Friday, December 16, 2016

Stand by the 1st....even if it hurts

This past week had a day that celebrates the Bill of Rights.  The original first 10 amendments to the Constitution that limits the role of government to control our lives.  Also during this week the 1st of those amendments took a beating in the Indianapolis area.  I wrote about Knightstown, the ACLU was approached by a resident who felt that a cross on the tree in the town square was a violation of the prohibition of government from picking one religion over another.  The town took the flag down to avoid a lawsuit that they would certainly lose.  The reaction was swift and in many cases epic in its ignorance.  One comment I heard was that the majority of people wanted the government to promote Christianity so the minority should be quiet.  The point of the Bill of Rights is that we don’t vote on them.  The rights are there to protect us all.  In this case, the town has trouble seeing the danger of allowing governments to promote a faith tradition.  But what is worse is the concept of our rights can be at the whim of the majority.  When the founders decided what kind of government they wanted they made a point of leaving God out of it.  At a time when the very language of daily discourse included references to God the Constitution is devoid of religious references.  Their brilliance has kept us from falling into problems that we have seen in many other countries that try to balance religion and civic culture.  When any sin is also a crime against the state and any crime is an affront to God we lose a great deal of freedom.  Knightstown is a place where many see the cross as a symbol of hope, but that is not enough.  Government should not be in the business of religion.  So while the Knightstown decision was a victory of the 1st amendment, I fear many people, including a local editorial cartoonist, doesn’t understand and that is sad and scary.
But the 1st also seemed to lose a battle this week.  In Carmel High School an Anti-Abortion poster was put up by a student group.  The poster, seen below, was simple to understand and the poster fairly unobtrusive as far as anti-abortion posters can go.  The school took the poster down, for no reason other than it offended someone.  Now schools have some ability to limit what can be on the walls, this is not at issue.  If a student group follows the rules and gets the right permission then the message itself should not be disqualifying because some people don’t like the message itself.  In fact the 1st amendment MUST be defended for those whom we disagree with.  I am pro-choice and have harsh criticism for many in the so-called pro-life movement.  However it troubles me greatly that a school would suppress an opinion because some people don’t like it.  There is case law on this.  Students can have opinions and student groups can promote those opinions within the structure of acceptable behavior but the school cannot squash ideas because they don’t like them.  Carmel High School is attacking these students’ rights.  Schools should be a market place of ideas and this should be a teachable moment.  I think the students were making a strong statement in a forum that other groups have done the same thing.  They weren’t being offensive, even if they were slightly provocative.  But I can’t see how this poster rose to the level that it was disruptive to the education process nor was it in any way that I can see offensive. 
It is clear to me that the 1st amendment was never meant to protect only what we believe or are comfortable with but exactly those things we don’t agree with nor are happy about.  I find the message of the poster simplistic, I am staunchly pro-choice, but I think the school needs to allow these kinds of messages to be part of the tapestry of opinions that are allowed to grace the same walls.  The school, as an agent of the government, must have a compelling reason to stop a student’s voice.  This poster doesn’t seem to have a reason I can find.  I hope we can all see that these students should be allowed to voice their opinion and that if we want to challenge it the school should be a place they can do so in a safe and fair environment. 

The 1st amendment is a treasure in many ways, we can’t let it be chipped away.  Not for the sake of the majority nor that we don’t like the message being expressed.  When the Nazis marched in Skokie is was not a victory for them, it was a victory for all of us.  To have stopped them would have given value to their ideology.  Freedom is hard.  It means we have a diversity of culture and thought.  That is what makes our country strong.  Let’s remember what the founder’s dreams were and stand with me to defend the Constitution and acknowledge that we will encounter ideas, thoughts, phrases that make us uncomfortable.  Here is the secret, my voice and your voice make someone uncomfortable too.  I would rather be uncomfortable at times then to be silenced.  I think you do too. 

This is the poster in question from Carmel High School.  What do you think?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why The ACLU is Right.

In a small town about one hour from Indianapolis, the city is removing a cross from their Christmas tree in the town center.  The cross stood atop the tree in Knightstown IN until a local resident questioned its legality and engaged the ACLU to file a suit.   The city, in its wisdom, realized that the cross violated the 1st amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court and removed the cross, stating they couldn't win.  Of course a wave of people attacked the ACLU as anti-Christian suggesting they should leave Christmas alone.  This is a common tome coming from people who think their rights are being violated if they can't have their government support their religious view.  But the 1st amendment is there to protect us all.  The ACLU has been a champion for that protection since its beginning.  They want to hold the government accountable to the limits placed on it by the Constitution.  While the cross might seem innocent it makes a statement of the government is choosing to elevate a single faith tradition over another.  That is what the court and the founders both were worried about.  It isn't that the cross if offensive it is more about the fact that it is picking the life choices of some citizens over another when it comes to faith.  Some people are worried that if we take the cross off the tree that the next thing will be taking them off churches.  That is not a good argument as the ACLU would fight FOR the churches in that situation.  What is more likely is that the more we allow the government to support a single religion the more likely they will discriminate against another.  We have seen it in the past and thankfully we are more aware of the diversity that has been part of our country from the beginning.  To point out that the ACLU will fight for religious rights for Christians (one of the accusations was that the ACLU is anti-Christian remember) you can look here and pick any of the cases where the ACLU championed Christian rights

In the case of Knightstown the majority of people there want the cross, but the Constitution is not concerned with the majority.  Just like communities that have a majority of people who would ban guns, the Constitution stops them because the founders felt freedoms were more important that the opinions of a group of people.  Rights are not up for a vote.  But the people of Knightstown do have a response that is both powerful and legal.  They are putting crosses on their lawns and windows.  Where they should be.  No one is stopping the people from celebrating their important holiday but the government should be free of choosing a religion to elevate and that is good for all of us.

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Not a Monkey

I love zoos and have visited many.  My favorite thing about zoos is often not the animals but the people who visit them.  You see, for some reason, people think they know what they are talking about when it comes to the animals at the zoo.  The is a zoo I visited with a central exhibit of gibbons who would swing through the branches.  Signage around the exhibit was labeled clearly in tall letters:  It's NOT A MONKEY.  The sign went on to explain the difference between monkeys and lesser apes.  At least 10 people approached the exhibit, stood near this sign, and said to their children or friends, "look at the monkey".   For the rest of the day "It's not a monkey" became a code phrase.  But that is not the worst thing I have seen.  I once took a class that one project was to visit the Baboon enclosure at the zoo in Syracuse.  A large room with a variety of baboons of various ages.  One time a woman came in with a few children, may have been a teacher.  She points to the large alpha male and says, "See he is the only boy and all the others are girls".  The problem, standing, facing the glass that this woman is viewing through, is a male, clear as day by biology.  A quick read of the sign in the room would explain what the make of of the troop is.  However she knew for sure what was going on so why bother to read.

This is what I fear we can look forward to in a Trump administration.  A few days ago, President-elect Donald Trump decided that it would be a good idea to call Taiwan.  Without talking to the State Department or apparently anyone who has had a mote of understanding of the United States China policy since the Reagan years, Trump rings up the new President of Taiwan.  Now one can be critical of our one China policy but for the man who will be President to breech protocol like that is a stunning thing.  He seemed to act like the people who didn't read the sign at the zoo, he thought he knew what he was doing.  Unlike the people at the zoo, the mistake is not without consequences.  If this was about ignorance, this is a dangerous ignorance.  What is even scary is that there are people close to him who are taking advantage of his ignorance and getting him to do things that meet their agenda, even if it puts US in danger.   The fallout from these kind of diplomatic blunders can have far reaching implications.  However, like him, many of his supporters don't care, in part because they don't understand the world of diplomacy.

One of the things that people say about why they voted for Trump was that he doesn't talk like a politician.  But they are the people who call baboons with penis girls.  But Trump is not only ignoring reality but he is trying to redefine it.  He would go up to the sign at the zoo and erase the NOT at the gibbon exhibit.  He simply lies when his is caught in some new idiocy and his people say things like "There is no such thing as facts".  When Trump was out marketing his name and running a reality show his detachment with reality was comedy and not important.  But now, everything he says or does has world-wide implications.  He has said so many things since the election that are troubling, including lying about the election he won and the Carrier deal that he can claim.  This is troubling.  Regardless of the Trump team's worldview, facts matter, a lot.  We aren't at the zoo, gibbons are not monkeys and the Presidency is not a game.  Can someone please tell Mr. Trump?   

Monday, November 28, 2016

Post Truth and the Death of Real Journalism

On Thanksgiving,  there was a story that made the rounds in social media and picked up by news sources that somehow a cable company had broadcast porn on the CNN channel on Thursday evening.  Twitter led to various other sources repeating it including CNN that blamed a local cable provider.  Days later it turns out that this was not true.  In fact it might have been one person's cable box.  But now we will hear stories of CNN broadcasting porn as fact moving forward.  Because today news is not about facts.  Journalists are more interested in repeating hot stories than they are about digging deeper and being accurate.  That is sad.

It isn't like this hasn't been an issue in the past.  We all remember the McDonald's coffee story where an elderly woman was severely burned and initially was given $2.7 million in damages.  What you don't hear is that the amount was reduced to under $700.000 and settled for a different amount. Other stories like Al Gore saying he invented the internet (he never said it) or colonies of alligators in the New York subways to go back even further.  But something is different now.  It seems like every day there is a lie that floats out, often from sources that are suspect at best or down right nonsensical and they are uncritically reported and promoted by others and picked up by news sources.  Today is not any different.  But in the past

Donald Trump has tweeted that there are millions of illegal votes for Sec. Clinton in the election and that is why she won the popular vote by 2 million votes.  The winner of the election for the Presidency of the United States, the most important and powerful job in the world, is saying the election was fraudulent even though he won. His source?  A website that questions things like whether we went to the moon in the 60s and 70s and calls all major attacks in recent year false flags. That is right, Trump is quoting a website that suggests that 9-11 was an inside job done by the government, that the Sandy Hook massacre was fiction.  Think about that, the President of the United States is finding his information from a site that makes up crazy conspiracy theories, while, oh by the way, he is not getting his daily intelligence briefing.

This is a serious issue but what we don't get a real investigative approach from the so-called journalists.  In fact what we get is discussions of Trump's tweets including a story and who actually types them and of course more recently the internal transition problems. Instead of questioning some of Trump's connections to the conspiracy nuts and the white nationalist movement, people are obsessing of Kelly Anne Conway's tweets about Mitt Romney being considered for Secretary of State.  We will now spend the day talking about Trump being angry at her for going rogue and just ignore the serious issues of a President-elect questioning reality and simply not learning the job he will take over in a month and a half.  In fact we are hearing that he doesn't understand how national security works, at all.  He honestly believes that what he hears on these websites are how things work.  Oh and by the way, he is turning his back on all his campaign rhetoric and basically turning the White House into a a money making effort for him and his family.  But Kelly Anne is speaking out of school so we have to talk about her.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Why Anti-Trump Protests Have to Stop

Last night in Indianapolis, dozens of people became violent in response to the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.  This started with a rally against the bigotry and hate that were hallmarks of his campaign and whose fruit we are starting to see around the country a jubilant Trump supporters have been emboldened to harass individuals, tag buildings and cars, and in some reports attack individuals.  The the rally in Indianapolis, like many other places, quickly turned violent as some, who may always been looking for a place to vent, went on a rampage.  This is not how democracy works, this is not voicing your opinion.  If you threw a rock at police you are no better than a person who spray paints Fag on a car with a IYG license plate or pulls the hijab off a Muslim woman.  You aren't making a political statement, you are committing a crime.

Civil disobedience in important.   I have been there.  In the anti-apartheid era I sat in a meeting were we were supposed to discuss educating the college administration about the horrors of South Africa's policies when someone suggested we start a fire in the administration building.  Even as a young angry liberal I thought that was insane.  And I believe that today.  Destroying property, hurting people with violence, threats or insults, or simply disrupting society in a way that puts lives in danger is not protesting.  And it will only weaken our arguments, and this is what is happening.  Vox Populi, Vox Dei the voice of the people is the voice of God, is very true and so is Est Impetus Diaboli Opus, rage is the devil's work.

As the GOP now controls both the House and Senate and the White House, the voice of the people must be heard loud and clear to hold our representatives to task.  They can't be heard over the shots of gun fire and breaking glass.  Real people are in danger today because of the vitriol unleashed in the wake of a campaign that got into a gutter, rooted around, and found a doorway to go deeper.  But there is no reason for anyone from the center left to the far far left to follow into that realm.  Oh we should defend ourselves but we should also stand up for what is right.

On Tuesday night the Democrats lost the White House and we can speak about why.  But the left in this country were actually winners.  Restrictions on medical and recreational marijuana have been lifted, increases in minimum wage pasted, there is the most diverse class of Democratic women entering the Senate and places in local elections tax increases were passed. The Democrats gain seats in both the House and the Senate and while some people are saying blue states are turning red, there is no real evidence of that.  In fact red states are showing signs of purpling (yes I made up a word) if you look at exit polling.   Oh and  it appears nearly 2 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.  While for us that seems like the Rice-A-Roni consolation prize, it also was noticed by the GOP who sees that their hold on power in not a mandate and really only my a thread. If we act violently we will throw them a rope, a ladder and maybe even fix dinner for them.

We must stand strong and protest hate, bigotry and violence, if it comes from elected officials, government agencies or individual citizens.  But we must not become the violent bigots we profess to not want to have in our country.

Donald Trump is the President-elect.  He is our President.  We want him to be successful for the country.  But we also want him to stand up with the values that make this country great.  We cannot do that if we don't live by them either.  We should stop hosting rallies against the results of the election (even if we cloak them in rallies to stand against bigotry) and start being active.  They only create the incubator for the hate and violence we are beginning to see now. We must not be dismissed as our positions are shared by a majority of Americans.  The election is a snapshot, as is every election.   Many people chose not to vote in this election, many people chose to protest vote in this election.  You know who didn't, people who heard reasoned arguments in true support of a candidate.  Make 2018 our target to support, promote and elect people in House districts that share our values.  Make public statements against policies and actions we find violate the values of our country and human decency.  Argue with Trump supporters not from a position that they are dumb, racist or just hate filled but listen to what they feel and why a man like that could inspire them.  Even when the story you are told seems outside reality.  Reality is often a product of point of view.

If the voice of my side becomes the shouting, screaming, rock throwing, ignorant hate filled nastiness that I am seeing on TV then you have left me.  But I stand with my view of America where we all have the right to live our lives, be who we are and think as we do.  As long as we don't hurt someone else.  My responsibility to that is the hold election officials accountable for those values.  I know throwing a rock is easier, but if you are too lazy to fight for what is right, your arm will get tired soon enough.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

President-elect Trump

Okay Donald Trump was elected and people are angry, sad, scared. And that is normal. He ran a campaign of hate. Not that all who supported him did so from hate. Some in his party came to him for fear of a Clinton administration, but he did either by accident or intent, open a box that let out people who wish to do harm to others because they think, look, believe or love differently. Many supporters were with him because they too have been angry. Angry of a world changing that they can't find a place in. There was as much of diversity of Trump supporters as Clinton supporters.

But there is hope. More people nationwide chose Hillary to be President. Kamala Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Tammy Duckworth will all be in the Senate bringing a diversity of voice to that body. Some people woke up yesterday to be more than keyboard warriors and actually come to action, the election was a shofar blast like no other. I have heard young people realizing that they need to be more involved, informed and engaged.

But here is the thing. With a GOP controlled House, Senate, and the White House there is one voice that can't be silenced is ours. We can make a difference. We must respect the office of the Presidency, Donald Trump is our President. But he still works for us. We can still hold him accountable.

The other thing we must do is stand ready to support those that might be under attack. Running away to Canada is a choice for a privileged few. So while here stand ready for opposing any laws that limit the rights of our fellow citizens. Talk to your representatives and your neighbors and those you don't know. Combat lies and hate where ever you see it. I believe in my heart that many in the GOP who I might disagree on policy believe as I do when it comes to fellow citizens. Speak to their greater angels.

Please let me make another of the Harry Potter references. When Voldemort took over Hogwarts, it was Neville, squeaky, geeky, botany-lover Neville, who stood up and took over the resistance. Be a Neville. Hear the shofar, stand for our neighbors and pray that he may have campaigned in poetry (bad and hate speech filled poetry) he will govern in prose.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why Term Limits Are Not Universally Good.

So Donald Trump the other day gave a speech at Gettysburg, PA.  This historical site was used by Trump to give an overview of his first 100 days.  He buried his own lead by first suggesting that he would sue those accusing him of sexual assault since a tape of him bragging about doing it came out. (Spoiler Alert he won't sue, he threatens a lot but rarely follows through).  But one thing he suggested was to push for a Constitutional Amendment to create term limits on Congress.  This was a nod to the right-wing of the GOP who on occasion call for it until they get in office.  But I think we should talk about them.

Term Limits have been used at the state and local levels for some offices, often the executive.  After FDR won the Presidency 4 times, there was a successful scramble to change the Constitution to make the US Presidency limited to two terms, which was a standard set by George Washington and followed until the 1940s.  There have been times since then that term limited Presidents would have been likely re-elected.  But the executive is different from the members of Congress.  Limiting the President is a way of not allowing a single individual to have so much power.

However that is not the case for members of Congress.  The House members get re-elected every 2 years and the Senate every six.  We control their number of terms.  But if there is a person elected by a district or even a state who is doing a good job for that district or state and represents them well, why should they not be able to keep that person in the office?  If they don't represent their district or state they should be ousted.  The system works on paper.  But we have professional politicians and a system that makes them often set in stone to win unless they do something completely outrageous.

The American electorate clearly does not think about their member as the problem.  Often their tenure gives them power to bring home what we once called pork barrel projects.  Gerrymandered districts means that a candidate may not share all one's values but they are often closer than the opposition.  Also the amount of money being able to be poured into races from outside sources, specifically from special interests, allow people who will not be represented by a candidate to effect the race.

So better than term limits what if we:
1.  Used population algorithms to create Congressional districts instead of a meeting in a state house. '
2.  Limit money from outside sources, one can't donate to a candidate that won't represent them.
3.  Limit incumbent's ability to use tax payer funded office mailings in an election year to promote self.
4.  Grow local and state parties in areas dominated by one party over the other.

We have seen that when people work hard they can break a candidate's streak of victories but that is hard.  That is the term limit we already have.  Frankly I think the Constitutional amendment takes away freedom and is lazy.  Aren't those things unAmeican?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Challenge to All Of Us

Tonight Jews around the world will begin an 8 day holiday that has multiple connections to our past.  Sukkot is a celebration of joy, and that main function is to rejoice in nature in structures (Sukkot) that we build to include natural materials. We eat and some people sleep in these structures meant to be temporary.  It is an agricultural celebration of the harvest and the antecedent to our modern American Thanksgiving, a reminder of our time wandering in the wilderness living in tents in non-permanent housing, and it also is about remembering that with joy comes the reminder that life is fragile, like the structures we build.  

Part of the tradition is to invite people into our sukkah (the structure) and share our bounty, our abundance.  I know that most of my friends do not celebrate this holiday but I would like to make a connection to another commemoration today.  Today is World Food Day and to that end the organization I work with in Kenya is launching our biggest fund raiser in cyberspace. 

When Global Interfaith Partnership started its Umoja Project in Chulaimbo, Kenya, teachers and guardians there identified hunger as the primary problem affecting students’ attendance and academic performance. Since 2008 we’ve had a school lunch program feeding 3,200 students in 18 schools, ensuring that each child receives one nutritious meal a day.

Our goal this fall is to raise $25,000 for the 2017 school lunch program.

I have seen the results of the this program, in the eyes of children eating the maize and beans they receive for lunch,  in the teacher's pride while showing the rising test scores since our program came to their school, and in the relief of guardians when they can be assured their charges will be able to continue their education with full stomachs.  

You don't have to be Jewish to feel motivated to share your abundance and you don't need a holiday to help feed hungry children.  So here is a simple opportunity to do that, from the comfort of you mobile devise, and  your own home.  Twenty-five dollars will feed one child, for a year.  And by doing so you give that child an education, increased safety and a sense of hope for the future.  But if all my friends give $5.00 each I will reach my goal and then some. Help me make one small impact on a world that needs good news.  Help me celebrate in November that we can continue the work we have been doing for 10 years.    

The #FoodForThought Challenge runs October 16 – November 29, 2016, during which I have a personal goak to raise $500 to contribute to our organizational goal of  $25,000.  Click HERE and make a small (or a large)  donation and help change the lives of the children living Western Kenya.  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

What Is Going on in the Locker Room

I will admit from the start that I have never been the stereotype of a classic man's man.  I have never been to a strip club, I find the concept of Hooter's to be childish, and I think the use of sex to sell hamburgers is cheap.  But I also believe in a pro-sexuality life, I enjoy burlesque, I have friends who write erotica that makes 50 Shades seem more like 50 yawns, and I have been reluctant to judge people harshly for things they do that are consensual and not violating a promise to someone else.  It is in this vein that I say what I am about to say.

I have never been in a locker room where someone was judged well when they suggested they sexually assaulted someone.  Let me repeat, sexual assault have never been seen as manly among any group of men or boys I have hung around.  Have they used crude language to describe what they would like to do with a woman or even to a woman?  Of course.  But every conversation I have ever had did not include lines that what my friends wanted to do was not consensual. I am quite certain that any of my friends today who talked about grabbing a woman's crotch without consent would be immediately and without reservation ridiculed.  Perhaps when we were in 8th grade we would have thought that funny, but I can't think of a time since.  You see when you engage in sexual behavior without consent, that is sexual assault not sex.  Donald Trump was not talking about sex.  Donald Trump, in his recently released hot microphone conversation, was bragging about assaulting someone.  You may think this is just guy talk, but he has also been accused of doing exactly what he said on the tape he wanted to do.  He is a sexual predator and looking to be excused for it.

Now his minion who not inexplicably works for CNN suggested to let it pass, suggesting we are not hiring a Sunday School teacher.  (just to be clear I wouldn't let Trump near any of the kids in my school)  And that is fair, except Trump has been not only running as a Christian Conservative but has suggested his Christian values are the reason that he has been audited by the IRS.  Seriously, I wish I was making this up, I could get a book deal at least.  He flaunts the fact that he has evangelicals on his side and proclaims that he would role back LGBT rights because of his faith.  So he finds two people who love each other who are engaged in a monogamous relationship, vile, but as a newly wed he bragged he tried to get another married woman into his bed.  Not to give her pleasure but to conquer her, another conquest or acquisition.

So his defense is the President Bill Clinton was worse.  The childish defense of a failed soul.  But let's think about it.  Let's say everything that Bill Clinton was accused of is true.  I am not certain all of it is.  The things we know are true are terrible.  I believe he should have resigned after the facts of Monica Lewinsky came to light, and wrote a letter to the White House saying as much.  But in the end Clinton was embarrassed by his failures, blamed no one and moved on.   He didn't brag about it and while he is a flawed human, he truly focused his energies for the greater good since leaving office.  But he is also not running for anything anymore.  So his background is not valid.

Evidence is coming to light that Trump has acted in the manner he described since he has been on the campaign trail.  Think about that for a second.  That while running for President of the United States he has harassed and in one cases allegedly assaulted a woman.  And conservatives are still standing by him.  That is failure of the party system far more than anything I can think of right now.

There are many people in the GOP who I feel are bad for women.  They are not likely to fund programs for women's health, would make abortions relegated to back alleys and force woman to continue to earn less than men for the same work.  But at least I know many of them are outraged by what Trump has been saying.  My hope is that their outrage will make them see this is not conservatism, this is not what the republican party stands for and this is not a good candidate for President of the greatest (and we are still great) country in the world.

If you continue to support Trump after this revelation and his non-apology apology that was excuse filled and probably written by a spokesperson, then you are certainly free to do that.  Overlooking flaws in politicians is a common practice and we all do it.  But don't ever again call yourself a social-conservative, suggest that your positions are about protecting women or attack anyone over who they sleep with, either the sex, gender or number.  You would be giving up that right to have any authority to speak of that.

I am not sure how this will move the needle for Trump.  The anti-Hillary crowd will struggle to find a way to rationalize anything.  You might simply say that this rawness is refreshing because he is like "one of us".  Except it isn't, I can't think of a conservative friend I have who would talk or act like this.  That is simply not who they are.  I hope this finally breaks through to them to see they may need to give up 4 years and come back with a candidate that is at least a Republican.  They can still believe the myths they have told themselves about Hillary.  But at least the country will be certainly be more stable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Colin Kapernick and Justice for All

We are a funny nation.  We seem to be comfortable holding two diametrically opposed views in our heads at the same time.  Freedom of speech, but the expectation not to use it.  Hear me out.  Colin Kapernick decided to remain seated or kneeing during the National Anthem at games his San Francisco 49ers are playing in to protest what he sees as unfair treatment of minorities by police. It is a quiet, non-violent and singular protest.  However many people, including some police, have attacked him saying it disrespects the flag, our military and the country itself.  In fact some have even called for him to be deported.  To where?  No one cares.  You see this emotional reaction is one fueled by ignorance and entitlement of those who do not feel the fear that comes from watching young black men and women killed in police custody or by police for apparently no reason.  Yes, I know, some of the most celebrated of the recent cases of police shooters are not as cut and dried as the Black Lives Matter movement said.  However, there is a serious pattern, or at least the perception of one, that seems to devalue the lives of black people, especially black men.  And Kapernick is drawing attention to that.

I don't want to debate that.  It is highly complicated and in fact there are some existential rabbit holes we could go down.  Black on black crime, gang fighting, absentee fathers have all be used to attack the movement.  That is for another time.  But I want to talk about the protest itself.

The National Anthem is an interesting thing we in America have.  That and the Pledge of Allegiance both have an ironic feel to them in a country built on the notion that we are a free people that the government is there to pledge allegiance to us, not the other way around.  One of the funny memes about this incident is the one that shows a so-called patriot saying "Stop disrespecting the government I am arming myself against".   But this is what we have allowed to be considered patriotism. Again the opposing views held by the same individual.  In some cases in the same sentence.  The idea the one can attack the President, members of the government, government institutions, (FBI, ATF, IRS) on the same website where they call for action taken against someone like Kapernick who just doesn't want to honor a song that he feels is hypocritical.  I would be more comfortable if he was avoiding the pledge than the anthem.  But still his protest, and the growing number who join him, are making a statement that is not disrespecting any individual, just calling for us to do a self-audit of what we are willing to live with in this country where famous and wealthy black men will tell you they have a visceral reaction to police and a fear if they are pulled over.

There was a time where I didn't say the pledge for example.  I still find it odd but I rarely am asked to do it.  I remember a nun, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement, who said once that she will say the Pledge of Allegiance when it wasn't a lie.  She felt there wasn't liberty and justice for all. That was a protest I could understand.  One of silence and conviction and that is in fact what Kapernick and the others are doing.  By the way, it is his right to do it and the flag we are pledging at that moment of his silence is a symbol of that right.  It is why we fought wars, it is why we can feel comfortable supporting a candidate that we want.  It is why the talk radio screamers who are making fun of those protesting can do just that.  And if Kapernick and others lose sponsorship contracts and even their jobs, well the same freedoms apply to that.  You see that is how the country is great.

Here is what I believe.  If Kapernick is so wrong to do it, don't call him names and ask him to leave the country.  Teach him why he is wrong or make what he is doing wrong. If you are right and his protest is in vain then he looks like a fool.  If you are outraged that this man is standing up for what he believes in then how can you defend someone standing up for what you believe in when you are considered wrong by the crowd?  Seriously. we are all Kapernick in some way.  We all have an unpopular but strongly held belief somewhere.  Thank the universe that we live some place where we can express it without fear of government interaction on us.  We should applaud him for doing so and if we think he is wrong, make him see the error of his ways.  But our culture moves too rapidly for that and so we sit, and jeer and burn his jersey, and call him names and in some cases prove his point. That there are two Americas.  And sometimes they exist in the same head.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

An Interesting Twist on Another Year

Twenty-nine years ago today was one of the worst days of my life, if not the worst.  As the sun set on August 31 in 1987 I was sitting alone in a police interrogation room when a brash detective, who I remember being a stereotype of a TV cop, told me Linda was murdered.  Most of the rest of the evening is a blur.  Linda and I were embarking on a life journey together and our plans were still embryonic.  We had been together for only year but that single tragic moment changed my life and the effects of that day stayed with me throughout the last 3 decades.  Certainly I tried to move on with life and did.  I married and had a child.  I made many mistakes.  I failed at marriage, more than once, but with time and understanding the death of Linda played a lessor role in my life.  However for me, Linda will always be part of me.  I remember resonating with images from culture that played on this theme of lost love.  On Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, we are introduced to the leader of the space station in the moments of losing his young wife in the Borg attack.  Later in the episode he is being examined by the Bajorian prophets, aliens who live outside of time.  They communicate with him through images from his past.  They keep coming back to the moment of his wife's death and when he asks why they keep showing him that moment they say, They respond by telling him he lives there, in that moment.  I know what that means, I often over the years lived in that moment of the cop telling me what happened.  Sisko hadn't moved on.  He was stuck in the past and the prophets showed him.  Moving on is normal.  But even if we do move on, sometimes the past still is present.  Robyn Hitchcock captured it in the song My Wife and My Dead Wife.  In the song, the story teller is a happily re-married widow, but the images of his dead wife continue to invade his life.  In the song one scene is powerful for someone living through grief:

I'm making coffee for two
Just me and you
But I come back in with coffee for three
Coffee for three?
My dead wife sits in a chair
Combing her hair
I know she's there
She wanders off to the bed
Shaking her head
"Robyn," she said
"You know I don't take sugar!"

And so it is.  But over time the love doesn't die but new love can develop and often does. Linda's death was the end of her life and our life together.  But my life still goes on and over the years I changed, I found joys and new tragedies.  I have laughed, loved and built a new life.  Linda's influence and the parts of her she shared with me are still part of me and that will never change.  But there is a whole new me, different from one that Linda ever knew, but that Dianne, my current, wife has helped create.  So at the death of Gene Wilder,when people started posting pictures of him and Gilda Radner, his wife for a few years and the person most people associate with him, I had mixed feelings.  Wilder lost Radner to cancer and he worked tirelessly to use his and her celebrity to raise money for cancer research in her name, as well as awareness of the disease.  It easy to continue to see them as a couple for eternity.  But what some people may not know is that through the work to promote this awareness and to raise the money he had a partner.  That partner was his wife Karen Boyer.  As people posted pictures of Gene and Gilda from 30 years ago, saying "together again", my mind went to Dianne, or any spouse who joined someone's life after a tragic death.  It must be difficult in general to be the person living in the shadow of the lost spouse, but in this case with Gene and Gilda, their life was public, large and we suffered with him when she died too early.  But we didn't follow his life afterward.  He moved forward, fell in love, built a life with Boyer, and in his dying days she shepherded him into eternity.   I imagine she would be hurt by the sentiments of those that are thinking of that eternity with Gilda and not Karen.  This question of who we spend eternity with in the life after death goes back to the Christian Bible as Jesus is asked this question.  This weekend  I celebrate my new home with Dianne. Next week we will celebrate Noah making the Dean's List at the luncheon.  Today I said my prayers in memory of Linda, I still feel her influence on who I am today.  But I see my life apart from her and maybe we should strive to feel the Gene Wilder, who never stopped loving Gilda, built a life with Karen.  May Karen find comfort in her loss and may Gene Wilder rest in arms of the eternal.  We can leave it at that.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Man Goes on Killing Spree and Celebrates by Eating One of His Victims

A local man recently dawn camouflage and with a rifle and scope took off for a day of killing.  He found a spot to hide among his potential victims and was able to kill a handful by late afternoon.  As dinner time came he butchered one of his victims and used the flesh to flavor a stew while he secured the others for his ride home.  Each bite seemed to remind him of why he worked so hard to get the his prey.  So goes another successful day for the best hunter in the county.  

This fictional account is an example of how I have come to see much of the political reporting this season.  Recently an Associated Press story about Secretary Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, is one of many examples.  A tweet read:
At least 85 of 154 people who met or had phone conversations with Hillary Clinton while she secretary of state, donated or made pledges to her family charity.

While this tweet, on its face is absurd, Sec. Clinton could have weeks of meeting or speaking with 154 people, the idea was those who were not part of a diplomatic meeting were that number.  They included such unsavory people as Bono and Elie Wiesel of blessed memory.  Now if this was a political pundit or opinion writer then it would be less of a problem.  The constant drone of opinion writing and broadcasting on the 24 hour so-called news stations and talk radio has us grabbing for the salt so regularly cable companies are doing promos with Morton's.  But this is the AP, a standard in journalism.  This is the problem this year.  Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump, Senator Cruz, Governors Christie and Bush, all had news stories with headlines and copy that told half-truths to make them look good, bad, or competitive in what can only be describes as massages the story.  In some cases news organizations, especially television, gave Donald Trump tons of air time because he drove ratings.  His brand of nonsense speak, anger challenging and dull witted ideas, coupled with his celebrity and ability to say what many people wish they could made him must watch TV for those who both loved and hated him.  Les Moonves, CEO of CBS admitted this to be true saying "it may be bad for America but it is good for CBS".  

Hard news outlets, in print, TV, radio or new media are supposed to be the referees of our political fights, holding those involved to decorum befit their institutions, or at least to the truth.  I am aware politics in a contact sport.  There is a story that once about 100 years ago a man who his Congressional seat in part by calling his opponent a practicing HETEROsexual.  At one point in our history we even had duels, with pistols, but when Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton the press wasn't holding his coat.  Today we see news reporters who seem more interested in ratings than facts and always trying to be the ones who can take down someone more than inform the people.  This is bad.  It is bad for America because in the information age what is real, true and meaningful is hard to find in a world where an accusation that Sen Ted Cruz's father was friends with Lee Harvey Oswald and that Sec. Clinton has brain damage becomes headlines without context.  If the AP, CBS, NBC et. al are simply trying to outdo each other and leaving the truth in the ditch on the side of the road, there is no informed voter base and thus all our elections are from ignorance.

I know there will be a din of liberal bias accusations in the responses.  If you see that as true you help make my point.  I actually think the bias is there, just for ratings, as Mr. Moonves points out.  But what is fascinating is that I have discovered a whole new source of facts, from a highly unlikely source.  Both certain opinion writers, television personalities and even some talk radio hosts have become voices of reason, even with the later also continuing the classic radio antics like count-downs to President Obama's last day in office and calling for Sec. Clinton to be in jail.  There is a thoughtful left who traffics in facts-based opinion and a right-wing voice that is more interested in reality than the ever increasing sizzle or the meatless steaks.  They choose to express their ideas with a clear bias, because it is their job.  And while their opinion can be based on a faulty premise they see or an interpretation, they seem to strive to be above the nonsense of so much of the media these days.  
We all want to hear people who agree with us, and for many to hear people we could never agree with to argue with.  Social media has allowed that to be an instant process as well, sending an accolade to someone who shares your views or an insult to someone who doesn't has never been easier.  So we live in our little cloistered political bubbles and stay ignorant.  So take my advice.  See who is on another station, turn the dial, read a new column or website.  Broaden your political opinion.  You will likely find a lot of dreck.  But maybe you will find one or two people who you don't agree with but can help you better see a new perspective on an issue.  Perhaps you will learn a piece of a story you didn't know.  Maybe you will find that your hard-held political beliefs are mutable with facts.  I don't know.  What I do know is that this year the people who are running for President are disliked more than ever and I would argue that a lot of that dislike is unearned and the product of media hype. Major political races have come to look like Wrestlemania and too often the sources of our news are Mean Gene and Bobby Heenan.  That is not how democracy should work.  


Friday, July 8, 2016

The Sun is not quite so sunny today

As I think about my last days at camp and two hours from the start of Shabbat festivities I am carrying around the pain and anguish that has become too common in my life as of late.  Two black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot by police in what most people feel were situations that did not require deadly force.  I hope that a transparent investigation brings justice.  I fear that too often it appears that justice is not easily found, because the situations are not easily understood in light of media outrage and platitudes.  These two, the last in a long line of African Americans killed by police in situations that have raised questions.  So last night, as I tried to sleep I checked my phone to find some people had decided to attack police officers in Dallas, TX.  Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, and Michael Krol are among the names as I have not read the other two.

What has brought us to this point?  I am not sure.  I have seen people blame President Obama, Black Lives Matter, and even Israel.  Seriously that last one threw me.  I have seen people blame the gun culture, the failure of understanding others who are different, systemic racism and even male aggression.

This cultural disease cannot be boiled down to one thing, and while we see patterns, we must see each case on its own.  Trying to push blame on someone or one ideology is ridiculous.  We make up the culture, we choose what to let be the topic of the day and we choose what we will work on.

What strikes me hard is that the Dallas Police Department has worked hard in recent years to address the issues raised by the apparent injustice against African Americans.  Through training, promotion of black officers and community engagement they have reduced charges of excessive force and have built bridges into the black community.

Joe Walsh, a former Republican member of the House of Representative who now has a radio tweeted that he declared war on Black Lives Matter and the President of the United States.  This ignorant fool who has his own personal problems in life, shared a voice seen by many, from the White Supremacists to angry suburbanites looking to lash out.

In both cases the anger is misdirected and in both cases dangerous.  The first took the lives of 5 officers and the second could inspire the same.  But that is not the answer and nor should it be.

We can be angry today, but that anger should be channeled into changing how we think.  There will always be people who will try to destroy order for their own gains.  They must be stopped.  There will always be people who hate a group or individual because of their races, ethnicity, religion, who they love etc.  They must be shunned.  There will always be people who think the answer to a problem is violence.  They must be stopped.  There will always be people who cannot and will not reason things out, they must be isolated from others.  We have the power.  Stop praying about it and do something.

If you have problems with the police, make an appointment and have some talk to  you.  If you don't understand why someone is wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, ask them.  If either are too angry to be helpful, find someone who isn't.  Build community connections between you and people who you currently see as different, other, or outside of your comfort zone.  You will be surprised what  you learn and what might happen when you build bridges.

The answer to violence is not more violence.  The answer to violence is to create a culture where violence is shunned and suppressed.  It is our responsibility.  All of Us.  All we I have been talking about Korach who wanted to over-throw Moses and Aaron as leaders of the Israelites.  We worked with the children on problem solving and the values of a good leaders and how to protest injustice.  It makes me want the whole country to go to camp.  To create these mini-diverse communities where you can learn about others and let your person expression be who you are.  Maybe then today I would be able to see more colors in the sky and feel more ready for Shabbat.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't Say Moderate Muslims

I had planned to write about the string of events that made up my weekend.  An Iftar dinner on Friday night, where I shared a table with an Evangelical pastor and a Mormon family and the President of Al Salem, a mosque community in Carmel, IN.  An interfaith community sharing the breaking of the daily fast with 300 people in a school gymnasium that for the evening served as an Islamic community center.  Our Congressman, Andre Carson came and spoke briefly about his continued commitment to diversity and prophetically mentioned the LGBT community as an expanded view of how Muslims in America should strive to continue to embrace diversity.  On Saturday night my 10th grade performed their cantata on diversity in the microcosm of their class with a variety of differences that can both be seen and not directly in the class.  Part of our Shavuot celebration the students rose as one but expressed their joy of being individuals among the oneness of their class, their Judaism and their country.  So Sunday morning came as a kick in the head.

Sunday was our anniversary and so I made breakfast for Dianne.  I take my time with it and so I didn't even check my phone until later when I expected to watch the Sunday morning news shows. (a guilty pleasure for me when I don't have Religious School).  I was shocked at what I saw and continued to be shocked by as I processed the fact the so many had been killed by a lone gunman, attacking people at their most vulnerable and at a place of fun and joy.  But that was the start of it all.

From the jump there was a clear attempt to get political gain from this tragedy and I watched as people like Donald Trump seemed to wish it was a Muslim who did this.  When it turned out it was he took a virtual victory lap.  Now that is sickening in and of itself but since he has lied about the gunman saying he was a foreigner, (he was born in New York) that he was sent by ISIS, (he wasn't even on their radar though they claimed him in hindsight) and he went so far as to suggest that the President of the United States was somehow involved.  His despicable rhetoric is terrible and rightfully attacked but that wasn't the worst of it.  He is a foul-mouthed bigot who while the leader of the GOP for the next few weeks, (Cleveland will be interesting) it is the others who try appearing anti-terrorist and say ridiculous things out loud, in front of people.

So a little tutorial.  The fundamental nature of ISIS or ISIL or DEISH is not religious but political and it is not Islamic.  Let me be clear, they use Islam in the same way that the kings of the middle ages in Europe, Slavers in the Americas and the Apartheid governments of South Africa used Christianity. Twisted and turned to the point where it is believable that it comes from a place of faith but we all know that they are simply deranged by the lust of power and control.  Actions they take do not adhere to the teaching of Islam though often fit the cartoon notions of the uninformed masses who fear the other.

Now, days after the attack in Orlando, we are finding out more about this supposed militant Muslim. It turns out he may have been struggling with his own inner demons as a closeted gay man.  He may well have been more motivated by his own self-hate and saw the last minute allegiance to the ISIS ideology as a way to give his life meaning.  We don't really know but he was certainly not a trained fighter for the cause.  But that won't stop the nonsense that will fill our Facebook feeds and  Twitter streams and more and more the daily news.

So let's start pushing back.  Let's hold people fully accountable for what they post, say and do online. Let's call, write and respond to news people who pass along nonsense as fact and give forums to the conspiracy nuts, even if they are a major party's nominee.  Let's start with putting to bed the term MODERATE MUSLIM.  There are Muslims, and there are Muslims who act out in non-Islamic ways that pervert the culture and religion of Islamic people today.  Much like there are Christians who kill and applaud killing of certain people, and Jews and probably Hindus and Wiccans etc. etc etc.  No one I know calls the local pastor a moderate Christian because he isn't part of the Christian Identity movement so why should we call the local Imam a moderate simply because he isn't a terrorist.  It is unacceptable for that to be the narrative.  It presupposes that any Muslim you meet is a terrorist unless they prove otherwise.  That, by definition, is bigotry.  Yet there it is.  Language defines culture, it always has.  When we name something then it gives it the power of the name. By the way, that is why President Obama chooses carefully how he refers to terrorist organizations but that if for another time.  We will not solve the problems of those using Islam as a sword unless we have Muslim help and we won't get that if we live in an us/them culture.  One of my good friends is a devote Muslim and another is a man whose practice of Islam means giving up alcohol during Ramadan.  Neither is a terrorist and both are funny, wise, family men and on opposite ends of the political spectrum.  I would never say the way they walk in this world is moderate.  They are truly part of the many faces of Muslim Americans who cannot and will never be part of any organization that thinks killing is the answer to differences.  Though both have sharp tongues when needed and one makes a living off of his.

Remember, the attack in Orlando, tragic, worst of its kind in our history and devastating because the attack was on a community that regularly suffers the bigotry of many was not the only attacks even in Orlando.  A man shot and killed Christina Grimlee a few days before in Orlando and was armed to take out others but was stopped and killed himself.  Another man was traveling with explosives and guns from Indiana and when arrested said he was going to LA's Gay Pride parade.  Hate comes in many stripes so we should be aware that when we choose to look at only one kind of hate, we choose not to see all the others.

The world is more connected than ever before in history and with the power to reach out we must push back against the perpetual rage machine that promotes the bigotry that has become mainstream. So let's start by challenging those that seem to think that if you are Muslim and not a terrorist then your Islam's description must some how be modified.  Let's start calling those Muslims who pervert the faith with a moniker that steals away the Islamic title they so desperately want to own as the only form of Islam.  I am open to suggestions but for me they are simply bloodthirsty thugs.  And Friday night, as people welcomed me, thanked me for joining them, fed me and acknowledged my presence from the stage I was with the real Muslims.  The Muslims who matter and make up the vast majority of the world's Muslim population.  That is what matters.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Are We Finally Going To Be Able to Talk About Rape

Brock Turner, a former Stanford student and athlete, was convicted of felony sexual assault.  A possible prison sentence turned into a sentence of six months of jail time and three years probation because the judge thought prison would be too difficult and screw up the rapist's life.  The rapist's father referred to the assault as "20 minutes of action" as opposed to the rest of his life when he wasn't raping unconscious women.  This has sparked, rightfully so, outrage.

Let me be clear, 30 years ago as a peer sexuality educator I did workshops on campus rape.  This has been an on-going problem.  Young men will tell you that it is difficult to know sometimes when a woman means no, that they send confusing signals, that they appear to be asking for it.  Men are also taught it is their job to get her ready and to convince her to have sex. (think about how society teaches men about their role in sexuality or listen to Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke) But here is a simple rule. If the person you are having sex with can't respond to simple questions, open their eyes, or enjoy it because he or she is unconscious it is rape.  What this rapist did is not something that can be mitigated by circumstance, he was in the middle of raping a woman behind a dumpster and was caught.  His so-called 20 minutes of action was crime, a terrible crime, and the judge in this case basically said to the world and especially to women that men are gonna rape you and you should get over it.

You can argue that alcohol was involved and the rapist's judgement was impaired.  In college the drinking age was not yet 21 and there was a lax attitude toward drinking on campus.  My first job was pouring beers as campus events.  I, and none of my friends, ever were drunk enough to not see a passed out girl as someone who was consenting and if we were the alcohol would be an inhibitor to actually being able to engage in sexual intercourse.  Frankly the few times that rumors came up that a guy was trying to get with a drunk girl my friends clearly saw it as wrong. But for others, it is part of the college life that we have come to expect.

So why don't we talk about it more?  I think because we don't want to acknowledge or give energy to the fact that young people, living together, unsupervised will find each other attractive and engage in sexual behavior that is often outside the context of a relationship.  Should they or not is not for this discussion.  They do.  How they interact with each other and respect each other in the process is what is key.  But when we talk about rape prevention so often we talk about it in the context of women learning self-defense, not walking alone at night, even not drinking alcohol at a party.  We have to start talking about the fact that women are not the problem here.  This rapist took advantage of a woman who was doing exactly the same thing he was, having fun at a party.  Did she drink too much?  I don't know.  Was she dosed with something?  I don't know.  What I do know is that I want to live in a society where a person can make a mistake and get drunk and that doesn't make him or her available to anyone who wants to sexually assault him or her.

Every time a rapist, like this guy, is treated like the victim of his own actions or I hear someone say that he has suffered enough doesn't understand the situation.  The judge and his father sound like monsters to most of the world.  As well they should.  I find the judge to be an accomplice after-the-fact, running cover for this rapist.  But maybe it sparks a better conversation, Maybe we can now see that we have to talk about this in a more holistic context.  Maybe we won't be so quick to judge women who drink, wear thongs, dance suggestively, or simply have a foul mouth when they are raped.  Maybe we won't try to prevent rape by simply trying to lock up women or forcing them to take on the responsibility of the actions and maybe we can see that the justice system has been so devastating toward women so often in rape cases.  Maybe we can have a national discussion.  Thirty years ago we did workshops to show this.  I fear we wasted a generation.  I am moved by the outrage over this miscarriage of justice and mercy.  But outrage feels good, action does good.  Talk to your children about appropriate behavior.  Talk to your schools, houses of worship, sports coaches, anyone to help change the narrative.  Women should not have to wear chastity belts to avoid being raped when they want to have fun at a party.  And men should know that if the woman can't talk she didn't say yes.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Where Do They Go?

Imagine you are a woman who pops into a public restroom only to see a person standing at the sink, a person in work boots, jeans, leather vest, and a well trimmed beard.    Or you are a man you walk in and see a long-haired, large breasted person in a flowing dress putting on make-up.  In both cases you make an immediate gender decision for that person and you will likely think they are in the wrong bathroom.  You would be right, but state laws are making their decision to go to the right bathroom a crime.  The laws actually go beyond that, but for my purposes I am just going to talk about the restroom law.  That is right, laws are passing that require transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex they were declared at birth.

For the vast majority of humans we are boy one of two sexes.  The culture we are born in defines how that biological state will play out in our express of our identity which is our gender.  However there have always been people who are born who feel they want to express themselves differently that their culture defines them.  In some cases those people are seen as a separate gender and often holy.  Other cultures demonize them and sadly kill them.  Now let's be clear, this is not being gay, this is someone who deeply and early on feel an internal identity to a gender that does not match their biological sex.

I don't fully understand it because I don't feel that way.  But I know it is real and while  it is a tiny percent of humanity but that does not mean it is insignificant.  I encounter regularly at least three people who are in various stages of transition about once a week, and those are the ones I know about.  How many more have transitioned who have not shared their story?  Just think if 1/2 of 1% of the American population is transgender that is still 1.6 million Americans.  That is more than the number of Japanese Americans.  So when people complain about that it is a tiny number of people who are seeking safety, rights and dignity just think about what happened when our country decided that the Japanese didn't deserve to keep their rights.  That was a painful part of our history.  Do we want to repeat it with another group?

The thing is that bathroom issues are not new.  I remember back in the 80s going to the Generic Bar in Syracuse and they had a men's room, women's room, and a restroom for those who didn't fit those categories. So people of different gender identities have been dealing with this discomfort and even back then the counter-culture of the G-Bar and many other places made their customers more comfortable.  Over the decades, as we come to recognize the reality of transgender and it is becoming more mainstream and retailers and government are responding to meet the growing need of our culture.

There is an argument that boys in schools and men in public will pretend to be transgender to use a bathroom to prey on girls and women in the ladies room.  This of course is a serious concern but a man could dress like a women now and sneak in and in fact many have, many more have not bothered and have hidden in women's bathrooms to attack women. There is no evidence of a transgender person attacking anyone in a public restroom or locker room and a boy who pretends to be transgender to get access to a girls' locker room would have to deal with the bigotry most transgender students see and would not be worth a peak at naked girls.  There would be an easier way.  In fact a transgender person is more likely to be attacked by someone who is driven by fear, hate, and anger be in a public restroom or a school yard.  Bigotry is a major motivator and since the start of this current rage and new laws several women who appear masculine have been attacked in public restrooms.

Our culture is becoming more accepting of difference and things we didn't know were happening are out in the open.  You have likely shared a public restroom with a transgender person.  It is safe.  Passing laws that attack a group of people because you are uncomfortable is cowardly, bigoted and anti-American.  We should be more vocal about it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fact Free Election

People seem surprised by the impending nomination of Donald Trump as the GOP candidate for President and frankly I am one of them.  You see I had more faith in the Republican electorate.  A misplaced faith for sure. I know that there has always been an element of the right in this country who voted based not on the reality that is but on the voices of the right wing noise machine that dominate radio and permeate the airwaves on Fox News and at times the other 24 hour news channels.  I am not talking about opinion.  I respect people who make arguments about the role of government being too big in regulating commerce or that we should perhaps slow our roll on social change.  Those are things we can argue over.  But when someone just blathers on about things that are blatantly untrue, that is where I think they are doing a disservice to the country.

From websites to TV shows we have made it commonplace to assume something is made up by people under a brand we used to trust.  That is the beginning of the failure of the republic because the news and information industry has a public trust to keep the people informed.  Now it is more about keeping the people enraged.  We know everyone is troubled by bias in the media.  The right has long complained (often without merit) of left-wing media.  Recently a rumor about Facebook, a social media platform, was culling conservative news.  They used that term.  There shouldn't be conservative news, there should be news and a conservative analysis.  For example:

Hillary Clinton used a private email server while Secretary of State, the Justice Department and FBI are looking if any laws were broken.  That is news.  Everything is true and straight forward.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used an illegal server she kept in her bathroom closet putting US secrets in jeopardy and violating Federal Law.  Well there may be truth there but it is so biased it tells you that she is convicted of a crime, when she hasn't been even charged.

This is the landscape we are in, so in comes Trump.  Trump was given a great deal of coverage over the last 9 months on most morning news programs and networks.  Often people would treat his nonsense that he spewed laughingly and in fact lauded his rudeness on the campaign trail and his complete and utter disregard for facts.  Rarely, if ever, would an interviewer challenge him to his face and or ask for evidence.  Be it that there is no manufacturing in this country anymore (it is up 51% since 2009) or that the delegate process is rigged against him personally. (his ignorance was the cause of some of his failures).  But this isn't new.  These same shows entertained their audience with this guy with his racist and frankly disgusting attacks on President Obama, claiming he had evidence that he wasn't born in the United States.  Something they still let him get away with today when he won't answer where that so-called evidence is.

So where are we today?  Trump has decimated the GOP field, a weak one by many standards, but did have former and sitting Governors, Senators, and real party leaders. But more and more the people bought into the Trump narrative about the country and about his opponents.  In Indiana there was an exchange between Senator Ted Cruz and some Trump supporters.  Many of them were just yelping phrases Trump used in his rallies.  But at one point the spokesperson of the group asked Senator Cruz what he would do about the 2nd amendment.  Now let me pause right here.  Gun control is a small issue even in the Democratic primary and a non-issue for the GOP because they are all pro-gun.  In fact even those who have argued for common sense gun laws ran away from their former positions.  But Ted Cruz is the poster child for the NRA.  Senator Cruz when Solicitor General of Texas wrote an amicus brief signed by 31 states in the Heller decision that put to rest the 2nd amendment's questions about individual right and later extended to the states under Miller.   Also Sen. Cruz made a campaign video of him shooting an automatic weapon wrapped in bacon, which the heat of firing cooked.  To ask Senator Cruz what he would do about the 2nd amendment (which hasn't been in jeopardy by anyone lately) is a level of ignorance on the issues that can't be arrived at on one's own but cultivated by nonsense masquerading as information.

Throughout the campaign statements made by Trump have been beyond false and waded into the land of the ridiculous.  He repeated a false story about General Pershing saying:

In the Philippines more than a century ago, Gen. John Pershing "took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood," and shot 49 Muslim rebels. "The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem

Let's start by saying this never happened.  It didn't, the only thing close to it as was a letter written years after the events in question and it only spoke of one man being hung above a grade with a dead pig in it.  While this is a common trope when at war with Muslims and I am sure that some people have desecrated bodies using pig blood the thing is that Muslim militant action didn't stop and continued for decades so the whole freaking point of the story isn't true.  So even if you believe it happened the facts are that if it did it didn't stop any Muslim actions.  But Trump knows that his followers don't care if what he is saying is a lie, and that is what is frightening.

In most races for the Presidency, candidates are held accountable to the voters.  In fact the way Trump beat Senator Cruz is by saying he lies all the time.  Irony is a bumper crop from Trump.  Yet focus group, after focus group, seems to not care about Trump's lies.  They know he is lying, they know that his stated ideas are garbage, dangerous and downright insane.  They know that he says things and in the same interview says he never said it.  But they don't care.  They are washed in glow of a carnival barker who is famous and plays Thurston Howell III in real life.

So how do you stop a Trump train.  Well not with facts.  What needs to happen is some how helping a large population that he is dangerous to what they hold dear.  We will never get the unthinking people like the man who questions Senator Cruz's dedication to the 2nd amendment, he is a non-thinker and if Trump is elected and crashes and burns will blame someone else.  We need to reach the smart people who are so upset about Secretary Clinton they will vote for Trump to stop her.  They are the target audience. Logic might work on them.  I don't know, what I do know if that in the end, a Trump Presidency will be a disaster for our country but I fear the Trump campaign might be a disaster for a lot of people's souls.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Adding to the Seder Table Redux.

This is an edited version of a piece I wrote a few years ago, I come to it at the end of Pesach not the beginning because I think we should take time to reflect on what we learned and felt during the last week and on how you made the Seder your own.  I hope you will think about the importance of the ritual and time spent with family, friends and often a few strangers as we celebrate the Exodus story.  

Recently I have noticed a real uptick in the number of items finding their way into the Passover Seder for contemporary Jews.  Last year I wrote about the orange, a symbol originally meant to remind us of the LGBT community's rightful place in Klal Yisrael, which quickly morphed into being about women, with its own apocryphal story.  We had already seen the Kos Miriam, Miriam's cup come to the table to remind us of her role in the redemption of the people. But lately we see more and more produce finding its way to the table.  Olives, a symbol not only of peace but a staple in the Middle East is said to be a symbol of hope for the end of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Locks to reflect on modern slavery, bananas, tomatoes the list goes on.  

One could ask what it happening to us as a people.  We can think of the song Tradition, from Fiddler which pleads we do things because that is the way they have always been done.  That would be a wrong read of both the Seder and the development of what it means to be Jewish.  Tradition, which is not only something we receive from our parents but the gift we give our children, is and should be influenced by every generation.  In the Seder that has clearly been the case.  Look at any 3 Haggadot (Prayer book for the Seder) in any Jewish bookstore and you will see the influence of various times on the service. Things entered and exited over the history and of course important events in the lives of the Jewish people found a reminder and a home in meal.  Right before Pesach my Rabbi, Cantor and I remarked on the changing dynamic of the Matzah of Hope that used to include a picture symbolic of the USSR and called for solidarity with Soviet Jewry.  Others bring in the Shoah (Holocaust) with sections on remember the 6 million.  There are Humanist haggadot that never reference God and some that still leave Moses relegated to a fairly minor character.  Each served a purpose and spoke or continue to speak to a people who see the narrative of the Exodus as meaningful and connect it to the way they see the world.      

Even I have rewritten the section of the service as we begin to close the evening and invite Elijah the Prophet into the home.  First, borrowing from someone else, our Elijah's cup is empty for most of the Seder and we each add a little or our wine to the cup for we all must participate in our own redemption, not wait for a miracle. We also have cleaned up this section.  When we open the door, the lines of Bible we read include "Pour out your wrath on those who do not believe". When Passover was a time when Jews were most vulnerable to being attacked in Christian communities of the Middle Ages this act of defiance was a powerful statement for faith in God and the coming redemption.   However, those words having little meaning to me in my current context, have rewritten it as a call for a true multi-faith expression asking God to pour out God's love to all who seek truth, community and cooperation.  Many haggadot do not translate these words into English others simply eliminate them.  I think it important to at least acknowledge this powerful moment of our past. 

Every year there seems to be a new and trendy expression of something for the Seder table.  But I wonder about all these new things becoming so quickly institutionalized and will they in fact lose their meaning and/or take away from the meaning of the Seder historically.  The orange is a perfect example of how a meaningful act can be so easily be changed to do exactly what it was placed on the Seder plate to avoid.  The orange evolved from an attempt for a group of lesbian students to create their own Seder.  They put a crust of bread on the Seder plate as a powerful message that they were seen as having no place in Jewish life.  Susannah Heschel suggested that gays and lesbians to not violate the community of Judaism as the bread would a Seder but add something different and suggested the orange, including creating a ritual of spitting out the orange's bitter seeds as a way of symbolically spitting out the bigotry and hate.  In less than 10 years the story was changed that a male rabbi was talking about women in the Rabbinate being like bread on the Seder plate and the orange became a symbol of women's roles in Judaism, completely disappearing the importance of the symbol to gays and lesbians.  

Some say the more we generalize the story of the Exodus the more we water down Jewish peoplehood.  The Seder is about us.  It is our narrative, there is enough time in the year to think about the plight of others.  In fact we need be careful as many are trying to decouple Judaism for the land of Israel, the ultimate end of the Passover celebration, NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM means that we long to find the land of our people as a place we too can take ownership of for ourselves.  I am not sure I agree but I do think that as we think about what the Passover Seder means to us we should certainly consider thinking about some questions we sometimes ask at our Seder.

What part of the story is most important?
What part of the story do you like best?
What part of the story is about you?
What part of the story can we leave out and still have the whole story?  

I don't want to argue that the Seder can't be changed, modified, and added to, in fact it always has been and always will be.  I encourage it because it has to be meaning for you.  Being trendy about adding something because a famous Rabbi or your local cool Education Director did it doesn't make the ritual meaningful.  There is a reason we do the Seder in the home, the Seder is yours.  There are rituals far and wide that fit neatly into family Seders.  But in the end the ritual is empty without a clear meaning.  Add more fruits to your seder if you will, ask the questions that prompt us to think beyond ourselves, but do it with great concern and kavannah (intention).  Don't do it to be cool or because that is how it has to be done.  It doesn't.  Remember, we are all supposed to see ourselves as having personally come out of Mitzraim, What is your Mitzraim?

So Trying to Be Funny

 So last time I was a little angry so this post I hope to be a little more lighthearted.  I do hope that you will enjoy my observations.

You know those GE commercials where the engineer who got hired there has all these people who want to work with him?  Would you ever hire someone who sends troll and a elf o-gram.  But I would love if these exist, I would send them for all kinds of things.

I'm a wise elf, from the ogres I hide, this is to tell you your uncle has died.  He liked you a lot, thought you sweet as honey, so in his will he left you some money.  

Call Shark Tank

So pure comedy is the comment section of news stories.  One person wrote:

There was very little or no cyberbullying until there were computers.  Coincidence?

Okay.....think about it.

So I have to weigh into politics a little, Ted Cruz is the comedy gift that keeps on giving.  First last week a story about him as attorney general of Texas argued the you don't have a right to masturbate when defending a Texas law outlawing sex shops.  I imagine that it is consistent because he doesn't think that women have the right to their own bodies anyway, but a former college roommate suggested that this was a new position, so that gives you a mental image no one wants.

Oh and another not a woman appeared on Maury that looked a lot like old Ted

I am expecting this will become a meme for the new Fiorina/Cruz alliance.  Internet you know what to do.

So many Republicans have been losing their minds and passing laws trying to stop transgender individuals from using the bathrooms they feel most comfortable with.  One state even passed a law that contains a bounty to find transsexuals in the bathrooms.  How will that work?  Will  you have to spy on them while they are using the bathroom? Isn't that what they are worried about?  
Oh and some of the same loud voices who would attempt to stop the non-existent attacks of trans people in bathrooms are writing letters of support for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who did molest children.  So apparently it is okay for these guys to be a predator but not someone who is trying to be truthful to yourself. 

So we can look at a world where a racist, misogynistic, bigot will be the GOP nominee, where American politicians are making the diversity we built this country on illegal in public and we continue to seek scaptgoats for everything and scream, or try to laugh.  So find something funny to enjoy at least once a week.  

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