April 18, 2013

If we needed any reminder about how fragile life is and vulnerable we are, the bombing in Boston reminds us. It reminds us that the only refuge we have is the love of our family and friends, and that we should express that love whenever (and while) we can. Boston also reminded me of other things.

It reminded me that the most important or compelling aspect of a terrorist attack like this is not the cowardice of the bombers. It is the heroism of those who respond to acts of terror. It would be understandable for people to flee – to run away as fast as possible. Yet, in Boston people ran TOWARD the victims. Ordinary people as well as first responders ignore the alleged “terror” of another bomb to help victims of the first bombs.

Another reminder is how destructive and despicable cable news media coverage of these events can be. Within minutes of the bombing cable news began reporting the bombing with a tag line and somber musical themes. I watched MSNBC coverage for one half hour and saw video coverage of the bombs exploding 42 times! It was not much different on other media outlets. I am shocked no one has called it the Boston Massacre yet…

Maybe they think seeing unending footage of explosions and blood stained sidewalks will somehow lessen the fear, but I doubt it. The media exploits fear and terror. It’s good for ratings – destructive for a free society, but good for ratings (profits). Now we can continue to be bombarded by endless hours of pundits being asked questions about what MIGHT have happened, or who MIGHT be responsible. The boogey man will be around every corner until (and if) the investigation bears fruit.

Frankly, the media coverage and the reactions of right wing politicians is what worries more than the bombings. 


April 15, 2013

I was recently reminded that an anniversary of an important event in our Country’s history had passed. I missed it myself, though I feel like it is important to blog about today. It was the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s speech on “Why I Oppose the War in Viet Nam”. So much of what Rev. King had to say was prophetic, but perhaps none more so than what he said in that speech.

The roots of his prophecy were planted with the final speech of a Republican President – Dwight Eisenhower. In a tradition consistent with that set by George Washington who warned of establishing an imperial presidency, President Eisenhower warned of the emergence of a “military-industrial complex”. He warned that “every gun manufactured or ship launched is money taking away food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless”. He warned of an economy that would be dependent on war and the dire consequences for our nation and all of mankind.

President Kennedy, was constantly struggling against the demands of the Pentagon and the influence of industries such as Steel and Aerospace in Congress. Some say that he was assassinated for refusing to invade Cuba, negotiating for a test ban treaty and signing an executive order to end our involvement in Viet Nam just 2 weeks before he was murdered. Viet Nam escalated, missile production escalated (even though we had a huge advantage over the Soviets) and profits escalated for the arms industry. President Johnson institutionalized the defense budget into the economy of the United States. It became the official policy of the United States to prioritize the ability to make war over the ability to uplift the poor.

It was against this historical trend and in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement that King took his heroic stance to oppose not only the War in Viet Nam but to the entire military-industrial complex. Popular discontent with the War and the “Great Society” was the historical moment where, as Rev. King put it, the nation lost its soul. One cannot over-estimate the power of the military-industrial complex. Trillions of tax dollars have been paid to them versus a few billions on Americans to lift them out of poverty. Consider this: the last three national figures who publicly resisted the military-industrial complex were assassinated. Since RFK, no candidate for the Presidency has ever proposed cutting the Defense budget.

Today, war is a permanent part of our economy. The “war on terror” is an ongoing process with no definable end. There is a reason why we are at war not with a nation or a person, but a word. We spend more money on defense than the next 16 nations combined (including Russia and China) and American companies are the largest exporters of weapons in the world, yet we spend less per capita on programs of “social uplift” than 60 other countries.

I encourage all of you to listen to King’s speech at the following link, and put his words in the context of our society today. Like the prophets of Israel, it is a prophecy of doom for our Country.  

The Times We Live In

April 12, 2013

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a wonderful man, who happens to be Baptist minister. We couldn’t be more different, yet we get along well. He is an intelligent man with degrees in Divinity – a gifted and articulate biblical scholar and preacher. Every once in a while we get into conversations about religion. He is an enigma to me in the sense that he is a well read and educated man who is a literalist – he believes that everything in the bible literally. He doesn’t believe in the Big Bang, evolution or any science that contradicts the literal contents of the Bible. For example, he believes in talking serpents and that the universe was created in 6 days.

This past week the big news in science was that the first direct evidence of dark matter was revealed. Positrons, the result of dark matter collisions had been discovered by an instrument in space, consistent with the theory as proposed by physicists and mathematicians. We live in a time of unprecedented scientific breakthrough. For example, scientists have identified the Boson Particle (the “God particle”) which is a key building block to all matter. We almost routinely are discovering planets outside of our solar system that could support life similar to Earth’s. Our lives have been revolutionized by the application of scientific principles to information processesing. In fact, we are on the verge of building the first cellular computer – a living computer built by living cells and far more powerful than any computer currently existing.

Yet, in the midst of all this scientific progress we have people, like my friend, who deny scientific discoveries such as the Big Bang, or laboratory techniques that determine the age of artifacts – in fact all of the science that is routinely encountered in every day life! Now many of these people can simply be dismissed as ignorant or uneducated (or simply Republican). Yet how do we explain someone like my friend who has a faith incompatible with reality? Some say that religious faith is inconsistent with intelligent, educated people. Certainly there are a large number of Americans that fit that description – otherwise known as the religious right.

Getting back to my friend, the Baptist minister, I felt bad for him in the sense that his faith seemed so fragile that he had to deny science and the practical applications of science in his everyday life. I was left shaking my head when he went on and on about talking snakes, Adam and Eve, etc., etc. etc.

All I could tell him was that I was glad that my faith did not depend on denying reality. There is nothing inconsistent about faith and science. But there is something destructive about a faith that denied science.    

Michigan GOP: The Party for Bigots

April 11, 2013

There has been a lot of talk recently about the GOP need to change their “messaging”. The much touted “autopsy” conducted by Party leaders after the election concluded that their policy platform was not so much the problem as the way it was communicated. The theory was that the Party platform just had to be communicated more effectively: with language that was sensitive and inclusive. After all, this was not the Party of old angry white men – it was a Party that wanted to include all Americans. So how has the communication been going since then?

In the space of a week or so, we had Republican Congressman Don Young discussing the issue of immigration and relations with Hispanic-Americans in as sensitive a manner as he could muster using the term “wetbacks”. When Party leaders denounced his use of the racial slur (Sen. Rubio was notably silent), Congressman Young refused to apologize, but did offer the sensitive explanation that the racial slur used to be acceptable when he was younger. Many of the old angry white men in the Party agreed.

Michigan Republicans further cemented their reputation as being a safe harbor for bigots later the same week when one of their own, Congressman Agema, used his official Facebook page to sensitively communicate a hateful diatribe against gays, including such notable lies as attributing nearly half of all murders being attributable to gays. After all, Agema argued, it was not a position inconsistent with their Party Platform (he is a member of their Platform Committee).While some national leaders in the GOP denounced the bigoted actions of Agema, they have not removed him from his Committee position. Michigan Republicans for the most part have been supportive of Agema. For example, the Party Chairman has refused to call for an apology or resignation, saying it was all up to Agema and his family. Agema remains the most tangible sign that the GOP remains the party most inclusive… of all bigots.

This “communication” thing they have may need some fine tuning.