Sunday, October 11, 2015

Open Carry Oath Keepers Swear to Keep Bigotry Alive

Photo by Ryan Dickey
CBS Detroit reported that a group calling itself the Oath Keepers--an open carry group--rallied yesterday in Dearborn, Michigan. Dearborn is a suburb of Detroit with a large Muslim population. According to CBS, a rally organizer explained:
As this invasion of Muslim colonization continues unchecked on American soil, we can only expect the same suffering now endured by EUROPE…Now is the time to act.
It's true that Dearborn has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims in the US, a demographic phenomenon that began back in the mid-1970s with an influx of Lebanese fleeing their country's civil war. As Michigan Radio reported last year:
  Today, Dearborn is a unique Arab-American community--both nationally and among the smaller Arab communities scattered around Metro Detroit.
  The Dearborn community is overwhelmingly Muslim, and majority Shiite Muslim. Shiites are a minority in the Muslim world. It’s also mostly Lebanese, with smaller pockets of Iraqis, Yemenis, and Palestinians.
  Nationally, Arab Americans are roughly half Muslims and half Christians. Metro Detroit also has a number of smaller Arab communities, many of them majority Christian—like the growing Chaldean community in Sterling Heights.
Is this an "invasion" or "colonization?" Hardly, but not surprising that some people think that. The British polling firm Ipsoso MORI found that people in the US tend to wildly overestimate the number of Muslims in the country:
According to the new poll, US citizens guessed the Muslim population of the US to be about 15 percent when asked “Out of every 100 people, how many do you think are Muslim?” This would mean that the US has 47.4 million Muslims. The reality is quite different, with current research putting the percentage of Muslims in the United States at about .8 percent of the population, with an estimated 2.6 million Muslims in the US as of 2010 [quoted here, see also the Pew Foundation's similar estimate here, which also predicts a doubling of that population by 2030, to 1.7% of the US population].
But given that Oath Keepers label this tiny demographic shift an invasion of colonization (an odd conflation of two different concepts), no wonder they want to gather in Dearborn, openly bearing their weapons. They've a country to defend! Even humanity to defend, for yesterday's "resistance" was part of a nation-wide "Global Rally for Humanity."

Apparently, humanity excludes Muslims, who make up almost a quarter of the world's population. What are we to make of a group that dehumanizes such a large number of people? Worse, a group that connects the demand for unfettered gun rights to the fear of Muslims?  And not just fear of them. This regurgitation of John Birchers (see a profile of their leader here) is afraid of the United Nations, of a black president, same sex marriage, and immigrants in general who don't look like what they think an American should look like, even if they're Christian (see here for a resume of Oath Keeper actions). Must be tiring to go around lugging those guns, day to day, afraid of so much.

They remind me of a lovely person I live with who happens to be tragically sliding into dementia, talking to people I cannot see, who won't come out of her room because there's a "man" out there, who fears unlocked or open doors, who is constantly startled by whatever. But she has no control over this. The Oath Keepers, on the other hand, have made the choice to live a life of fear, and to take it out on others.

According to one source, only "about twelve" showed up, just four of them openly armed. The Detroit News reported that
Saturday’s boisterous assembly included about 75 people, mostly counter-protesters, according to Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad.
That heartens me. Only a paltry number in Michigan exhibit, at least publicly, this collective dementia that unjustifiably translates difference into existential angst.

Friday, October 9, 2015

I'd rather you not eat my brains, thank you

I've been having a lot of fun using this text in my introductory course on International Relations, and most of my students, even those saying they're not into the zombie genre, enjoy this witty ride through different paradigms of international politics via this premise: what would countries do in the face of an outbreak of zombies?  Or to put it in non-zombie terms: what would countries do if there were an unprecedented, catastrophic event on a global scale? Think of the movie Contagion, or any story of world-wide plague, real (American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic) or not (The Stand). Drezner walks readers through the various descriptions and predictions that the different paradigms offer (realism, liberalism, constructivism, including theoretical derivations of each), and my students have found it a useful repetition of what they're getting out of the other standard primer that I use (my one criticism is that Drezner blithely dismisses critical and feminist theories).

Anyway, a Washington Post blog by Christopher Ingraham popped up on my Facebook page this morning: Where to live if you want to survive a zombie apocalypse: The definitive guide. Ingraham wonders where in the US would we have the highest chance of surviving a plague of zombies. He determines the best places based on these five factors.
Low population density (less people = less zombies)
Access to guns (self-explanatory, to be honest)
People with military experience (veterans!)
Terrain that's difficult for zombies to traverse (when's the last time you saw one scale a cliff?)
Access to bodies of water (zombies can't swim, and you need water to survive)
Using sliders, the reader than can chose which of these variables she or he would think more important. The reader can then slide the arrow over the map getting the county by county results. Here's the map based on my preferences

I buy the logic that lower population density means lower chance of running into zombies (and therefore lower incident of infection). Besides, I'm an introvert. But one problem here is whether the zombies are the slow-moving kind as depicted in George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead, or the fast-moving kind as seen in 28 Days Later and World War Z. I hope for the former, since I'm 55 and my hamstrings are shot (Drezner thinks the speed is irrelevant--zombies will get to where they want to go no matter their speed, given their numbers, the 100% rate of infection, and human unpreparedness for this, again, unprecedented and catastrophic event).

George Romero's 1968 cult classic.

Danny Boyles' 2002 28 Days Later

Access to guns? Haven't shot a gun since I was, I don't know, 15? Besides, as we know from almost all zombie stories, there are large variety of non-firearm weapons humans can employ against zombies. As well, humans often turn on one another in times of existential crisis, especially where there are limited resources (I assume a zombie plague would disrupt access to basic necessities, along with the disruption of communications).

Veteran population? Well, veterans would certainly be better shots than me, but I'm concerned that the standard operating procedures that govern military engagement with a human enemy might lead to huge tactical errors--zombies won't respond like the usual human enemy. Veterans may adapt to the drastically new situation, but that adaptation may come too late. I'm thinking here of my Peace Corps experience. Volunteers with prior professional experience in their particular program (e.g. forestry, agriculture) often had a more difficult time adjusting to a radically new environment, in comparison yahoos like me who had no prior experience, and therefore fewer pre-existing assumptions or biases. We'll need flexibility of thought when seeing a swarm of zombies lurching towards us.

Landscape features? The "stopping power of water," as realists remind us, is a powerful factor in the geography of conflict. Rivers, big lakes, with steep terrain around them. That's what I'm looking for. Zombies can't swim, and are, at best, sloppy climbers. And wintry weather in upper elevations might be a boon (as long as we have a way to keep warm). The zombies will freeze, giving us a breather.

Access to bodies of water? Again, a good defensive terrain feature, but we'll need water. Just hope it's not too polluted.

So--based on my preferences, and Ingraham's calculations, where to go? I live in Grand Rapids, Kent County. The map reports that my chances of surviving there are "way way below average" and that I'm "basically dead already." We could head west to neighboring Ottawa county, where chances are above average, but the area is surrounded by low survivability counties--wouldn't take long for Ottawa to be overrun. We could head north, but given that I'm irrational, I'd try to convince my wife and whoever else is with us to try the run across risky Illinois and Iowa, and head for eastern Oregon, maybe Harney county, the Burns area. Always wanted to get back there again anyway....

Whitehorse Lake, Harney County, Oregon

Thursday, October 8, 2015

O Bachmann! My Bachmann!

Former Representative from Minnesota, Michelle Bachmann
The caption of a Ring of Fire Radio story yesterday (10-7-15):

As usual, Bachmann got it wrong. According to my divine source (or maybe those strange voices in my head), the SC floods are God's punishment for tolerating same-sex marriage, not for US relations with Israel (yeesh--so obvious). Rather, because of the US's insufficient support for Israel, God has decided to double the number of historians teaching that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, as the new Jerusalem.

And for good measure, He's going to quadruple the number of prosperity gospel preachers.

Oh, by the way, the lack of prayer in public schools is what has caused the spate of providentially-permitted mass shootings in recent years. Sure was a long time coming--the Supreme Court declared state school-sponsored prayer unconstitutional way back in 1962--but then, providence is mysterious. If we keep seeing this little imaginary prayer below after a few more mass shootings at schools, maybe we'll finally be convinced to let Him back in. And then all will be well again in our once great nation. It will be like living in a combination of Leave it to Beaver and Have Gun Will Travel !

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Unbearable Lightness of Religious Freedom

Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, a reliable conservative
according to the American Conservative Union, which gave
him a 100% rating in 2012.
A couple of days ago Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, signed the controversial "Religious Freedom Restoration Act." Indiana now joins nineteen other states that have passed similar laws. Reactions have been swift--from the NCAA's "concern" to threats by cities and corporations to boycott the state because of the implications regarding LGBT rights. The law does not mention homosexuality, or any terms invoking LGBT issues, and Governor Pence insists that the law is not about permitting discrimination but rather the prohibition of state laws and rules that force people, organizations, and corporations to violate their religious beliefs. It is aimed at the Affordable Care Act, not a category of people. As he stated in a press release after the signing the law (in private, curiously):
One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.
Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition, an orthodox Christian evangelical organization, provides a useful summary of similar legislation and related Supreme Court decisions, and argues that the Indiana law is not "anti-gay." Like Governor Pence, he relies on Notre Dame--a consistent source of conservative Catholic views on social issues (so ecumenical of the evangelicals!)--to argue that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not give anyone a 'license to discriminate.'"  Carter goes on to blame "the media" for hysterically misrepresenting the law.

But even the irascible Janet Brewer, governor of Arizona, vetoed similar legislation a month ago because of its anti-LGBT implications (see The Atlantic's excellent analysis of that veto here).  No matter how much Governor Pence and his allies might poo-poo the discriminatory aspects of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law's supporters acknowledge that it's a about allowing Hoosiers to discriminate against LGBTers based on religious beliefs. As reported by The Blaze, Glenn Beck's online right-leaning news site:
Conservative groups say the Indiana measure merely seeks to prevent the government from compelling people to provide such things as catering or photography for same-sex weddings or other activities they find objectionable on religious grounds.
Sad how that word "merely" blithely dismisses a significant minority population, denying it the 14th Amendment's "equal protection" clause.

But an Indiana University law professor says not to worry, noting that
courts generally have ruled that the government has a compelling interest in preventing discrimination and that this interest precludes the recognition of religious exceptions. Even in the narrow setting of wedding-service providers, claims for religious exemptions recently have been rejected in various states, including states that have adopted the RFRA test. A court could rule otherwise, protecting religious freedom in this distinctive context. But to date, none has.
"Generally?" "Various?" Hardly an overwhelming put-down of the Indiana law--though the last line provides some comfort for those of us who don't think of members of the LGBT community as second-class citizens (see here for a map of state level LGBT policies).

Mildred and Richard Loving, 1965, denied equal protection
under the law until the landmark Supreme Court decision
Loving vs. Virginia in 1967.
Mark Silk, editor and blogger for the Religious News Service, is more certain of the ultimate outcome. He cites the Supreme Court's 1967 Loving vs. Virginia decision striking down laws banning mixed race marriages and notes a 2014 federal appellate court's declaration that Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. As with mixed race couples, the judicial message to states is that same-sex unions are protected by the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. That is, photographers, caterers, wedding planners, won't get to deny services to same-sex couples on religious grounds.

If the Supreme Court doesn't end discrimination against the LGBT population in the US, time will. As revealed in a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the generational cohort we label millennials, those between 18 and 35 years of age, perceive homosexuality (and presumably all the gradations between homosexuality and heterosexuality) differently than white evangelicals. 55% of millennials say that homosexuality is "morally acceptable/depends on the situation" while 38% declare it "morally wrong," compared to 20% of white evangelicals who accept homosexuality with 78% finding it morally wrong.

Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, sums up the findings on issues of homosexuality and other sexual morals in this way:
Millennials seem reluctant to make blanket black-and-white moral pronouncements about issues they see as complex,” said Jones. 
They don’t only make legal allowances for circumstances, they also make moral allowances for people in difficult circumstances. It’s more about empathy than it is about autonomy.
Ah, complexity and situational ethics--both anathema to religious fundamentalists. But in a couple of decades, the millennial generation will be climbing into positions of decision-making power vacated by the aging or dead baby-boomers.  Or as the Religious News Services puts it:
...the influence of white evangelicals on public opinion in the future may be muted by their small — and aging — numbers. White evangelicals are the oldest of the major religious affiliations, with 49 percent of them age 50 and older.
And this principled stand by many (certainly not a principle shared by all) white evangelicals, their argument that they are entitled to discriminate against the LGBT population, is not winning many converts among the millennial generation.  According to a Pew survey, 16% of the US population is religiously unaffiliated, and about a third of the unaffiliated are under the age of 30. And as Robert Putnam and David Campbell observed in their magisterial work, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us:
In the 1960s religious observance plummeted. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s a conservative reaction produced the rise of evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Since the 1990s, however, young people, turned off by that linkage between faith and conservative politics, have abandoned organized religion entirely. The result: growing polarization.
Abandoned church, Detroit, 2013
Well, at least this time we don't have the spectacle of governors blocking schoolhouse doors to gays, or shouting "Homophobia now, homophobia tomorrow, homophobia forever!"  Still, no matter how innocuous the legal language, a law that sanctifies the unequal treatment of a category of people in the name of freedom is not only unjust, but mangles the meaning of freedom. To paraphrase an old saying, one's freedom to swing a bible ends just where another's nose begins.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Postcards Reveal Jeffrey Lebowski's Previously Unknown Missouri Synod Origins

My wife found old postcards from the 1950s and 60s at a used bookstore, and bought a small stack of them for me. Here's some of my finds....

I don't know. I'm guessing Jeff would have felt like a fifth wheel in this happening Sunday School gang. Or maybe that girl in the green dress--the one with the giant head who's doing the Exorcist thing at the waist--might have freaked him out?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'm thinking that Jeff was really into plaid. Particularly plaid skirts. That's the real reason he held onto this set of postcards (the others were misdirection). You'll also see that Pastor Pete's comment about gravity shows that science and religion don't have to be at odds.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Clearly, this Nashville, TN outfit, Broadman Supplies, knew nothing about Midwestern Lutheran churches in the early 1950s. First off, the addition in the back, I'm guessing a Tennessean approximation of a fellowship hall, would be just one-story. The only stairs Lutherans abide are the two or three steps up to the small choir loft in the back of the nave. And those columns? A bit too Romish, if you know what I mean. Besides, the front door would not open right into the nave--where's space for the crucial narthex? And where would the choir loft go? And what about a parking lot? And where's the knot of middle-aged men in black suits and horn-rimmed glasses--and maybe the organist, Mrs. Schonobski--outside, sneaking a smoke before Sunday School?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Poor Pastor Pete. We know something's wrong when a Lutheran gets a bit strident.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The only thing more disturbing than this might be a postcard depicting Jezebel's horrific death (2 Kings 9:33-37).

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

From the Hartville Herald:
Herald Staff Report, January 2, 1956 (Hartville)  In the early hours of this morning, Hartville police arrested Reverend Peter Paul Penderson for drunk and disorderly conduct, public nuisance, and resisting arrest. According to officers at the scene, the Reverend Penderson was dressed as a clown and pounding on the door of the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Lebowski at 1:30am. Officer Ned Starky added "He had a bowling ball in one hand, and Luther's Catechism in the other. When my partner and I approached, he rolled the bowling ball at us and shouted, 'What letters are missing in your alphabet, Jeff?' Then he ran away, laughing. We gave chase, and shortly had him in custody. His clown shoes were his downfall." 
Reverend Penderson, more commonly known as "Pastor Pete," has served at the Forever and Ever Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hartville for 23 years and is a long-time member of the local Shriners Chapter, and founder of the Hartville Martin Luther Lodge, sponsor of the annual Lutheran Liturgical parade and the Hartville Inter-Faith Bowling League. He is currently held at the Hartville city jail, and will be arraigned tomorrow.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Next GOP Card to Drop...

Lee Atwater with Ronald Reagan.
Just checked out the survey results of the Public Religion Research Institute. Wow. People identifying as "unaffiliated" at 22%, the 3rd largest group behind Catholics, who have dropped to 23%. And Protestants at less than 50%. I'm guessing that GOP Presidential candidates catering to the religious right (Huckabee, Perry, Carson, Santorum, Pence) will get favorable attention only in the South (excluding Florida), and maybe Indiana, Kansas, Utah, and West Virginia. That attention will not translate into significant primary votes.

Lee Atwater played the race card to help Reagan and Bush, Sr.. Remember the line from from this 1981 interview? Atwater said: ''You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff." And who from my generation can forget the infamous Willie Horton attack ad?

Karl Rove with George W. Bush
Then Karl Rove played the religion card for Bush, Jr:
NARRATOR: Both Rove and Bush knew that the election of 2000 had depended upon a core constituency, the conservative wing of the Republican Party, particularly the religious right.
DEBATE MODERATOR: Governor Bush, a philosopher-thinker. And why?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Christ, because he changed my heart.
When you accept Christ as your savior, it changes your life.
NARRATOR: George Bush had the genuine faith to appeal to religious conservatives. Karl Rove had the political instincts to see their campaign potential.
WAYNE SLATER, Dallas Morning News: Karl never really talked about religion very much. In fact, I got the clear impression that he was a person who was not religious at all.
DANA MILBANK: Now, where Karl's interest is, is in the mechanics of this. And I think it's fair to say that religious conservatives, evangelical churches, have become sort of the new labor unions (from this 2004 Frontline episode, "Karl Rove: The Architect").
See also David Kuo's Tempting Faith. Kuo was the Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives from 2001-2003, and claimed that "some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as 'the nuts.'

What will be the next card? Those scary undocumented immigrants? Denizens of places outside of Sarah Palin's "real America?" All those treasonous people who don't think the US of A is the most splendiferous country in the history of the universe? NPR addicts? Spongebob Squarepants enthusiasts? We'll soon find out...

One possible GOP card: depict the Democrats this way.
Maybe add some Beanie Babies for good measure.

Friday, February 20, 2015

American Giuliani-ism

Just read Jamelle Bouie's thoughtful essay on Obama's brand of exceptionalism ("The Past Perfect"). Bouie describes a recent speech by Rudy Giuliani to "businesspeople, conservative elites, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker," in which he lambasts President Obama's character and questions his patriotism. Hardly new. Obama's opponents have been doing that since he first ran for the presidency. Bouie doesn't take on Giuliani, though. Rather, he proposes an explanation for Obama's "less triumphant" version of exceptionalism:
The best answer, I think, lies in identity. By choice as much as birth, Obama is a black American. And black Americans, more than most, have a complicated relationship with our country. It’s our home as much as it’s been our oppressor: a place of freedom and opportunity as much as a source of violence and degradation. We’re an old American tribe, with deep roots in the land and a strong hand in the labor of the nation. But we’re often seen as other—a suspect class that just doesn’t fit.
I have less patience than Bouie with myopic visions of the US's exceptional role in the world. Consider this Giuliani line: “What country has left so many young men and women dead abroad to save other countries without taking land? This is not the colonial empire that somehow he has in his hand. I’ve never felt that from him.”

Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, 1898
 Well, Mr. Giuliani, we did take land by force. Since 1781, how did we gain "land" west and south of the original 13 states? The Seminole wars in Florida, in the first half of the 19th century. The invasion of Mexico in 1846. Warring against Native Americans, from the Cherokee wars of the 1780s-90s, to the last bloody skirmishes in the early 1900s. And there's the War with Spain in 1898, winning "land" in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

And not all forms of colonialism require direct, permanent occupation--just an occasional intervention by US marines, or covert operation (for a list of US interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean, from 1890 to 2009, visit this site).
US-supported right-wing Contras
in an Honduran training camp, 1989

That said, I do not make the claim that our country is evil. That's too simplistic a characterization of the US's complex history of war-making and foreign relations. As simplistic as Giuliani braying that we are innocent.

I'll finish with these lines from the Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío (from the poem "To Roosevelt," 1904):

...You think that life is fire,
that progress is eruption,
that wherever you shoot you hit the future.


The United States is potent and great. When you shake there is a deep tremble that passes through the enormous vertebrae of the Andes. If you clamor, it is heard like the roaring of a lion...You are rich. You join the cult of Hercules to the cult of Mammon, and illuminating the road of easy conquest, Liberty raises its torch in New York.