Thursday, September 12, 2019

Never Forget What?

With the recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there were news stories and posts with photos, lists honoring victims and first responders, and a particularly beautiful song from Mary Chapin Carpenter (Grand Central Station). The phrase that accompanied many of these was, "Never forget."

What, exactly, are we not to forget?

In this Trumpian age of white nationalism, my hackles get up when I see a vaguely defined message like, "Never forget." If we're not careful, phrases like that can ignite the wrong kind of reaction, especially paranoia and discrimination, or worse, violence, against Muslims and immigrants.

I remember as vividly as anyone where I was when those planes hit the towers and the Pentagon. It was a cool, clear morning, not a cloud in the sky. I was working from home, fighting with my laptop, the Today Show running in the background. When the first plane hit, before I knew it was a large commercial airliner, I thought, "Wow, some idiot pilot can't navigate around tall buildings." But when the second plane hit, I, like everyone else, had no doubt that this was an intentional terrorist attack. I was shocked and dumbfounded the rest of the day and for several days after, glued to the TV and hanging onto every observation, theory, and fear that it might keep happening. I wept over the story of how passengers on one plane stopped the hijackers before it crashed in Pennsylvania. I remember a friend who was stuck in New York City with no way to get home. I remember thinking that Republicans would surely use this as an excuse to do their usual warmongering - and I was right about that. I remember going to an event that night where people were wearing red, white, and blue and expressing obnoxious patriotism as if it were the God-damned fourth of July. I remember looking at the sky for several days, empty of contrails because no planes were flying. For usually not noticing planes in the sky one way or the other, it was spooky not to see or hear any.

In other words, I remember a lot. I'm not in danger of forgetting anything.

I just want to be sure that we remember the right things: the heroes on the planes, the first responders risking and losing their lives, the families who suddenly lost loved ones.

We should also remember the bad, shameful things: the immediate outlash against Muslims, even those life long, patriotic citizens who just because of religion and/or ethnicity, were somehow blamed for the attacks. Many lost basic freedoms and continue to suffer an unjust stigma. If you don't believe me, ask anyone with a middle-eastern surname who flies on a regular basis.

We should not forget how we overreacted and used the attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq, who had nothing to do with it. We shouldn't forget how millions of Americans were forced to sacrifice freedoms because of overreaching laws like the PATRIOT Act.

It's ok to never forget. Let's just think about what we're not forgetting and make sure we're remembering for the right reasons.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Grandpa Rambles On About the Moon Landing

"Pay attention to this," my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hedgecock scolded. "You can tell your grandchildren that you remember when man first walked on the moon."

Grandchildren? As a seven year old, I was more struck by the idea of having grandchildren than I was about the moon landing. The most I aspired to being in those days was a clown or maybe a teenager. Mrs. H was, however, mostly right. Ok, I don't have grandchildren, but I'm old enough to corner my nieces' and nephew's kids and tell them that a thing or two happened before they were born.

50 years ago, almost beyond comprehension, an insurmountable barrier was broken and actual earthbound beings traveled to that other world in the sky and came back to tell the tale.

Not only did "man" go to the moon, but the unexpected byproducts added much to our lives. For one thing, we got expressions such as, "They can send a man to the moon, but they can't (make a toaster that works right, build a toilet that doesn't run, synchronize the traffic light at Eighth and Colorado, or just fill in the blank with your own technological frustration)."

We also got Tang. Until I was in high school, I thought the breakfast drink made from dark yellow powder was the same as orange juice. It was advertised, actually, to have more vitamin C than orange juice. For sure it had more sugar. Or has. Is Tang still a thing? I recently read that we probably would have had Tang even if astronauts hadn't consumed it in space. I wonder if they really did drink Tang. Has 60 Minutes done an investigation about this?

So what have we done since 50 years ago? I'm sure everyone thought we would have colonized Mars by now, or at least have settlements on that same now accessible moon.

I'd hate to disappoint the people of 1969, but no one has made it to Mars. We did send machines to Mars to dig holes and get stuck in craters. We had a Shuttle program come and go, and we participate in the International Space Station. Our robots photograph the rings of Saturn up close and fly by places as distant as Pluto, the dwarf formerly known as a planet. Voyager I, launched in the 70s, now hurdles beyond our solar system towards a  star called AC +79 3888 which it will reach in about 40,000 years. We've actually recorded the image of a real black hole.

But we should have accomplished more since 1969. The American obsession with cutting taxes has left us with a shell of the space program we once had. Taxpayers fail to support education resulting in our nation ranking below half the others in STEM education.

In case you don't know, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.

We take technology for granted with no idea where it came from. Our smart phones have more technology than Apollo 11 and what do we do with them? We send each other emojis and settle trivial arguments by googling things.

I doubt if old Mrs. Hedgecock is still around, but if she were, what would she think about my not having grandchildren?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

I Refuse to Forward Chain Posts

I suppose that if I don't forward it, I'm in favor of cancer and I don't support our troops.

"Please, in honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer, or even had cancer, copy, and paste."

This is taken from an actual Facebook post on my timeline. I want to know how copying and pasting it will help the fight against cancer.

I’m annoyed by Facebook posts that contain statements like, "I'll bet no one will share this," or "If 5 of my friends post this I'll be surprised." It's often about cancer or supporting our troops, and other topics that pretty much everyone agrees on. The message is that if you care, you'll share the post.

It may or may not be a good post. No, actually it won't be a good post. It may or may not apply to me. I suppose that if I don't forward it, I'm in favor of cancer and I don't support our troops. I resent the implication. For the record, I'm against cancer and I strongly believe that our troops and veterans deserve first class benefits.

These kinds of posts replace chain letters of old. If you're young and don't know what I'm talking about, chain letters used to come in the old fashioned, paper-based, mail. They would tell you that unless you make a certain number of copies and send them to all your friends, dire things will happen. Intelligent people like my mother always said, "Never forward a chain letter." Well I'd like to say the same thing about these "chain" posts.

In summary, let me just say to these chain post forwarders, I'll post whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I want to. I won't repost your post because I won't be manipulated. I won't repost the post because you didn't even write it yourself. You just copied and pasted it. I would rather spend my time reading actual news about my family and friends.

That ends today's rant.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Republican Glee will be Short Lived

The Mueller report did not say he isn't  corrupt, dishonest, stupid, and the worst thing to happen to the country since 9/11. 

This week Robert Mueller released his report on whether the president (left small case on purpose) was guilty of collusion with the Russians. Apparently, according to a summary of the report, he is not.

How very disappointing for those of us who are convinced he is a crook and needs to be held accountable.

Did Russia or someone get to Mueller and persuade him to come to the "right" conclusion? Did they threaten his family? I want to think that's the only way this could have possibly happened. The evidence seemed pretty clear.

However, the Mueller report did not say Donald Trump was innocent of all crimes. It did not say he isn't  corrupt, dishonest, stupid, and the worst thing to happen to the country since 9/11. There are several more investigations pending.

The report also did not say that Russia didn't interfere with the 2016 election, possibly throwing the electoral victory to Trump. There is every indication they plan to interfere with our elections again. This is still a very serious situation.

I want to deny the report - I was counting on it to justify my dislike for the president. But there's still plenty to justify.

Just because he didn't collude with Russia doesn't mean he's a good guy after all. He still:

  • Calls Nazis good people
  • Calls other countries shit holes
  • Allows for the separation of families and losing of children at the border
  • Lies multiple times daily
  • Treats his staff terribly
  • Comes up with the most absurd conspiracy theories, such as claiming that President Obama didn't have an American birth certificate
  • Has sex with prostitutes and used campaign funds to pay them off
  • Talks about grabbing the pussies of non-consenting women
  • Blatantly spouts racism against Mexicans and Muslims
  • Supports tax reform that only benefits the wealthy
  • Threw paper towels at the people of Puerto Rico after a devastating hurricane

The results of this report say nothing about:

  • The need for national, single payer health care
  • The climate change emergency
  • The student loan crisis and general decline of education in this country
  • The widening of the separation of rich and poor

Those are some of the serious problems that the president either opposes or will not acknowledge.

Republicans should enjoy their victory now. Their gloating days are numbered. History, if nothing else, will expose once and for all the moral corruption of the current administration.

But I think Trump and the Republicans will be held accountable sooner than that. The election of 2020 is coming and we have a chance to decisively and legally remove them from the highest seats of power, making it clear that corruption and dishonesty are not acceptable.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Methodists Vote to Dehumanize Members

If you're straight, you can vote on the issue and go home to your legally sanctioned family and forget about it. For me, it has profound, life-altering consequences. 

Excuse me if I seem strident or overly emotional about this subject. It's just that ...

It is humiliating and degrading when other people get to vote on your value as a person.  Whether in the form of civil rights,  or in the case of this week's vote in the United Methodist Church to double down on the ban against LGBTQ clergy and marriage, it is insulting to reduce human beings to an issue that can just be dismissed by the majority.

Who is the United Methodist Church to take a vote, a popularity poll, about whether fellow human beings, made in God's image, are worthy of full participation in the community of faith?

I've experienced this many times and I'm sick of it. Even though I'm not Methodist, I have history with that denomination. I learned a lot about social justice and ecumenism working in campus ministry at Nebraska Wesleyan University back in the 80s. Under the sponsorship of the UMC chaplain, I started, along with a lesbian friend,  the very first gay and lesbian group on campus (we weren't yet fully enlightened about bi and trans sisters and brothers at the time). The excitement was dampened when the chaplain was fired, in part, because of it.

In 1991, I left the Presbyterian Church USA because a majority voted for the umpteenth time to deny full membership to LGBTQ people.  No matter how big my theological school scholarship was, no matter how many positions I held, or how much ministry I was involved in, I couldn't be ordained simply because of my sexual orientation. You bet I took it personally.

I took it personally when in 1992, a majority of Coloradoans voted to suspend all civil rights protections for LGBTQ people.

I take it personally when I see protesters outside a public event holding signs that say, "God hates fags."

I take it personally when bakery owners refuse to serve gay customers. It's not some far away legal question when because my personal civil rights interfere with the comfort and self-righteousness of some religious fundamentalist, the matter has to go to the Supreme Court.

I take it personally because it is personal for me. LGBTQ equality in church and society are not some abstract issue. My humanity cannot be reduced to an academic debate over carefully selected scripture passages taken out of the context in which they originated thousands of years ago. I cannot respectfully listen to the opinion of the "other side" because they are wrong and they are trying oppress me.

If you're straight, you can vote on the issue and go home to your legally sanctioned family and forget about it. When the vote is about you, it has profound, life-altering consequences.

So excuse me if I seem defensive. Pardon me if my anger seems a little out of proportion. Forgive me if my existence makes you uncomfortable. It's because once again, I have to stand up and defend my value as a person.

Footnote: I'm happy to say that the Presbyterian Church USA has since reversed its position and now ordains and marries LGBT people. Amendment 2, the antigay law Colorado voted for, was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What I Learned About Myself Online

I'm not so sure the government doesn't also keep tabs, but since the IRS and the Veterans Administration are still using computers from the 80s and 90s, I'm not too worried about Uncle Sam knowing how many times I look at "Hairy Chests Dot Com."

I recently read in the Huffington Post about how you can look at the data that Facebook and Google have collected on you. This data allows them to help their advertisers sell stuff directly to you instead of disseminating commercials widely and hoping they hit the relevant market by chance.

In case you weren't aware, Facebook and Google and all the other online companies keep every bit of information you ever put on their sites. They also sell it to other online companies. If you've ever looked at porn, booked a table at a restaurant, watched a movie, looked at a white supremacy website, posted a recipe online, or read subversive media such as the Huffington Post, that information is out there. Forever.

This is a chilling prospect to many people - that Big Brother is watching us every time we're connected to the online world. It turns out that Big Brother is not the government in our country like we once feared, but massive corporations trying to sell us stuff. I'm not so sure the government doesn't also keep tabs, but since the IRS and the Veterans Administration are still using computers from the 80s and 90s, I'm not too worried about Uncle Sam knowing how many times I look at "Hairy Chests Dot Com."

If we're truly worried about the data "they" are amassing about us, it would be best to learn what we can about it. I decided to see for myself what Big Data, at least Facebook and Google, has on me.

First, Facebook. HuffPost's David Howley directed me to Settings, then to Ads and Ad Preferences. Here's a little of what I found out about myself:
  • They know that I'm married. 
  • They know I have a TiVo.
  • Their version of my job title is an old one I had listed in LinkedIn a couple of years ago, and is not one I've ever used in Facebook. Someone's been sharing data.
  • My education is listed as "Scottsbluff Senior High School and 2 others." Technically yes. 
  • I live away from my hometown. Check. How does that influence advertising?
  • I am close friends of women with a birthday in 7-30 days. Probably.
  • I have a role in management. Well, that depends on your point of view I guess.
  • I'm into community and social services. Yes.
  • I access Facebook via Chrome. Yes I do.
  • They have my birthday correct.
  • My profession is related to education and libraries. Well, more or less I guess, if you take the long, long view.
  • Frequent international traveler. Check
  • Owns 2 iPads.Wow! How do they know that? I hardly ever use them. They're Clyde's hand me downs. One I only use as an e-reader. The other I don't use at all.
  • Here's the big surprise. I am African American. Whoa! While it's kind of cool that my data indicates that, there is no universe in which I could pass for African American. I'm about the whitest person I know.
On to Google. Go to Account Settings, Data & Personalization, Ad Personalization, and Ad Settings. Here's a sampling of how Google sees me:
  • Male
  • TiVo user.
  • They estimate that because of my YouTube activity, I like American football and basketball. Cue buzzer. Nope. Not even close. I watch mostly Ted Talks and BBC documentaries on YouTube. How do they get basketball out of that?
  • I'm interested in boating. Hmm.
  • And Bollywood and South Asian film. Of all the millions of movies I watch, that is a very small percentage. Very small.
  • I'm interested in Chicago. I have nothing against Chicago, but if you were to ask me what city I was interested in, a few other cities would come up first.
  • Family relationships are important to me. I'll give you that.
  • Motorcycles, gardening, and parenting. Nope. Nada.
  • Restaurants, online video, TV. Yes, absolutely.
Clearly Facebook knows me better than Google. Based on what Google claims to know about me, I must conclude that advertisers are no better off with this data than without. 

So is Big Data less scary than I thought? It would seem so. On the other hand, I'm sure it's getting more sophisticated all the time. In a year or two, I'll bet my info on Google is a lot more accurate. Still, I choose not to worry too much. After all, there is no mention in either place of "Hairy Chests Dot Com."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Annual Holiday Hang-Ups Have Begun

What is it about Christians that makes them want to suck the fun out of everything?

The Thanksgiving leftovers are barely in the fridge and more than one of my theologically educated friends have already self-righteously declared that one mustn't celebrate Christmas until December 25. Or is it December 24? In case you are about to let me know which of these it is, let me assure you with utmost emphasis, that I don't care.

This is arguably the most celebrated time of year. Families gather, houses are festively decorated, we bring out our favorite traditional recipes, and we give each other gifts to express our love. 

We should be attending parties and enjoying concerts and watching TV specials. So why are so many determined to stamp the fun out of the holidays by shoving their particular hang-ups down everyone else's throat?

The one that is particularly bothering me this year is the idea from religiously correct, Christian purists that we shouldn't enjoy Christmas until it is officially, liturgically Christmas - that is, until tradition says Baby Jesus is actually born. Up until then, it's only Advent, a time of expectation and waiting. God forbid we should enjoy a little Christmas caroling or set up our manger set too early.

Don't worry, the hangups of past years continue to bother me. There are many other ways people are determined to take the joy out of the holidays this year as well:

- The war on Christmas. Whether you say an innocent "Merry Christmas" to a coworker or wish your neighbor a casual, "Happy Holidays," it's the same as declaring whether you vote Republican or Democrat. I'd prefer not to be attacked for they way I sincerely wish a fellow human being a happy season. Can we just express friendly tidings to each other without getting into a "war" about it?
- Don't take the Christ out of Christmas. The people who make this plea are particularly galling. Whether you like it or not, there is a lot more to the holiday season than the traditional story of the birth of Christ.  Winter Solstice celebrations long predate Christmas. It's the darkest time of the year and we need something to lighten things up. If someone wants to go to the holiday parade and decorate a tree, drink eggnog, or take their kid to see Santa at the mall, why isn't that ok? If you want to go to Christmas mass and worship Baby Jesus and all that stuff, by all means go ahead and do so. But leave everyone else alone. I believe the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has moral relevance even though it isn't from the Bible. What is it about Christians that makes them want to suck the fun out of everything?
- Christmas is too commercial. Yes, yes, yes, this complaint is as old as Christmas itself. Can I make a suggestion? Get over it. That is something which is simply not going to change. If the commercialism bothers you, don't participate in it. If gift giving is too much of a greed-fest for you, give non-commercialized gifts such as donations to a charity, or give time to a cause that's important to you. Your loved ones will appreciate the effort to help others, and they don't have to lug a bunch of junk home that they may not really want.

I realize my rantings are very Christmas/Christian centered. That's because I'm a Christian (who happens to enjoy secular Christmas as well). I'm perfectly ok with it if you disagree with me or have a different point of view, or would rather talk about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years, or another holiday. Celebrate this season however you want. I plan to do the same. I'll leave you alone if you will do me the same courtesy. Just don't suck all the fun out of my December because of your hang ups.