Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bob McCulloch should be under investigation for his handling of the Darren Wilson grand jury.

With the release of the transcripts of the grand jury that declined to hand down an indictment against Darren Wilson it has become obvious that justice was not served. Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor in the case, handled the case in a way that was at best unorthodox an at worst was designed to get a predetermined outcome. I believe that Bob McCulloch should be placed under investigation to see if he was attempting to obstruct justice in this case and if it is found that he was trying to rig the grand jury he should be punished for his actions.

Unorthodox police procedures emerge in grand jury documents

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gay marriage defensiveness

As most of you are probably aware same sex marriage is now recognized in quite a few more states than it was just a few weeks ago. When the US Supreme Court decided to not hear several cases that had gone all the way through the appeals process the bans on gay marriage in the states where the cases were filed effectively went away. The bans on gay marriage also should have gone away in states that weren't involved in these cases but that are in the districts where same sex marriage bans were ruled unconstitutional. In some of those states, like North Carolina, the bans did go away. In other states, like South Carolina, they are holding on to their discriminatory, unconstitutional, bans as long as they possibly can. In states that weren't affected by these rulings but that have gay marriage bans the defensiveness has become almost palpable among some groups as they vow to fight on till the very end.

The problem is that they don't have a legal leg to stand on. The "Equal Protection Clause" found in the 14th amendment of the US Constitution is pretty clear and so far the cases brought before federal judges have almost all ended the same way. You can't treat same sex couples differently from heterosexual couples when it comes to marriage. So when you can't win the legal battle you switch to trying to win the battle of public opinion. Sadly for opponents to same sex marriage, but happily for those who believe that discrimination is wrong, they don't seem very adept at forming good arguments even when they don't have to deal with lawyers and judges.

Many opponents of gay marriage will claim that the US Supreme Court has no right to overturn the will of the voters. They say that the Supreme Court is acting in an undemocratic way. Got to give this one to them, they are right that the Supreme Court isn't acting very democratically, however they are complete wrong when they say that the court can't over turn the will of the voters.

If you take a look at the US Constitution you will see that the framers of the Constitution were not huge supporters of democracy. They seemed to worry that all out democracy would lead to mob rule and that the new country wouldn't last long if it didn't try to insure that the government was filled with people calm enough to look beyond the next election to see what was actually best for the country. If you let the people have free reign in elections there is no telling what type of hoodlums they might put into office. So we wound up with the electoral college, an organization that selects the president and could correct a bad decision made by the voters if necessary. Not very democratic you say? Well it gets even less democratic. The framers established a legislative branch with an upper and lower house, the Senate as the upper house and the House of Representatives as the lower. The lower house is fairly democratic, the number of representatives a state gets depends on its population and the voters get to pick who these representatives are (please ignore for the moment that at the time the Constitution was ratified only white, male, land owners could vote because that left out the majority of people in the US and makes even the House of Representatives look pretty undemocratic). But the upper house, the Senate, was a different story. It is about as undemocratic as you can get. In the Senate voters from states with tiny populations like Wyoming are much better represented than voters from a state like California which has a much higher population since both states have two senators each. Furthermore the framers of the Constitution seemed to think they needed to reduce the risks from democracy even further by not allowing the voters to elect their senators. That's right, until 1913 when the 17th amendment was passed US Senators from each state were selected, not by the people, but by the legislators of each state. This caused a problem because on the state level corruption was quite bad (remember this point) and the selection of senators involved bribery or long vacant senate seats as the legislators couldn't agree on who to pick. Add to all of this undemocracy the Supreme Court which is granted the power to overturn any law it finds in violation of the Constitution and who's  members are not elected but are appointed for life and you can see that the framers of the Constitution didn't want a democracy, they wanted a government that just hinted of democracy.

What about state's rights? Well states have got them. They can pass any law they want to, but they are bound by the US Constitution and if they pass a law that conflicts with the Constitution it is the Supreme Court's duty to strike it down. Let's imagine for a second that this wasn't the case. In my home state of Tennessee there would be no chance the the state's same sex marriage ban would be over turned, not any time soon at least. That might make some religious conservatives very happy. They would probably also be very happy to find out that the Tennessee constitution states that an atheist can't hold an elected position in Tennessee. They might be a bit unhappy to learn that the state constitution disqualifies any minister from being a part of the state legislature. Of course Tennessee allows atheists and ministers to hold elected positions because everyone knows that these parts of the state constitution are unenforceable under the US Constitution. I know of at least one member of the Tennessee house who is currently serving who is a preacher at a large church. So what will it be religious conservatives? Follow the US Constitution, which is what is happening now, or have your state constitution supersede the federal Constitution and deal with all of the negative things you might find in it if you took the time to read it?

Another way gay marriage opponents are trying to win hearts and minds is by lying outright. They are claiming that legalizing same sex marriage will force preachers and pastors and ministers to perform same sex marriages. This is nothing but a lie. In the US we have something called "freedom of religion". It is enshrined in the 1st amendment of the Constitution. No minister can be forced to marry anyone, gay or straight. Let's say a man and woman, one Jewish and one Christian go to a rabbi to get married. The rabbi can say "nope" because he may not think a Jewish person should marry someone who isn't Jewish. Let's say an interracial couple goes to a preacher and asks to get married. The preacher can say "nope" because he holds archaic beliefs against interracial marriage. Let's say a gay couple goes to a priest and asks to get married, the priest can say "not a chance" because the Catholic church forbids it. None of these couples would have a leg to stand on because religious organizations are not bound by anti-discrimination laws. Further more most areas don't have anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians. In several states now gay couples can get married and then get fired from their jobs, legally fired with no legal recourse for the gay people who were fired, because they are gay. In areas where there are legal protections for gays and lesbians it might be true that a baker or a photographer wouldn't have the legal right to discriminate against gay couples, but that is because they are business entities not religious entities, plain and simple. Recently in Idaho a big fuss has been raised around a wedding chapel run by two ministers who don't want to perform same sex weddings. A right wing group is claiming that complaints have been filed against the chapel and that they could face up to $180,000.00 in fines. Well the city says no complaints have been filed, and even if they were the chapel couldn't face fines anywhere near that high, no business could, The thing is the chapel couldn't face any fines or other penalties at all because they qualify as a religious organization. The entire controversy is a fabrication and a lie designed to make a certain segment of the population angry. Well it worked, kind of. It may have made religious conservatives angry, I don't know if it did or not, but I do know that it made somebody angry, and that person is me.

All of this talk about gay marriage stepping on the religious freedom of people opposing gay marriage is completely ridiculous. No one is forcing churches to marry gay couples, no one is forcing preachers to perform gay wedding ceremonies, no one is being forced to denounce their religious bigotry and start loving gay folk. No one is trying to force straight people into gay marriages. These people think that freedom of religion means they have the freedom to force their beliefs on others, that somehow they were appointed to make sure we all behave the way they think we should. These people complain about their religious freedom being violated and yet they don't believe in religious freedom, at least not for anyone but themselves. Here's the reason I am angry though, you see I am a Christian. My faith is very important to me. I believe God works in my life and one of the ways he has worked in my life is by bringing my husband and myself together. My getting married doesn't infringe on anyone's religious freedom, but when a law is passed which says I can't marry the man that I believe God wants me to be married to then my religious freedom is being stomped all over. Some may say that God doesn't want me to be in a gay marriage, I might say that God is more concerned with how much hunger and violence there is in the world. That's the thing, I can't force you to believe what I do and you shouldn't be able to force me to live by your beliefs.

Friday, October 17, 2014

10 real things about Nashville...

I am from Nashville and I love my hometown, I can't stand all the new and shallow media attention about my city though. I now live in Europe, but I am back home often enough, and the internet helps me keep in touch with what's going on in my home city so I decided to write my own article/list about Nashville.

10. There is no single thing called "Nashville".

Nashville is a sprawling, diverse, metropolitan area and can't be pigeonholed the way most writers want to do. We have lots of churches representing a ton of different Christian denominations, we also have quite a few mosques. The largest population of Kurds outside of Kurdistan lives in Nashville. Nashville is full of poor people and middle class people and rich people. Most Nashvillians don't work in the music industry, many never attend a concert in a given year. Many drink like fish while others are teetotalers. We are very different but we live in the same place, most of us are happy about that but some aren't, somehow we manage to get along most of the time.

9. Nashville is a food city.

Hot chicken is big in Nashville but a lot of people can't stand it. Nashville has a lot of great restaurants but most of us eat lunch at McDonald's or Hardees. We love biscuits and gravy and country ham but we also love foie gras and caviar. We love food, but how many people and cities don't? We are just lucky to have a wide range of restaurants serving a wide range of food (from New York style Jewish delis to slow smoked pork shoulder to vegetarian South Indian cuisine). There is no "Nashville cuisine" we just love to eat and love to have choices.

8. Nashville is friendly.

I didn't realize how friendly till I moved to Northern Europe, but if you are in Nashville you had better be ready to talk to people. We like to talk, sure, most of it is superficial and shallow, but we are looking for a reason to like you, if we see you twice we will probably consider you a friend.

7. Gospel music is bigger than country music here.

A lot of us like both gospel and country, but we also like punk and dance music and folk. Nashville is "Music City USA", not country music city USA. If you come to visit leave the honky tonks on Broadway behind for a while and see what else Nashville has to offer musically, you will be glad you did.

6. It gets cold in Nashville.

If you show up in January or February don't bring your swim suit. Yep, we get cold weather, really cold weather. The great thing is that while it might be below zero (Fahrenheit) one night it might be in the 60's the next day. In the winter be prepared for almost anything... from one hour to the next.

5. East Nashville isn't just hipsters.

Yes, there are a lot of hipsters in East Nashville, and that is great, but there are also a lot of people who you would never call hipsters, people who are more likely to wear pricey Air Jordans than vintage clothing store finds. People old enough to have worn those vintage clothing store finds when they were new. And people who just get up and get dressed to work every day. East Nashville is like most of Nashville, diverse and impossible to classify, but everyone in East Nashville agrees on one thing, "The rent is too damn high!"

4. In Nashville you can smoke in bars and many people do.

In Tennessee if you don't let anyone under the age of 21 through the doors smoking is OK. Some bars bane smoking but most allow it and this means it can get a bit hazy sometimes. That's OK, you can step outside whenever you want.

3. Nashville is a liberal city in a VERY conservative state.

When Jesse Jackson ran for president in the democratic primaries he won Nashville, Clinton won Nashville, Obama won Nashville, Nashville is very liberal. Step one foot outside of the city limits however and you are in a very conservative area no matter where you go. This means if you are in Nashville you will find people who are super liberal and super conservative and so it doesn't matter which side of the political fence you find yourself on, if you want to talk politics you better be able to back up what you say. Cause if you can't someone will call you on it.

2. Nashville doesn't hate tourists... but...

We can get kind of weary of them. Look, tourists come in to Nashville and try to blend in, but you don't. See Nashvillians don't normally wear cowboy hats or cowboy boots. We wear jeans and suits and Converse and high heels. We dress casually, we dress stylishly, we dress in drag, there is a naturist resort just outside of Nashville where people don't dress at all. The thing is that Nashvillians don't normally wear rhinestones or look like we are about to take the stage at the Ryman Auditorium, we just dress and look like pretty normal people, whatever you think that means.

1. Nashville is a great place.

Please, go to Nashville with no expectations, see as much of it as you can, you will probably fall in love with it. Just don't try to figure it out, it is too complex, too diverse, too wonderful to categorize. It is a city and has all of the good things and bad things that being a city entails. Just bring your car or rent one, cause public transportation sucks in Nashville.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New War Brings Back Old Lies

The US is at war again, this time against ISIS or ISIL or The Islamic State or DAIISH or whatever it is they are being called now. It really doesn't matter what you call them, they are a bunch of sick, crazy individuals who are perverting the religion to claim to follow. Of course in the US the only thing that many people will pay attention to is that the members of this group claim to be Muslim and their actions will give some in America another excuse to hate Muslims.

This hatred of Islam and its followers confuses me to no end. Most of the people who rail against Islam in the US consider themselves to be Christians, as do I, but I can't for the life of me reconcile their words and actions with Christianity.

I have heard them claim that Muslims are trying to force everyone in the US to live under Sharia Law and to convert to Islam. They say that they don't want Islam forced down their throats. This is quite confusing as many of these same people want to take away a woman's right to have an abortion, for any reason at all, because of religious reasons. They want to put prayer, seemingly Christian prayer (which can be several different things depending on which denomination we are talking about), back in public schools. They want the religious doctrine of creationism taught in schools as science. They think that gay and lesbian couples shouldn't be able to get married because of what they believe God thinks. On this last issue, I have been to gay pride festivals in several US cities and in cities in Canada and Europe as well. I have seen Christians protest and yell and scream at the festival goers, telling them they are going to hell and that they are sick. Interestingly enough I have never seen a group representing any other religion do this, only people who consider themselves Christians.

The same is true of the other issues listed above, time and time again in the US Christians rise up and try to push their religion down the throats of everyone else. In Tennessee they tried to stop a mosque from being built. I haven't heard of any Muslim groups in the US trying to stop churches from being built. Many Christians will say that the US is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, and that it should be following God's law. Strange that some of the founding fathers such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison didn't believe this at all. They saw the danger of a religion trying to and working towards imposing itself on others and I have to say they were right. In the US the only religion I know of that is trying to impose its will and law on people is Christianity. This of course makes these Christians look like extreme hypocrites when they claim that Muslims are trying to take over the country. Muslims around the world have called on us to realize that groups like ISIS don't represent Islam any more than the Westboro  Baptist Church represents Christianity, unfortunately there are too many Christian extremists who refuse to believe this. A few days ago Muslims around the world organized protests to show that they in now way condone or accept or are willing to tolerate the actions of groups like ISIS. As a Christian I want to say that I know Islam is not what these terrorists have fooled themselves into believing that it is. I would also like to say that I, as a Christian, in no way, shape, form, or fashion condone or agree with the actions taken by Christian extremists and in some instance Christian terrorists that are sadly all too common in my home country. I believe that hate is probably a sin in every religion, I know it is in Christianity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pain and Strength

I live in the city center of Tilburg, the 6th largest city in the Netherlands. Every year the city center of Tilburg is taken over by one of the largest fairs in Europe, Kermis, with kilometer after kilometer of rides, games, food, and other attractions. It is noisy, sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful, today it was very moving.

This past Monday was Roze Maandag or Pink Monday. Roze Maandag is a celebration of all things gay but it is not a gay celebration. The entire town joins in, gay and straight, from the oldest to the youngest, to enjoy the best and biggest party you can imagine. It shows just how well integrated the LGBT community is with the rest of the Netherlands. Being a gay man from the Southern US it was a pretty amazing sight and something I will remember for a very long time.

Today was completely different. The weather was nicer, the crowds weren't quite a large, drag queens weren't dancing with little kids in the streets. Games were being played, rides were tossing people around at high speeds, it was like a lot of other days during Kermis except today, at 3:55 in the afternoon everything came to a sudden halt.

Today around the time Kermis went silent, two planes landed at an airport in a city very close to Tilburg. These planes carried the first 40 bodies of the 193 Dutch victims of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 disaster. Most of my readers are from the US and 193 may seem like a small number to them, but the Netherlands is a nation considerably smaller in size than many, if not most, of the individual states in the United States. The Netherlands population is around 17 million and so it is quite small population wise as well. Proportionally the 193 Dutch that were killed in this horrible event represent a larger portion of the population of the Netherlands than the thousands who died on 9/11 represented of the American population. Over 40 of the dead came from Noord-Brabant, the province Tilburg is located in. This has hit the Netherlands very hard.

Today at Kermis everything shut down for ten minutes in remembrance of those who perished. The rides, the food stands, the games all fell silent. The tens of thousands of people here all stopped what they were doing and joined in the silence. The only sound to be heard was the bell of a local church ringing out once for each of the 193 who died. There were no words, no speeches, no crying, nothing. Just the acknowledgment of what was happening by the gathered crowd as they started applauding as the bells went silent.

Soon a long line had formed coming out of the church and into the heat as people waited to sign condolence books. When we sat down in front of one of the books to sign it we saw a multitude of statements in somewhat emotionally scrawled Dutch. Occasionally a word would be blurred by the stain from a tear that had fallen on it. People prayed and lit candles and then walked back out into the sun light.

The lack of obvious signs of emotion might confuse some Americans, trust me, just because they aren't showing it doesn't mean they aren't feeling it. The Dutch are a proud, stoic, and strong people who are also very protective of their privacy. They are grieving, just not in public, they refuse to let this tragic event turn them into a tragic nation. They will remember for ever and suffer for years to come, but they will still be Dutch and they will deal with this tragedy as they have dealt with the other terrible events the people of the Netherlands have endured, by preserving and enduring. There is strength in community, the Dutch are an entire nation that is also a community.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The case for a new Cold War...

Please, before you go any further, understand that I do not want a new Cold War. The existence of the entire planet was threatened by the last one, but it also had a few benefits.

During the Cold War the US government worked much better. A clear, easily understood, enemy helped make it possible for Republicans and Democrats to work together. The desire to one up the USSR helped promote science and education in the US. The Cold War gave a clear and obvious direction to US foreign policy and allowed American interests to be integrated with the interests of many other nations around the world. The US led the world.

The US also led the world's economy, the need for a strong military allowed President Reagan to use the classical Keynesian techniques of massive government spending to get the US out of a recession while still keeping his conservative supporters happy. The world's economy was quite globalized during the Cold War even if most of the US thinks that globalism started later. The difference was that much of the global economy then originated in the US and then spread out through the rest of the world instead of starting off all over the rest of the world and being shipped to the US.

The Cold War was a horrible thing, we don't want to go through that again. At the same time the actual Cold War, not counting what led up to it, cost a very limited number of lives and worked out really well for the US. Without a common, clear, enemy the US has become more polarized and turned its aggression and fears inward. I sincerely hope that the leaders of Russia come to their senses and end their obvious attempts to regain some level of control over former Soviet Block nations. At the same time it wouldn't surprise me to see individuals in the US trying to amp up the aggression. I can't be the only one who can see how this could be good, in some ways, for the United States.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Wear your economics on your sleeve... actually your chest.

I know, it can be difficult to get a conversation going about macroeconmic policy. You don't see many people walking up to an attractive stranger at a bar and saying "So, are you a Keynesian or a supply sider?" When you do see people starting off with that question at a bar they almost always leave the bar alone. Let me see if I can give all of you policy wonks a way of saying what you feel without the need to open your mouth, cause sometimes the subtle approach works better.

 To this end I have created a few t-shirts which will announce to the world you place on the economic ladder and your feelings about how the economy is being run without ever having to say a word. I decided to not do any designs which promoted the right wing/supply side way of looking at the world because there are already tons of camouflage shirts emblazoned with American flags and slogans with no basis in fact. But for us left leaning folk who take the time to actually do a bit of reading and know that the economy as a whole can't be compared to the finances of a married couple with 2 kids and a pet goldfish, well the fashion market is kind of limited. Since there might be a demand, I present my supply.

currency shirt
This shirt explains where you are at financially, being that we live in a global market today it explains it in a universally understandable way.

Middle class shirt
With this sexy little number you can show that you have moved up in the world and are no longer completely broke. You just feel like you are completely broke. Those at the top of the financial ladder will tell you that this is because you haven't worked hard enough to take the really big bucks from the government that they deserve because they create jobs.
Jobs shirt
Of course those hard working folks getting tons of subsidies and tax credits aren't actually what creates jobs, demand creates jobs so it seems like the government would want to help out those people at the local grocery or discount store as much as they help out the fat cats. Of course they don't want to help out poor and middle class folk because the wealthy among us have this idea that we don't deserve any better than what we have even though it was our money that paid for what they have. This shirt will help remind them of the facts.
Trickle down shirt
This one just sums it all up. We have been getting trickled on for far too long.

So there you go, click on a link and get you a shirt. You can pick the color of the text, the color of the shirt, and select any one of several styles of shirt. Then go out and wear it proudly cause I want to make changing the world as easy as changing your shirt.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Free Market BS

Last night I was involved in a conversation (to use that term in a very generous way) with an individual who self identified as a Tea Party activist. I had to end the conversation rather abruptly when his anger management issues became too large to ignore, but that's not what really bothered me about what he was saying. At one point in the conversation he stated that the government had no business telling people how to run their businesses and that all government regulation of business should end. I asked him if this meant he supported repealing minimum wage laws, workplace safety laws, and child labor laws. He responded with an answer that you hear all to often from libertarians and the Tea Party. Yes, he said he supported doing away with all of those laws and stated that if, for example, you eliminated child labor laws the free market would correct the problem because people would stop buying products from any company they discovered was using child labor. Obviously this guy, and anyone else who would use this argument, is completely disconnected from reality and should probably seek professional psychiatric help. But I don't want to just insult this person, I want to take a close look at his claims.

First lets take a look at a seemingly innocuous part of his claim. People would stop buying products they discovered were made by a company using child labor. I certainly wish that this was true, and I will get to why I don't think it is in a moment. What really concerns me about this statement is the "discovered" part. When I read this it tells me that this person, and people like him, fully acknowledge that child labor will become a part of the economy if we leave things up to the free market. They also realize that it won't be stopped within any particular company until it is discovered. I want to know just how it will be discovered? If child labor laws are repealed the government would have no interest in inspecting factories for child labor. If they found it they couldn't stop it because there would be no legal reason to stop it. It would be difficult for consumers to discover child labor issues because the general public isn't normally given free reign to wander around a working factory or distribution center. So if we assume child labor will exist until it is discovered, and we know without laws to regulate child labor it could prove to be more difficult to discover, how is it that child labor won't be a problem? Oh yeah, the market will fix it!

Let's venture back into reality for a moment. Libertarians and tea partiers might be able to argue that free market principles are good for the economy (it would be a false argument not supported by facts but that is something for a different article) but they really can't make any sort of a reasonable argument that the free market supports any level of social justice. The free market is about profits and meeting demand and it will meet that demand by any means necessary. One of the primary demands brought by consumers to the market is the demand for lower prices. Let's say you walked into a store and found a pair of pants that you really liked. You liked the color, the way the material feels, and the fit but the pants were priced at $75.00. Instead of buying them you decide to continue shopping and wind up going into a store across the street from where you found those pants. In this store you find a nearly identical pair of pants but from a different brand. The color, feel and fit are all the same but these pants are priced at $40.00. I think it is pretty safe to assume that most people would buy the less expensive pair and be happy to save $35.00. I assume this because while Walmart has thousands of locations across the US Neiman Marcus has less than 100 even if you count all of its outlet locations. Neiman Marcus carries clothing of higher quality than much of the clothing at a Walmart store but it is also considerably more expensive. Consumers in the US like low prices and good value and so Walmart sells vastly more articles of clothing than Neiman Marcus. It is quite possible that both stores may carry products produced overseas with child labor but that isn't normally a big concern with most shoppers, they simply want good value for their money. Even if it is a concern how would they know? I have never seen a shirt or pair of underwear with a label attached to it that said "Made by 8 year olds in Bangledesh!". The reason you don't see a label like this is pretty obvious, the manufacturer knows it would hurt sales and they aren't required by law to say if thier product was made by children. Sure, if business was conducted in a completely transparent way child labor around the world would probably be reduced, but the only way to make things that transparent would be through laws requiring it. Libertarians and tea partiers should see this conundrum but they don't or they choose to ignore it as they do so many other things.

One of the other things that they ignore is history. The first federal law designed to combat child labor in the US was passed in 1916. Problem solved, right? Wrong. In 1918 the law was over turned by the US Supreme Court for being in violation of the Commerce Clause. Surprisingly the case was brought to the court by a parent who wanted his young sons to work in the local coal mine. If a parent will defend child labor how is the market going to stop it? The thing is that people in the US knew that children were working in coal mines and textile mills and other factories but they didn't boycott these companies and cause them to change their practices. No, they just enjoyed the lower prices that came from cheap child labor while the owners of the businesses enjoyed higher profit margins than would have been possible with a better paid, all adult, workforce. Everyone benefitted except the children and since they had no real voice in the market and no laws to protect them they kept getting sent into the coal mines and factories by their parents. Child labor remained common in the US until 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, which was then challenged by a lumber company but who lost their case in the Supreme Court. This law severely limited child labor in the US but failed to eliminate it. Even today child labor is surprisingly common in America, not just in illegal sweat shops but also in perfectly legal forms in agriculture. I'm not talking about a kid working on the family farm under the watchful eye of their parents, no, in the US child labor is used to pick almost a quarter of the food produced in the United States. That's right, a trip to your local grocery store could be supporting child labor right here in the US just like a trip to the shoe store could be supporting child labor in Asia. Laws have greatly reduced the use of child labor in the US even if they haven't eliminated it completely, what has the market done to get rid of child labor? Not much of anything.

The market, free or otherwise, is not all powerful, it is not all knowing, it is not God and it is not capable of controlling the less than savory conditions it actually creates itself. It is only good at creating profits and funneling those up to the few people sitting at the top of the economic ladder. It isn't just child labor though, in China a company called Foxconn produces products for American companies like Apple. A few years ago the media widely reported that workers at Foxconn were poorly treated, forced to live, on site, at the factories, and were committing suicide at an alarming rate. Apple requested studies on the conditions at the factories and demanded changes but the suicides and accidents and poor conditions still continue. The only thing that has changed is that the sale of iPhones, made by Foxconn, have gone up. The market is aware of the problem but continues to support it. How many of you have actually changed your buying habits when it comes to clothing after hearing about the collapse of an unsafe building in Bangladesh used as a clothing factory in 2013 that killed over 1000 workers? Many of the items produced in that factory were sold in the United States but people in America still keep buying clothing produced in sweat shops under horrendous conditions because you can't tell how poorly the workers who made the garment were treated by its label. You can only see the price. The market can't solve these problems because the market creates these problems. It takes an outside force to address these issues and the only outside force capable of doing so is the government.

Adam Smith, a Scottish philosopher, wrote a book called "The Wealth of Nations" in 1776 which laid out the principles for capitalist economics and later for free market theory. While he was suspicious of government intervention in some ways he also realized that the market was made up of human beings who had only their own best interests at heart and who would ignore the good of society in favor of personal gain.

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Yes, even Adam Smith knew that some government regulation would be needed to stop the market from acting against the good of society. Why the father of capitalism and the grand father of free market ideology would find people who should be supporting his every word ignoring some of the basic principles he espoused (he also said that government only exists to protect the rich from the poor so it is really hard to understand why so many of the wealthy are so adamantly opposed to government intervention) is confusing. It is confusing until you realize that nothing the tea partiers or libertarians say about the economy makes any sense or stands up to inspection through a factual or historical lens. They do not follow a political ideology they follow a set of economic religious beliefs and like most religious zealots they will not be swayed. This does not mean that we have to support their goal of sending most of us into some sort of indentured servitude. We can reject their ideals, we can reject their political candidates, we can shine a bright light on their insane vision for the future by not shying away from conversations in which their concepts are promoted. It is said that it is not polite to discuss religion or politics in America, with free marketeers you are talking about one in the same. So it may not be polite, but sometimes you have to be a bit rude in order to get things done. This is something that needs to be done.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

God helps those...

"God helps those who help themselves" is a phrase most of us are familiar with. Many mistakenly believe that it is from the Bible or incorrectly attribute it to Benjamin Franklin, it seems to have actually originated in ancient Greece and through the centuries it has popped up over and over again in a wide variety of places, including the Quran. In America it has been widely accepted by Christians, even lacking a Biblical source, as a theological truth and as a way of incorporating US cultural concepts of independence into Christianity. Other Christians, however, see it as the antithesis to the Bible's message of charity and caring for those in need without giving a thought to the class of the person. So how can Christians be so divided over a simple phrase that originated thousands of years ago in a culture that most Christians would see as debauched and paganistic? Who is it that God helps? Which side gets it right?

I think both sides get it wrong. One side uses the phrase to condemn those who they see as lazy and looking for a hand out, the other side uses the phrase to condemn those who they see as greedy and unwilling to help others. This means they are both forgetting what the phrase actually says. "God helps those who help themselves" is not the same as "God helps those who help themselves and no one else". Of course, from a Biblical perspective, God helps those who help themselves but God also helps those who can't or don't help themselves. Some turn over all of their problems to God first and others turn to God as a last resort, but in both cases God helps. With this phrase, as with everything else, people tend to take what they want to out of it, excluding or dismissing those who take something different from it. Most of the time we can find a way to make any set of words, any situation, any set of facts, fit into our own personal world view. We emphasize what we want to and ignore what we need to and in most cases we fail to see the big picture.

I recently read an article about George HW Bush and how he is receiving a Profiles in Courage award for backtracking on his "no new taxes" pledge when he saw that raising taxes was in the best interest of his country and more important than a campaign pledge. He is being celebrated for doing what was right instead of what was politically beneficial. The article states that his fellow Republicans have looked at this same set of events and decided that what President Bush did wasn't courageous but a political blunder that cost him his reelection and they refuse to make the same mistake. Two different groups looking at the same circumstances and seeing two completely different lessons to be learned. Either way America still faces a huge debt and growing inability to deal with its economic problems.

We have to realize that we are all guilty of seeing only what we want to see. We have to realize that it requires a strong effort to see what the other side sees. We have to realize that we can't be aware of the big picture until we put forth that effort. We have to realize that we can and should learn from those who disagree with us and that doing what is right is more important than being right. If we don't, if we keep following leaders who feel it is more important to rally their base instead of rallying their country we will continue into this downward spiral that all sides seem to agree that we have entered. At least there is one thing we all agree on, maybe we can use that as a starting point to turn things around.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The creationism debate...

This post deals with the creationism debate, both the debate that has been going on for many years over how the Earth and its inhabitants came to be and the debate between Bill Nye the well known engineer and promoter of scientific learning and Ken Ham the founder of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. I have been observing the first debate in the news and by listening to people around me for years and I just watched the first half of the second debate (it is three hours long, sorry, I haven't been able to watch it in its entirety as of yet).

Let's start off with the recent debate in Kentucky. First I will say that, as a debater, I was very impressed with Ken Ham. He didn't come across as a crazed maniac who simply ignores science because of his belief in the Bible. No, he is obviously someone who has done a considerable amount of research looking for scientific mis-steps to try and show that scientists are not trust worthy. His presentation was slick and seemed to present a multitude of facts, his biggest problem though was his inability to see anything other than the facts he wanted to see.

I have not gone through and checked the veracity all of the evidence that Ken Ham presented and so I will assume that all of the research he mentioned, the age testing of rock samples and organic materials, was all true, in other words I will not call him a liar. However I noticed something in his presentation, he constantly presented evidence to say that science is wrong, while the only thing he claimed that was correct was the Bible and the chronology of the Earth's age that was created from a literal reading of the Bible performed by a 17th century Irish bishop by the name of James Ussher. Mr. Ham strongly believes the Biblical account of creation in Genesis and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, but he offers no factual support for either of these beliefs. Instead he falls into a trap of confirmation bias in which he searches out anything that will support his beliefs, or, if he can't find anything to support his beliefs, he looks for evidence that discredits his opponents. This is a good way to prove things to yourself that you already believe and is something that you often see used by politicians and lawyers and preachers and every day people. Of course it means you have to ignore any and all evidence that supports the views of those who disagree with you. When that evidence is overwhelming, say you believe and want to promote that science is a bunch of hooey and yet you find yourself going to doctors and watching youtube videos of the moon landings, then you have to find a way to alter your argument. Mr. Ham did this very effectively by separating science into two camps, "observational science" in which one can see things happening today and "historical science" in which one looks at things in the past. According to Mr. Ham there is no problem with observational science, if you show him that over the past two weeks one species has evolved into another species he will be fine with that. However if you tell him that apes evolved into other species over the past millions of years and at some point into humans, not matter how much evidence you have he will refuse to believe you.

Mr. Ham's arguments can therefore be summed up in this way, if he can see it with his own eyes he will believe it and that the only truth, even when it seems far fetched and is not supported by any other evidence in any way, about the past is the literal word of the Bible. These two ideas give someone who agrees with Mr. Ham all they need to ignore anything they come across that runs askew of their beliefs and they will use these arguments to try and convince those who disagree with them.

Bill Nye's presentation was very different than Mr. Ham's. First off he seemed rather nervous and slightly manic. He jumped from one topic to another without always making it clear how they were related. He seemed to suffer from having a brain full of knowledge and facts and wanting to empty all of this information out on to the audience as quickly as possible. Mr. Nye presented scientific fact after scientific fact that showed the Earth was much older than 6,000 years, he described science's ability to make predictions based on information it had previously found, and he showed the logical inconsistencies in Biblical stories like Noah's ark and the flood and the ways that Mr. Ham described them. All in all though I would have to say that Ken Ham came across as the better presenter of his argument than Bill Nye did, I would also have to say that they both failed and I find it very doubtful that either man changed anyone's mind on this subject.

You see Bill Nye tried to use science to argue with someone who has clearly rejected science, at least "historical science" as he calls it. Ken Ham tried to use science to argue his point when he was dealing with an opponent who was vastly more knowledgeable on the subject. They weren't debating each other as much as they were debating their preconceived notions of each other, which is quite sad.

Personally, I am a Christian but I don't believe the Biblical account of creation or that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. Being a Christian does not prevent me from believing obvious and well supported facts and trusting science doesn't mean that I can't see great truths and important lessons in the Bible, but maybe it helps me see the disconnect between these two men. If I had been on that stage, not that I am qualified as either a scientist or theologian, I would have been arguing Bill Nye's side of things, but I would have done it quite differently. Mr. Ham argued that science was untrustworthy because wood samples that were dated at 45,000 years old had been discovered encased in a layer of rock that was dated at 4.5 million years old and obviously both could not be true. Strangely Bill Nye didn't mention the obvious point that even though these tests had disagreed with each other, and possibly for a very good reason which we might find with further investigation, neither of them said that the samples were less than 6,000 years old. When Mr. Ham argued that "historical science" was a belief system just as religion is Mr. Nye never said that this would mean that at the least science should be as highly regarded as the Bible. Most surprisingly Mr. Nye never based his argument from a faith perspective.

Not only in this debate, but in the large debate over creationism vs. evolution I would have asked Mr. Ham and people like him what they would say to other religious groups, like say the Hindus. The Hindus believe that some of their holy scriptures are millions of years old, not 6,000 years old. They believe that the creation of the Earth and the universe happens over and over again and that sin isn't brought to the world by a snake but instead Lord Vishnu rides on the back of a snake in the vast ocean that covers the Earth each time it is destroyed and before it is reborn. You see it isn't just science that disagrees with Mr. Ham, many of the world's other religions do as well. All he has as evidence in that argument is that he believes the words of the Bible while Hindus believe different sets of religious texts. Mr. Ham has one book to rely on in that argument, a book that he isn't reading it its original languages and that has been translated multiple times quite often with very different results. This is why we shouldn't teach creationism in our schools, this isn't just a religion vs. science debate, this is also a religion vs. religion debate. Science, historical science, to be exact has discovered the locations of several sites mentioned in the Bible, does Mr. Ham reject those discoveries? Yes, scientists make mistakes from time to time but the beauty of science is that the results of one study are reviewed and compared to the results of other studies to build up a body of evidence. If 500 scientists all find the same answer to a question even though they have used varying methods to arrive at this answer and 10 scientists find an opposing answer science doesn't default to that opposing answer because that would be ridiculous. Now if evidence starts to mount that supports that opposing answer then science will, and has, start to take another look at that particular question, but Mr. Ham only has a book that disagrees with the texts used by many other religions. I would ask him how he would respond to this? Religion and science are not opposed to each other unless we make them opposed to each other. The world has seen its share of both false religions and bad science. As a Christian I believe that we have the powerful minds that we have so that we can use them to understand our world and each other better, the rejection of science by people like Mr. Ham is to me, not only silly, but it is also not very Christian. Why would he want to see people not use one of the most powerful gifts God has given them? More importantly, as an obviously very intelligent man, why is Ken Ham not making better use of his own mind?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

It's my turn to shoot... with a camera.

So those of you who read my blog know that I do a little writing, but I also enjoy doing a bit of photography from time to time. Since I am now living in the Netherlands and I am constantly surrounded by new things to look at photography has been occupying a lot of my time recently. Even when I returned to the US for a few weeks recently I found that I was seeing familiar things in new ways. So I have decided to set up a flickr account and now have a photostream at where I will be posting most of my photos. I also have a Tumblr account (what is it with the obvious discrimination against the letter "e" in these web site names?) which you can see at Most of the photos on these two sites are duplicates right now, though not all, but I plan on using them in different ways and posting different pictures to each as time goes on.

I tend to mainly shoot with film instead of digital, mainly because I can't afford a good digital camera set-up right now, but also because I just like the way film looks and I enjoy the rather fiddly nature of using a fully manual film camera. Plus there is that feeling of being a kid on Christmas morning when you are handed that envelope of freshly printed photos and you can't be 100% certain of what you are going to see until you open it. Digital takes that level of fun out of photography, but it sure is cheaper than getting film processed these days. If you have an old film camera lying around somewhere you should dig it out. Yes, you can still get film, Kodak, Fuji, Afga, Ilford and several other companies are still making a reasonably wide variety of film, companies have even released old formats of film like 110 and instant film for old Polaroid cameras. Plus you don't give up anything by using film. You can still digitally alter the images, just scan the negatives or prints (or get the developer to do this for you and put them on a disk) and then run them through Photoshop or GIMP. This is what I do and it works out really well.

So click on the links and check them out, I want to know what you think of my photos!