Category Archives: politics

Free as in Speech

I hold Westboro Baptist Church in the greatest contempt. They are hateful, graceless, and they shame the name of Christ. That said, I applaud today’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld their right to speech, even hateful speech.

The debate over the 1st amendment often gets mired in detours over sexual content and entertainment, over content distributors editing TV and films to increase market share to cries of “censorship” from the content creators.

It’s easy to forget that the original intent of the 1st Amendment was to protect political speech, and especially political speech that is unpopular and confrontational, even hateful. It is a shield that protects not only the speaker, but that protects society from a barren marketplace of ideas, where the monopoly of populism silences all other voices. Whatever else it is, the actions of Westboro are political, ideological expression. They are exactly the kind of speech that the 1st Amendment was written to protect.

You may not like the kind of speech that Westboro engages in – I don’t know anyone who does. Even so, we should be proud of a legal and political system that protects their right to freely speak.

And, once we have patted ourselves on the back, we should use every other means possible to shout them down. We should not use the law to silence public speech, but we should absolutely use public speech to shout down horrible ideas.

The End of Men

The Atlantic has an article out on the decline of men in society. The premise is that, in the new economy, traditionally male traits like competitiveness, linear thinking, and being violent brutes are no longer coveted or profitable. Traditional female traits like getting along with others, sitting still and paying attention, and being pretty make women the bestest.

I mean, they use fancier language than that, but I think I captured the gist of it. From the article:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?

As I’ve said before, I am deeply concerned by how society treats young boys. I am concerned that the values and logistics of social learning environments make young boys into early failures, and young girls in early successes. Time after time we see how critical the first few years of education are in determining how children think about themselves and their ability to achieve academically. Students who see themselves as failures in 1st grade may occasionally learn to shine later on, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, according to The Atlantic, the idea that boys are only good boys if they act like girls has percolated up through the educational system into the larger society. The old stereotype that women had to act like men to succeed in business has been turned upside down.

Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize … and the moral necessity of war?


Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, and did it with a rather unusual defense of just war. Following is an excerpt:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak –nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

The rest of the speech is online here (and a billion other places). I thought it was a very astute distinction between the role of social critic (MLK, Ghandi, Bobby) and the moral obligations of a head of state.


The Long, Meaningless Shadow of the 60′s

From Huffington Post:

It’s standard operating procedure, practically a rite of passage, for each new generation to fiercely rebel against the one that preceded it … But for anyone unlucky enough to follow those who came of age in the 1960s, defiance to some extent has felt all but impossible. This is because, quite frankly, the 60s marked a high point in the evolution of American society as a whole and set an inapproachable standard across so many aspects of our culture — music, art, political activism, even the act of defiance itself — and it did this despite being one of the most turbulent periods in our nation’s history.

And how do we know this?

Because for 40-some-odd years, the ****ing Baby Boomers have never stopped reminding us.

The article has lots of swears, but oh my lord, it’s awesome. Go read it here.

Obama on Africa

My cousin in Kenya can’t get a job without paying a bribe, and that’s not the fault of the G8. And when companies can’t operate without paying, in some parts of Africa, without paying the 25 percent fee off the top in bribes, that’s not colonialism.”

Obama talk about Africa’s endemic problem with corrupt leadership. We just spent a week with Gretchen’s brother, who lives and teaches in Tanzania, and after hearing his stories, this speech comes like a breath of fresh air.

Iran erupts

Giving people the illusion of democracy is always a dangerous thing. It turns out they come to expect their voice to be heard.

Ahmadinejad declared himself the victor in yesterday’s Iranian elections, and the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (who gets to decide which things are ‘islamic’ and which are not, and therefore actually runs things) gave his nod. Pre-election polling showed that the challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would win by a wide margin, as much as 2-to-1 in some estimates.

The Iranian people are justifiably upset, and have taken to the streets in riot and protest.

If I were Ahmadinejad, I would be terrified right now. He has the guns and the media, but the people seem to have found their voice.

The illusion of democracy is a dangerous thing.

updated 6/14, 1:23 am

On Unions

On Unions

I am a member of two labor unions: The Association of Pleasanton Teachers and the American Federation of Musicians Local 6 (I play trombone).  In the last few months, I have been synthesizing some of my experiences where I have observed the importance of unions, and also their potential negative side effects.  I would love to hear what my friends and colleagues have to say about some of my jumbled thoughts.

Musicians’ Union

It seems that every time I do a non-union gig, something weird or unusual happens.  Something as little as making announcements during my warm-up time, being asked to show up and hour early (without overtime) before a concert for some last-minute rehearsal (I said no), or being told the wrong start time, and consequently staying at a church service for an hour after the stated end time.  (I stayed, and received no extra compensation for my time.)

All of these stories come to mind when I agreed to play for free at the church I attend with  my family this Easter.  When I said yes to my church, I felt like  tried to check my “union” attitude at the door and wanted to serve Christ’s church however I was needed.  Then I received the first e-mail about rehearsal times.  4 hour rehearsal on Tuesday, 2 1/2 hour rehearsal on Saturday, call time an hour before the 8:00 first service.  My part in all of this consisted of playing five 3-4 minute long tunes, about 20 minutes of music total.  My union sensibilities crept back into my mind.  Much of the rehearsal time was spent with the vocalists working out parts around the piano.  My thoughts were 3 fold:

1) If I were being paid and hourly rate, they would have had me come 2 hours later during the 4 hour rehearsal, and rehearsed the vocal stuff without me.

2) There are many people in the church who donate much more of their time and expertise than I do, and that humbles me.  We are currently without a music pastor, and many lay musicians are maintaining the high quality of our program.

3) I am glad I brought a good book to read.  (I am an orchestral bass trombone player, I know how to come prepared!)

On Sunday, I am embarrassed to say, I arrived a couple of minutes after the 7 AM call time.  No need to worry, as rehearsal as far from commencing.  the first thing that was rehearsed, at 7:20 once all forty musicians were in place, was a vocal solo accompanied by a single keyboard.  This went on for about 10 minutes or so.  After 7:30, the whole ensemble did a sound check for a couple of minutes.

In contrast, when I arrive at a union gig, it almost always starts and ends on time.  Announcements are made after the clock has begun.  They are brief.  On the rare occasion that service goes overtime, I (and everyone else) get compensated.  Our time is given a great deal of respect.

Teachers’ Union

This brings me to my membership in the teachers’ union.  In the 1980s the teachers in Pleasanton went on strike to demand more respect of their time, their professionalism and of course, to demand more money.  Teachers are constantly being asked to do things that are not in their contracts.  Much like the requests made of me at a non-union gig, teachers are asked sometimes to go on overnight field trips, spend non-paid hours filling out detailed report cards, bring home essays to correct, etc.  In this context, I bring up that Pleasanton teachers were recently asked to work 2 fewer days and take an equivalent pay cut for the upcoming school year.  For teachers who had gone on strike to gain the pay, benefits and respect that we current teachers enjoy, this was  a tough pill to swallow.  The pay cut would preserve programs for students, and jobs for our fellow union members.  How responsible for providing programs to students are teachers?  Are we entirely responsible, and should we carry a burden for a large chunk of the budget cuts through a cut in salary?  (We would be providing a tremendous benefit to the community at no additional cost to the community.)  Are we somewhat responsible or not at all?  I found myself solidly on the side of “take the small pay cut for the good of our students and the teachers that were given lay-off notices (pink slips) for next year”.  I had trouble understanding why any teacher would be again saving programs within our district.

The Connection

I had a better understanding as to how some of my teaching colleagues could vote against taking a pay cut to preserve programs after this recent Easter.  Since I was not being compensated for my time, it was easy for those in charge not to use it efficiently.  If I don’t say to my church, “You can’t do that again next year, or I am not playing,” then they have no incentive to be more time efficient.

Similarly, if teachers simply say, “Don’t cut programs!  Take some of my money!” this will automatically become the first choice for fixing budget problems.  Other solutions will be skipped and avoided.  It was remarkable to me when a young pink-slipped teacher voted NO to this pay cut, when he of all people had something to gain (the likelihood of his job).

I have been bouncing back and forth on these ideas.  If you carry the “no cuts for teachers ever” idea too far, you can end up hurting students by allowing programs to be cut and newer teachers to be laid off.  If you offer and inch in pay cuts today, you might be asked for a mile tomorrow.  I am trying to find a balance between these opposing concepts.

Where We Are Now

The teachers in Pleasanton agreed to forego 2 days worth of salary and we will have a 2 day longer Summer… IF the communty matches our efforts.  We traded less money for more time (furlough).  The caveat is that the community has to come through as well, and a parcel (land) tax that will be put to the voters in Pleasanton on June 2 has to pass for the teacher 2-day furlough to occur.  I like this approach because it ensures that everyone in the community will sacrifice, not just the homeowners and not just the educators.

ProTip: How to Not Be A Racist

Today’s protip is brought to you by a guy wearing $200 designer jeans and a hipster trucker cap:

In the Home Depot parking lot, the day laborers will come up to you and offer to work. Don’t just walk up to the first Mexican you see and ask him to come pour some concrete. Especially if that guy is holding two cans of paint and a receipt.


Two very different news stories, same event. See if you can spot which one is state funded based on their opening sentences:

Tibetans and their supporters rallied across the Asia-Pacific region on Tuesday demanding an end to Chinese rule in their homeland on the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama being forced into exile.
(from here)


On March 10, 1959, the Dalai Lama and his supporters started an armed rebellion in a desperate attempt to preserve Tibet’s feudal serfdom and split the region from China.
(from here)

President Potty Mouth

So, swears are funny, right? Of course! And swears are more funny the more dignified the person is who is swearing, right? Well, obviously. Zack swearing = funny. My mother-in-law swearing = hilarious (or terrifying, depending on the context).

So what would be the funniest of all possible swears ever? The President of the United States, dropping f-bombs and the N-word all up in the hizzy! What’s that you say? You’d like to hear such a thing? Well, scoot on over to April Winchell’s site, and take a listen. I would give the preemptive NSFW warning, but that’s kind of the point, right?

Now, I give you all exactly 4 days, and then I expect to hear some phat jam remixes going on up in here!

What Africa Needs Now

An atheist ex-pat from Malawi writes about how important Evangelical missionaries are to the future of Africa. Not just the work they do, but what they believe. I read it from a position of ignorance, but I hope that he is right. Looking forward to discussing this with my brother-in-law Scott, a missionary in Tanzania.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

Read the rest of the article here.

I know some the folks who hang out here have some unique insight into this issue, and I’d love to hear it.

10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

And Mary danced before the Lord. Hands raised, head thrown back, spinning with the joy of the young, an innocent girl in the presence of a Holy God. And Mary sang.

His mercy extends to those who fear him
from generation to generation
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts
he has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones.

empty-throneThe last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The humble will rejoice. The proud will be brought low. We celebrate Christmas as the advent of peace and hope – but also as the emphatic statement of God’s intent to upend the established order. The Kingdom of God brings down rulers from their thrones. It raises up the humble. It gives voice to the voiceless, and makes a mockery of those who cling too tightly to this world.

When we read the Christmas story, perhaps we should pay more attention to the role of Herod. Christmas is the great subversion of Herod’s kingdom, and those who, like Herod, abuse their power. “Peace on Earth” is a rallying cry – peace is coming, and it will come on the backs of those who love violence and celebrate fear. For them, Christmas is the first rumblings of the coming revolution, the beginning of God’s culminating restoration and remaking.

Peace on Earth. But fear and trembling for those who love their thrones.

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1

A Growing Sense of Impending Doom

I had an odd sensation today, sitting in a meeting, talking about how our university is hunkering down for the ongoing financial crisis. Hiring freeze, budget reductions, program cuts, firing the masseuse in the faculty day-spa, that sort of thing.

My thoughts on the economic crisis have been the thoughts of someone mostly isolated from its effects. We don’t own a home. We don’t have a crazy mortgage. Most of our money is in a good old-fashioned savings account from ING, earning a very respectible 3%. Where we are invested in the market, it’s in stocks and funds that are positioned against the market, so when the dips happen, we are protected.

More than that, I find myself employed in jobs that are not likely to be impacted by the economy. When times get bad, and when people are in crisis or transition, they often look to long-forgotten childhood faith, to the hope and community it provides. When people are laid off, some of them choose to go back to school to complete unfinished degrees, to explore new careers, or to advance in their field. I feel fortunate that I’m not out hustling a car lot, or managing a retail store, or trying to run a company these days.

All of this taken together means that most of my thoughts about the economy are the thoughts of a slightly smug, self-righteous and disinterested observer.

Something changed today though. I’ve had a growing sense of impending doom. The US markets dropped almost 9% today, giving back all of the irrational exuberence it exhibited over Thanksgiving. The Asian markets followed suit, down almost 8% and still falling, and investors are already hedging on a European tumble when those markets begin to trade in the next few minutes.

Banks have stopped making loans. Housing prices are tumbling. New cars are piling up at the Port of Long Beach and Port Hueneme, with no room to put them on the car lots. Unemployment is up. The Fed has decided to buy up bank holdings in car loans, student loans, and small business loans using money that they simply … created.

Today, for the first time, I started to think about how bad things might actually get. I’ve already seen armed guards blocking the doors to a failing bank, when Indy Mac went under. I wonder if I might have to stand outside my bank, pounding on the door to get our savings out. I wonder how many banks have to fail before the Fed has to start printing money to meet its FDIC obligations, and the dollar loses value so fast we have to push a wheelbarrow full of cash to the market to buy food. I wonder if I might find myself standing in a bread line sometime in the next few years.

I wonder if things will get so bad that I look back on cell phones as a frivolous luxury, and regret every dollar I ever wasted at a Starbucks.

I look at everything now through the lens of being a father, and I know there’s a long list of things I would endure on my kids’ behalf. My dignity is in seeing them fed and clothed, warm and safe, and whatever I have to do to make that happen borrows it’s dignity from their well-being.

That said, I wonder if we will look back on this year with longing, and thing, “We didn’t know how good we had it. I wish we had known it would get this bad.” And this feeling keeps growing.

Ron Paul on Where the Republicans Went Wrong

CNN has gotten over her post-coital election blush, and is now starting to delve into the process stories. One of the questions many people are asking is, “Where does the Republican Party go from here?” Nobody is answering that question better than my man, Ron Paul.

In the rise and fall of the recent Republican reign of power these past decades, the goal of the party had grown to be only that of gaining and maintaining power — with total sacrifice of the original Republican belief in shrinking the size of government.

Read the rest here.