to relocate or expand like large companies can.  They also can't afford rent spikes and other inflated costs.  For several years now, New Yorkers have grown increasingly agitated over the re-branding of Manhattan, from the borough's kitschy neighborhood mom-and-pop stores to cookie-cutter chain stores.  The reason?  Chain stores have deeper pockets and broader logistical power to compete in the thin-margin world of New York City retailing.

But is everything tilted to favor the biggest or wealthiest?  Consider the extreme opposite of the income spectrum; the unwed welfare mother.  Can't she receive government benefits based on the number of children she has while she is unmarried?  How fair is that?

Most right-wingers like to presume that unwed mothers become baby factories because the subsidies each child receives represent a gold mine of entitlements.  However, the size of most welfare families has remained roughly consistent with the size of most non-welfare families in the United States.  Meanwhile, the value of welfare benefits has decreased over 25% during the past twenty years.  And the number of children on welfare has decreased by 66% since 1996.

But we don't have fewer poor kids, do we?  Not by any measure.  Today, 25% of all American kids are being raised without a father, and nearly half of those kids live below the poverty line.  What kind of hurdles do you suspect such living conditions make for kids hoping to escape poverty and climb up through the middle class?  It's called "institutionalized poverty," and it's been a problem for generations now, with no respite in sight.

So, since we're talking about kids who have no control over the family into which they're born, perhaps "income inequity" is some type of problem for them.

Yet still, economic disparity for a broader cross-section of our country is the buzz phrase that few of us can deny.  And economic disparity is a problem, because it engenders envy by the have-nots of things owned (or leased) by the haves.  Economic disparity helps perpetuate hedonistic living by inflating the value - both cost-wise and consumption-wise - of status commodities.  That, in turn, distorts spending patterns and helps create unrealistic expectations that people use to evaluate who they want to be, what they want to do, and how they can contribute to our overall society.

And it's not just poor people who distort our economic picture.  Wealthy people can distort it as well, by prioritizing the hedge fund managers and their ability to manufacture money from money without actually creating a product from which the broader society can benefit.  Having wealthy people add to their wealth doesn't benefit the broader society as much as a lot of wealthy people want us to believe.  After all, the reason people are wealthy is because they're hoarding a certain amount of their wealth.  Think about it:  If they were spending it on something, like developing new things, they wouldn't have that money, would they?

After all, it takes money to make money, but it seems everyone wants the quickest returns possible.

Nevertheless, while many of us may be skeptical of the way wealthy folks may or may not hoard their money, that doesn't mean that their wealth is somehow "inequitable."  Having money isn't itself good or bad; it's how you earned it (or not), and how you treat it that matters.

Which brings us back to "economic disparity" as being a better way to couch our country's widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.  And remember, having an economic disparity isn't itself good or bad, either.  It simply means that our economy rewards different people for different jobs, and lets people accrue wealth based on whatever paths their individual lives may take.  And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

However, when the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens as much as it's been doing lately, isn't that generally a sign that things are not functioning as well in our economy as they should be?  After all, how long can capitalism run on a small class of wealthy people and a large class of mostly poor people, which is the direction our disparity is headed?  How long can a democratic republic run in such an economy?

Not that the wealthy should be punished for being wealthy.  Or the poor ridiculed for not being wealthy.  In fact, should wealth be the standard by which our economy is judged?

How about an economy based on a job well done?  Ability?  Productivity?  Intuition?  Commitment?  Innovation?  Intelligence?  Wisdom (it's not the same as intelligence, after all)?  Experience?  Reliability?  Honesty?

If our economy becomes all about the "winners" being defined as the ones dying with the most, you know how many losers there will be?

Well, the "winners," for starters... because then we'd probably be living with income inequity.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Angry Nation

Angry, angry nation.

America is full of anger.  We're an angry people.  We're spoiled silly by the wealth in our country, and we get righteously indignant with all of our First-World problems.

In suburban Fort Worth recently, a lawyer got angry because he didn't get his customary bowl of free soup, so he sued the restaurant.

After the story of the petulant lawyer hit social media, the rest of us became indignant at the lawyer for being so petty.  Then the lawyer began to receive death threats from anonymous angry people, so he dropped his lawsuit.

We're angry, and we're not gonna take it anymore!

A family in suburban Dallas is angry that their son won't get to wear his National Honor Society regalia during high school graduation, even though the school hasn't allowed NHS regalia to ever be worn during graduation, since it's from a group unaffiliated with the school district.  But that hasn't stopped social media for blowing the issue all out of proportion, with angry people from all over castigating the school district as denying smart people their moment of glory.

Even more folks are furious over their presumption that inattentive parents of a four-year-old boy let him get into a gorilla's enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, prompting zoo officials to shoot an endangered gorilla to death to protect the toddler.

Then other folks became furious at zoo officials for shooting the gorilla.

Many voters claim they're angry with the status-quo in Washington - much of which is based on anger - and that's why they're supporting Donald Trump, who's ability to stoke that anger has thrown this year's presidential election into disarray.

Indeed, Republicans are angry at Democrats, and Democrats are angry at Republicans, in a prolonged season of exceptionally divisive and bitter vitriol that some experts say America hasn't seen since the lead-up to the Civil War.

Many black Americans are angry at cops and the criminal justice system, as one by one, white police officers accused of needlessly shooting black men get no-billed by grand juries across the country.

Many evangelicals are angry over legislation ostensibly designed to protect transgendered people who need to relieve themselves in public bathrooms.  In addtion, many evangelicals are still smarting over the Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage last year.

Anger has become big business for people like Rush Limbaugh, who cheerfully exploits the volatility of conservative American voters.  Anger is what pushes abortion-rights activists to dig in their heels for groups like Planned Parenthood.  Anger fuels widespread resentment against illegal immigrants, against Big Oil and the Keystone XL pipeline, against minimum wages, against Wall Street tycoons, against Obamacare, against the TSA, and on and on.

Often, our anger seems to run a close second to fear, such as our fear of ISIS, or of what is happening to our economy, or how the morality in our society is changing.  But more often than not, instead of fear, it's our anger that dictates how we react to other people, stories in the news, and click-bait we see on social media.

Anger is an emotion that makes us feel self-righteous, as if we know more of what's better than somebody else does.  Or that we couldn't imagine doing something as stupid, heinous, or immoral as the object of our anger has done.  Often our anger erupts after we've become too weary of seeing or experiencing that precipitating behavior or event for far too long, and trying to be accommodating of it.

Having so many people lash out against the parents of that toddler in the gorilla enclosure is an example of being near our breaking point with so much cavalier parenting.  We see it on the news all the time:  cases of child abuse, child endangerment, child abandonment, baby mamas, absentee dads, kids left to suffocate in hot cars...  Every story about how so many kids seem to be neglected in our society wears at us, bit by bit, and then we see video of a little boy in a gorilla enclosure, and we go ballistic at his parents.

Politics is another easy-anger trigger for many of us.  I'm not sure I personally get angry, as much as I get incredulous at what politicians and their supporters think they can get away with.  I'm so cynical, I'm too jaded to be angry.  But this year, it's hard to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon any other way than voter anger, and his uncanny ability to ride it like some huge wave that's been building out at sea all these years.  And now that anger is coming crashing in, like the tide on a high surf day.

People are angry, and they're not gonna take it anymore.

Meanwhile, in the last 17 months, over 2,000 people across India have been infected with HIV while getting sloppily-performed blood transfusions.  But where's the rage over that?  According to The Hindu, a major Indian daily, "cases like these keep happening over and over again and no action is taken against erring hospitals and blood banks."

India is also home to the greatest number of slaves in the world, although North Korea has the most slaves per capita.  Curiously, the countries with the worst slavery are Asian countries that make most of America's consumer goods:  India, China, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.  But how angry does that make you?

Maybe the degree to which we get angry corresponds with the degree to which we think the problem can be solved.  We get angry with politicians because we figure we should be able to vote the worst of them out of office (even though that rarely seems to happen).  We get angry with the TSA because we figure some bureaucrat should be able to figure out a way to get us through security checkpoints efficiently (even though airport security has been fodder for jokes for decades now).  We get angry with zoo officials for killing an endangered gorilla because we figure we can shame those zoologists into not repeating such a scenario in the future.

India, however, seems remote, and perhaps even a place where we should expect such endemic dysfunction as medical workers helping to spread the AIDS virus.  We feel sympathy for people who have to endure such incompetence, but we live in the United States of America!  We're "better" than India.  Ours should be a more effective, efficient, and competent society here.  After all, it's not like we're starved of resources of virtually any kind, unlike countries like India.

So it makes us mad when we see people appear to do things we think are stupid, or wasteful, or illogical, or immoral.  Something triggers our anger, and we can't help getting exasperated over how such a thing could have happened, or why such a thing continues to happen.

Perhaps anger helps us feel as though we're contributing to some greater good.  Contentment in our society tends to denote complacency, and few of us want to be complacent.  After all, so much is wrong in our world; how can any of it get fixed if we keep going with the flow, or being thankful for whatever we've got?

After all, what did a content person ever invent? 

Are we angry because that's more attractive an emotion than contentment?

The problem with anger, though, resides in it's most common synonym:  Mad.  Being mad and being angry usually mean the same thing.  However, how likely is it that if we stay angry long enough, we could go mad?  Mad in terms of psychological and mental imbalance?

So the next time - and it will probably be pretty soon - something triggers your anger, particularly on social media, or in the news, ask yourself this:

Is it worse than slavery?

I didn't get angry after learning about slavery in Asia, so why am I getting angry over some kid not being able to wear his National Honor Society regalia to an event everyone will have forgotten about by August?