Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Relying On Police: Trust versus Faith

trust (noun): firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

faith (noun): strong belief based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof 

"Sure, you liberals all hate cops until you need one, and then you call them up expecting their help!"

In the spirit of full disclosure--and this will really shock people who know me--I am what most people would call a liberal (though I'd prefer to call myself a "progressive"). This means that I disagree with many, but not all, "conservative" viewpoints. I've been part of many online debates/ discussions/arguments during which I let emotion rule me, and said things that were as divisive and ultimately useless as my conservative counterparts did.

But divisiveness is not going to help anyone addressing the hot-button issue of police overreach. Instead, I'd like to explain why I, as an American--not a progressive American, but an American--grow increasingly concerned each time I hear about a policeman killing a civilian and getting away with it.

We know criminals break the law. That's the whole point of criminals. They don't respect the law, they don't follow the law, they don't care about the law. On the opposite end, we have police, who vow to protect and serve. 

This brings me back to the two definitions I started with above: trust, and faith.

We rely on the police not because we have faith in them, but because we trust them. Trust is based on things you can see and experience: their reliability, their truth, their strength, their ability. 

When a bad cop--let me repeat that, a BAD cop--breaks the law, and is allowed to walk away unpunished, our trust in the police erodes. When another bad cop breaks the law and is allowed to walk away unpunished, our trust erodes some more. And the next time, it erodes some more...

Each time a police officer is allowed to commit a criminal act with impunity, the reliability, strength, truth, and ability of the police is shaken. Soon we can no longer trust that the police will protect us. Instead, we must have faith that they will...and as we all know, faith is belief in something that you can have no proof of.

Note that I am not judging all police. I am sure the vast majority of police officers are decent people. But surely anyone can see that when bad police flout the law, kill civilians and get away with it--protected by district attorneys who fail to get indictments even when the entire incident is caught on video (Daniel Pantaleo/Eric Garner), or when they admit to having witnesses make false testimony before the grand jury (Darren Wilson/Mike Brown)--your trust will be shaken.

Conservative or liberal, moderate or progressive...that's not hard to understand. Is it?

Friday, June 28, 2013

"Open Rebellion Against God's Law"

Following the Supreme Court's historic decision this week striking down DOMA, openly gay PA state Representative Brian Sims rose Wednesday on the PA House floor to deliver some remarks, but he was not allowed to speak---nor were two of his Democratic colleagues who rose to support him---because of a procedural block by GOP Representative Daryl Metcalfe. Metcalf's explanation?

"I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law," Metcalfe told WHYY of Philadelphia.

That was very nice of Rep. Metcalf to save Rep. Sims from waging open rebellion against God's law, wasn't it? And without even hearing a single word of Rep. Sims' remarks? I'm very concerned, though, about the possibility that Rep. Metcalf himself might accidentally wage open rebellion against God's law, so I emailed him (,  incidentally). Here is what I wrote:

Rep. Metcalfe:

Your objections which silenced Democratic Representative Brian Sims from speaking about DOMA were based on your opinion that he was in "open rebellion against God's law".

I assume you are a Christian? In that case, here are a few examples of God's law you might want to familiarize yourself with, lest you accidentally wage open rebellion against God's law yourself.

On practicing your religion in public so that others will witness your righteousness, Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."

On having love and empathy for those who are different from yourself, he said in John 13:34, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."

And on speaking out against what you perceive as another's sins, when you are yourself, being human, necessarily sinful, in Matthew 7:5 Jesus said, "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Additionally, in raising your personal religion as an objection to Rep. Sims comments, and in stating that "There's no free speech on the floor", you seem to be in open rebellion against a law of the United States of America, which you have vowed to protect as a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, which is the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. This Amendment prohibits the United States from establishing a state religion, which means that your personal religion does not rule the land. It also means that Rep. Sims does, in fact, enjoy the right to free speech. It reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I hope that these examples will help you avoid accidentally finding yourself in open rebellion against the laws of God or the United States of America.

Jeffrey Flood
Here is the text of Rep. Metcalf's auto-reply:
Thank you for your email.
I personally receive and read the communications that are sent to this address.
I appreciate the time that you have taken to contact me.
If your message expresses your view on legislation or a specific policy, please be assured that your input will be considered.
You will be contacted by one of my staff if you have sent a constituent service request or have shared a concern that requires further action by my office.

Serving the 12th District,
Daryl Metcalfe
State Representative
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Well...I certainly hope he personally reads my communication before he accidentally wages open rebellion against God!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rick Perry's War On America

If you're living under a rock, then maybe you haven't seen Texas Governor Rick Perry's 'hail Mary' play for conservative voters, entitled "Strong".

Strolling through what appears to be a wooded park, wearing a suede jacket that has been ironically identified as a ringer for Heath Ledger's costume in Brokeback Mountain, Perry tells us:

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian. But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As President, I'll end Obama's war on religion, and I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America can make her strong again. I'm Rick Perry, and I approve this message.

Perry's video became instantly controversial, and it's easy to see why. It sounds homophobic (can we coin a new word for bigots like Perry? I propose homomisic, "gay hating"). It's ridiculous...who is stopping kids from celebrating Christmas? And it ties Obama to yet another atrocity he isn't committing, a "war on religion", and conveniently ties liberals to this fanciful war in one snappy sentence.

Perry's claims are alternately loathsome and absurd, but there's a more subtle message here that every American should be wary of. It's a popular theme with many conservative political candidates based on a fallacy of their own invention. That fallacy is the idea that the United States of America has a single religious heritage which has been somehow attacked, destroyed, or subjugated during Barack Obama's Presidency.

America does not now have, nor has it ever had, a single religion. Any schoolchild can tell you that many of America's first European settlers were fleeing religious persecution and settled here to worship as they pleased, but their own faiths were in no way compatible. They were Pilgrim Fathers (Brownist English Dissenters), Puritans (English Protestants), Quakers, Mennonites, Dunkers, Schwenkfelders, Moravians,
Roman Catholics, Jews, and Anglicans.

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof', ensuring not only that Americans will always be free to practice the religion of their choice, but that the United States itself does not and will not endorse any particular religion.
Article Six provides that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States".

The forty-four Presidents of the United States represent no less than 12 different religious affiliations, the third most common being "none" (after Episcopalian and Presbyterian). Notable Presidents who had no specific religious affiliation include Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Jefferson and Ben Franklin are considered by many to have been more properly Deists than Christians. Deism became prominent during the Age of Enlightenment among Christians who believed in God, but could not accept supernatural miracles, the infallibility of scripture, or the Trinity.

The phrase "In God We Trust" has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864, but it was not adopted as the official U.S. motto until 1956, a full 169 years after the Constitution was written. The country's previous unofficial motto was the wholly secular E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one". The Pledge of Allegiance was composed in 1892, but was not officially adopted as the country's pledge until 1942...and the phrase under God was not added until 1954, just 57 years ago.

In recent surveys 83% of Americans claimed to belong to a religious denomination, 60-75% of them being Christian. Between 4 and 5.5% of Americans are non-Christian...and another 15% of adult Americans claim to have no religious belief, or no affiliation, at all. And despite this seemingly high level of religiosity, in a 2008 poll only 9% of American adults said religion was the most important thing in their lives, compared to "family" at 45%, and "money" and "career" at 17%.

In 2011, the National Council of Churches of Christ published the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which includes data on religious bodies reporting 60,000 or more members. In the U.S., no less than 73 different religious bodies were represented. President Obama is himself a Christian, and was a dedicated member of the United Church of Christ for more than 20 years until the media's focus on Reverend Jeremiah Wright's controversial statements led to his leaving it.

In short, America has no single religion or religious heritage to attack. In order to accuse Obama, or liberals, or atheists, or what have you, of attacking America's "faith", it is necessary for Governor Perry to wax poetic about an idyllic, fading America that has never existed outside of his imagination.

What exactly is this vague America Perry is nostalgic for? And why does he claim Barack Obama is at war with it? Republicans of every stripe loathed Bill Clinton, but none claimed he was at war with faith or religion.

I propose that the religiously unified America Rick Perry reminisces about was the America in which white male Christians had a stranglehold on our political power, our media, and our public dialogue. This cheerful America was firmly in place in the early 1950's, until African-Americans began to throw off the yoke of second-class citizenship they had worn since the Emancipation Proclamation. Still, white Christian men were safely ensconced in the White House until 2008, when Barack Obama took the oath of office. Obama, to my knowledge, is also the only President whose religion has been openly questioned (including accusations that he is secretly Muslim), and whose birth certificate's authenticity has been repeatedly challenged, in a public dialogue led exclusively by conservative and Republican politicians and media pundits. Coincidence?

The widening reach and influence of social media platforms such as Facebook won't make Rick Perry any happier. No one religion, political party, or philosophical outlook can control the voices of 800 million people interacting globally every day. No significant percentage of 800 million people will agree that homosexuals should not be serving in the U.S. military, or that Barack Obama is waging war on faith, or that Christian fundamentalism is the appropriate mission of the United States or its presidents.

If America can be said to have a heritage, it can be stated quite simply, and, in words primarily drafted by (Deist) President Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, it is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness.

In the 235 years since those words were written, the citizens of the United States have been admirably, messily, and gloriously striving to make the promise of those words a reality. In 2011 a particular segment of Americans, gays, have achieved an equality never previously enjoyed, with 6 states and the District of Columbia legalizing gay marriage, and President Obama repealing the Clinton-era "Don't ask, don't tell" policy which prevented gays from serving openly in our military. This makes gays a prominent target of conservative religious politicians such as Perry, who are always looking for a new enemy to replace the ones which are no longer socially acceptable scapegoats: blacks, women, or what have you.

Rick Perry's already weak political star should fade fast in the wake of "Strong", but as it does, Americans must not only continue to reject Perry's portrait of an America where those who don't look, think, and pray like him are the enemy: we must reject this mythical America wherever it rears its ugly, divisive head. To paraphrase his now-infamous words, democracy is what made America strong, and it can make America strong again. Not Rick Perry's democracy, but our democracy...yours, mine, gays', straights', Christians', atheists', and everyones in between.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Today's Uplifting Facebook Meme: Screw Haiti!

You've seen all of the various memes spread like wildfire through facebook stati? You know, like, all the ladies' bra colors and which historical figure you're most like? Interesting, harmless, momentarily distracting. Have you seen this really lovely one?:

America: the only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment - yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the guts to copy and repost this!!

Wow. America's in bad shape, huh? We're the only country out of the world's 190-or-s0 countries with homeless people, hungry children, unmedicated elderly, and untreated mental illness! Gee...

Now, you see, statements like these are exactly why Americans are so often loathed by our fellow world citizens. I'm not saying we don't have problems here---and I'm not a big fan of letting them grow progressively worse while we spend all our time and money trying to meddle (and help) everyone else in the world---but our problems are relatively paltry. Don't sit in front of your computer facebooking thinking that you're worse off than the Haitians. While we all start drawing up our grocery lists so we can stuff our faces during the Superbowl, there are people all around the world who would give their left foot to have 1% of what we do.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why Don't You Grow Up?

When I got out of work today some folks were stumping for Republican Senatorial candidate Scott Brown, who's running against Democrat Martha Coakley for the seat that belonged to the late Ted Kennedy.

Most of them simply carried "Scott Brown for Senate" signs, but one guy had a handmade sign that read, "OBAMA YOU CAN'T SAVE MARTHA".

Hey this point in history a Senate seat is a serious thing. Whatever your positions are, there are a lot of major issues on the burner. How about candidates just campaigning on their policies instead of mocking their opponents? How about those candidates' supporters acting a little less juvenile? Didn't you make fun of enough kids when you were in elementary school? Didn't get it out of your system yet? Why don't you just grow up already?

Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Long Do We Blame Bush For the War?

My short answer: not forever, but I'm not letting him off the hook just yet.

The White House blasted former Veep Dick Cheney for claiming that President Barack Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war.

"He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war," Cheney said in a statement. "He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of 9/11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won't be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won't be at war."

Obama knows we're at war. He's made public statements about the war. But of course that's not the issue, and Cheney knows it. He's playing to the right wing as usual, hoping to distract people from the fact---unavoidable---that he and his President started this war, and had no idea how to win it. Sadly, this bait-and-switch actually works. Witness the following comment on's article about Cheney's comments:

to Gary in Portsmouth who said: "I just hope the rest of America get's it. I am glad we don't have a President with a fast food mentality. I love intelligent well thought out decisions. There safe and reduces the possibilities of undue, unnecessary harm."

Well, I doubt the families of the 114 American's who died in Afghanistan during the 93 days it took for Obama to announce his "well thought out decision" see it the way you and your liberal friends do - and then add the additional American's who will also die over there in the extra months it will take to add the troops requested because of that delay.

For those of us with family members fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama's "dithering" was extremely stressful.

Actually, 117 Americans died serving in Afghanistan while Obama considered McChrystal's request for more troops. And 634 U.S. troops died in Afghanistan during Bush and Cheney's tenure, along with 4228 in Iraq, for a total of 4862, while Bush and Cheney did---what? Did they ever deign to show us what their strategy actually was? Explain what milestones they were trying to reach? Describe what their oft-discussed "winning" would actually look like?

No. Because "winning" in Iraq and Afghanistan was never the Bush administration's aim. Their aim was to democratize the Mideast so they could start making good old-fashioned American money there. These aims go back to the rarely-discussed Project For a New American Century (google it---but prepare to be disturbed), at least.

As long as the authors of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are walking this earth, they'll be playing the same old Neocon the same time casually trivializing the lives of the very American services members they so often claim to champion.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

American Idol Voters Get It Right: Anything Else Is Impossible

On Wednesday night, American Idol "dark horse" contestant Kris Allen seemed to come from out of nowhere to steal the crown from judges' darling Adam Lambert, and on Thursday a lot of people are asking questions. How did this happen? Is the show rigged? Did conservative groups reportedly rallying to vote for Kris---or against Adam---color the result? And why can't a gay singer win American Idol?

I called Kris Allen as the winner when they were at the top nine---the week he first covered "Ain't No Sunshine"---and his startlingly original cover of Donna Summer's "She Works Hard For the Money" during the top seven disco week only solidified my pick. It was a gut reaction based on one thing: I liked him best. I liked his acoustic guitar work. I liked his voice. I liked his arrangements. I liked his humbleness.

But none of these are the reason Kris won, or at least not the only reason. Kris won because winning American Idol (like so many reality show contests) comes down to numbers. Where did those numbers come from? Did extreme conservatives come out in droves for Kris? There's no way to know. But there's one thing we do know: if you have a favorite you vote for, and your favorite is eliminated, you have to pick a new favorite if you want to continue voting. It's the ultimate runoff election, this season culminating in "nearly" 100 million votes on Tuesday night, and the runoff went to Kris.

To be more particular, in my mind there are three major factors to who wins American Idol.

Factor #1: Who gets which eliminated contestants' votes? This becomes more pertinent as we draw closer to the end, so let's just consider the final four: Allison Iraheta, Danny Gokey, Kris Allen, and Adam Lambert, and pretend there were only 100 votes available.

Allison was routinely in the bottom three, and Danny never was until his elimination, so let's assume Allison had the smallest share of 100 votes, and Danny the highest. Let's give Danny 40 votes, Allison 10. Give Adam 30 votes (assuming voters generally preferred him over Kris, though we don't know that's the case) and Kris 20.

When Allison was eliminated, who did her fans start to vote for? Let's say it was Adam, just for yuks. Give Adam those 10 votes during the top three. That makes it Danny 40, Adam 40, Kris 20. Now Danny is eliminated. Anyone want to go out on a limb and say Danny's fans started voting for Adam? No? Okay, then during the finale it would be Adam 40, Kris 60.

And this disregards the nine previous weeks. When Matt Giraud was eliminated, who did his fans start voting for? Michael Sarver? Lil Rounds? Anoop Desai? Scott MacIntyre?

Factor #2: Who best handles the (usually) insipid and trite original song? This year we suffered through a composition co-written by new American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi. This song alone is a reason to fire Kara for next season, as if there weren't already plenty of reasons (and did it really take three people to write that crap?).

So who handled it best? Like everything Idol, it's subjective, and I've already admitted I'm a Kris fan...but I also know bad notes when I hear them, and Kris suffered through several during his rendition of "No Boundaries". But it was also one of Adam's weakest performances, sounding shrill and unintelligible. Also, who's more believable singing a (supposedly) inspiring, I'll lift you up-style song, Kris or Adam? I'm gonna go with Kris. And Kara all but apologized to Kris for the fact that the song was in a key too high for him.

Factor #3: People who tune in to see the finale who don't watch any other episodes. What would they have seen? Here's what I'm guessing. They saw Adam Lambert, who they've no doubt heard is the runaway favorite, doing his usual: a little screeching, some tongue protrusions, wearing eyeliner, doing one very solid number ("Mad World"), one hot mess ("A Change Is Gonna Come") and slipping on the original tune. And they saw Kris Allen, a kid-next-door, playing acoustic guitar and piano, nailing one song ("Ain't No Sunshine"), performing admirably if unremarkably on another ("What's Goin' On"), and struggling with the new song. And I'm guessing they might also have wondered if Kris (or Adam) was the best the show could come up with this year. And America being America...they most likely went for Kris.

But the "big" question remains: why can't a gay contestant win American Idol? (This assumes that Adam is gay, which he's never said...okay, never mind. He's gay.) A better question would be this: why didn't this particular gay contestant win American Idol?

Was he too flamboyant? Was it the eyeliner? The androgynous hair? The theatricality? I don't know, but I can tell you this...of the many friends I have who are Idol watchers and theatre people, a majority of them actually did not prefer Adam, perhaps for the same reason I didn't. Everything he did seemed so rehearsed, so calculated, so much a character or a mask, that I never really felt like I was seeing Adam himself. When he sang "Tracks of My Tears" I thought to myself: if he was wearing clown makeup, a la Pagliacci, it wouldn't be out of place. But if I want to watch acting, I'll watch a movie or tune in to a t.v. show or take in a play. When I watch a singer, I want to see the singer's real personality. Kris Allen delivered that every week, without fail, and with great consistency he also delivered more original arrangements than anyone else except, arguably, Adam.

There's also this: I can't hear an Adam Lambert album in my head. I don't know what kind of song he'd record, I don't know who he is or what he wants to say. On the other hand, I do hear a Kris Allen album. And I, apparently like many other Idol fans this season, am looking forward to buying one.