Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Racists are Getting Cover from the Top

In Carmel, Indiana, a northern suburb, a Muslim group has petitioned the zoning board to build an Islamic Center that will include a mosque.  The center will be in a residential neighborhood that has been seeing development north and south of it.  The people who live there do have some legitimate questions about what this new house of worship will mean to the neighborhood.  Traffic and noise being the biggest issues.  Also what it might mean if the center does drug treatment programs or a food pantry.  Neighbors need to consider these things and the zoning board should as well.  Houses of worship in general can be a net positive to a neighborhood.   But for some any effort to create a commercial-like environment can be problematic.  A large building with a public profile does change a lot about an area.

The mosque has tried to address some of the issues, for example, fear of a public call to prayer has been been spoken to by the fact that there will not be one to conform with local noise ordinances.  So know that local government will have to balance the needs, rights, and concerns of the groups.

But the debate has brought out an ugly side of our culture.  The responses to the story on local newscast social media pages has been down right racist.  One person, who doesn't live in the city let alone the neighborhood, said that there is a mosque in Plainfield so why do they need another one.  It is almost one-hour from the area that this community lives in.  Others equated Islam with terror and suggested, without sarcasm, that this is the first step to Sharia being imposed in Carmel.  It is mindnumbing.  But this is where we are as a country.  It isn't new, loud-mouthed hate has been part of culture since the dawn of culture.  I have always found it interesting that in ancient Rome there was political graffiti that attacked leaders and others personally.  But today it feels different.  It feels like elected officials are helping to cultivate this hate. 

High level leaders in the Republican party, including the President, have reached out to the most divisive and hateful members of the right wing noise machine.  People like Alex Jones, a man who called the Sandy Hook massacre a false flag operation, has access to top government officials and the President has been on his conspiracy ridden radio program.  White supremacists have been invited into the White House and we have seen members of that subculture flashing White Power signs while standing in the People's house.  And of course, the President, when faced with questions about the racist gathering in Charlottesville called some of the them fine people. 

Anonymity of the internet, cover run by our leaders and the daily deluge of slug from members of the inner circle in the current administration has created a fertile ground for hate to be acceptable to many.  It takes good people to not do nothing.  There are many times arguments can be made against whate I believe, from a mosque in Carmel, to DACA to a border wall to security measures.  But if those arguments use bigoted, ignorant or racist ideas to prop up a failed position, we must challenge them.  There are more of us than them.  And some can still be shamed, regardless if the GOP leadership has lost that ability.       

Monday, January 15, 2018

Facts are Always Facts.

When access to the internet became ubiquitous, I was teaching a class at Georgia College.  I remember telling my students that if they used a website as a reference for their writing they must show the websites' citations as well.  Twenty some years ago the internet was not fully understood by many, even in academia, and of course there was tons of misinformation on the World Wide Web.  I used part of a class session to show this by finding websites that promoted wild conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination, Flat Earth groups and of course my favorite alien visitation.  Most students became better consumers of the vast information now available to them.  More than two decades later the information has only expanded but so has the misinformation and confusion.  That coupled with partisan news organizations and position driven websites we now have access to a tsunami of information from a devise we carry in our pockets, but that wave brings flotsam and jetsam that is is hard to weed out.  

While long before the internet was the main way we interact with information, hucksterism, misinformation and yellow journalism were around.  The internet has just not only made it more private but has linked like minded people to create a perpetual reinforcement machine that leads people to believe things and justify them by the sheer numbers of people they can connect with who agree.  Fertile ground for those wishing to take advantage of ignorance.  

Sometimes this is just a way to separate a willing mark from his or hers money.  Phil Plait, known as the Bad Astronomer, post an Instagram photo today of a booth selling magnetic jewelry that apparently does something non-specific for health.  Snake oil on a grand scale.  Every Facebook feed has something for sale that will make you a better human being, hopefully.  In many cases this is just folly.  While this is usually only dangerous to those who fall for the pitch, it is highly disturbing that it is so easy to fool people.  But recently we have seen an uptick in more authoritarian sources selling nonsense.  

While many news organizations have a editorial bent there have always been some sources of information that eschewed facts for information to promote a position.  Until very recently Fox News led the charge but usually only in their infotainment shows (early morning and the prime time schedule).  But since Donald Trump began running for President, other sources that have no connection to reality are getting access to the inner circles of government.  A good example is InfoWars which claims all kinds of crazy things including that no children died at Sandy Hook.  The current President has been on the show of Alex Jones.  Also he has elevated people who promoted the insane notion that a pizza place in Washington DC was the center of a pedophile ring led by Hillary Clinton.  This led to a man shooting the place up.  

This world of Alternative Facts, as stated by a White House representative when asked to justify clear lies from the White House podium leads to all kinds of things.  There is a controversy in Carmel, IN over the building of a mosque in what is a residential area of town.  Now for those not from the Indianapolis area, Carmel and some of the surrounding suburbs are on a building kick again.  A field across the road from my neighborhood  is populated with McMansions and a new CVS at the corner (about 3 miles from another new CVS basically at the other end of my neighborhood).  I understand the idea of not wanting a new Islamic center which will become a community center for the Muslim community, one that is active in the interfaith world.  But there are many who don't want the mosque because of the stereotypes of Muslims.  One claiming the Dearborn, MI is a city run by Sharia law.  He read it on the internet.  People running for Congress and speaking for the President have suggested that Sharia law is taking over areas of the country.  This is nonsense but you can quote websites who say this without proof.  

Facts exist and they are facts regardless of whether people believe them. Too often when a statement is challenged people say "prove me wrong".  That is not how this works.   We need to be a culture that is educated enough to understand when we are being lied to, and know how to seek out reality.  The internet is made to people passing along bad information.  Don't like the internet think for you.  Think for yourself, find out where you get your facts and if something fits too nicely into a particular narrative, try to debunk it before you pass it along.  We will all be better for it. 

I Don't Wear My Kippah at WalMart

Several years ago I was sitting in a cafe with someone who suggested I take off my kippah.  The neighborhood we were in was a predominantly...