Hooked on a Feeling

I don’t plan on making this a long one, but there are some times when you see something where all you can think is Yes.  Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.  Yes.  Yes.  That’s the problem.  That is THEEEEE problem. Yes. We have lots of other problems, but we can’t start to solve those problems until we address this one.  It is not uniquely U.S., but we certainly have a lot of it here.  And it is not uniquely Republican, but they have made it a central theme to their party platform.  If you haven’t watched John Oliver’s piece from “This Week Tonight” on the RNC national convention you should.  For those with less time, I encourage you to start at about 3:39.  And for those with even less time I encourage you to watch when they start talking to Newt Gingrich.  I love that old Newt entirely gave the game away.  I am don’t like the fact that there are far too many in this nature who don’t see that.  For those with even less time I will give you the quotes of the night:

Newt: “The average American, I will bet you this morning does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer…”

Anchor: “But it is…we are safer…and it is down.”

Newt: “No that’s your view”.

Anchor: “Those are facts”

Newt: in articulate mumbling and then “…but what I said is also a fact”

John Oliver “NO IT ISN”T! No it isn’t! It’s only a fact, that that’s a feeling people have”

After John Oliver makes some great points they go back to Newt.

Newt: “The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics that theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.”

The reporter argues that his accusation of liberals using these numbers is partisan, but she explains that the numbers come from the FBI, and that’s not a partisan source.

Newt: “But what I said is equally true, people feel more threatened…”

Anchor: “Yes they FEEL it…but the facts don’t support it”

Newt: “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians”.

The fact that a major politician feels his feelings = facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians feel that their role is to appeal to feelings and not facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians intensify and exploit those feelings and manipulate us because of them is a problem.

And while this CNN anchor (sorry I don’t my anchors that well as I avoid the major news channels like the plague) is doing a tremendous job pointing out the flaws in Newt’s arguments, the media frequently also appeals to our feelings and not facts as well.  This is also a problem.

Imagine politicians and media if you presented us with actual information, and actual facts, and we determined our own feelings.  But then we’d be more powerful and government would actually have to answer to the people.  And the poor media would be relegated to actually watching over both us, making sure we remained informed and making sure the people making the decisions remained honest.

Drug users and petty thieves fill our jails, but this crime against humanity continues unabated.

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Partly poetry with a chance of showers

I dedicate this poem to a new follower of my blog, who is really a wonderful writer.  I always appreciate writers who can just make words dance.  We all need some reading that just makes you smile.  Her site is here.  You probably want to visit her site instead of reading this nerdy poem. 🙂


wavecloudsA boring scientist enters,
One who knows clouds,
Beyond wisps and shapes,
Beyond layers and levels,
Past the undulating waves
That repeat but don’t repeat
Like a tessellation
That could only come from the hand of Escher himself

And should we be content enough to look up
Or look down,
If that beauty is enough
To tickle our imagination
Inspire our thoughts
Keep us floating above it all?
But a cloud is not just a cloud,
Let me take you in to see what you haven’t seen

Now we are at the top,
I know that’s very boring, but you know
Gravity and all
I didn’t make up the rules
If you’re cold that’s good…that’s normal
What you see might also make you shiver,
But I promise to deliver,
We’ll start with ice, isn’t it nice,
I threw in a bit of rhyme to keep you interested
We’ll throw in another rime later
Microscopic particles of dust want to be ice
They mimic it and vapor is only too happy to appreciate the effort
And water droplets formed from the warmth below
Have no choice but to form tiny crystals
Some are columns long and elegant
Some are dendritic prisms
Whose branches grow
Making ever so intricate patterns
In no hurry to make their descent
They insist on skittering and fluttering their way down
Photons refract their way through this hexagonal maze,
And sometimes they even say “halo”….er…”hello”
But I don’t just want to stay here
Or things will get too cirrus…er…serious

Before I have to be a gentleman and give you my coat,
Let’s move down
If your finding it hard to move down,
That’s the wind in your face
Clouds would like you to believe gravity isn’t the boss
Here in the middle we have at all
Right here you’re being pushed up,
Not too far away you can be pushed down
But let’s get to the heart of the matter
Here there are solids, liquids, and gas
And you’re looking a little frosty
That would be the rime I was telling you about earlier
It’s so beautiful it makes your heart melt,
But you won’t until we get further down
This is where it really gets amazing
There are trillions of droplets in this cloud
They are thawing and freezing, growing and shrinking
Now let’s watch the chase, squint your eyes
Bigger drops and crystals catch smaller ones

                       Droplet Collision

Coalescing, accreting, sticking
Millions of collisions each second
And the wind that blows up
Telling pellets and drops alike
“You aren’t done, you’ve got more to do,
I’ll not let gravity take you yet”
Hail embryos get aggressive,
Water droplets show patience
Can you feel the electric potential grow?
Let’s charge downwards and get out of the snow.

It feels a bit more tropical here,
Near the bottom of the troposphere,
Raindrops are big and ready to fall,
Eager to get away from it all,
Bloated drops fall and scatter to pieces,
As the speed of the updraft slowly increases
From one big drop you get ten,
Just to make its way down the cloud again,
Old drops leave, new drops form,
A wondrous, evolving, dynamic storm,
Look at those two, their picnic set,
They’re both about to get terribly wet
I’m sure the weatherman told them their chances,
But you know how very nice romance is,
I hope this poem precipitates inspiration,
Beyond the nuts and bolts of rain formation,
Now when on the cloud don’t forget to stop,
And think about all those crystals and drops,
There’s a world above and a world below,
But often in the cloud there’s a better show.

So you’ve been persecuted…

church-christian-persecutionLately I have been trying to push my mind to the other side of the aisle on the issue of Christian persecution in America.  I know that for most of my readers you will wonder what for.  Maybe it’s because my mother is a Christian and feels that this is the case and so I always like to take what my mother says with more consideration, because I respect her.  My mom, for instance feels, that forbidding certain Christmas songs to be sung in class is an example of going too far.  The holiday is after all a Christian one and about Jesus Christ.  When she was a pre-school teacher she says that mothers of multiple nationalities didn’t have a problem with it back in the day, so why should it be a problem now?  Then I came across this article that tries to be academic, by Mary Eberstadt, about the situation and was recently in Time magazine.  I have not read her book, It’s Dangerous to Believe (Religious Freedoms and It’s Enemies), but tried to get a more expansive idea of her views by reading a longer article she wrote on religious intolerance.  I do find there are some legitimate cases where things have been carried too far and these are referenced in her articles.  That being said there are some big picture things that I see being ignored in these articles and are typical of many opinion pieces even when written by scholars discussing what Christianity faces in an increasing secular America:

  1. not-persecutedThere is rarely a discussion about why some people might feel anti-religious or anti-Christian sentiment.  Perhaps you are one of the good Christians out there and that’s wonderful, but given the history of Christian oppression in this country and in the west in general, might there not be some reasons for concern?  If we are going to talk about legitimate instances where good Christians were punished simply for a harmless expression of their belief, should this not be balanced against instances where those who claimed they were Christian also caused harm to others?  If we compiled a list of those two types of instances, who would have the most?  And I’m not saying two wrongs make a right, but I’m saying there has to be a more honest discussion, because if Christians fail to understand why might not want their beliefs in the public sphere anymore, then it will appear to others that they are uninterested in taking responsibility for the harm their belief system has caused or how alienating it might make some people feel.  Again, this always brings someone out who says, well if they were causing harm they weren’t really Christians, because Jesus said this or that.  All that is great, but it’s of little consequence to those being marginalized, hurt, or oppressed, when the perpetrator claims their actions are justified by their religious beliefs.  It means your belief system isn’t making friends, and if you truly believe in the peaceful message of your religion it as much your responsibility as anybody else to oppose people wrongly using your religion.  We don’t see this as often as we should, from any religion.
  2. In a transcript of one of my favorite speeches given by Douglas Adams he says the following:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”

I think this is a very real thing to remember.  Religious beliefs are protected in a way that other ideas are not.  It is a relatively new thing to simply be able to challenge religious ideas.  I think it’s a good thing.  Notice the language that Eberstadt “…a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs”.  That phrase itself implies that there are certain rules which apply to religious beliefs that don’t necessarily apply to others.  Now I’m not saying that uncivilized criticism is effective, but you would hardly see a lot of angry protests for uncivil criticism for highly tested scientific theories.  There are no biologists out there claiming there is a war on evolution and complaining about the mean things Christians have said about people who accept the evidence for evolution.  And while I do get upset when I see atheists insulting and demeaning religious people, in the end these are just words.  The past and present is full of less than tolerant reactions by the dominant religion to even civilized criticism which Eberstadt is asking for from others.  So as much as I would like to see people with religious beliefs not attacked personally and only the ideas, this has not been the case historically when religious ideas have been criticized in the past.  Just looking at the past 100 years, the Scopes Trial in 1925 had a teacher jailed for teaching evolution, and it wasn’t until 1966 that the Supreme Court deemed state statutes unconstitutional that prevented teachers from teaching evolution in public schools.  Presidents have to be open about their Christian beliefs to have a reasonable chance to be elected.  Currently 7 states have it in their state constitutions that atheists can’t hold public office.  And while this is clearly unconstitutional, the fact remains that this is a much higher brand of intolerance than that which is being shown towards Christianity.  In such states, trying to fight those unconstitutional state constitutions will simply alienate yourself from voters even more. How many politicians can be openly gay?  How many people of other religions can make it to office in the U.S.?

  1. And finally, it’s a point that many make, how many Christians would be equally sympathetic to the teacher that was suspended for giving a Bible to a student if it was a Koran?  How many Christians in this country would be okay if a coach decided to lead them all in a Buddhist meditation session before a game?  How many people would care if that City Fire Chief was let go if he published a personal book saying Sharia Law is great, even if it didn’t impact his work?  The work of the Satanic Temple has formed to challenge this attitude, and we find that all of a sudden, a lot of Christians don’t believe in freedom of religion, only the freedom of Christianity to go unfettered, remaining unchallenged in a position of privilege.  Now it may be that Christianity is under attack more than other faiths but it is only because it is the faith in a position of privilege in this country.  Most secularists would have an equal problem with any religion enjoying such privileges.  When one faith or ideology is proselytized over others in the public sector, that depends on faith and belief, without evidence, this is a dangerous path to go down.

Can a push from one direction go too far?  Certainly, and we do need people to keep that in check.  Nobody should be persecuted. But losing privilege is not persecution. It also seems there are parallels between the reaction to the loss of Christian privilege as there are to the loss of white privilege or male privilege.  So any conversation about how Christianity is treated should include a discussion about how other religions are treated, and see if they are on equal footing.  And I don’t mean just according to the law, but from a cultural standpoint.  Because even if the law did allow a teacher to give a Koran to a student, I think we can agree that this teacher, even if not punished might be in a lot more danger in certain communities than he would by passing a Bible to a student.

Perhaps a question that might lead to further posts, is how easily can religions be inclusive to other religions and consider them equal if by definition a religion sees their beliefs as the true ones, while others are false?

Life on the Line

In a recent Facebook discussion, we talked about the value of occupations where people put their life on the line.  This of course arose out of a conversation about the currently chaotic situation involving the police and the Black Lives Matter movement.  A friend of mind said he leaned towards siding with police because they lay their lives on the line every day.  Many people feel this way and it is oft used to not only build respect towards police officers, but also people in the military.

On one hand there is certainly courage getting up each day, knowing this could be a day you die…or rather a higher than normal percentage for the average citizen.  Of course the average cop may have as good of odds as the average person who grows up in inner city areas that have a high crime and murder rate.  That aside I agree that it still takes courage, but the stress of such a situation is likely not healthy without a good deal of treatment to deal with the stress.  That kind of stress is likely to make you more likely to take less chances in any given interaction with the citizenry to protect your own life.  Particularly in areas where there is a lot of crime, and for a job which doesn’t pay that well given the cost of your life.

On the other hand, one wonders what compels someone to choose that line of work?  Do people say…”I really want to put my life on the line every day and be a cop or join the military, protecting people?”  I am sure some of them do.  Such nobility does exist.  But I am sure there are plenty of reasons that come into play as well.  Some may join because they can’t afford or don’t want to go to college.  For the military, some may join for the opportunity to go to college, or the job opportunities that will be more plentiful upon graduation.  Many join the military simply as a way to get out of poverty.  Other factors may come into play, like trying to escape an abusive or dysfunctional household, doing it because your father and/or brother(s) did it.  Other less noble reasons could also exist like just wanting the respect that comes with the uniform, picturing yourself as some action hero not even thinking about the consequences of you doing or wanting that instant authority over people.  This has always been the trouble I have had with simply thinking of all cops or military personnel as noble heroes for being willing to lay down their life for others, because it’s unclear to me how much of this courage really factors into their decision to do the job.

wash-ham_memeBut they do, do the job.  At the end of the day isn’t that all that matters?  Perhaps, but if laying down your life, whatever your initial intentions were make you a person with courage then such courage should also be bestowed on all people who have dangerous jobs.  And there are such jobs even though they in no way are protecting other people.  People who are loggers, fishers, and roofers come in the top 3.  Here is a list of the top 20 most dangerous professions per capita (Police come in at 15).  We also must then laud all those who lay their life down for a cause.  This then includes your rebels, your gangs, your suicide bombers.  This people also risk their life, sometimes end their lives for a cause they believe in.  I think we can agree that this is not the type of person we want to elevate to nobility.  Of course it is the values they hold, the values they fight for, the goodness that they protect.  So if we can’t guarantee the motivations of all people who don the uniform, if there are more dangerous professions, and if what makes someone is a hero is the values they represent, it seems to me like “laying down one’s life” isn’t an overly relevant reason to elevate one to a position of automatic respect.

But you may say, “Big talk person with blog, but would you be willing to do the same?”.  And I think it’s a fair question to ask and it’s also an important question I think to ask one’s self.  “Is there a cause for which I’m willing to die for?”  I certainly think I have the courage for it, but I know for me the death part isn’t what would hold me back.  If there was truly no other way besides carrying a gun to solve the problem, then it is my passion that would override my fear of death, at least initially.  It would simply feel like the right thing to do regardless of the consequences.  What I will say is that I am definitely capable of making a mistake, and possibly a deadly one.  Dying to me is quite honestly less scary than taking the life of someone who did feel I deserve it.  Had I shot Tamir Rice.  I would be wishing myself dead, and if they didn’t lock me up, I’d quickly turn in my badge.  Because, how are you going to live with that?

Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids.  Values to die and live for.
Cop buys mother he caught stealing, $200 dollars in groceries for her kids. Values to die and live for.

When it comes the situation between cops and blacks in the U.S., all I can say is that there is definitely racism in the justice system, and most cops are simply doing their best.  They see the worst of society and the see it every day.  There is no question this wears on them, and there is no question in changes the brain.  But so does poverty and racism.  The key is I think is to reach out to all those who need help.  You don’t have to lay down your life to support the police and black people.  Things have to change or a lot more people are going to die and those are the lives we all need to work together to save.

A Letter to Bernie Sanders

Dear Bernie,

First, I hope you don’t mind me calling you Bernie.  You have from the start of your campaign felt like one of us.  Something no other candidate has been able to pull off.  So many presidential candidates seem so out of touch with the large majority of the population, and so the first thing I want to thank you for is being is so accessible to so many of us.  Hell, you even flew coach.  At the age of 42 I find that exhausting and I’m not doing the intense amount of traveling and campaigning that you were. This is just one of the many things I have to thank you for in this letter.

I want to thank you for running a brilliant campaign.  You used social media in a way that no other candidate has done before. To communicate with young people and get them excited about politics (as they should be) is important.  I also know it was a way to get attention that the corporate media wasn’t going to give you.  I imagine the excitement you could have generated in this nation if you had been given similar exposure as your democratic running mate and the progress that could have been made if you were elected.  You certainly deserved it and exposed the fact that the media isn’t trying to respond to the will of the people, but trying to bend the will of the people towards their narrative.

I want to thank you for running a clean campaign.  You made it clear right from the beginning that you had a message and that you wanted to talk about the issues.  You didn’t attack your opponents with meaningless minutia, but gave fair and substantive criticism of their political positions, policies and plans. It’s easy to get disappointed by the election process when it seems like slinging mud at each other is something that has to be done if you want to get elected.  When it seems like pandering has to be part of the process.  You generated so much support by being an honest politician and simply talking about the problems that you would have to face for the job you hoped to be elected for.  I hope that you will be an inspiration for politicians in the future, because we quite simply need more who run their campaign the way you have.

I want to thank you for not using a SuperPAC.  The marriage between big business and government has to end and you lived that message during your campaign.  You depended on support from the people, the unions fighting for the people, and you did amazingly well.  The fact that you gained so much support and won so many hearts without playing by the rules that so many politicians today feel they have to play by gives me some hope for the future of this nation.  You are the only candidate who took the term “public servant” to heart, instead of being the “corporate pawn.”

By not being bought, I want to thank you for always having the courage of your convictions.  You have a long history of political consistency.  This is rare in of itself, and I am sure you had many advisers suggesting that you waver from that in order to get elected.  Even close friends might have suggested that, just knowing the good you could do if elected, but you took the high road and trusted that if being true to yourself got you this far, it might even get you to the highest office of the nation.  Whether we like or dislike a candidate we deserve a group of people to vote for who are exactly who they appear to be.  Gandhi famously said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  You seem to have always lived by that creed.  I am so grateful for that, because I simply thought that candidates like you didn’t exist anymore.

That face. The kind he’d give to the media when they were asking pointless questions. 🙂

Finally, I want to thank you for changing the conversation.  You were substantive and intelligent when talking about the issues.   It may be that there are different or even better solutions to our problems but you never backed down from an honest conversation about them.  You changed the conversation from one that was divisive to one that was inclusive.  You talked in red states.  You talked at Liberty University.  You avoided talking about religion, which has no business being in our political system, but more importantly, because you knew that regardless of one’s individual beliefs we must focus on our common aims than our differences.  We must realize that there is more that binds us than separates us.  You showed political courage even when you didn’t have to for the simple reason that you wanted to suture the tear that seems to be worsening and threatens to move the people of this nation further apart.  You genuinely want to help all citizens of this country, you care about the oppressed, the marginalized, and the unlucky.  You demonstrated so much compassion and integrity.  We sink or swim together and you seem to be the only one who really gets that.

My heart is broken that you didn’t win.  However, my heart is lightened by what you accomplished in this primary.  When a virtuous and honest man comes to the fore it forces a lot of people to ask questions about their own character and so I hope that even if you can’t be president, the greater thing you accomplished was that you created a better political climate going forward.  We need that combination of empathy and courage from the men and woman who want to be political leaders in our country going forward.  Thank you for being an example for those who follow you.

Sincerely,
Swarn Gill

Fractured

So is this the beginning of our descent into madness,
When we forget about goodness, pay more attention to badness?
Is society beyond repair, no fix, eternally broken,
As words of rage and hate are the only ones spoken?
The technology that was supposed to connect us,
Serve only as tool for leaders and corporations to dissect us,
The politicians we elect that someone else selects,
Sit in their suits and mansions immune to the effects
When it comes to true courage most haven’t the nerve,
Why don’t politicians also protect and serve,
In the hands of a few is unprecedented power,
But their indifference to us grows hour by hour,
I don’t want a world where my only hope,
Comes from focusing the lens on my telescope.

And yet it seems so obvious the answer is kindness,
Why can’t we all find a way to get behind this?
I know such a statement is just idealistic,
To reduce the problem like this is unrealistic,
I know there are hurts that people hold onto,
But I also know that hurting back is wrong too,
At some crucial point we’re going to have to say,
We need to come together, the other side isn’t going away,
And the notion of an “other side” seems irrational,
We’re all the same species local or international,
Raise people up in accordance to your means,
It’s not a matter of which way your politics leans,
Life is not defined by our categories and labels,
Simply move beyond the self whenever you’re able.

And maybe just maybe, unplug yourself,
Put your phone or remote upon the shelf,
Give a hug, hold a hand, make someone smile,
And see what in this world is really worthwhile.