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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Watch the clip first.

I don’t know what is weirder:  1) the fact that Glenn Beck, in the face of a question he could not answer, screamed at a caller and called her a pinhead,  2) the fact that after the fact he watched the video and defended his actions repeatedly, essentially saying that in the face of the kind of stupidity displayed by the caller the only appropriate response is to do exactly what he did, or   3)  the fact that Bill O’Reilly was set up as being the voice of rational response, tempering Beck’s flair and calling him to account.

Beck’s rage-filled refusal to engage in rational discourse is, honestly, not really what disturbs me the most.  I don’t particularly care what Glenn Beck thinks–it doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning to me.  What does disturb me is that millions of people all over the country ardently believe that Glenn Beck can do no wrong and have seemingly given him a blank check; many have taken rank behind him and hail him as a prophetic leader.  Indeed, many people I know and love believe this.  I am disturbed by the celebration of vitriolic reactionism to dialogue, by the co-opting of historical movements based on informed and rational (and sometimes heated) dialogue (Samuel Adams and the objection to taxation without representation) to perpetuate a loose, disconnected, and largely irrational socio-political agenda.

Most significantly, I am deeply disturbed by the linking of Christianity with the political right.  While I understand that many Christians are conservatives, it is also true that many are not, and creating an identity of one’s political affiliation and one’s theological doctrine and praxis is something that I cannot abide.  I ardently deny that such an identity exists, except in the rhetoric of those who find it convenient to link the two.  I view this approach to politics as a way of using the Christian Church for a political purpose.  It is relegating the person of Christ as a means to accomplish a political end.  It is making the King of Kings a political pawn and having him serve our political agenda, instead of us serving Him and His agenda of the reclamation of the world from sin, death, and dysfunction.

Those who love and honor Jesus Christ must throw down any political idols, whether they might be the Republican party or Barack Obama.  We must put people and people’s institutions in their proper place: subservient to King Jesus.

Why are conservatives and many Christians so afraid?  We do not need to be.

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

–Isaiah 40

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Remembering 9-11?

When I got into my car this morning and drove the blessedly short commute to work that I have, I listened to NPR and was reminded that today is Friday, September 11th.  I hadn’t realized the date until I got in the car and turned on the radio.

The 9-11 remember phenomenon is fascinating, compelling, and slightly troubling to me.  I listened to person after person tell me that I should never forget 9-11.  The buzz phrase is, of course, “Never forget.”  Now I want to be clear: I am in not necessarily proposing that we do forget about it and move on; I recognize that remembering a trauma can be extremely cathartic, both personally and collectively, and there are good reasons for remembering various disasters.  What I would like to see, though, is more context for the call to remember 9-11.  People walk around today telling each other to “never forget”, but the obvious question to be begged is “Why?”  If we do not have a goal in mind for our remembering–a purpose for working through the trauma and remembering it–a deliberateness to our exercise of memory, then we will not deploy the emotions that are stirred up by that memory to any particular action and there will be nothing more political in our actions than merely saying, “never forget” to one another.

What concerns me about this lack of focus to the enterprise of remembering is that if we evoke emotions through remembering but then do not deploy them in any deliberate enterprise, we are all worked up with nothing to do.  It is very easy for people to provide unhelpful opportunities to do something with all that emotion by suggesting that we deploy it toward something divisive or hateful.  Some might (and have) suggested that we adopt attitudes of exclusion toward Arabs or Americans of Arab descent.  Some might (and have) suggested that all Muslims must, by nature of the fact that they are Muslims, hate Americans and be violent people.  This kind of rhetorical hijacking of our emotions to convince people of a specific (and racist) agenda is deplorable and all too common.  Some organizations, newscasters, and individuals love to argue through an appeal to fear, and this tactic works very well.  There is a tremendous opportunity on the anniversary of 9-11 to stimulate people’s fear and use the (appropriate) emotions of sadness and loss that are already there from the memorial of this event to try to convince people of positions and policies that we might never consider in March or around Christmastime.  But on September 11, when we remember the towers burning and falling, when we remember the national unity surrounding the disaster and the outrage that many Americans felt, it is easier to convince people to do things they might not do when the emotions of sadness, anger, and loss aren’t as strong.

So my suggestion is not to stop telling each other to “Never forget.”  Rather, my suggestion is to not stop at a catchy phrase that can go on a bumper sticker, but continue the thought on.  Tell each other what it is that we should never forget, and most importantly, tell each other why.  Use the memories and the emotions, both collective and individual, that are dredged up every anniversary of this disaster to fuel a deliberate introspection of our beliefs.  Reject the attempt of others to work you up into a person who is responding only to the emotions, and instead couple them with reason and time.  The national defense policies or the immigration policies or the political philosophies I support should be as reasonable in February or June as they are on September 11.

If they are not, then the damage done by September 11 goes far beyond destroying airplanes and skyscrapers.  Then the damage is to our own reason, to our own freedom of thought, and the act of terrorism goes even further by convincing us to subjugate ourselves to our own emotions and hold ourselves as slaves to our impulses.  What is a bomb compared to that?  A bomb cannot destroy our ability to reason, our character, or our personal or national dignity.  Surrender to the whimsy of our emotions can.

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Shannyn Moore

Shannyn Moore

Shannyn Moore is an Alaskan blogger, and wrote a good post about the Palin/Letterman broohaha. I appreciated her even tone and the lack of ad hominems, colorful crude metaphors, and venom-coated barbs trying to disguise themselves as arguments. Check out her blog post.

I kept wanting to comment to the bloggers who were name-calling on both sides, “Let’s stick to the facts,” but people, like some animals, can work themselves up into a rabid fury and be completely unreasonable and irrational when they’re really really angry. I know, because I can do it with the best of them. This whole ridiculous incident is a great example to study if you want to learn about argumentation (what not to do), tone and its effect on arguments and believability, discretion, grace (or the lack of it), and the unspoken “party-first” mindset of so many liberals and conservatives in America who believe that the party should come first and God after.

Since when did loving your neighbor and doing good to those who hate you include slandering them, lying about them, trying to get them fired, or even trying to kill them? Jesus’ mandate doesn’t have a footnote that says, “unless they’re unfair,” or “unless you’re in an election year.”

We need to remember, America, that God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and Christianity does NOT equal Republicanism. Christ ought to be transcendent to our politics, informing but NEVER equaling, because He IS sovereign over all the world’s politics.

Isaiah 40:

10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?

13 Who has understood the mind [d] of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?

14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.

17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

18 To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?

19 As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.

20 A man too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot.
He looks for a skilled craftsman
to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

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I want to make a disclaimer from the beginning–I was born in Austin, Texas.  While I realize that living the first six weeks of my life in Texas doesn’t really mean much more than I left a bunch of smelly diapers and infantile tantrums in the Lone Star State to mark my birthplace, I also have to admit that whenever Texas is mentioned I have a little soft spot.  Weird, I know.  “Soft spot” and “Texas” don’t really go together.  Maybe other words go with Texas–“ego”, “hospitality” (depending on what people group you belong to), “nifty drawl”, and “spunk.”  

The current leader of the Lone Star State, Governor Rick Perry, hinted on Wednesday that Texas might someday try to actually go it alone.  Permanently.  As in secession.  Speaking to a group of…ahem…extremely excited far-right-leaning children of the plains, Perry said, in response to the crowds chanting “secession,” that if the government in Washington wasn’t going to listen to the people, why then, the people of Texas just might cut the ties and ride off into the glorious sunset of…some kind of separatory action.  

Now, I would like to point out that a whole bunch of ordinary Texans think their governor is a couple horses short of a herd, and in the face of extreme criticism from almost every segment of society, Perry has essentially said that the idiots who misconstrued the Constitution and are causing the problems today also were stupid enough to misconstrue my speech.  Then he exercised a little Newspeak and told everybody what he ACTUALLY said.  It’s very different from what every news agency has on tape, but who cares?  He’s a Texan, darn it, and he stands for things.  

What I find interesting is the scenario in which he actually had the stones to seriously insinuate that secession could be on Texas’ agenda, since the last war of secession was the bloodiest American conflict EVER.  Perry was speaking at a Tea Party rally, where people co-opted the meaning linked to the Boston Tea Party and tried to apply it in the same way to their anger at bailing out banks with taxpayer money.  They’re angry that taxes are going up.  Funny, since taxes are actually lower for the middle class under Obama, and tax increases for the richest 5% of the folks in the nation haven’t even started yet–those start in 2011.  But what could be more American than getting riled up by a demagogue and protesting things out in the street that aren’t happening?  The only thing that really tops the Tea Party is Perry’s acquiescence to the small crowds screaming for Texas to secede from the Union.  They screamed, he lapped it up, and now he’s doing a really weak backpedal.  I liked one of the many many quotes from Texans on Perry’s chosen actions: 

“Governor Perry, what you speak of is sedition. Texas may not opt out of the Union. I believe we already settled that issue in our past. I’ll be the first to take up arms when that day comes. I’m an American first and Texan second.”  -bigboxes in the comment section of a CNN article.

But of course, what’s a little sedition among friends?

Texas, get rid of that irresponsible and foolish lunatic you’ve voted into your governor’s mansion.

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I’m a student at Claremont Graduate University, and in a course I’m taking this term there was a lecture and discussion on a social reformer and activist named John Commons, who did some really great things in America.  While reading some of the blog posts, I became interested in some tension that developed when it was discovered that some of John Commons’ writings and beliefs later had an influence on inspiring the eugenics movement.  The eugenics movement was a patently racist movement that believed in the possibility of improving humanity by keeping people with undesirable qualities from reproducing and encouraging reproduction among people with desirable qualities.  In this way, the evolution of humanity could be guided and self-directed.

 

What I find most interesting is not, to be totally honest, John Commons. I’m not even really all that shocked that he held racist ideas.  Many learned people did then, and many learned people today hold views that are patently racist while at the same time holding ideas that are significantly progressive toward social justice.  What interests me most is how people (readers) like us take and assimilate, through texts and images, ideas of a person to construct an image of that person and his ideas in our imaginations.  I’m guessing that we struggle through a common process when we hear of John Commons being related to the eugenics movement and believing “white races” are better suited to democracy than “tropical races.”  I, for one, immediately feel that there are two images of John Commons that somehow cannot both be true, and I notice that I have a feeling that the respect that I felt for him before I knew of his racism ought to be diminished and replaced with only criticism for his folly of racist ideology. 

 

This is the process that goes on inside my own head, but I’m pretty sure that it happens with most of us, with a lot of things, all the time, every day, in big and small ways.  I’m particularly interested in the pull that happens inside us toward division into a simple bifurcation—to fully lean to one side or the other—admiration or scorn, good or bad, truth or lies, tolerance or racism.  Since with Commons, all the information we have is from traditional texts—books, papers, etc. (and I suppose from oral texts or lectures about those traditional texts), we must undertake a complex negotiation of these texts we read with the text that has been constructed in our heads—our idea of John Commons and what his ideas mean.

 

In my own personal life, I’ve had many people who I have known as very good people, but at some point I discover that they have done something very evil—I’ve had a friend who committed murder and one who committed child molestation.  Both of those acts were horrific, but as my understanding of them was processed throughout their trials and sentencing, my conception of them did indeed change, but it did not affect everything I knew of them.  My friend who committed murder, for example (I’ll call her Becca), many times showed kindness to people and once brought me a plate of brownies just because I had never had that kind and she wanted to do something kind for me.  I had to reconcile in my head that this kind of decent act (decent in the strictest sense) could somehow co-exist in her in some way with motivations that would lead Becca to commit murder. 

 

I’m still learning this lesson and, no doubt, will be learning it deeper and deeper for the rest of my life, and I find them helpful as I wrestle with a challenge that is far less personal and emotional: trying to reconcile two different texts (John Commons A and John Commons B) into a third hybrid: John Commons C.  How does this happen? 

 

Here are two possible models: 

1) we take the old and new conceptions, which are very different from each other, and put them together, and one colors the other through completely, causing us to lose our trust in Commons’ progressive actions and view him as a fraud of social activism or at least as an ethically stunted person whose judgment cannot be trusted at all.  This is just like mixing food coloring and water: the water changes all through and one cannot then ever really “uncolor” the water. 

2) we take these two conceptions and simply let them both sit and occupy the same space—that is, the same label of John Commons in our head, and admit to the possibility that there may be contradictions—that there may be logical or ethical tensions in the different ideas, but we allow them to mix nonetheless.  This is much more like mixing two colors of pebbles into a big jar.  They are not the same, but nonetheless there they sit in the jar, and we must be willing to allow that there are two different colors in the jar at the same time, even if it offends our sense of aesthetics.  Knowing that there are these two disparate and quite contrary texts at work in my own conception of Commons is a burr in my mind; it would be much easier to understand him and compartmentalize him if I could simply say he was this or that all the way through—but it is not quite that easy.  People usually do not make it so.  But when I’m tired and want everything to be right with the world, and just want to have a hero to admire, I sure wish it were easier!

 

The whole thing pivots around being willing to allow unresolved tension to exist in the spaces in our minds—tension between one idea of someone and another.  We always have tension in our conceptions of people, and usually we simply resolve this tension by forming a new conception by somehow negotiating the two conflicting ideas in our head.  They struggle and bits of each are cut away, and bits of each are left standing.  As a result, some new conception emerges that is different. We do this all the time with all kinds of things, big as well as small, profound and superficial.  We may not know how to resolve the tensions we find, and it can be the hardest thing in the world to choose to not undergo the process of resolving those tensions, because sometimes there is no way for us to accurately resolve them.  We must sometimes choose to see both conflicting things and simply let them be—to trust that the process of resolving a good act with a murder may be beyond our capacity.  Most importantly, we are told by the Savior, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.”  I think he was talking about this exact thing.

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Angry!

I’m frustrated today.  I’m frustrated at so many things related to our economy, as I’m sure everybody is, but I feel like there are so many things to be said and most of them are staying around the water-coolers and aren’t making it to the blogs or to the bigger news services.  In fact, practically the only place I’ve heard any of them is on The Daily Show.  (Read my post about it here.) 

 

There are, to be sure, lots of things to get angry at, but I’m frustrated by the things that aren’t in the news.  Sure, there’s the stuff Obama said this morning, which was good, but my anger goes further.

 

I’m angry that the entire country has been, for a long time, conducting itself in an orgy of spending on credit with no regard for personal fiscal responsibility.  Individuals have done this, and the government has done this.  And people have capitalized on this practice and made billions of dollars in profit.  I’m angry that almost nobody is talking publicly about the underlying root of the problem: Americans must reign in our slobbering greed and our lust to be seen as richer than we are and exercise some responsibility, some restraint, some patience.  We have a lottery mentality, a mindset that getting rich should happen to me, and someone else ought to hand me the money, as we chant our national mantra of “We have rights!”

 

I’m angry that we, individuals, will have 4 or 5 credit cards (and that’s being conservative!) and think it’s ok.  I’m angry that the government continues to spend more than it has, and everyone just grumbles and wrings their hands and says, “Well, what can you do?”  I’m angry that companies like Bank of American will target people when the come into the bank and try to sell credit cards to them—credit cards that will only hurt them and put them deeper in debt.  And tellers have quotas they must fill—quotas of selling credit cards to people who don’t need them to make a bank more money so they can give more multi-million dollar bonuses to their executives.

 

I’m angry that some people in this crisis who have been ethically corrupt and profited off of others’ misfortune are enjoying life while others desperately struggle to figure out how to pay for hospice care for their dying mother, wondering how they’ll make their house payment, even though they’ve done everything right and always paid their obligations, even at monumental personal expense, just because it’s right.  And nobody gives them an award.

 

I’m angry at the banks that have been throwing lavish parties with bailout money from taxpayers, and I’m angry that the government keeps giving them bailout money without exercising more control over the company’s operations.  I’m angry.  Angry that people who make sacrifices to pay their bills and meet their obligations are ignored, but fools who have made unwise choices and continue to do so time and time again are rewarded with bailout money with little oversight.

 The words of James in the New Testament are particularly apt today, and I cling to them:

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

-James 5:1-6

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It is a sad commentary on our society (and particularly on the farces masquerading as network television news programs) when some of the most poignant criticism and analysis of the culture comes from a show that comes on right after Futurama.  This is, of course, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  

Jon Stewart and I don’t agree on everything, but we do have a lot in common, apart from our first name.  Recently he has become something of a hero to me because he has the stones to openly criticize people who are doing dumb things.  He was a guest on Crossfire in 2004 and made everyone surprisingly uncomfortable when he refused to play the role of “funny guy” and instead spoke eloquently, seriously, and critically about the role of shows like Crossfire and their journalistic and ethical duty to the public.  It was one of the best face-to-face criticisms I’ve ever seen on television.

Last week, Jon Stewart ran a piece on his comedy show criticizing the CNBC network and especially its financial programs.  Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager and host of the show Mad Money, got uber-defensive and decided to fire back.  At a comedian.  Anybody who has ever been to see standup knows that you don’t heckle comedians unless you want your butt handed to you or force-fed to you.  And especially if it’s a comedian who is really smart and has a legitimate bone to pick with you.  And especially if he’s full of righteous anger.  

So anyway, Genius Jim decides to fire back, and CNBC gets defensive, too.  Which gives Jon Stewart more fuel to work with.  Finally, in what can only be called the sickest possible action taken by a television corporation, CNBC handed Jim Cramer to Jon Stewart to destroy, meaning Jim Cramer was a guest on The Daily Show.  In the course of this half-hour show, Jon Stewart repeatedly nailed Cramer to the wall.  He pulled out footage of things that Cramer had said that were at best morally dubious, and several times it looked like Cramer was about to break and start weeping like a little 5-year old.  The link to the entire show is here, and I highly recommend everyone watching it.  Stewart was relentless but fair, giving Cramer plenty of time to explain what he thought, but not letting him get away with anything.  

Various shows are framing this as a duel, but I appreciated it because it was a small moment of justice.  The wizard was unmasked, and though I’m sure it won’t change much, it was so satisfying to see someone who had admittedly lied over and over again get caught in his own web…on national TV.  

So for these couple of weeks, Jon Stewart is my hero.  And people can say that I ought to have a more mature hero than a comedian, but for these few weeks in America, this comedian was the most gutsy defender of the common American that we had.  Someone cared about justice this week…and he served it, if only in a small way.

If only more talk show hosts did the same!

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