Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hopelessness, drugs, and salesmanship

Excellent article on the opioid epidemic,  which is crushing rural America.

Several take-home quotes:

First, this eye-opening statistic.
Drug companies were pouring opioids into West Virginia, delivering 780m painkillers into a state of just 1.8m people over a five year period to 2012, according to an investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
As one recovering addict says,
“Addiction brings out the worst in people. Pure souls turn black. Even with the nicest person, the happiest person. They end up robbing and stealing. Hurting people.”
The person turning dark may not be the addict, but the one benefiting from him.  Read that first statistic again, and then this from a former doctor:
Salesmen were threatening to back legal action against doctors who resisted patients’ demands for OxyContin

“I got the bulk of my education about opioid narcotics from drug reps. They’d come in with a glossy brochure and tell us, you need to be writing this now,” he said. “It was aggressive.”

Among Purdue’s tactics, state investigators later found, were salesmen threatening to back legal action against doctors who resisted patients’ demands for OxyContin.
What was that about a black soul?  It's symptomatic of the US now:  profits over people, profits from the misery of people.

And what's to be done?
“I never could get the word out. It seems like there’s more hopelessness than any one person can do anything about. I try,” she said.
And that is how Trump happens.

Monday, June 19, 2017

When Muslims are under threat: "Is it safe to pray?"

Religious freedom at its most fundamental is when people are threatened for peaceably practicing their faith.  And religious freedom is indeed under attack in the US and the UK....but the victims are not CHristians.

Two news stories today expose western Islamophobia in heartbreaking fashion.

In Virginia, a 17 year old girls was killed on her way home from evening prayer
Nabra was reportedly among four or five teenagers who had left the mosque in the early hours of Sunday. It was not unusual for worshippers to walk after nightfall in what is usually a safe neighbourhood.

A Fairfax county police statement said: “An investigation determined she was walking outside with a group of friends when they got into a dispute with a man in a car. It appears the suspect, Darwin A Martinez Torres, 22, of Sterling, got out of his car and assaulted the victim. Her friends could not find her and police were called to help.”
Her body was found, reportedly beaten to death.

In London, another case of a van driving on a sidewalk to mow people down--but this time, the targets were Muslim worshipers leaving their mosque.  The crowd caught the driver and the local imam reportedly protected him until the police arrived. 
SITE, the terrorism-monitoring group, said Monday white-supremacist organizations were celebrating the attack in Finsbury Park, while pro-ISIS groups used it to incite Muslims.
The Guardian adds,
A report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that anti-Muslim hate crime incidents rose sharply in 2015 and increased a further 44%, from 180 to 260, in 2016. Human rights groups have called on Donald Trump to be more forceful in speaking out against acts of violent intolerance.
An article in the Atlantic looks at the consequences for the community.
"It’s a really scary question to have to think about, to be honest—to even have to be in the state of mind where you have to ask the question, ‘Is it safe for me to go pray?'"
That, friends, is what religious persecution is.

Friday, June 16, 2017

When Christians are under threat

Apparently, awareness of religious freedom and support for Christians under threat only applies to American Evangelicals offended by red Starbucks cups, same sex marriage, and "Happy Holidays". and not those literally at risk of death for their faith.

Honestly, wouldn't you expect the Christian Right to be loudly protesting this?
A large roundup of Iraqi Christians by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been met with widespread criticism toward President Donald Trump, who previously pledged to protect such communities from persecution in the Middle East. 
Dozens of Iraqi Christians and other immigrants were seized over the weekend in a series of ICE raids, many of which took place in Michigan, a state known for its large Middle Eastern population. Those arrested face risk of deportation back to their home countries, some of which Trump had previously criticized as being hostile toward Christians. 
.... Local lawyer Wisam Naoum said Sunday that ICE officers deliberately waited to take action when the local Chaldean Catholic Assyrian community gathered for mass....some final orders had been received to deport individuals back to Mosul, the former Iraqi stronghold of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) that now serves as the venue for a violent showdown between the jihadists and an Iraqi government-led offensive. "
I guess not.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

An American Hero

Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner did not hesitate to do her job and take down the Congressional Baseball Shooter, protecting Rep. Scalise and the other members present.  She was also shot and is recovering in the hospital.

But did you know:
Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip who was shot by a gunman who a
ttacked a congressional baseball practice on Wednesday, has kept company with racists.He was forced to apologize for speaking at an international conference of white supremacists, and reportedly referred to himself as “David Duke without the baggage.” Following Scalise’s shooting, Duke praised him for “defending white civil rights.” 
Scalise has also been described as one of the most anti-LGBTQ politicians in Washington.....
So it is a point of especially delicious irony that Scalise, who survived the attack (and is reportedly in critical condition), may owe his life to a queer black woman.
I love the ironies of life.  This is almost story-book:  Agent Griner is a married black lesbian.  

Alas, I doubt it will end by Rep. Scalise repenting of his views, but still:  

This is my kind of America, where different views even of fundamental rights don't get in the way of Good People Doing the Right Thing for Duty and Country.  

Well done, Agent Griner:  an American hero!  

Alt-Right, Alt-White, and Southern Baptists.

The Atlantic Reports,
Leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention were divided over a resolution affirming the denomination’s opposition to white supremacy and the alt-right during their annual meeting in Phoenix this week. On Tuesday, they initially declined to consider the proposal submitted by a prominent black pastor in Texas, Dwight McKissic, and only changed course after a significant backlash. The drama over the resolution revealed deep tension lines within a denomination that was explicitly founded to support slavery.
With 81% of Evangelical Christians supporting Trump, despite his toxic support from white-supremacists and Islamophobes, I don't think there is any surprise here. Racism is an open wound in this country.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


I turned on the news in the car this morning and heard about the shooting at a "Congressional baseball practice", in which some of the Republican caucus go play ball with each other.  A man with a rifle shot at them, hitting several.  It was only because Majority Whip Scalise has a security detail that there were Capitol Police there to respond.

What the hell.....

Initial descriptions suggest the shooter was a middle aged white man.

Our discourse has become so heated, so vile, that an over-wrought citizen take a too-easy to obtain weapon and fire a murderous volley at Congressional representatives.

There is nothing that justifies this.  Nothing.  No matter how angry the man was, nothing.

Was this someone on the left, angry at the Congress?  I hope not.  Violence is never an answer.  But what could have driven this?   Perhaps he was facing loss of his medical insurance, one of the 20million who will be a sacrificial victim at the tax-cut altar.  Perhaps he was helpless in the face of job losses and opioid addiction.  Perhaps he was simply insane.

But the aftermath will be the usual thing.  The voices on the extreme right  will rise in anger against the liberals.  The extreme left will use inflammatory language as well. The divide hardens, and we become further disunited.

But let us be clear:  violence is wrong, and violence against political figures is the antithesis of our democracy.  Throw the book at this guy.  We don't do this.

Update:  the shooter was killed.  He was a progressive, a Sanders supporter, with a history of anger-issues.  Cue the usual responses.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Religious Hate

Two pieces to point out to you today.  The first comes from Mississippi, where an elderly man died in 2016.  The funeral home reneged on taking care of his corpse, because they discovered that (gasp!) he was gay! and married!   While they aren't saying anything, I would bet that they claim that burying a gay man is an invasion of their religious liberty to hate gay people.

Hot on the heels of that report comes news that the president is planning to sign his long-planned "religious freedom" bill.  This would give wide latitude to discriminate on the grounds of religious liberty.  This is way beyond baking cakes for a same sex marriage.  This is....well, this is about refusing to bury a man because he is gay.  Or even refusing him medical care.
President Donald Trump has invited conservative leaders to the White House on Thursday for what they expect will be the ceremonial signing of a long-awaited—and highly controversial—executive order on religious liberty, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. 
Two senior administration officials confirmed the plan, though one cautioned that it hasn’t yet been finalized, and noted that lawyers are currently reviewing and fine-tuning the draft language. Thursday is the National Day of Prayer, and the White House was already planning to celebrate the occasion with faith leaders....
The new draft is being tightly held, but one influential conservative who saw the text said it hasn’t been dialed back much—if at all—since the February leak. “The language is very, very strong,” the source said.
 Back in February, Sarah Posner broke the details. The order at the time
construes religious organizations so broadly that it covers “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,” and protects “religious freedom” in every walk of life: “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

The draft order seeks to create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, and it seeks to curtail women’s access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act.
Basically, it establishes conservative Christianity as a uniquely protected faith and uniquely disadvantages LGBT people and women.    It is widely reported that Ivanka and Jared Kushner managed to head the previous iteration off at the pass, but apparently that victory was fleeting.

We'll see what the new order brings, but I'm ready to march yet again.  You'll know they are "Conservative Christians" by their hate.  Is there any wonder nfewer and fewer people want to be called "Christian"?

Quote of the Day: We are the Team.

Jimmy Kimmel's son was born with congenital heart failure so he has had a whirlwind tour of healthcare.  And he said, (my emphasis)
"Whatever your party, whatever you believe, whoever you support, we need to make sure that the people who are supposed to represent us, the people who are meeting about this right now in Washington, understand that very clearly. Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football. There are no teams. We are the team. It’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants. We need to take care of each other. I saw a lot of families there and no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen. Not here."

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why is our culture so horrible now?

I don't understand the anger and the violence, particularly from those on the right.  Their guy won.  But they seem consumed by grievance and rudeness, seasoned with glee at the pain of others.  Indeed, much of our discourse is cruel, and suffused with an undercurrent of potential violence.  Anti-semitism, racism, hate crimes against gays and Muslims are all increased.  It's as though the GOP victory has allowed a festering sore of hatred to be exposed.

 Obviously some of these are the professional provocateurs of the Alt-Right.  But it's not them I want to discuss. It's the casual cruelty of the average Trump supporter, who is so mad.... mad at the elites, mad at the folks in cities, mad at washington, just plain mad.

How do we recovery decency?  John Pavlovitz promotes a solution:  the Church of Not Being Horrible. He writes,
our sacred calling is to be decent, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be whatever it is that we believe the world is lacking: to be the kind of person the world needs—and it definitely needs people being less horrible these days. 
And this call to humanity isn't limited to any belief or denomination.
If you’re interested in joining the church, you don’t need to pray a magic prayer. You don’t have to attend a membership class or recite any creeds or take a test or promise to give financially. There are no theological or bureaucratic hoops to jump through. 
There is no conversion, there is only commencement. You simply begin, right where you are, in this very moment—seeking to be less horrible to the people you live with, work with, come across in the street, interact with online, see from a distance. That’s it.

It may seem like a low bar to set, but it’s actually a beautiful aspiration: making the world less cruel, less violent, less insulting—less horrible.
But not as long as violent would-be brown-shirts are in training to beat up "libtards".

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The walk to Easter

Well, friends, here we are again, entering the journey from the celebration of the entry into Jeruselam into Holy Week.  I nipped around taking photos today (I am now a card-carrying church photographer, did I tell you that?)  and listened to the stunning chant of the Passion and that searing moment when the congregation says "crucify him!"

And the beauty of the chant does not buffer that moment.  Any more than it buffers the explosions in the coptic Christian community in Egypt yesterday.

Do I need to remind you of Ephesians 4:32?

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Or just,

Be Kind.