Crime and Justice: For What It’s Worth

Three days of tragedy.

A tragic week in America.

There’s something happening here;
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware…

 

 

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind

…..

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come,
and take you away…
(from the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth”, ©1966.)

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article far exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers. My apologies ahead of time, but please read on…

     Fifty years ago, Stephen Stills penned these lyrics in response to the “Sunset Strip Riots” of the summer of ’66. During the Vietnam era, the song was adopted and interpreted as an anti-war anthem. Fifty years later, these lyrics remain just as pertinent to the atmosphere in America as when “For What It’s Worth” was first released. During the past three days, our nation has borne witness to tragedy upon tragedy, as a direct result of both the lingering, systemic biases within law enforcement, and the public’s festering fear and anger over the outward examples of these biases.

     On Tuesday, July 5th, 2016, Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling’s life was cut short by two police officers, who were responding to a phone-in complaint of a person threatening others with a firearm outside of a local convenience store. While we don’t exactly know what led up to it, we do know, from cellphone video that was taken of the incident, that one of the responding officers fired six shots into Sterling, at near point-blank range while both officers had Sterling pinned to the ground. The cellphone video of the incident went viral on the internet shortly afterwards, resulting in both national outrage, and the local authorities calling on the DOJ to launch an investigation. The owner of the convenience store, Abdullah Muflahi, has stated that Sterling was “not the one causing trouble” during the events that led up to the incident.

     Alton Sterling was a black man, the two responding officers are white.

     The very next day, near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, two officers of the St. Anthony Police Department pulled over a vehicle belonging to 32-year-old Philando Castile, reportedly for a broken tail light. Also in the vehicle at the time of the stop, were Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and Diamond’s four-year-old daughter. During the stop, one of the officers, Jeronimo Yanez, asked Castile for his license and registration. The officer was informed by Castile that Castile was carrying a firearm, and that he was licensed to do so. At that point, reportedly while Castile was putting his hands back up from reaching for his wallet, in an effort to comply with the officer’s orders, the officer drew his service weapon, and fired four shots into the vehicle in rapid succession, striking Philando Castile in the arm and torso. Castile’s girlfriend then began live-streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. At the time of the shooting, Reynolds’ daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle. Castile subsequently died as a result of the shooting. The governor of Minnesota has also called upon the DOJ to investigate.

     Philando Castile was black, the officer who took his life…was white.

      Then, all hell broke loose, and the world once again seemed that it was going off of the rails. On the evening of Thursday the 7th, in downtown Dallas, Texas, as a peaceful local protest against the prior two days’ killings was winding down, gunfire erupted from an elevated sniper’s nest, as 25-year-old Army Reservist Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, aimed his weapon at police officers, shooting 10 from the Dallas PD, and two Dallas Area Rapid Transit officers, all of whom were present at the protest to ensure public safety. Also struck, were two civilians. As a result, four of the Dallas PD officers, and one of the DART officers, succumbed to their wounds and lost their lives. It was the deadliest attack for law enforcement since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

      During the ensuing standoff with the assailant, Johnson stated to law enforcement negotiators that “the end” was coming, that he was upset about the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and that his aim was to kill white people, and specifically white police officers. He also stated that there were numerous explosive devices in the area. One suspicious package was indeed discovered, and Johnson was subsequently killed during the detonation of that package.

     In the aftermath of this week’s violence, a great many people are struggling to wrap their heads around what has taken place. My fine, young readers, that includes me. Just yesterday, after reading about the killing of Philando Castile, I was musing to a good friend that there seems to be a systematic “something” that’s happening in this country, and that it’s being fueled by racial divisiveness and preconceptions. On further examination, I tend to think that what ails us as a nation runs far deeper than just racial biases within the system. In fact, just a few days ago, I made the following observation on my Facebook wall;

“Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that, unless you’re super-rich or super-notable, we live in a country where we’re increasingly being discouraged from asking that favorite question of scientists and young children, “why?”, about the things that REALLY matter, like why we still have a problem with racial prejudice, or why our government never listens to or submits to its citizenry?

I’m sorry, but from where I’m sitting, it looks suspiciously like we’re being beaten down by a system that’s been rigged against us, a system designed to keep us, for the most part, pacified.

It’s times like these that trouble me the most.”

     I think that it’s safe to say that I’m far from being the only person who feels like we live in a country where the average Joe has little to no say in how their government is run, and lives with a fair amount of trepidation of that same government. From fears over what would happen if we’re pulled over by a police officer having a particularly bad day, to being audited by the IRS, to whatever governmental mechanism that might go haywire in our particular direction, the people live in fear of the government. John Basil Barnhill stated in 1914, that:

“Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.”

     What has occurred over the past three days, is indeed tyranny.

     My friend and I also discussed the state of the nation, and whether the penchant of certain people for displaying an upside-down flag on their profiles, a sign of a nation in distress, was appropriate. She (my friend) stated that she didn’t believe that our nation was in distress…this was before the events in Dallas. When I spoke with her again after the events in Dallas, I got the distinct impression that maybe her assessment of the situation had changed somewhat.

     My fine, young readers, we are indeed a nation in distress. This distress has claimed at least eight lives in the past three days; five officers in Dallas, Texas, an angry U.S. Army Reservist, a black man in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and another in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This distress will, unfortunately, claim many more lives until it is alleviated. While I’m sure that there are many opinions on how this distress might find its remedy, one thing is sure; this nation is doomed to perish without that remedy, because as our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

“…because evils being once recognized, are half way on towards their remedy.”
(Elizabeth Gaskell, circa 1849.)

Advertisements

American Rhetoric: No Fly, No Buy…Bye Bye For Now

No Fly No Buy

No Fly, No Buy

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers…but it’s still a good read!

(At the outset of the House Democrats’ recent sit-in protest on the House floor over firearms reform, I was all for the concept of “No Fly, No Buy.” Then, however, I began to do my own digging. The more I researched, the more I discovered that this might not be such a good thing. What follows here are my personal observations regarding this piece of legislation.)

     There exist within the darkest back halls and deepest data repositories of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ “Terrorist Screening Center”, secret lists that are not made available or accessible to the American public. These “watch lists” and “no-fly” lists cannot be readily viewed, and getting off of one is highly problematic at best. These are the lists at the heart of the Democratic push for “No Fly, No Buy.” Simply put, if you’re on the “no-fly” list, then the House Dems feel that you should not be able to legally purchase a firearm in this country.

     There’s only one…well, there are a lot of problems with this. First and foremost, many hundreds of people who are otherwise law abiding citizens, have found themselves on these lists. It’s not hard to make the list. In fact, until 2005, the TSA had been using people’s credit scores as a determining factor for placing people on the list! In other words, if your credit was in the toilet for some reason before 2005 / 2006, you might very well find yourself on the “no-fly” list.

     Oh, but that’s not the only way that you might end up being denied air travel! The Huffington Post’s Nick Wing outlined several additional ways that people have ended up on the list in a July, 2014 piece.(1)

      So, let’s just say for the sake of argument, that you’re an all-around good guy, who, like myself, has been pretty critical of the Transportation Security Administration, and its long, dismal record of mistreatment of air passengers. So, like I have, you post some highly incendiary things on social media about those jokers, including comments aimed specifically at John Pistole, the former TSA Administrator. Something to the effect of him being a mentally-deficient twat waffle, who deserves to languish forever in one of his own endless airport security lines. This could land you on the list, folks!

     Now that you’re on the list, let’s also say that the House Democrats have their way, and their “No Fly, No Buy” becomes law. Now, not only can you not take that Southwest Airlines round-trip flight to visit grandma Hazel in Duluth, now you can’t exercise your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms either, should you so choose, all because you got righteously pissed off at the ridiculousness that is the TSA at one time or another!

     On its face, “No Fly, No Buy” seems like a good idea. If someone’s been deemed too dangerous to get on board an airplane in this country, then they’re definitely too dangerous to be allowed to buy a gun, right? Isn’t this a “no-brainer”? Not necessarily, if the list that we’re basing all of this on is flawed, which it is! Even the decidedly liberal American Civil Liberties Union, knows that these “watch lists” are a major Mongolian fuster-cluck.(2)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, (when have I ever been humble in the course of opining here!?) we need to first, fix the “No-Fly” list situation, because it is a fu**ered up situation. Hence the Republican gripe about, “trading second and fourteenth amendment rights for secret lists.” So…

     Open it up. No more Orwellian, “secret list” bovine scatology.

     I’m sure that the federal government can get a few MIT graduates to create a secure website, that citizens can log on to, like they log in to their online banking. (Hell, they’re messing with Quantum Computing, I’m sure they can write some HTML!) There, they can check the list to see if their name is on it. If it is, the website should also have a link to both an online form and a printable PDF form, for redress and removal of their name from the list. The arbitration process should take no more than 30 days. One month, for the government to either make its case for depriving you of both your Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights, or get your name off of the list, and let you go along your merry way as a free American citizen, with all rights and privileges thereof.

     Listen. I get what my congressman, along with the other Democrats in the House of Representatives, are trying to do. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. People are dying every single day from gun violence in this country, more than in any other developed country in the western world. We have a dismal (yes, that’s the second time I’ve used that adjective, so sue me!) record of gun violence and deaths, compared to the rest of our peer nations. We need to do something, however I’m not at all confident that “No Fly, No Buy” is the answer, especially when the list itself is screwed to such a high degree. I suspect that to the Republicans, and maybe even some of the more enlightened Democrats, it appeared as if House Dems were, as my wife just phrased it, “trying to make the shit smell good before shoveling it.”

      The overarching idea behind the sit-in, though, is that Paul (Lucifer) Ryan and the House Republicans weren’t even allowing debate on this issue, which is not conducive to solving these problems, and is simply a nipple-headed, right-wing elitist thing to do.

     Allow the debate.

     Allow the vote.

     Sure, the bill is going to go down in flaming death on the House floor, but at least we’re having the debate. At least we’re sussing out the problems, and trying to come up with productive solutions…and that, as one congressman said during yesterday’s sit-in, “..is a good Goddamned start!”

American Rhetoric: Some Thoughts on the Democratic Sit-In for Gun Legislation

House Dems Sit-In

House Democrats announce their “occupation” of the floor.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Congressman Mark Walker, and the Republican leadership. My apologies…NAH!

     Today, I can say that I am proud to be a Democrat, because yesterday, I witnessed my party’s leaders make history. Starting at around 11:00 A.M. EDST, several House Democrats, led by the civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, staged an unprecedented “sit-in”, effectively taking over control of the House floor. This sit-in was precipitated by the recent tragedy in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub, where a lone gunman killed 49 members of the LGBT(QI) community, before being killed by responding officers.

     In the wake of this mass shooting, which has been referred to in the media as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”, as with previous tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Aurora, national discourse on firearms legislation and control has risen to fever pitch; however nothing of significance ever seems to get accomplished. It was this angst that prompted members of the House Democratic Caucus to take the extraordinary step of staging yesterday’s “sit-in.”

     John Lewis is no stranger to things like sit-ins. The 76-year-old Troy, Alabama native was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, having been one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders”, and leading the march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma in 1965. If anyone in congress was up to the task of putting together something like this, it was John Lewis. According to Lewis, the sit-in was not made known to the leadership. (I’ll comment a bit more on Lewis a bit later down the page!)

     At approximately 11:00 A.M., John Lewis was recognized by the chair, took the floor of the house, and issued the following statement:

     Thus started what would eventually become a 25-hour-long protest by House Democrats, over the Republican majority’s reluctance to allow a vote on two pieces of legislation; a “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which would prevent people on the government’s “No Fly” list from purchasing firearms, and a bill to close loopholes in the background check process where it pertains to online and gun show purchases. Both of the bills that Democrats were seeking a vote on, incidentally, are bipartisan authored bills. With their intent to force the Republican majority to allow a floor vote on these bills, or be held over with no holiday break, Democrats employed the rallying cry of, “No Bill, No Break!” The Republican chair was forced to adjourn the House once the Democrats took the floor.

     One of the more significant hurdles that the Democrats had to overcome, was the absence of media coverage of the sit-in protest. This was due to the House Majority’s control of the cameras and microphones in the House chamber. The Republican leadership had these shut off when the chair adjourned the House, much to the chagrin of the Democrats. No worries, though! As it turns out, there’s an app for that! Enter “Periscope”, and social media feeds from Congressmen Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15th), Scott Peters (D-CA 52nd), and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16th). Because of this, C-SPAN was able to broadcast the sit-in in its entirety, albeit with the occasional video glitch due to the nature of streaming video from a smartphone.

Jim Costa

My congressman, Jim Costa (D-CA 16) speaks.

     During the day-long sit-in, several Democrats took to the podium at the front of the House chamber, rallying their fellow Dems and outlining the many reasons for both the sit-in, and the need for tighter laws on firearms purchases, with the pictures and names of the many victims of gun violence in America as both their backdrop, and constant source of motivation, along with signs reading, “Disarm Hate.”

     The Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used a parliamentary procedure to call an early recess, then left for the July 4th break in the wee hours of the morning, without even an acknowledgment of the issue. In fact, Speaker Ryan referred to the Democratic sit-in as merely a “publicity stunt.” This left the Democrats basically on their own in D.C.

     John Lewis and the House Democrats ended their sit-in at around noon on Thursday, the 23rd of June, with Congressman Lewis stating that their “struggle” was far from over, vowing to return from the holiday break and once again take up the issue. Lewis was the last one to speak. What began with Congressman Lewis, ended with Congressman Lewis, that courageous and noble gentleman from Georgia’s 5th congressional district.

     I find myself left with both a strong sense of pride in my party, and an equally strong sense of disgust at the statements and behavior of House Republicans. At various times during the Democrats’ occupation of the House floor, Republicans alternately heckled, laughed at, and yelled at the Democrats on the floor. During all of this, however, my party’s representatives maintained an overall sense of decorum and restraint. They did us proud, getting into what Congressman Lewis referred to as, “good trouble.”

     One of the more ironic things that came up during the protest, was when Southern Baptist preacher-come-Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC 6th) attempted to engage in a bit of “whitesplaining”, tweeting that;

Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s. They sat-in for rights. Dems are “sitting-in” to strip them away.

     I think that it’s a pretty “twunt” move, presuming to tell a civil rights icon about the civil rights movement, especially when the significantly younger Walker wasn’t even born until May of 1969, almost ten whole years after the Woolworth’s lunch counter protest.

     Once again, I am a proud Democrat. I’m proud of my party, proud of my congressional rep, and proud of my President. I also have my own opinions on things like the “No Fly” list, disallowing people on that list from purchasing weapons, and closing loopholes. Instead of going into that here, I’ll pen individual articles on each one, links to be found here soon! (Suffice it to say that this particular piece has indeed migrated towards the “TLDR” end of the spectrum!)

     #SickAndTiredofBeingSickAndTired #NoFlyNoBuy #CloseTheLoopholes #DisarmHate

American Rhetoric: Let’s Place A Ban…on Talk of Banning

Sheryl Sandberg wants to "lean in" and ban the word "bossy."

Sheryl Sandberg wants to “lean in” and ban the word “bossy.”

“The power of a word lies not so much in its mere utterance, but in the CONTEXT in which it is given utterance, and how it is received by those hearing it.”
-The Cybersattva

     There are times when the national discourse takes a turn that causes me a fair amount of concern, and this is one of those times. This past week, Facebook COO and author of the women’s empowerment tome, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg, launched a campaign via her book’s namesake “Lean In” organisation, in cooperation with Girl Scouts USA. The campaign’s goal? Ban the word “bossy.”

     According to Sandberg, the schoolyard term and “gender-specific insult” has been used to deter young girls from having the highest of aspirations, and therefore impairing their ability and willingness to succeed upon entering adulthood. Her effort to counter this long-suffered problem has been mapped out and presented via the “banbossy” website, and “#banbossy” hashtags have been cropping up all over the interwebz.

     I wish I knew exactly what Sandberg means when she says that the word should be “banned.” Is she suggesting a change in the language that school-aged children are allowed to use in an educational setting, or the complete disuse and disavowing of the word by society on the whole?

     At this point in the story, I’d like to state that I am very pro-woman. I honestly believe that the “fairer sex” has been getting a bad rap, ever since that whole “Eve and the apple” bit. Even now, women are still being denied an equal share of the wage and advancement opportunities in this country, and something definitely needs to be done about it. I am not confident, however, that the banning of a word or words, is quite the answer that the question requires.

     When we talk of “banning” words, I fear that this may be the first few inches on a steep and slippery slope. Those of us who have kept a weather eye on humanity’s past, know full well that things like this have happened before, and have led to some very dark places. Thought police. Book burnings. The control and limitation of free, unfettered speech. (I’ve been chided for connecting Mrs. Sandberg’s suggested ban with these concepts already, however upon further examination through the prism of history, I feel my concerns remain valid. I’ll expand on this in a bit, but let’s continue…)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, we should be discussing context instead. This goes back to my earlier piece on “What Makes Bad Words Bad.” When we say that someone is acting or being “bossy,” what do we mean? If someone is being proactive and assertive, while also taking others’ thoughts, opinions and feelings into consideration, then no, the word “bossy” should not be used to discourage or denigrate them. On the other hand, if someone is simply issuing orders or attempting to “throw their weight around” inconsiderately, then yes, they’re being bossy, and should be called out for it.

     I also have an issue with Sandberg’s “pigeon-holing” of the word “bossy” as a gender-specific insult. Of course, it can certainly be utilised as such, just as much as a kitchen knife can be used as a street weapon. And of course, neither should be acceptable. Just because a word or a kitchen knife can be used as those things, however, does not make them those things ipso facto.

     Instead of all this talk of “banning” words, perhaps it’s time to talk about redefining them. Perhaps we should be discussing how we employ our words, when we employ them, who we employ them with regard to, and how they might be received. At any rate, we as a society should be having this dialogue, instead of simply suggesting that we “ban” something that we don’t necessarily like, regardless of context.

______________________________

“Pleased to meet you,
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you,
Is the nature of my game.”
– Rolling Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil” c1968.

     What’s puzzling me with regard to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook, and her foundation’s connections, goes right to the heart of my concerns over her suggestion of banning words. Since Facebook went public, it appears that the site has begun a slow transformation from social networking, to social engineering. Case in point, Facebook has started penalising its users for sending “friend requests” to people on the site that users do not know personally:

social_networking

     In addition to this, “The Baffler’s” Susan Faludi revealed in an article penned last year, that Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” organisation has connections to a number of “Platform Partners” with equal opportunity histories that are, shall we say…”impeachable”? The following is an excerpt from the Faludi / Baffler piece from 2013:

“Lean In Platform Partners Mondelez and Nestlé: In 2013, an Oxfam investigation in four countries where the two companies outsourced their cocoa farms found that the women working in the cocoa fields and processing plants that the companies relied on “suffer substantial discrimination and inequality.” When women at a cocoa processing factory demanded equal treatment and pay, the investigation noted, all of the female workers were fired. The same companies that “put women first in their advertisements,” Oxfam concluded, “are doing very little to address poor conditions faced by the women who grow cocoa.””

     So, my question is, what exactly is Sheryl Sandberg playing at? What is the “nature of her game”? Why is it that she talks about banning words and limiting the national dialogue, under the guise of women’s empowerment, while at the very same time, “holding hands with the devil”? Why is her company, Facebook, actively impeding users from advancing this same dialogue, through the process of free and open social networking?

     Something is fishy in Denmark, my fine young readers. We as netizens now require our own bit of “empowerment,” to be able to glean the answers that Susan Faludi was unable to glean.

(Jim) Crowing – An Open Letter To Al Melvin and The Arizona State Government

LISTEN UP, ARIZONA.

LISTEN UP, ARIZONA.

     Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a bone to pick with you. It concerns a bill that has passed the Arizona state legislature, and now sits on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk, awaiting either her affirming “Jane Hancock,” or her veto. You know which bill I’m referring to; SB 1062. It has been referred to in the media as the “Arizona Anti-Gay Bill.”

     Just this morning, I watched a short clip of an interview between CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and state senator Al Melvin. Mr. Melvin, I have a question for you: why could you not answer a simple question regarding discrimination? As Mr. Cooper noted, you have declared your intent to run in that state’s next gubernatorial race, and as he noted, you were unable (or unwilling!) to answer a single question with regards to possible discrimination issues involving people in your state.

     Mr. Melvin, SB 1062 has absolutely nothing to do with religious freedom, and you know it. It pertains to commerce. Commerce, as you are (hopefully) well aware, is a matter of profit and loss. Religious practice, on the other hand, is a matter of espousing and expressing faith in a particular ideology and / or deity. As most church establishments are 501(c)(3) non profit endeavors, there seems to be a marked difference between them, and say, a bakery or florist shop. Apparently, you are confused as to the divisions and restrictions of each type of establishment, and where the two should and shouldn’t be intertwined.

     Mr. Melvin, how exactly does one such as yourself get to be a state senator, with such decidedly bigoted values and views? Navy War College? Were you good at that? Perhaps you should go back to that, because you’re a dismal failure as a representative of the populous. I have little doubt that there are thousands of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual constituents in your state, that are looking at you and shaking their collective heads.

     Let’s leave my apparent angst for Al Melvin to the side for a second, and address this ill-conceived piece of legislation. SB 1067 is problematic in a number of ways. For one, it would require business owners to make a declarative statement with regards to their religious proclivities against serving members of the LGBT community. This harkens back to the days of Jim Crow laws, where businesses would display signs that read, “No Coloreds Allowed,” or “Whites Only.” I’m assuming that any declaration must be posted, as a business license must, in a conspicuous place. I foresee this as being akin to a “scarlet letter,” and here’s why. Let’s say I am a consumer, and I walk in to a store with one of these signs posted near the register. As a supporter of the LGBT community, I am not even going to bother looking for the merchandise that I’m seeking, not in this store. I see the label, I acknowledge it for the bigotry that it is, and I turn and leave. The business loses revenue.

     In addition, the bill is unconstitutional. It is nothing short of state-sanctioned discrimination against an entire group of people, based solely on their sexual preference. Should Governor Brewer sign this piece of legislation into law, it will assuredly result in millions of dollars being spent by the state to defend it against rightful challenges to its constitutionality. In other words, Arizona; this one’s gonna cost ya!

     Speaking of costing ya, I hear that none other than the denizens of One Infinite Loop, Apple, Incorporated, have expressed concern over the bill, and its possible impact on any decision to abandon its Sapphire Glass plant in Mesa. Jan! Hey, Jan? Are you hearing this? Tim Cook and Apple will likely hit your state right in the wallet, should you dare affix your signature to this!

     I guess it all comes down to one question, folks; what’s in your wallet!? At any rate, it’s like the latest memes say. We’ve already had this discussion, and you cannot discriminate against a particular demographic who wish to sit at the lunch counter.

Life and Living: The Commonalities Between Snakes, Knives, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Flirting with death? From l. to r. - Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

Flirting with death? From l. to r. – Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

     Now, they say that Blondes have more fun, but personally, I don’t think that’s true. In fact, it appears that some rural Kentuckians are having far more fun than even Blondes do; (ready for it?) indeed, more fun than they can shake a snake at! (Cue sad trombone.) Why else would someone want to risk their life doing something, even after their own father has lost his life in the very same way?

     That’s what Cody Coots, the new pastor of the Middlesboro, Kentucky “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name” church, says that he’s prepared to do. (1) For those of you, my fine young readers, that aren’t familiar with the story, we’ll climb into the proverbial Chronosphere, and like Jonathan LaPaglia on the late-nineties show, jump back seven days…

     Last Saturday, Middlesboro, Kentucky pastor Jamie Coots lost his life, having been bitten by one of the poisonous snakes that he and fellow attendees of the Full Gospel Tabernacle are so fond of messing with in the “name of Jesus.” (2) They believe that, according to bible passage Mark 16:18, if their faith is strong, that those pesky little snakebites won’t hurt them at all;

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
(Mark 16:18, KJV)

     Now, I’ve suggested in the days since that either the Bible is wrong, that Pastor Coots misinterpreted it, or that he wasn’t “anointed” in the first place. Indeed, during my initial flirtations with this topic on Facebook, one of my friends even suggested that the elder Coots had been “released from his calling,” to which I responded with a reference to Romans 11:29, which basically states that God doesn’t “issue recalls.” The debate, though, isn’t quite about that. The true crux of the issue here, in my own not-so-humble opinion, is once again, where faith meets religion, and religion’s never-ending propensity for the misapplication of faith…or does the “rabbit hole” go even deeper?

     Another friend once told me that the Bible is a “scary” thing. I don’t think so. The Bible, in and of itself, is just a book. This book cannot act of its own volition, can it? No. It requires a human element to use it, whether that be for good or ill. In that discussion, I likened the Bible to a kitchen knife. As everyone knows, a kitchen knife is a tool, designed and purposed to aid in the preparation of food for consumption. We don’t fear kitchen knives, do we? If I take a paring knife out and set it on the counter next to an apple, will that knife jump up, and cut my apple into several neat, little slices for me to eat? Likewise, will it jump up and stab someone? No, but it can be used to those ends! Once again, it requires the interaction of a person. In my opinion, some degree of accountability must be assigned to the person or people who are using the tool.

     Cody Coots has said that if he gets bitten by the snake, then he, like his father, will decline emergency treatment. He states that if he dies, then it must be “God’s will.” (Question: if there is a gun on the table that one knows is loaded and has a round in the chamber, and one picks up that gun, points it at their head and says, “If I die when I pull this trigger, then it’s God’s will,” and then pulls the trigger and dies, whose will was it actually that this person died?)

     Personal accountability. It’s something that, quite honestly, is fading fast in America. In 1968, then-Governor Ronald Reagan mused on this concept during a speech to the Republican National Convention when he stated;

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

     So, at what point do we hold a person or group of people accountable for their actions? In the course of asking this question, I’m reminded of the recent, tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, before anyone starts accusing me of trying to “capitalise on the death of a good and decent man,” please read on a bit.

     As a lot of you know, Hoffman was found in his West Village, Manhattan apartment back on the 2nd of this month, dead of a Heroin overdose. Several small bags were found, and Hoffman died with a needle in his vein. (3) Since that day, those following and commenting on the sad story, have done what people often do; play the “blame game,” and attempt to find some kind of meaning in an otherwise meaningless death. They blame the drug. They blame the pusher. They blame the stresses of celebrity life…but does anyone ever place even a smidgen of the blame for Hoffman’s demise…on Hoffman?

     This needle, like any other needle I suspect, would not have been able to simply jump up and enter Hoffman’s arm. His supplier didn’t dose him, nor did any other Tinseltown actor or agent. No, Philip Seymour Hoffman did this to himself, knowing full well the dangers of what he was doing. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better we’ll be at viewing things like this objectively. Of course, there will still be those select few who, like Coots and progeny, will blame their own and others’ ill-fated actions on everyone else, including their God.

 

Cybersattva SPECIAL: A Matter of Faith, Hair and Education

l. - Vanessa VanDyke. Photo courtesy of Jezebel Magazine online. r. - An example of 1980's hairstyles.

l. – Vanessa VanDyke. Photo courtesy of Jezebel Magazine online. r. – An example of 1980’s hairstyles.

     The 1980’s was the decade of “big hair.” Young girls and women were in a constant competition, it seemed, to see who could come up with the biggest, best hairstyles. Various products, including hairsprays and mousses, were used in this signature 80’s endeavor. My wife, beginning in 1984, attended school at First Assembly Christian School. She recalled to me just this morning, that there were a few girls who attended there, with hair styles that were typical of the era. My wife doesn’t recall that this was ever an issue with the school administration.

     I tell you this, my fine young readers, to lead in to the following developing news item, coming out of Orlando, Florida. On Monday, a story surfaced in the news regarding young Vanessa VanDyke, a 12-year-old student at Faith Christian Academy, a private Christian school in Orlando. It seems that young Vanessa has been the target of some ridicule from other students, regarding of all things, the natural hairstyle she wears. Concerns over the teasing were brought to the school’s administrators, who then informed Vanessa, according to the family, that she needed to either straighten and tone down her hair style, or face expulsion. When questioned on Monday evening by the media, school staff at FCA Orlando would not answer any questions regarding the matter. (1) (2) (3)

     Now, the fact that Vanessa is African-American, coupled with the school being a religious organisation, has made for some very interesting conversation on the subject since this story broke. The piece has been picked up by not only the local stations, but also national news outlets including CNN, the Huffington Post, Jezebel Online and the International Business Times. Once there, it made the jump into the global awareness, via sites such as Australia’s “News.com.au.” As a result, the school’s Facebook page began to be inundated with comments from concerned people from all over the world, the overwhelming majority of which were highly critical of the school’s actions. Late Tuesday evening, the administrators of the FCA Orlando page commenced a campaign of “page scrubbing,” and have since removed most of the comments from their page threads.

     Enter The Cybersattva. Following last night’s “sanitation” efforts by FCA Orlando page admins, I sent an email blast to several of the school and church’s pastors and administrators, questioning their actions in light of their status as a faith-based institution. This morning, I received a reply from none other than the senior pastor of the church, one Carl Stephens. The following is a screen capture of the actual email exchange, from Outlook:

email_exchange

     Additionally, school administrators informed WKMG-CBS on Tuesday, that they are “…not asking her to put products in her hair or cut her hair. We’re asking her to style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook.”

Faith Christian Academy Handbook (2012-2013)

Faith Christian Academy Handbook (2012-2013)

     (After giving this a second glance, there are two “linchpin” questions that need asked; “Okay, how exactly is she supposed to “style her hair within the guidelines according to the school handbook,” and if that involves shortening or straightening it, how is she supposed to accomplish this without cutting it or using chemical products!?” Quick FCA, claim ignorance!)

     In other words, pastor Stephens now asserts that the media did not get its story straight, and that Miss VanDyke was never in danger of being expelled. (The media is always the easiest one to scapegoat in situations like these, it seems.) Pastor Stephens did note in his reply, that Vanessa is an outstanding student, has “excelled and hopefully will continue to do so.” Having viewed the video footage of Vanessa’s interview on WKMG-CBS, however, something about pastor Stephens’ reply just doesn’t ring true. It wasn’t the media that asserted that Vanessa was facing expulsion over her hair style, it was Vanessa and her family, stating that they were informed of this by the staff of Faith Christian Academy of Orlando.

     Damage control is a tricky piece of business. Every word, every assertion and every insinuation gets parsed, examined and interpreted. In this case, it has become apparent that the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy are all but tripping over themselves in their efforts to re-spin this in their favor. Of course, they have no desire to either outright, or by nuance, call Vanessa or her mother liars, nor do they wish to admit any wrongdoing themselves. Their story keeps changing, though. On Tuesday, they attempted to clarify their request for Vanessa to change her hairstyle, placing it against the framework of their school handbook, while at the same time making no mention of the consequences that Vanessa would face for not complying with the request. Today, they deny that Vanessa was ever threatened with expulsion to begin with.

     At this point in the tale of “hair and all that is holy,” I have to give pastor Stephens et al. some credit for at least trying to learn how to pedal a bicycle in reverse. It’s not enough, though. In my own, not-so-humble opinion, the school needs to just come clean. They need to admit that they told the VanDyke’s what they did, and that by doing so, they sided with those who were picking on Vanessa in the first place. They need to admit that this unfortunate series of missteps sent the wrong message, and that they will (honestly and sincerely!) do their level best to change the way in which they address these situations, so that this will never happen again within the halls of Faith Christian Academy.

UPDATE – 02 December 2013: THE SCHOOL HAS RELENTED! Apparently, the “powers-that-be” at Faith Christian Academy have come to their senses, welcomed Vanessa back from the Thanksgiving break with open arms, and will not be requiring her to cut or straighten her lovely locks! Vive le coiffure!

Domestic Politics, Faith and Religion: Is Militant Christianity Placing Christ in The Crosshairs?

christ_chrosshairs     Once again, it’s Sunday, and a fitting day for another “Dies Solis” post with regards to topics concerning religion and faith. In addition, it has been two days since the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, and I find myself troubled at what I’m seeing in places like Facebook, WordPress, Twitter and even on the news. Please allow me to elaborate, my fine young readers…

     On Friday, an article came across my newsfeed on Facebook, pertaining to the statements of one Everest Wilhelmsen, administrator of the group “Christian American Patriots Militia.” It seems that the head of this group, consisting of over 1,400 members, posted a status update on his Facebook account, (which has since been removed,) advocating for the assassination of our current president, Barack Obama. The following is a screen shot of that post:

Clear and Present Danger - 18 USC § 871 – Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

Clear and Present Danger – 18 USC § 871 – Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

     In addition, in the days surrounding the 50th anniversary of the tragic events at Dealey Plaza, there have been at least two other incidences of threats to the president which have also made headlines. (1) (2) I find myself aghast at the sheer audacity of these and others, who would blatantly flout the law in the process of their IRL and online shenanigans.

Palin takes aim.

Palin takes aim.

     Even more so, however, I stand dismayed at evangelical Christendom’s seeming acquiescence to this type of message. Speaking specifically with regard to the Wilhelmsen / CAPM post, I fail to see how Christendom’s embrace of such notables as the gun-toting, former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, the torture-endorsing, former 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, or anyone like them, can be doing the mission or the message of Christ and Christianity any favors. I don’t see anyone from that camp taking a definitive stand against Wilhelmsen et al., or their brand of evangelistic hatred and vitriol. On the contrary, all of this seems to indeed be placing the revered “Son of Man,” the faith’s savior, right in the crosshairs of the very same guns that these people hold nearer and dearer. In short, these things are killing Biblical Christianity.

     When I was a child, I was told that the “mission directives” that Christ handed to the disciples, consisted of things like rendering love, even to those who you would consider your enemy, and spreading the Gospel message. Contrary to the appending of the word, “Christian” on Mr. Wilhelmsen’s group title, it appears that he hasn’t exactly taken the time to examine and digest what that word is actually supposed to entail. Oh, but Everest Wilhelmsen’s vitriol isn’t limited to just Facebook; I’m ashamed to say that he also hosts a weblog on the very same venue as my own, WordPress. (Mr. Wilhelmsen’s blog features a decidedly “Germany-centric” amount of imagery and content.)

     What gives Mr. Wilhelmsen, or anyone else, the right to threaten the very life of Barack Obama, the man? This is a man with a wife and two growing daughters, who love him dearly. What, may I ask, if anything at all, is “Christian” about wanting to see him killed? It is high time that the church leadership in America, and the rest of the world, takes a more active stance against rhetoric and threats of this kind. Pastors need to stop “politicking” from the pulpit. Christians need to start distancing themselves from those like Palin, Bachmann, Cruz and others, who only reinforce these hateful ends.

     Fifty years ago, Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed president Kennedy. Now, militant Christians are calling for the same thing for president Obama. Around 2000 years ago, Christ was crucified by his people. Now, 2k years later, it’s happening all over again.

The Chaser: Edible America – Did You Order a Side of Ridicule With Your Panera Baguette?

Judgmental_bread_300pxw     Wow. I really need to start paying a lot more attention to Buzzfeed! Today, I stumbled across an article on the site, entitled “31 Ways To Be The Worst Person At Panera Bread.” The article relies largely on screen captures of various tweets from the Twitter page, “PaneraProblems.” As I scrolled down through the Twitter postings, one thing stood out from everything else; the people posting these tweets are some pretty judgmental arse hats! The majority of the posts appear to be from people who are employed by the restaurant chain, which is based in the Sunset Hills suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. While some of them do express frustration at seemingly inane requests and behaviors, the larger part come off as nothing short of persnickety, stuck up and judgmental. Here is a choice selection of these “Panera Posts” (No, I will not be masking anything, since the posts have already been made public.):

The Pronunciation Police

The Pronunciation Police

Intelligencia?

Intelligencia?

No friend of Foster's...

No friend of Foster’s…

Another PP Officer...

Another PP Officer…

     The page admin at Panera Problems is even joining in the fun;

Nice.

Nice.

     I’d love to know exactly what the folks at Panera’s corporate HQ think of all of this negative publicity. As for me, if I ever have want of being judged for what I order, how I pronounce it or when I order it, I’ll try placing an order at a church. Otherwise, Panera Bread won’t be receiving one penny of my money…well, I might be inclined to toss a few pennies into the parking lot as I drive past, while uttering the following in Latin, with perfect pronunciation: Potes meos suaviari clunes.

[POST-SCRIPT:] If Panera Bread corporate is at all serious about respect for their customer base, they’ll climb all over this. If that happens, I might be inclined to try Panera once their shop opens locally.

Domestic Politics: Not All Is As It Appears To Be – Expanding on Glenn Mollette

U.S. House chamber. Inset: Glenn Mollette.

U.S. House chamber. Inset: Glenn Mollette.

     Glenn Mollette is a syndicated columnist. That sounds like a simple, six-word statement, doesn’t it? For the most part, it is. Glenn Mollette is syndicated, his opinion and editorial pieces appearing in newspapers and websites across the nation. At this point though, maybe I should explain why I’m talking about Mr. Mollette, and how that pertains to the title of this article.

     Glenn’s column was picked up a while ago by Big Valley News, a small, local news site in Madera, California. I pop over to BVN on occasion, to get a different take on the goings on in my hometown, than what the mainstream news stations can provide. Jack Porter, the man who runs BVN, is quite an “odd duck,” however his perspectives on things are, at times, far more intuitive than I think even he realises. But, I digress…

     Today’s editorial, written by Mr. Mollette, is entitled, “What Do Republicans and Democrats Look Like?” It’s a short piece, less than 500 words, most of which describe Glenn’s parents; his Republican father and his Democrat mother, both honest, hard-working Christian folks. Mollette reflects on his parents’ jobs, their activities around the home and their later years. He goes on to muse about how lovely it would be, if people from both parties could live in such harmony and the state of affairs in today’s America. He ends the piece with a quotation from Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided Speech.”

     Glenn Mollette is a Theologian. Yes, that’s right. Dr. Mollette is also the President of Newburgh Theological Seminary and College of The Bible, in Newburgh, Indiana. Now, I’m not at all certain of what Mr. Mollette’s personal belief set involves exactly, but regardless, I tend to get edgy whenever religion and politics start becoming intertwined within the same setting. Granted, theologians and politicians share a lot in common; one politics for their faith, the other for their political party. Both often tend to do so more for their own aggrandisement than the common good, I’m afraid!

     Ah, if only it t’were that simple. Imagine the “warm fuzzies” those looking on might get, seeing Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, sitting around the campfire, agreeing on every piece of legislation and singing, “Kumbaya.” Yeah. Never…gonna…happen. (At this point, my fine young readers might be asking, “Why not, J.P.?”) Well, some of it has to do with that aggrandisement thing I mentioned in the last paragraph. Aside from that, those elected to represent us, do so for a diverse population with often differing views on the issues. Glenn Mollette knows this to be true. (If he doesn’t, if he’s that willfully ignorant of the political process and climate in this country, I dare say that he shouldn’t be commenting on it.)

     No, the political landscape in this country is just as divided over issues as the church is. Like denominations within Christendom, we have different political parties, with different worldviews and opinions on things like how the money gets got, what it gets spent on and how much. (Perhaps the realm of politics is a bit less dysfunctional than that of the church, though; there seem to be far less political parties than religious denominations!) In addition, where the church starts getting involved in the business of the state, the “dramarama” will ensue.  The bleed over is inevitable, and happens all too often, as evinced by the Catholic church’s meddling in health care issues, and the Mormon church’s meddling in the debate over Marriage Equality.

     So, is there any way to solve this problem? Is there any possibility that Glenn Mollette’s utopian dream of a Kumbaya-singing, 100% efficient government will come to pass? (I heave a heavy sigh.) Not with the current form of government that we have, I fear. In short, the answer to Glenn Mollette’s simple question…is simply not that simple.