Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sanctuary Campus an Idyll of Illogic

You've heard of "sanctuary cities."

Now, apparently, comes the "sanctuary campus."

It's a movement by students at universities across the United States that encourages institutions of higher learning to provide consequence-free zones for anyone on campus - student, staffer, educator - who is in the country illegally.

Tomorrow, reportedly, a mass walkout is being planned at several universities here in north Texas, including the University of Arlington, Southern Methodist University, the University of North Texas, and Texas Woman's University.  The walkout is aimed at drawing public awareness to the need for sanctuary campuses.

According to organizers of this movement here, the need for sanctuary campuses stems directly from Donald Trump's surprise election as the next president of the United States.  During his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised his supporters that he would expatriate people who are in this country illegally.  Then there was his goofy bluster about building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and somehow forcing Mexico to pay for it.  He recklessly maligned Mexicans as rapists, and cavalierly mocked Hispanics in general.

Indeed, this election was a sordid affair on many levels.  And many people in this country have taken to the streets, marching in angry protest over its results.  And many of those marchers and protesters have been young, idealistic, and impressionable (and easily manipulable) college students.

We've heard the stories of professors giving their students a walk (free pass to not attend classes) to mourn the outcome of the presidential election.  We've heard of professors rescheduling exams, or providing counseling information, so that their grief-stricken students have ways of responding to Trump's win.  Many educators and students alike have betrayed an odd misunderstanding of history and governance with their calls for the Electoral College to be abolished.  They've made a spectacle of themselves, marching to protest no apparent human rights violations, or advocating for a change to the Electoral College that would cause more political disarray than Trump's win could.

Yet one of the most puzzling aspects of Trump's win is the vitriol it has stoked amongst some Hispanics against crucial notions of national sovereignty and the rule of law.  Perhaps this vitriol - they say it's fear, but we all know better - has become more potent to advocates of illegal immigration now that somebody as quixotic and bombastic as Trump will be entering the White House.  America hasn't had a president as untested, untrained, ill-tempered, impulsive, and unapologetically petulant as Trump in quite a while.  Nobody is sure what he will try to do.

What is also unclear is the extent to which schools like the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Arlington can adopt any of the principles of sanctuary campuses.  These two schools are state-run and state-funded, meaning that their control ultimately lies under Texas governor Greg Abbott, an ardent opponent of sanctuary cities.  Which makes it hardly likely that he would be amenable to sanctuary campuses, right?

Yet another puzzlement as to the need for sanctuary campuses regards the strict privacy rules already governing any student's stay at Texas universities, whether public or private.  About the only information school administrators in Texas can release involves whether or not a person is enrolled.  Students can even opt-out of allowing that bit of information to be released, if they so desire.  So the specter of immigration officials sweeping onto a college campus and rounding up students in this country illegally seems remote at best.  Unless advocates of illegal immigration suspect Trump can change the laws to allow such sweeps.

All this continues to unfold, of course, under our country's already bleak tableau of an immigration policy in tatters.  Years and years of bickering over our immigration laws have created a system that is overburdened by demand and underfunded by a cheapskate electorate.  Political partisanship attempts to depict emigres to our nation as either desperate or devious, yet the real stories of why real people want to come here without the proper authorization tend to be far more individualized and complicated than any political party wants to acknowledge.  Then there's the whole saga of anchor babies, separating families, employment and wages, refugees, human trafficking, and possible terrorism.  It's become easier for legal Americans to either shrug their shoulders and say, "let them all in," or throw out their arms and, pointing southward, say "they all need to go back where they came from."

It doesn't help that our mainstream media tends to conveniently drop the "illegal" part of "illegal immigration" from the terminology.  Or that our right-wing media tends to forget that "undocumented" immigrants may actually have legal permission to be here while their paperwork situation is sorted out - a process that takes years, since taxpayers don't want to fully fund our immigration bureaucracy.

With all that is confusing about immigration and illegal immigration, perhaps it's no surprise that college students would be some of the most ardent purveyors of misinformation and inaccuracies on the subject.  After all, they're pretty naive when it comes to the complexities of real life.  A student at the University of North Texas wrote a letter for his fellow students to copy and send to university officials, petitioning for their university to become a sanctuary campus.  And it reeks of naivete.

So let's work through this student's letter, shall we?  After all, correcting errors and misconceptions is a big part of the college experience, right?  And since life is one big educational process, couldn't this letter be part of the instructional preparation a college student should appreciate as they move towards becoming a productive citizen?

Yeah, well, let's go through this exercise anyway.  The corrections are in bolded text:

In the wake of the racially charged and divisive election the faculty, staff, and students of University of North Texas have come together to demand that our university take action and declare itself a sanctuary university. We are not alone in our demands; public universities and private colleges across the country are demanding that their campuses become sanctuaries for students, faculty, and staff who are undocumented, marginalized, and/or at risk.  (First, the term "undocumented" is used in error, since it doesn't necessarily mean the person is here illegally.  Second, the term "marginalized" could refer to somebody who has broken any law, but would students want a convicted rapist running around their campus, for example, claiming they can because it's a sanctuary?  Third, the only people who would be "at risk" would be people who have broken the law... and the United States Constitution does not make any provisions for lawbreakers except for due process.  And isn't due process one of the benefits anybody in the USA should expect?  If we don't have due process for only a certain set of people, who else really should expect it?)

Not only is UNT mobilizing for its own sanctuary campus, but we have built a bridge between the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University as we organize this movement and demand these rights together, as one. Without our demands being met, the University of North Texas will be turning their backs on every person who is marginalized and paying tuition. This would include potential students who will be prevented from gaining access to an education because of their documentation status as well as every faculty and staff member contributing their labor to the education of our future.  (Again, the term "marginalized" is problematic here.  Supposedly somebody who's an English major wrote this.  Not sure the university is getting a strong endorsement of its educational merits with this one.  And threatening the administrators with the lack of funds coming from students being deprived from attending because they're in the country illegally is farcical; it's like warning that a bank robber being sent to jail won't be able to pay to attend... even though online classes could be taken from any country with an Internet connection.)

Our demands align with the UNT’s Core Values and Four Bold Goals. Goal One states that the University will “foster an environment of [...] strong support systems to ensure that more students stay in school, engage in service and campus life, and graduate on time”. Making UNT a sanctuary campus will ensure that those students who are undocumented and/or students who face a daily risk remain in school safely and are able to participate in campus life. Goal Three aims for our university to “become a national leader among universities in student support [and] employee relations”. Making our campus a sanctuary supports its students and employees while they contribute through tuition payments and their labor.  (... regardless of their legal status...?  This student needs to take Logic 101 to understand why this entire paragraph is riddled with fallacies.)

This action will place the University of North Texas in solidarity with institutions of higher education across the nation who have declared themselves a sanctuary campus. Prime examples are Reed College, Columbia, Portland State, and all schools within the California State school system. University of North Texas will be breaking barriers for Texas Universities wishing to become sanctuary campuses by taking the initiative to defend and protect their students, faculty, and staff.  (Wow - defend and protect?  From consequences of the behaviors of students, faculty, and staff who've not abided by the law?  What's next?  Protecting the rapists, drunk drivers, etcetera, etcetera?  If you want to change the immigration laws, then change the immigration laws.  Trying to somehow codify the arbitrary protection of certain people who break certain laws is hardly sound civic judgment.)

- Dear Student:  With apologies for the snide tone of your professor's corrections; but even this is for instructional purposes.  You see, for your petition to be taken seriously, it has to argue on the basis of the merits, not on aspirations based on the troublesome logic of ignoring sovereignty laws.  For example, what are the immigration laws of any Central American and South American country?  I understand you are upset with the way illegal immigration is being handled in the United States, but asking governmental authorities to pretend that certain laws don't exist defies the type of government immigrants supposedly come here to enjoy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Gatlinburg's Fiery Visitor

Last night, Gatlinburg was under the gun.

Eastern Tennessee’s popular resort town faced a mandatory evacuation notice as wildfires swept perilously close.  Nestled within the heavily-wooded flanks of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg’s very identity was threatened by a natural disaster stoked by one of the region’s driest summers in a decade.

Up to 14 separate conflagrations are believed to be eating up dried timber around the scenic community, which thousands of tourists each month use as their launching-off point for excursions into the lush park. 

I’ve been there, and indeed, the scenery is beautiful.  Mountains are impressive, hills are steep, and trees hug even the rockiest of slopes.  The views through valleys and from vistas can be poetic in their charm.  It’s kind of a mix of misty Appalachia, Old West bravado, and sultry Deep South charms.  And it’s not posh or remote, meaning it’s surprisingly accessible, both geographically and economically.  And that makes it especially popular, as you might imagine.

My brother and his family used to live in Sevierville, which is Gatlinburg’s largest neighbor, and home to even more Western-themed hotels and attractions.  Shucks, between Sevierville and Gatlinburg sits Pigeon Forge, a place that used to only be famous as Dolly Parton's hometown.  These days, however, Parton owns a world-class theme park there called Dollywood, based on the trifecta of historic Americana that gives the region its flavor:  Appalachia, the Old West, and the Deep South. 

In fact, that whole three-town area from Sevierville to Gatlinburg has exploded into it’s own sprawling theme park of sorts, with a plethora of kitschy kiddie parks, go-cart tracks, outlet malls, down-home-cooking restaurants, BBQ joints, music halls, water parks, Christmas stores, and other middle-class, blue-collar happiness that keeps traffic snarled and hotels full for most of the year.

Of the three towns, Gatlinburg is probably the most high-brow, with expensive hillside homes perched amidst heavily-treed slopes rising from the center of town.  And unlike some burgs whose old downtowns have died, Gatlinburg retains its vibrant, bustling main street, called a “parkway” since its final destination is actually the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Indeed, despite its redneck proclivities, Gatlinburg itself is a hip new urbanist’s dream.  Nestled along the riverbottom of scenic mountain ravines, the town is very densely developed, since buildable land is at a premium.  And development has been centered on the main drag, both to capture the most tourist dollars, and because the topography isn’t easily suitable for big-box sprawl.  That makes most of Gatlinburg charmingly intimate and easily walkable, with scenic pathways and nicely-landscaped sidewalks running along a bucolic, babbling waterway – an urban tableau that many cities would deeply covet.

Unless you’re driving into the national park, there’s no reason to drive around town, or from your hotel to any of the many restaurants, for example.  Traffic moves too slowly anyway, since again, the topography doesn’t allow for lots of wide roadways.  Visitors to Gatlinburg may drive in, but they park, and then walk around the center of town.  Traffic snakes through on relatively narrow streets, lined with famous attractions such as Ripleys, the Ober Gatlinburg ski lift, and a Guinness Book of Records museum.  There’s an aquarium, new hotels being constructed all the time, and even a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor.

Regular readers of my blog know I’m not easily impressed by much of anything, but during my couple of visits to Gatlinburg years ago, when my brother’s family lived in the area, I was struck by how appealing, functional, and vibrant a town it is.

Again, the urban planning geek in me would attribute much of that appeal to the town’s lack of sprawl and big-box development, but it also has to do with the town’s overt desire to perpetuate its quaintish, yesteryear-type vibe - and thus maintain its appeal to tourists.  Yes, much of the architecture is tacky and unapologetically exploitative of tired rural themes, but on the other hand, there are no garish glass skyscrapers to make the place look more like one of those big Yankee cities.

Indeed, I got the impression that Sevier County's Appalachian-Western-Southern motif was overdone mostly to remind tourists that they were definitely not in the North.  Even though historically, most folks in eastern Tennessee tended to sympathize with the Union during the War Between the States.

Architecture isn't all that Sevier County's attractions take liberties with.  Historical accuracy also takes a hit.  But then again, across much of America, what else is new?

Fortunately, today, word is that Gatlinburg dodged the worst bullets from those wildfires.  Most of downtown remains untouched, with the only damage being from heavy smoke that has blanked the area for a couple of days.  Unfortunately, however, at least three people are confirmed dead by the wildfires, and 150 homes and businesses on the outskirts of town have been destroyed.  In a community with 4,000 year-round residents, those are especially significant statistics.

For owners and occupants of those properties, of course, and the loved ones of those who were killed, last night was devastating.  But for Gatlinburg’s economy, as well as the region’s, it was mostly a close call that hopefully can soon pass into the history books.

It could have been much worse.  The way much of those three towns are built into the mountains, with sloping hills covered with vegetation reaching down into subdivisions and strip-malls with no buffer from a national park teeming with timber and tinder, forest fires in the area are surprising only because they’re as rare as they are.

These current fires have started and spread mostly because the area is in a drought.  And as we all know, from watching wildfires from California to Canada, nature itself uses conflagrations that humans often can’t control to clear deadwood and aging trees.  Not exactly something that makes us humans safe, especially the closer up against – and within – the forests we live.  But at least these Appalachian towns have been around a while, remnants of bygone settler days, when folks stayed behind as other pioneers kept moving westward, mining the various mineral deposits and farming what flat stretches of rich earth they could find.  Newer parts of Gatlinburg have been carved into the surrounding forests by real estate speculators, but that's only because there are literally no open patches of ground left to develop.

Of course, the science of forestry didn’t exist when towns like Gatlinburg were originally settled.  But as the science has evolved over the years, and we’ve learned more about wildfires, perhaps the prudent, purely utilitarian approach would have been to clear-cut swaths of forest ringing the town, and maybe even bulldozing some of the smaller hillsides to prevent mudslides in the absence of soil-holding trees.  Such preventative measures likely would give Gatlinburg’s residents and businesses a significant sense of safety and confidence that a wildfire near their borders could be successfully controlled, since vegetation – fuel for a fire – was being kept to a bare minimum.

However, obviously, that would also mean that Gatlinburg’s sole industry – tourism – would cease to exist.  As it is, there’s little else keeping folks in the area – or attracting them there – except the scenery.  There is no other industry to speak of.  That’s one reason why Appalachia has suffered so much economically over the years.  It shore is mah-tee pur-tee, but good jobs shore are scarce.

Cut down some of the trees, level some of the hills, and then what’s so special about the place?  Interestingly enough, when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park opened in 1934, it was mostly the result of efforts to stop commercial logging around the town.

As scenic as it is, I have to admit that I never would have visited Gatlinburg – or Pigeon Forge, or Sevierville – if I hadn’t had family there.  And they haven’t lived there for years now… and I haven’t been back.  But that’s just me.  Plenty of other people love visiting Sevier County.  And for the folks who make their living on their hometown’s scenic beauty, I hope the wildfires that have ravaged Gatlinburg haven’t damaged the woodlands too severely to keep tourists away.

But even if the tourists stay away, one can never be sure that wildfires will.  As popular a resort as Gatlinburg may be with us humans, nature can be both a blessing and a dreadfully unwanted visitor.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Diverse Toleration


For many evangelicals, it's become a four-letter word.  Mostly because people outside of our evangelical industrial complex say we're against it, or don't practice enough of it.

And it's true that diversity isn't eagerly embraced within evangelicalism.  Diversity, for example, apparently doesn't describe God's intricate detailing of our biological reality.  Otherwise sins like gluttony wouldn't be as rampant within evangelicalism, and we'd be more sympathetic towards people with chronic illnesses such as clinical depression.

In addition, diversity apparently doesn't represent the various topographies, climates, and seasons of our planet and its place in our solar system.  Otherwise, environmentalism wouldn't be so roundly scoffed by evangelicals.

And diversity does not always flood our imaginations with thankfulness when we consider all of the skin colors, ethnicities, personalities, and emotions of every single person on this planet at this very moment.  Otherwise, racism and nationalism wouldn't be as popular - at least, historically - within evangelicalism as it is.

We evangelicals tend to avoid people who are different from ourselves, whether we're white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or purple-polka-dotted.  We tend to segregate ourselves based on our ethnicity, social class, income level, and even education level.

We're most comfortable when we're around people like ourselves.

But that's not a propensity unique to evangelicals, is it?

Diversity is not exactly a trait that humans instinctively celebrate, whether we're evangelicals, or political liberals, or Americans, or European, or white, or black, or Russian, or Chinese, or poor, or any other type of demographic.

Like tends to attract like.  People with a fondness for liberal ideologies, for instance, tend to find a smug camaraderie with fellow smug liberals.  People with a fondness for nostalgia tend to find a fuzzy solidarity with other people who don't embrace change.  Educated people tend to find common ground with like-minded peers who bristle at the less educated, more rough-around-the-edges folk.

This is no big secret.  But it's something we often forget, or prefer to pretend is a social dynamic that doesn't really exist.  At least, not to the degree that it does.  Particularly the more educated we are - or, at least, the more educated we think we are.  After all, higher education currently champions diversity, so diversity is a trendy pursuit to be theoretically celebrated by the educated.  Since we've learned that diversity is a fact of life, it must be accepted and pursued, at least by the open-minded.  After all, the presumption is that only the ill-informed or the bigoted can't handle diversity.

Yet for all of its vaunted respectability, diversity can also be a concept even the most educated among us can deride.  This is because diversity isn't just about skin color, or socioeconomics, or sexual preference, or nationality.  It's about one's world view, and how people process the reality around them.  And although diversity's conventional champions generally deny it, diversity itself defies their attempts at controlling and owning it.

Diversity may be something evangelicals have a hard time accepting politically.  But diversity is also something educated liberals have a hard time accepting spiritually.  This is probably because spirituality represents an aspect of life that challenges conventionally-educated notions of diversity.  Particularly when it comes to areas involving divisive issues like abortion, gay marriage, and religious freedom.

So far, at least in the West, the easy-out for diversity's more liberal advocates has been to quietly rationalize that religious freedom takes a back seat to our common notions of everyday diversity.  It's easier to pretend that religion can be "tolerated" as long as religion doesn't compromise our humanistic notions of diversity.

Yet just because diversity exists doesn't mean that "tolerance" makes diversity peaceful.  Look at the animal kingdom, where diversity rules the jungle, yet there is also a regimented food chain in which survival can be brutal.  Look at how some invasive plants can kill long-established plants.  There is precious little tolerance or peace in nature.  There may be a certain equilibrium, in which plants and animals appear to be surviving in some sort of balance.  But just watch any nature show on TV to have that perception quickly dispelled!

Social scientists claim that our human capacity for tolerance helps separate us from wild beasts.  Yet tolerance is only as tolerant as the world view of the person defining it.  After our most recent presidential election, a lot of pundits are rhapsodizing that what we need now is social harmony based on tolerance for the viewpoints of others.  But that's sheer fallacy, isn't it?  Tolerance can only go so far before even the tolerant folks start getting on each others' nerves.  Some of us like to imagine that humanity only has to cherish a common respect for everybody and everything, and we'll be all right.  But that philosophy didn't even last for long in the Garden of Eden, did it?

God created diversity to demonstrate His creativity, but I'm convinced He also created diversity to keep us from relying on humanity for the peace we so desperately need.  Perhaps you recall the Tower of Babble, when folks were convinced they could supplant God's sovereignty with their own.  The Bible tells us that our diverse languages stem from that fallacy, which to this day represents one of our planet's key examples of both diversity and confusion.  Our inability to communicate remains a surprisingly persistent contributor to much of the strife in our world - even when we're speaking the same language!

God's provision of diversity means that we're all different.  Which, of course, is something we say we know, but is also a fact we rarely respect.  We all have things that prevent us from being exactly like somebody else, and prevent utter homogeneity, compliance, and tranquility.  Which, of course, means that to a certain degree, there are things in everybody else that we need to tolerate in order to simply get along and survive.

We don't have to accept everything about everybody.  We don't have to understand how and why we're all different.  We don't even have to protect all of the reasons why we're different - otherwise, we wouldn't need laws and jails.  Yet in this mix of personalities, ethnicities, temperaments, physical and mental limitations, socioeconomics, and body types, God tell us that the humanity each of us embodies is to be honored.  Humanity is the gift God has given each of us, which means that it's not ours to denigrate - in ourselves, or in somebody else.

But tolerance?  If anybody is to be tolerant, it's us Christ-followers.  But it's not a tolerance that excuses things God says we're not supposed to excuse.  It's not a tolerance that says anything goes, and everything's OK.  But it is a tolerance that celebrates everything that God says is good, and right.  And considering the inestimable breadth of all that God has created within and for us, that's a lot more stuff to tolerate than we generally recognize.

The type of tolerance most non-Christians embrace relies on cultural norms - or, at least lately, progressive interpretations of cultural expectations.  And some of these progressive expectations aren't wrong in and of themselves.  Yet how many of them are based not on an implicit recognition of God's gift of humanity, but on a selfish desire for any of us to be able to do whatever we want?

Just as tolerance is a concept that has been distorted by Western society at large, freedom is another concept that society has distorted.  We've convinced ourselves that as long as it doesn't hurt others, the things we want to do should be available for us to do.

Which means that we have a lot of people out there doing stuff that needs to be tolerated.  And in the process, we tend to create an identity for ourselves based in large part on the stuff that we do.  Which means that the whole notion of respect involves not only the humanity of each individual, but the stuff that they want to do.  Because otherwise, we're not really being tolerant.

At least, that's what our self-appointed tolerance police tell us.

And that helps expand the notion of diversity, since the amount of stuff for which we're supposed to be tolerant expands exponentially based on the size of the population, since we're all individual human agents.

This is the type of diversity we're told matters most.  Not human diversity.  But the diversity of human desires, since desires are now part of our identity as humans.  Again, at least according to our tolerance police.

Which is another reason why religiosity has supposedly become archaic, with its parameters and mindsets that generally celebrate a deity instead of a human agent.

Not that diversity actually isn't something to be tolerated, or even celebrated.

But it does depend on Who is expecting us to tolerate diversity.  And the types of diversity we're supposed to be celebrating.

Unfortunately, people who do not embrace Christ will probably not tolerate Who and what God wants us to celebrate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Two Hundred Thanks

On this Thanksgiving week, I am thankful for:

1.  God the Father
2.  God the Son
3.  God the Holy Spirit
4.  Christ's death, burial, and resurrection (which, theologically, represent three individual benefits)
5.  God choosing me as His own
6.  God's sovereignty
7.  God's providence
8.  God's grace and mercy (which, theologically, are two separate things)
9.  Love
10.  Joy
11.  Peace
12.  Patience
13.  Kindness
14.  Goodness
15.  Faithfulness
16.  Gentleness
17.  Self-Control
18.  God's Word
19.  Bible-believing parents
20.  My family
21.  The United States of America
22.  Our freedom to worship
23.  Maple Flats Baptist Church in Cleveland, New York
24.  Kenwood Heights Alliance Church in Oneida, New York
25.  Rome Alliance Church in Rome, New York
26.  Arlington Alliance Church in Arlington, Texas
27.  East Park Church of the Nazarene in Arlington, Texas
28.  Pantego Bible Church when it was located in Arlington, Texas
29.  Calvary Baptist Church in New York City
30.  Arlington Presbyterian Church back in Arlington, Texas
31.  Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas
32.  A comfortable place to live
33.  Electricity
34.  Air conditioning
35.  The old house and memories from Cleveland, New York
36.  Our two collies, Felice and Feliz
37.  Our cats over the years
38.  Good friendships
39.  Reliable transportation
40.  Central Park, my most favorite place in New York City
41.  Gramercy Park, my 2nd-most-favorite NYC spot, around which I used to frequently walk
42.  Summer days in upstate New York
43.  Spring days in north Texas
44.  Newly-fallen winter snow in upstate New York (but only in the early days of winter!)
45.  Big trees
46.  My mother's cooking
47.  Clean sheets
48.  Indoor bathrooms
49.  The Internet
50.  Classical music
51.  Pipe organs
52.  Junior's cheesecake
53.  Freedom of expression
54.  Cheddar's restaurant
55.  Uncle Julio's restaurant
56.  Honest and reliable mechanics
57.  Pilots
58.  Tilt-and-telescopic steering wheels, to accommodate my long legs
59.  Rain
60.  Umbrellas
61.  Automatic lawn sprinkler systems
62.  Green grass
63.  Smooth roads
64.  Seersucker shirts
65.  Handkerchiefs
66.  Coastal Maine
67.  "Annabelle's beach" on Maine's Blue Hill Peninsula
68.  Grammie and Grampa's house in Sedgwick, Maine
69.  First Baptist Church of Sedgwick, Maine
70.  Fresh-caught Maine lobster
71.  Seashells
72.  The tide
73.  Buoyancy
74.  Kimbell Art Museum (only the original Kahn building, however)
75.  Safe, clean, walkable downtown Fort Worth, Texas
76.  Police departments
77.  Fire departments
78.  Our military
79.  Our ability to vote
80.  My ability to read
81.  My ability to write (OK, you might not be thankful for this one!)
82.  Good medical care
83.  Eyesight
84.  Humor
85.  Hard work (mostly when it's over, of course!)
86.  Tenacity (mostly in others; if I discover it in myself, I'm usually just surprised)
87.  Hope
88.  Forgiveness
89.  The ability to share in the collective upkeep of public property through taxes
90.  The ability to help others
91.  Air traffic controllers
92.  Supermarket stockers
93.  Elevators
94.  Stairs
95.  Chairs
96.  Ben & Jerry's ice cream
97.  Deodorant
98.  People who are willing to serve as volunteers
99.  Teachers
100.  The ability to smell
101.  Odors that are pleasant
102.  Odors whose unpleasant smells serve as a warning of something negative
103.  Our body's ability to properly process waste
104.  Toilet paper
105.  Refrigeration
106.  Ice cubes
107.  Soap
108.  Rakes
109.  Eyeglasses
110.  Time
111.  Entertainment
112.  Clean air
113.  Clean water
114.  Garbage men (after all, have you ever seen a "garbage woman"?)
115.  Photography
116.  Pizza
117.  Creativity
118.  Fingernail clippers
119.  Toilets
120.  Alarm clocks
121.  Privacy
122.  Windows
123.  Meteorologists
124.  Engineers
125.  People who love math (so I don't have to)
126.  Respect
127.  People who honesty deserve respect
128.  Our ability to communicate
129.  Our ability to reason (even though some of us use this more than others)
130.  Gravity
131.  Fingernails
132.  Photocopy machines
133.  Shoes
134.  Socks
135.  Ceiling fans
136.  Nails
137.  Hammers
138.  Screws
139.  Screw drivers
140.  Fences that keep good things in, and bad things out
141.  Underwear
142.  Judges, lawyers, and laws (not quite sure why this comes right after "underwear")
143.  Windows
144.  Doors
145.  Locks
146.  Keys
147.  People and things that are reliable
148.  Tenacity
149.  Toothbrushes
150.  Televisions
151.  Remote control
152.  Computers
153.  Lawns
154.  Lawn mowers
155.  Staplers
156.  Paper clips
157.  Batteries
158.  Energy
159.  Light
160.  Purpose
161.  Bridges
162.  Watertight roofs
163.  Farmers
164.  Butchers
165.  Bakers
166.  Zippers
167.  Buttons
168.  Sewing needles
169.  Thread
170.  Truth
171.  The ability to discern right from wrong
172.  The courage to do what is right
173.  The strength to resist temptation
174.  Chocolate
175.  Pasta
176.  Walks through my leafy neighborhood
177.  Good neighbors
178.  Immigrants whose desire to live here reminds me how good America is
179.  People wealthier than me, who remind me that riches are relative
180.  People poorer than me, who also remind me that riches are relative
181.  The ability to be content
182.  The ability to wait
183.  Summer breezes
184.  Winter thaws
185.  Colors
186.  Shapes
187.  Dimensions
188.  Harmless comforts
189.  Necessary stimulations
190.  Pecan pie
191.  Affirmation of the good
192.  Caution against the bad
193.  The Chrysler Building, America's most elegant skyscraper
194.  Frank Lloyd Wright's "Fallingwater," America's most intriguing house
195.  My college education
196.  Graduating from college debt-free
197.  Being able to help care for my dear Dad during his dementia
198.  Being assured that Dad's in Heaven, along with everybody who has trusted Christ as their Lord
199.  Being similarly assured of my own destiny
200.  You - for reading this!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Alt-Right Frankness Isn't Refreshing

He's become a lightning rod of controversy in an already controversial campaign.

Yet the New York Times has yet to interview him.

Neither has the Washington Post, or CNN, or any of America's legacy news networks.

Seems the only media outlet interested in interviewing Steve Bannon has been that longtime bastion of journalistic integrity, the Hollywood Reporter.

Chalk up another big "fail" for the mainstream media.

Bannon, as you know by now, is a key advisor to president-elect Donald Trump, and a strategist behind the real estate developer's surprise presidential victory earlier this month.  Bannon has also been widely reported to be an ethnocentric bigot whose idea of making America great again involves antiquated notions of ruthless isolationism and hateful white supremacy.

Which, apparently, makes him more of an entertainment icon than an alarmingly powerful person who is helping to chart the next four years of America's presidency.  Why else the contentment of our mainstream media in letting such a stalwart of deep news as the Hollywood Reporter pick the inner crevices of Bannon's persona?

Granted, Bannon does fit the Hollywood Reporter's namesake beat.  His personal wealth has come not from politics, or even his long-ago stint at Goldman Sachs.  No, Bannon scored a big and surprising motherlode when he managed to wangle for himself some handsome royalties from the Seinfeld sitcom franchise, a television series he had no hand in creating or producing.  Bannon was merely the head of a company that advised another company to hold onto the show's residuals as an investment.

As if recognizing the ability of a hit show like Seinfeld to generate hefty profits well into syndication requires the mind of a business genius!

For most Trump supporters, who say they believe the "establishment" deprives them of an honest pay for an honest day's work, Bannon's ability to create wealth for himself on the basis of having nothing whatsoever to do with comedian Jerry Seinfeld's celebrated work is at least ironic, if not duplicitous.  But much of Trump's peculiar triumph has been hard to justify.

Some of Trump's key endorsers have tried to minimize the campaign's racially-tainted bluster by claiming it actually is designed to mock America's political establishment.  Milo Yiannopoulos, the gay flash-in-the-plan opportunist who has managed to ride Trump's coattails to erstwhile alt-right prominence, himself characterizes Trump's rise and the alt-right's apparent bigotry as mere petulance.  It's all mostly a tongue-in-cheek repudiation of the excesses of political correctness, according to Yiannopoulos.  It's conservative only in that it isn't gratuitously tolerant.  Cheeky and irreverent, and willing to suffer the optics of political estrangement as long as Yiannopoulos, Trump, and their brethren can mock the perpetuation of facades of socially fashionable respectability (their opinion of what political correctness is).

Bannon repeated that strategy of mocking the political status-quo in his Hollywood Reporter interview, saying the "darkness" with which he's portrayed in the mainstream media isn't a bad thing.  In fact, he relishes his ability to provide shock value, such as cheerfully comparing himself and Dick Cheney to, um, Satan.

But is Bannon himself a racist, like many claim?

"I'm not a white supremacist," Bannon protests to the Hollywood Reporter.  "I'm an economic nationalist."

In other words, according to Bannon, the rise of Trump is all about bringing jobs back to the United States, and to workers of any ethnicity and skin color who are legally entitled to those jobs.  To him, the fact that Trump scored as well as he did among black and Hispanic voters speaks to his campaign's relevance in our global economy.  Bannon complains about how American companies have created a vast middle class across Asia, as jobs were, in his view, pulled out from underneath the feet of American workers and shifted for pennies on the dollar to unworthy Chinese, Bangladeshis, Thais, Vietnamese, and Indians.

So maybe Bannon isn't racist against non-whites in America.  But to him Americans of any skin color are more important than anybody else on our planet simply because they're Americans.

"The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia," Bannon complains.  "The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over."

It's a version the same "American exceptionalism" conservatives have been preaching for years.  Only with Bannon and Trump, nothing else matters except our relatively small patches of global real estate, from Alaska to Hawaii to the mainland.  No wonder the alt-right is so infatuated by a real estate developer.

So all this talk about building a wall across America's border with Mexico is merely boisterous hyperbole?  It's just something audacious to spark some dialog on the issue of illegal immigration?  Because too much political correctness has stalled progress on the subject?  Trump is fully aware that Mexico has been as much of a job drain on the United States as Asia has, and part of his campaign rhetoric was Ford Motor Company's relocation of production south of the border.

If you're cool with ignoring the overt ethnocentrism of Trump's wall talk, then you're probably chuckling over Bannon's description of such hubris as snide sarcasm.  Sarcasm not against Mexicans specifically, but against the globalists who view national boundaries as archaic notions of sovereignty.  Too bad if some people take such blather seriously, but Trump and his minions know he's talking more with symbolism than certainty about building a physical, three-dimensional wall.

So it's poetic license.  Kinda.  It's snarky play-with-the-media's-sanctimonious-editorializing.  It's yank-as-many-chains-as-you-can.  Shucks, it's free publicity.  Besides, you're not saying anything hundreds of thousands - in fact, millions - of voters aren't already thinking, and saying, and grumbling about.

After all, elections aren't about issues.  They're about votes.  Elections are about attraction, affinity, and impressions.  And even though America is rapidly becoming urbanized, how many urban residents are legal and eligible to vote?  Meanwhile, how many Americans in suburbia, and out in the rural reaches of fly-over country, are sick and tired of the way coastal urban elites have been dictating America's pseudo-moralistic protocols?  Aren't there just enough fly-over folks to sway an election away from somebody like Hillary Clinton?

Sure enough, there are.  Trump didn't need to win 80%, or 60%, or even 52% of anything.  He just needed to get more Electoral College votes than Hillary.  Even if was two.  Even if he forced recount after recount, threatening to unleash his furious voters against The System if there was any doubt as to the legitimacy of his loss.  Or his win.

Hey, it's no secret:  People are angry.  Blacks and legal Hispanics, plus whites.  Old folks and a surprising number of young people.  Especially union workers in the Rust Belt.  Cubans in Florida, where President Barak Obama's normalization of relations with Cuba has been a particularly sore spot. 

Then there was the bathroom hysteria, provoked mostly by Democrats.  We really don't know what Trump thinks about gay marriage and trans rights, because he hasn't said much of anything on those subjects.  It's been perplexing to see so many gays and trans activists marching against Trump ever since the election, since there's hardly any proof that Trump would do anything to "oppose" their demographics.  The same with African-Americans.  It's mostly been distorted rhetoric from the mainstream media that has enraged younger blacks, while older blacks, desperately hanging on to their rapidly-disappearing blue collar jobs, are heaving a sigh of relief with Trump's win.

The main demographic groups who should be particularly upset about Trump's win should be women, illegal immigrants, and Muslims.  And, frankly, evangelical Christians, and anybody whose faith is important to them, since much of Trump's vitriol against Muslims centers not on whatever citizenship they may hold in Middle Eastern countries, but on their religion.  The less one holds to the notion of religious freedom, the more willing one is to endorse the idea that banning Muslims is a good idea.  Why?  Because that's a defilement of our Constitutional right for freedom of religion, but if religion isn't a key component of your life, it's more easily expendable.

Trump says he has religion, but it's not a faith in God.  It's a faith in himself.  It's a faith in his ability to schmooze, and to curry favor with constituencies from whom he wants something.  But he's not at peace with his deity - himself.  He's never actually found his niche - at least, socially.  He's a workaholic, but one reason may involve the fact that Manhattan society has really only begrudged him his space in their orbit simply because he's wealthy.  A historical and intellectual pedigree earns you gravitas in Boston and Philadelphia.  A political pedigree earns you gravitas in Washington.  And New York City is all about money.  Which Trump - regardless of how many billions he may be worth - at least can splash about quite convincingly.  But even in New York City, money alone can't get you on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or any of the other prestigious outposts on the island's staid charity circuit.

Trump has never bothered to cultivate a cultured persona.  He's always been garish and brash.  Never subtle, never genteel.  He's beauty pageants and gambling halls.  Glassy, mirrored skyscrapers, gold-colored lettering, cheesy marble veneers.  And his money?  It's not easy making friends when you sign contracts only to later file lawsuits seeking to overturn them.  He commissions contractors and then ignores their invoices.  He gloats, preens, pouts, and exaggerates.  Yet he's never been able to establish his own personal legitimacy beyond his profession.  And let's face it - being a developer of real estate isn't exactly the most righteous of professions, especially in contentious cities like New York, Chicago, and Dubai.

Trump's style is attractive to some, humorous to most, and offense to some more.  But if the alt-right is all about ridiculing convention, and Trump is desperate for self-legitimacy, the two may have discovered a common ambition:  proving that the common person deserves their day in the sun.

And apparently, that means no more Mr. Nice Guy.  No more public pretense of niceness and decorum.  After all, we've heard the anecdotes of what politicians on both sides of the aisle privately think of their electorate.  We know that political correctness is 90% posturing and 10% sincerity.  Besides, whether you're a politician or an accountant, lots of people are tired of refraining from cursing in public.  Playing to favored constituencies seems so inauthentic.  Being afraid to speak one's mind is a sign of weakness.  Leaders don't worry about offending somebody.  Diplomacy be damned; courtesy is for wimps.  Just let it all hang out.  That's what integrity is.

Fortunately for Trump, he's found the people who've been more than happy to oblige his quest for legitimacy at any cost.  The alt-right says they can have it both ways:  be brutally honest with your anti-social opinions, and brush it off as impatience with political correctness.  It's easier to blame foreigners for America's lack of decent-paying jobs, our declining standard of living, and our fears of terrorism.  Illegals can't vote (at least, not yet), so let's make them a scapegoat.  Asians we'll never meet are convenient targets, too.  And Muslims?  They're out to conquer the world.

And again, fortunately for Trump, globalism has wreaked havoc on America's middle class, at least in terms of how many good-paying low-level jobs we have.  Illegal immigration, too, has become a sprawling morass of inequity and strife that our government can't even pretend to manage.  And yes, even though we have sporadic examples of non-Muslim-involved terrorism on our shores, the majority of major terrorism situations across our planet do involve Muslim extremists.

Package it all up the way Trump has done, and it's easy to put Democrats in a box marked "damaged goods."  Especially when Hillary has the audacity to put Trump's supporters in a basked marked "deplorables."

Nevertheless, at least for evangelical Christ-followers, this Trump math doesn't add. up.  His alt-right cheerleaders love his freewheeling style, and the media loves reporting it, but just because common courtesy and decorum can be interpreted as duplicitous, that doesn't mean vulgarity and debasement are virtuous.  It's exceptionally easy for America's evangelicals to forget, but the Fruit of the Spirit remains the only way we demonstrate our love for Christ:  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

According to the Bible, the ends still don't justify the means.  Just because somebody else may be insincere with their kindnesses, and although public piety sounds more like platitudes to people who know our private opinions, does that make kindness and piety outdated or incorrect?  Maybe it seems refreshing to have a thrice-married womanizer who mocks the handicapped running the White House, but might that say more about our own faults than the appropriateness of such a demeanor in the president of the United States?  Maybe it's entertaining to have a president who apparently enjoys venting his frustrations via his Twitter account, but is that healthy for him, for his family, for us, and for our country?

Bannon made his money frivolously.  What kind of remarkable talent did it take for him to recognize the long-term worth of Seinfeld repeats?  Who among us couldn't have made the same prediction he did?  Meanwhile, how many people put in a grueling nine-hour day, day after day, year after year, for far less money?  No wonder Bannon can be so flippant.  Read enough of his quotes, and you see how cavalier he is with his deployment of the F-word.  So that makes him a refreshing change from the folks who feel constrained to keep their comments to the media family-friendly?

And what is it about being an "economic nationalist" that can be supported by facts, history, and basic capitalistic principles?  If a company can get its product made cheaper someplace else, that's what's gonna happen.  Sure, our trade deals helped to speed the exodus of manufacturing jobs from the United States, but as long as China, Mexico, and our other trading partners could offer lower-paid workers, the exodus would occur sooner or later.  It's hard for $15 an hour to compete with $15 a day - or less.  And unless America's blue collar labor force is willing to work for a fraction of what it used to, those jobs aren't coming back - especially with the era of robotization reportedly just around the corner.

So all Trump, Bannon, and their ilk have left is the public's deep skepticism of establishment politics, and our willingness to roll the dice on their hardened ethnocentrism.  Strip away the alt-right rhetoric - everybody has rhetoric - about refreshing candor and brutal honesty, and all we're left with is just another group of people longing for yesteryear and blatantly blind to the pitfalls of nostalgia.

Remember, the past wasn't perfect.  Capitalism really is about the pursuit of the bottom line.  And politicians - even disestablishment ones like Trump - are all about votes, not virtues.  The alt-right merely wants to believe there is some sort of twisted virtue in not being virtuous.

Maybe this is why the Hollywood Reporter has been the biggest periodical to date to interview Bannon.  Turns out, there's not as much newness here as people like him think there is.

They just don't have to pretend anymore.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Don't Blame 'Fake News' for Trump

Aren't you eagerly awaiting the day when all of this focus on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and this recent presidential election dissipates? 

When the more ordinary stories about, say, Melania Trump's wardrobe budget and travel expenses dominate the headlines?  When we're buzzing about the career choices Malia and Sasha Obama are making for themselves?  When we're arguing over whether words like "impactful" really are grammatically-correct words?

Yeah, me too.  But until then, most of us can't stop thinking about our recent presidential election.  And with good reason:  Whether you like the person who won or not, America's presidents generally become the most visible - if not the most important - singular individual on the planet.

Did that just send a new shudder down your spine, America?

Folks who've already crunched the numbers say that Trump is actually not especially popular with many Americans, even though he won the election.  Most folks who voted for him appear to have voted more for the Republican party platform, or against Hillary, or against the Democratic party platform, or against politics as usual.

And despite whatever it is you think about Trump, we can all agree that he will not bring more "politics as usual" to Washington.

So for those of us who have not liked the way Washington has been performing lately, let's hold onto that thought, shall we?  Things will be different.  Maybe not all in good ways.  Maybe in lots more bad ways than we can think of right now.  But if nothing else, Trump will either prove that Washington cannot be changed, or that we need to be extra-judicious as voters in picking the next person who thinks they can change it, or that Trump's campaign was all one big smokescreen - a parody of the most egregious examples of political hubris as the world's most-watched publicity stunt.

I still give Trump four months in office until he turns to Mike Pence, says "I'm firing myself," and jets back to Manhattan.  Personally, I don't think Trump is built to be a president, because the Oval Office isn't a corporate suite.  I could be wrong - after all, I've been wrong before - but I suspect this has mostly been one big ego trip for him; perhaps a follow-through on a dare somebody gave him poolside at Mar-a-Lago.  I doubt he could even walk a fifth-grader through "How a Bill Becomes a Law," but then again, lots of voters probably can't, either.

That's one reason we've landed in this mess.

Our current president, Barak Obama, says "fake news" is another reason we're in this mess.  Or at least, that fake news is one reason Hillary lost.  Facebook and Google have begun exploring ways to make fake news less, um, "impactful" on our political discourse.  Many ordinary websites that feature content from third-party providers are beginning to curtail that content, since much of it fits into the fake news category.

So, what is fake news?  Fake news is stories we often see on social media that have very little basis in fact, but are written to suggest that something is entirely true.  Fake news involves correlations drawn from and claims based upon distortion and spin, which in a way, doesn't make the concept very new at all.  What is new about it involves the platform upon which it's most commonly dispersed - websites and Twitter feeds, for instance, that serve as phantom propaganda machines for left-wing and right-wing organizations.

In the case of this recent election, I saw enough junk from both left-wing and right-wing fake news sites to convince me that Hillary didn't lose because only conservatives were engaging in such deceit.  And I suspect the biggest reasons companies like Facebook and Google are considering censoring fake news sites is because they themselves like to spin the news towards their own founders' personal political agendas.

Nevertheless, I believe the biggest reason Hillary lost stems directly not from any new media platform, but from one of America's most imperious and increasingly disreputable institutions, our mainstream media (MSM).

Yes.  I'm laying blame.  And here it is:  If it wasn't for the often-liberal, always politically-correct MSM, Trump wouldn't be headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Blame ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and even Fox News.  The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and even the Wall Street Journal.  Hey - look at Rupert Murdoch, and how much his sordid, salacious lifestyle mirrors Trump's.  The two are brothers from another mother.  And with Murdoch in control of Fox and the Journal, political conservatism may be important, but juicy social liberalism (which generates the profits) is paramount.

Then there was NPR and PBS getting in on the act, dryly putting a high-brow spin on their coverage of the decidedly bourgeoisie apartment building contractor from Queens.

After all, during the Republican primary, it wasn't the right-wing and even more draconian alt-right that were giddy over Trump.  It was the MSM.  Who else was reporting - daily, hourly even - on the latest exaggeration or goofy sound bite from the Trumpster?  I don't have the software to run the studies, but I hope soon somebody that does will test to see how often Trump-centric headlines dominated the MSM, while conservative media outlets were exploring all of the Republican candidates.  Jeb Bush.  Ted Cruz.  Marco Rubio.  Carly Fiorina.  All those other guys.  Remember how many candidates there were at the start?  Thousands, at least.  Yet from that broad slate of candidates, male and female, black, white, Hispanic, we ended up with Trump.

And it's the MSM's fault.  For example, during most of the campaign, Trump wasn't on the evangelical radar at all.  National Review?  I don't think so.  Instead, it was the MSM that was papering America with incredulous reports of Trump's missteps.  They were the ones repeating Trump's heady tweets.  They were the ones following his every move, waiting to regurgitate them back to consumers eager to be entertained by the audacity with which Trump conducted his reckless campaign.  I doubt there was any other Republican contender who garnered nearly as much attention from the MSM as Trump.  Some were even banished from the televised debates because the major networks wanted the fireworks only a Trump circus could generate.

And Trump obliged them all.  After all, he's not the kindest, humblest, most gracious person on this planet.  But he is incredibly savvy when it comes to marketing and the media.  How many times did he himself joke that he was barely spending anything on his campaign because the MSM was doing all of his promoting for him?  Trump is the prototypical "there's no such thing as bad publicity" headline-grabber.  And while that may say some negative things about his persona, publicity in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But there is such a thing as distorting reality by focusing only on one candidate.  Especially when ratings are involved.  After all, the MSM knew that many folks - Democrats and Republicans alike - were lapping it all up, every bizarre drop of it.

Somewhere along the way, apparently, Democrats and the MSM - along with many Republicans - were presuming that reason and rationality would take over the GOP race.  At some point, primary voters would come to their senses and get serious about their party's chances to defeat Hillary.

But that never happened, did it?  State after state, like dominoes, fell to Trump.  Many conservative pundits couldn't explain it.  They were exasperated.  But the tide wasn't turning.  There was no self-correction.

Meanwhile, the media was becoming apoplectic.  Yet they couldn't help themselves; ratings and revenue are more important than those things that actually constitute "news."  The MSM wasn't prodding Trump or Hillary to debate issues; the MSM was happy to let them bicker amongst themselves.  The MSM wasn't ignoring Trump's hyperbole to focus on the quieter, more staid GOP hopefuls.  After all, policy can be very boring, especially when you're not calling other people - and their spouses - sordid names.  So the MSM capitulated to the populace - and indeed, it's unclear if the populace really wanted all this Trump coverage in the first place - and, like addicts drunk on a willing supply of suffocating elixir, they guzzled the lot.

Glug, glug, glug.

Turns out, this election may not have been as much about Donald Trump, but about the mainstream media's addiction to people like him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tony Romo Scores Big Off the Field

Right now, couldn't you use a dose of classy, unselfish honesty?

We've come through a tortuous election season, with no end in sight as far as the acrimony against Donald Trump - and against Trump's opponents - is concerned.  The media - mainstream and otherwise - remains consumed with the many angles of Trump's victory and what they supposedly mean for just about everybody on our planet.

But then a guy we haven't seen on television for months shows up for a press conference in suburban Dallas yesterday afternoon.  He's Tony Romo, the injured quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys NFL franchise, and without any fanfare - casual clothing, an unshaved face, a grim countenance - we're treated to a stunning announcement of personal transition and remarkable grace under intense public pressure.

If you don't live in north Texas, aren't a Cowboy's fan, or don't follow professional football, you might not have heard Romo's speech.  Maybe you've never really heard of Tony Romo, since people from around the world check into this blog.  But here in north Texas, even though conventional media protocol is to call people by their last name, when somebody says "Tony" we usually know who they're talking about.  In many sports towns, it's probably that way with that home team's stars.  Even the guy who's replaced Tony on the field, Dak Prescott, is usually simply called "Dak".

Even I know who Dak is now, and I haven't watched any football in years.  And like virtually everybody else 'round these parts, I've known who Tony is for seemingly a long time.  He's not a tiger, like in the cereal.  Or an award, like on Broadway.  He's the aww-shucks quarterback who keeps getting injured, and keeps getting blamed by football fans for keeping America's Team out of the Superbowl.

The pressure Tony has been under this season has been extraordinary, even more so than ever before.  And especially because Tony got injured during the pre-season this past August, after sitting out multiple games in previous seasons due to other injuries.  Meanwhile, with Dak in Tony's spot this fall, the Cowboys have only lost one game in the regular season.  Their record is so good, now when people talk about the team making it all the way to the Superbowl, unlike any time in recent memory, it's not a joke, or a dig at the team's irascible owner, Jerry Jones.

Folks have been wondering, however, what will happen to Tony once he heals up from this latest injury, and is ready to play again.  Will he wrangle with Jones (people call him "Jerry" here, too - but not very affectionately) and force his way into the top position?  Will Jerry let the winning vibe his team has stumbled upon be risked with a Romo return?

Well, Tony himself put the rumor mill to rest yesterday, bravely acquiescing to a role that didn't seem possible during the pre-season.  He's now the back-up quarterback, in the shadows, out of the spotlight, and he's the one who told the sports world the news.  He didn't leave it to a press release from the Cowboy's media relations department.

Like I said, I'm not a sports guy, and I frequently dismiss athletes as having more brawn than brains.  But in Tony's case, he did his team and his franchise proud yesterday with one of the most eloquent and elegant speeches I've ever heard a professional sports participant give.

Indeed, it's one thing to know how a person acts when they win.  And while Tony hasn't exactly lost here - he's still pulling down a very handsome salary, even as a second-string player - his humility is palpable in his graciousness.  His attitude seems rare, not just for the sports world, but for most prominent Americans, particularly after an election pitting two exceptionally narcissistic publicity hounds against, in effect, America's voters.

Tony's poignant speech has become something everybody in north Texas seems to be raving about, and for good reason.  So see for yourself what makes Tony championship material, at least as far as being human is concerned...

Tony Romo's complete statement to the media on Tuesday, November 15, 2016:

"First, I really just came up here to talk to you guys. I wrote something I put together that I really just wanted to read. I know you have a lot of questions as many of you have hounded me pretty much daily. Ed Werder texts on the hour. But I'm not gonna take any questions so hopefully I answer most of them with what I'm saying here and if I don't answer them, I'm sure we'll talk in the future. So hopefully we're gonna keep it short. For multiple reasons, one, I think it's in the best interest of our team. We'll leave it at that. So I'm just going to read this and hopefully you can just stay with me. I don't think it'll be too long, but I think it does capture the essence of what your mindset is through all of this and our football team and the situation. So here we go.

"To say the first half of the season has been emotional would be a huge understatement. Getting hurt when you feel like you have the best team you've ever had was a soul-crushing moment for me. Then to learn it's not three to four weeks but 10 is another blow. And through it all you have a tremendous amount of guilt on having let your teammates, fans and organization down. After all, they were depending on you to bring them a championship. That's what quarterbacks are supposed to do; that's how we're judged. I loved that. I still do. But here you are, sidelined without any real ability to help your teammates win on the field. That's when you're forced to come face to face with what's happening.

"Seasons are fleeting. Games become more precious. Chances for success diminish. Your potential successor has arrived. Injured two years in a row and now in the mid-30s. The press is whispering. Everyone has doubts. You've spent your career working to get here. Now we have to start all over. You almost feel like an outsider. The coaches are sympathetic, but they still have to coach, and you're not there. It's a dark place. Probably the darkest it's ever been. You're sad and down and out and you ask yourself, 'Why did this have to happen?' It's in this moment when you find out who you really are and what you're really about.

"You see football is a meritocracy. You aren't handed anything. You earn everything, every single day, over and over again. You have to prove it. That's the way that the NFL, that football works.

"A great example of this is Dak Prescott, and what's he's done. He's earned the right to be our quarterback. As hard as that is for me to say, he's earned that right. He's guided our team to an 8-1 record and that's hard to do. If you think for a second that I don't want to be out there, then you've probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning. That hasn't left me. In fact, it may burn now more than ever. It's not always easy to watch. I think anyone who's been in this position understands that. But what is clear is that I was that kid once, stepping in, having to prove yourself. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. It really is an incredible time in your life. And if I remember one thing from back then, it's the people that helped me along when I was young and if I can be that to Dak, I've tried to be and I will be going forward.

"I think you all know something magical is happening to our team. I'm not going to allow this situation negatively affect Dak or this football team by becoming a constant distraction. I think Dak knows that I have his back and I think I know that he has mine. Ultimately, it's about the team. That's what we've preached our entire lives.

"I can remember when I was a kid, just starting out and wanting to be a part of something bigger than myself. For every high school kid or college player, there's greatness in being the kind of teammate that truly wants to be part of the team. Everyone wants to be the reason they're winning or losing; every single one of us wants to be that person. But there are special moments from a shared commitment to play a role while doing it together. That's what you remember. Not your stats or your prestige, but the relationships and the achievement that you created through a group. It's hard to do but there's great joy in that. And all the while, your desire burns to be the best you've ever been. You can be both. I've figured that out in this process. That what separates sports from everything else. It's why we love it. It's why we trust it. It's why I still want to play and compete.

"Lastly, I just want to leave you with something I've learned in this process as well. I feel like we all have two battles, or two enemies, going on. One with the man across from you. The second is with the man inside of you. I think once you control the one inside of you, the one across from you really doesn't matter. I think that's what we're all trying to do. Thank you, guys."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Brittle Fallout from Brittle Election

Political elections don't necessarily resolve conflict.

For proof, look no further than last week's presidential election here in the United States.  Not only were our two major-party campaigns fraught with divisive rhetoric, but after the surprising news of Donald Trump's victory, days of post-election angst prompted marches and demonstrations across the country.

If evangelicals - who, as a political constituency, were more internally divided than the mainstream media acknowledged - thought the weariness of this election was over, we need to think again.  With one of America's most overtly pugnacious president-elects planning on entering the Oval Office, there will be little time off for good behavior.

Anecdotal evidence is rife with examples of families in emotional shambles over this election.  Friendships have ended, and dismay is rampant across our social media spectrum.  Anger, frustration, and even - according to some - grief. 

It's as if several different versions of what we've thought America is has been quietly flourishing in our minds and imaginations.  Most of these versions apparently have been unrealistically optimistic about the type of progressive America the Barak Obama presidency signified for the future of our country, at least as far as racial diversity is concerned.  But now that Trump has been declared the winner of last week's bitter contest, the specter of dark, unbridled bigotry plunging our society back into the nether-regions of white supremacy looms painfully large.

Although I acknowledge all of this, I'm told that whites like me don't truly understand it.  Since I'm part of a "privileged" race that has been able to set the tone for our country's racial perspectives, I have never lived with the stigma of not being white.  This is a deeply American problem, I'm told, but one that also extends beyond our shores to Old Europe, and the irreversible legacy of tyranny and colonization for which white Europeans will forever be shackled.

And yes, I am white.  And no, I don't know what it's like to not be white.  But while I don't pretend differently, I also don't believe that Trump's imminent presidency holds the dire consequences for white v. black strife that many of his detractors fear it does.  For one thing, Trump's fiery bombast regarding his ethnocentrism was focused towards illegal immigrants - with "illegal" being the key element in that terminology - and Muslim refugees.  If you've read my blog, you will know that I vociferously opposed Trump on those two points, even though I also believe that illegal immigration is a very real problem for the United States.  So no, I don't directly see a correlation between Trump's obvious ethnocentrism and why a number of the people protesting last week's election are African Americans who claim Trump frightens them.

I don't understand why legal Hispanic immigrants are upset, either.  Immigration laws benefit everybody who is in America legally.  That itself is not an ethnocentric statement:  Most sovereign countries have immigration laws, and even for any of us to travel to Mexico, we'd need to have the proper authorization.

Then there are the various reports of anti-black, pro-white abuse that has been directed at people across the country since Trump's win.  And while it could be argued that white supremacists might feel emboldened to perpetrate hate crimes because of their myopic interpretation of Trump's victory, we don't really know who is responsible for the graffiti that has been anonymously left for others to discover.  Indeed, the very same could be said for the anti-white graffiti that has been found in places as diverse as New Orleans, Louisiana, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.  While some horrified onlookers have tried to draw correlations between these shameful displays of bigotry and Kristallnacht, the Nazi's "night of broken glass" against Jewish shopkeepers, the Nazis themselves boasted of their anti-Semitic thuggery and took photos of their terror-inflicting rampage for their twisted posterity.  We have no such proof in last week's post-election vitriol.

For those people who are not white, but who have been the subject of personal, racially-biased jokes, innuendo, or outright bigotry by somebody they know, work with, share public transportation with, or attend school with, all I can say is that such behavior is ugly, crass, and repugnant.  When I've witnessed it on social media, I've called out the perpetrator.  Fortunately, I haven't witnessed any of it in person.  But we evangelicals need to be vigilant against it, not just with a heightened awareness of it now that Trump won the election, but even after this moment in our collective consciousness passes.

It certainly doesn't help Trump's "optics" with the general public that he's hired a radical right-wing activist to serve in his cabinet.  Steve Bannon is the publisher of alt-right website, which I have frequently criticized for it's bullying attitude and demagoguery.  Plenty of evidence abounds across the Internet to suggest, if not outright prove, that Bannon is at the very least eager to promote sexist and racist opinions to sell advertising on his various media platforms.  It's hardly likely that Trump expects Bannon to promote the Fruit of the Spirit in his upcoming administration.

Still, I'm not convinced that this is a time for panic.  Not yet, anyway.  Racism isn't new, stupid behavior isn't new, and bigoted elected officials aren't new, either.  It may be disheartening to see somebody with Trump's temperament get elected to dog-catcher, let alone the American presidency.  But even Oprah Winfrey has said that if Trump's opposition is credible, it will at least give the man a chance to prove he's a better president than campaigner.  And if it's of any comfort, the folks who feel threatened these days need to understand that while Trump won, that doesn't mean he - or his views - are incredibly popular.

It's not as though most of the people who voted for Trump actually like him, or support the hateful ideas he proposed.  Most evangelicals I know, for example, simply voted the pro-life plank of the GOP platform. Indeed, there was considerable distress over Trump within much of America's evangelical community, and whether he or Hillary Clinton were "the lesser of two evils."

Frankly, I don't believe that Biblically, there is any such thing as "the lesser of two evils." In God's eyes, evil is evil, period.  There may be a better option, but there's no "lesser of two evils."  And while this may sound like I'm splitting hairs, we voters did have a better option, at least in terms of casting a vote that didn't suggest our capitulation to or endorsement of a wholly unqualified candidate.  And that better option was voting third party, or write-in.

And, for the record, I wrote-in Scott Cubbler, an independent.

Then there were the street protests, and the school kids being coddled by teachers to work through the grieving process, and the college professors who gave students a walk so they could cope with the stress of Trump's win.  Many of us looking on from the sidelines have found these displays of angst curious at best, and infuriating at worst - with the vandalism accompanying some of the marches - since free speech is actually a luxury we need to take seriously.

Indeed, for a protest to mean something, there has to be something actionable that can be done about the protest's target.  Protest without legal action is, at best, crying wolf, and at worst, anarchy.  Protesting during a campaign is part of the political process, in which protesters advocate for the public to support their candidate.  However, protesting after a duly-held election has been decided, and advocating for the Electoral College to abdicate their commissions (which CNN claims is one of the protester's goals), represents an exceedingly dangerous notion and an exceptionally cavalier perspective of how a democratic republic operates.

How would these protesters have reacted if roving gangs of Republicans took to the streets after both times Barak Obama was elected to office, calling for the Electoral College to overturn his win?  Granted, the tenor of Trump's candidacy was far more incendiary than Obama's two candidacies were, but many conservatives have been been spitting nails for years, seething under an administration they perceive to be not "unfit," but inept, heavily erring on the side of unbridled liberalism.

But I guess Republicans don't march.  Maybe they're too old and overweight?  Or maybe they don't like being herded on buses to pounce on a distant downtown district en mass...?

But I digress...

Let's remember the breadth of the free speech spectrum we enjoy - and often abuse - here in the United States.  The awful things Trump has said weren't illegal.  However, as an elected official, there are laws by which he'll have to abide in terms of the legislation he proposes.  And as far as protests go, the folks who didn't vote for him would be more effective by adopting a tactic of saving their marches for when - or, hopefully, if - he actually tries to push through some of his horrible ideas.  Chances are, a lot more Americans will be joining in then.

Despite all of the acrimony and discord in America today, there's one thing on which we can probably all agree:  There is a lot of hate in our country.  Trump realized that, and he exploited it by exacerbating it.  It was an easy way to set a provocative tone that would garner him attention and probably secure many votes for disaffected conservative - and yes, white - voters.  Yet what is racism, but not hatred based in large part on fear?  And didn't Hillary incorporate liberal measures of hate and fear in her own campaign, surreptitiously invoking the contempt minorities may have towards whites?  At any rate, she's a compulsive liar and, considering the ease with which she's solicited millions of dollars from African despots, personally ambivalent about human rights.  Chances are pretty high that many of the folks who voted for her did so with as much repugnance for her, personally, as Trump's voters did for him.

Not that I'm trying to justify the reasons people voted for Trump.  This is merely by way of trying to explain those reasons.  I get the impression that many Trump voters chose him because they believed he will protect the highly-valued pro-life cause.  And I would say that many Hillary supporters chose her because they believed she would have protected the highly-valued equality cause.  Of course, I voted for neither of them because the personal actions of each candidate screamed "I'm unfit for the presidency!"  But other voters felt constrained by the reality of our two-party system.  So, I don't fault people who voted for Hillary. And I don't fault people who voted for Trump.

Unless, of course, they voted for either candidate with ambivalence towards all that made their candidate unfit for the office.

Actually, if you think about it, one big "reveal" from this election is that our current two-party system is inadequate.  No matter how self-righteous and pious people like me could have been by voting third party or write-in, there was virtually no chance that somebody other than Trump or Hillary could have won.  For years, it has seemed that whether you were Democrat or Republican, we were voting not so much for somebody, but against somebody else.  This seems to have been the first time - in recent memory, at least - when lots of voters from both parties really disliked both choices.

I have heard that some big-wig evangelicals are hunting for a third party option, but I personally don't want a religious/moralist political party.  America is not a theocracy, Christianity is not a political party, and Christ-followers should be able to vote their Biblical conscience without keeping a partisan scorecard.  Nevertheless, it does provide a spark of intrigue to consider the possibility that this fiasco of an election could ignite some progress towards another option for more voters to consider.

Talk about freedom!  Don't we need to free ourselves from the pitiful major parties that have ossified this electoral process?

Not because a third party will fix the problems into which we've gotten ourselves.  After all, we'll still be voting what's in our hearts and minds, no matter how many political parties there are.  But at least we now know that political parties aren't the answer to our woes.

That's a message we Christ-followers should have been spreading all along.

FYI - Perhaps crunching the numbers on evangelicals who voted for Trump would be helpful; at least it appears the mainstream media was wrong (yet again) by stating that most of us voted for Trump.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trump has Won, but God Still Rules

There is no "lesser of two evils."

Not according to Biblical theology, anyway.  Evil is evil; period.  In God's eyes, at least.

In the eyes of America's voters, however, it appears Donald Trump seems the lesser of two evils.  At least if you consider what a lot of evangelicals have said during this excruciating election season.  Many Christ-followers, Christian websites, and evangelical celebrities spent the past few months parsing through the ways they could avoid voting for the worst sins of either Trump or Hillary Clinton.  And as we saw last night - well, early this morning, for those who stayed up - evangelicals decided Hillary's sins are worse than Trump's.

If you look at the poll numbers, Trump did not win the popular vote.  And Hillary only won by a couple hundred thousand votes, which isn't much, considering the 110 million votes cast.  Instead, Trump won the Electoral College, which is how America's presidency is officially determined.

Considering how divided America has become in recent years, and considering the fact that somebody - almost certainly either Trump or Hillary - would win this election, it was mostly a 50-50 chance that either of them could.

And one of them did.

Not that I'm celebrating with the victor and his supporters.  But I'm not mourning with the loser and her supporters, either.  I didn't like either of these major-party candidates, I believe both of them were equally unqualified to be president, and I'm still content with my write-in vote for Scott Cubbler.  No, I didn't think Cubbler had any shot of winning, but at the same time, I figured I personally couldn't lose by voting against the two major-party candidates.  The likelihood was that, in my mind, at least, America was going to end up with a bad president of one flavor or another.

You know; six of one, half a dozen of the other.  Potato, poe-tah-toe.  Thing One or Thing Two.

Frankly, not only am I surprised that Trump won - proof itself not in Trump's ability to sway voters, but in the media's delusional embrace of polling data - but I'm surprised at how gleeful some his supporters are, and how devastated some of Hillary's supporters are.  How emotionally invested were these folks in their candidates to be so flush with reactionary fervor today?  Or have a lot more people been secretly rooting for their favorite rhetoric-spinner behind closed doors?  And giving misleading answers to pollsters?

Yeah, I can't hide how pleased I am that our mainstream media got this election so wrong.  And so publicly wrong.  Serves them right for being so flagrant with their cowtowing to the Democratic party, especially when its nominee has so much egregious - and probably criminal - baggage.  For years, conservatives complained that fairness had become a foreign concept, from big city legacy dailies to the major networks.  Now it's undeniable.

I'm also pleased that it looks like the Supreme Court will be stocked with a few more conservative justices in the coming years - at least if Trump stays true to the list of nominees he promised during his campaign.  But if we're grasping at straws (since Trump's credibility as an elected official is utterly unproven) I'd also have been pleased with Hillary's less toxic personality, and I'd have been more comfortable knowing how much of a liar she's proven herself to be.  With Trump, he's so rogue, nobody really knows if - or when - he'll throw up his hands, fold his face into one of those ear-to-ear grins, and tell us this was all a colossal ego trip for himself, and now that he's won the biggest race known to mankind, he's done with Washington.  Except for his newly-opened hotel there, of course.

Which, of course, might be a scenario many evangelicals would enthusiastically welcome, since that would make Mike Pence president.

Nevertheless, both Hillary and President Barak Obama are today calling on all of us Americans to let by-gones be by-gones, and fall into formation behind Trump as he transitions from Trump Tower to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, in the spirit of bipartisanship, burying the hatchet, the common good, and plain old American unity (whatever that is anymore), consider the things we American voters still have in common:

For example, some have complained that Donald Trump won with the hefty support of sexists and racists.  But do you realize Hillary Clinton's campaign was based on sexism and racism?  She wanted people to make her the first woman president, which is a very sexist notion, as if presidential gender really matters.  She said that only she could provide racial reconciliation.  Which was particularly odd, considering that many in the mainstream media are begrudgingly acknowledging that Trump couldn't have won without the support of blacks and Hispanics, especially in Florida.

Even though I didn't vote for Barak Obama, I did think it was kinda cool that America had finally elected a black man to the Oval Office, since I hoped that Obama would be a sort of balm on our nation's color-scarred history.  But as far as symbolism is concerned, Obama didn't live up to that hope, did he?  So what makes Clinton think she could live up to whatever symbolism a female president ideally represents?

Second, we Americans are more like-minded than stratification-obsessed liberal elites like to presume.  One look at the county-by-county election map, for example, shows that rural and suburban voters in New York State, for example, have a lot more in common with most rural and suburban voters in Texas than we previously thought.  They voted for Trump, while urban residents in each state's biggest cities voted for Hillary.  Which, actually, should make conservative activists anxious, as America's rural areas continue to lose population, while urban areas continue to grow. 

Third, even though lots of folks are either happy or angry today, recall that neither major-party candidate was popular with voters before yesterday.  After all, votes don't necessarily mean popularity.  Republicans are happy today that they won, but how many of them are actually pleased that Trump is the person who got voted into the presidency?  Indeed, I think one of the reasons why I'm neither dismayed nor happy about Trump's win is because I didn't want either him or Hillary to win.  Remember:  There's no such thing as the lesser of two evils, at least according to the Bible.

As I just indicated, religion certainly comes into play here, since many evangelicals - like me - couldn't bring ourselves to vote for Trump.  But many other professing Christians did, at least at the behest of some of the biggest celebrity names from our evangelical industrial complex.  So we still have a problem within the Christian faction of the American electorate that troubles both folks like me, and the liberals who mocked the duplicity with which people who claimed to follow Christ also followed somebody who said He didn't need to confess anything to God.

Okay; yeah, so, that's actually a big area of divisiveness, and it will likely be an easy one for many evangelicals to now ignore, since Trump won.  But at least we never-Trumpers are willing to give Trump a chance to prove us wrong.  If he manages to survive these next four grueling years in the White House, he will have had a golden opportunity to evolve into the kind of president America needs, instead of the kind of belligerent narcissist he's been proud of being up until now.

I've been praying that he, his wife, and his children would come to saving faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now I'll be praying that God would use Trump for His glory and for the benefit of the United States.

In as merciful a way as possible.