Saturday, February 23, 2013

Navigating Irrationality

The above illustration, from M. C. Escher, is a good illustration of the twisted nonsense of so much of the American right-wing's discussion about guns.  I would be remiss in this discussion if I didn't note what may well be the single stupidest comment - revealing a level both of ignorance and reality that is astounding - I have come across (and considering the person in question, that is really saying something).  In a discussion about gun laws, a person noted the not unimportant Supreme Court case DC v Heller, the case that noted the Second Amendment seemed to extend the right to bear arms to individuals qua individuals, yet also was clear that right was neither absolute nor outside the state's legitimate interest to regulate.  The response to this important citation?  Ahem:
I've seen this before. What I haven't seen is Scalia's support for this opinion. He seems to going completely on precedent, but upon what was that precedent founded originally? He is an originalist, but I am unaware of anything from the founders that would support

"It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose"

Says who other than the opinion of other justices? To insist we have an inalienable right to defend ourselves and then turn around and presume to dictate how we can do that doesn't make any sense. I know for you own sake you are content to lazily default to SCOTUS opinion as if it is God's Word written in stone, but I doubt that in this case it truly matches what the founders had in mind.

As to the last line, what is in common use is what is used by the military. If they are bearing automatic weapons, then we are to have that same weapon for ourselves. Also, what constitutes an "unusual weapon" is a rather subjective measure upon which agreement would be difficult. 
Quite apart from the tortured prose, I'm astounded by the comment author's waving away the simple reality that the entire discussion he's having revolves around gun laws, specifically how Heller impacts what and how far the state can regulate gun sales to individuals and gun ownership by individuals.  The law, apparently, is irrelevant in at least one person's world when discussing, you know, law.

Another level of crazy, and one surely to make the rounds, I discovered when reading this post at Whiskey Fire. Now, Jim Hoft has been awarded "Stupidest Man On The Internet" and for very good reasons.  His latest call to arms concerns the Department of Veterans Affairs notifying veterans deemed mentally and/or physically incompetent that they will no longer have access to firearms.  He enlists the help of another right-winger whose caps-lock gets stuck a lot, "Michael Connelly, J.D.", a self-described "Constitutional Attorney", who breathlessly titles his screeching headline, DISARMING AMERICA'S HEROES.

Thers at Whiskey Fire makes the unsurprising point that this is part of an entire program the DVA has set up, with all good intentions, to deal with the tens of thousands of walking wounded our wars of choice have left us.  Thers also makes the point this system, repeating that it is well-intentioned, is severely broken.  He isn't the only one who says it; the DVA knows it and is trying to fix it.

Thers also notes that this doesn't involve only firearm ownership; it has to do with removing any legal and fiduciary rights and responsibilities from those deemed by the DVA mentally and physically incompetent.  Not only can't these folks own guns; transfer of their financial well-being is often transferred to others, resulting in well-documented fraud and abuse going back before the turn of the millennium.

The system needs to be changed.  The system should be changed.

All the same, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, am I the only one who remembers that there was mention made of keeping guns out of the hands of those who have a history of mental illness?  Aren't there those who, while perhaps through no fault of their own, have been exposed to situations resulting in extreme cases of Post-Traumatic Stress that might well lead them to pose a danger to themselves and others?  Is it possible this is a situation both the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs has been trying to get people talking about for a while?  Why, yes!  Yes it is.

Wasn't a highly decorated member of the United States military recently murdered by a veteran with severe PTSD?  Why, yes!  Yes he was!

Haven't we been hearing as nauseum that we need all those guns of ours to protect us from . . . THE UNITED STATES MILITARY THAT MIGHT BE ORDERED TO ROUND US UP AND TAKE AWAY OUR FREEDOMS?!?  Why, yes.

Yes, we have.

Sitting around and calling veterans "heroes" out one side of one's mouth, while simultaneously instilling fear of these same people as potential agents of tyranny against whom all real patriotic Americans should arm themselves is not just the height of hypocrisy.  It is insulting and demeaning.

Not to mention just plain stupid.

Look, we have all sorts of serious problems.  Some of those problems include wars of choice that have left tens of thousands of young Americans wounded in ways that aren't visible to the naked eye, yet every bit as debilitating as having lost a limb.  The military has made huge strides over the past decade of war in dealing with and treating the mental wounds from exposure to extreme combat situations, for which they should be applauded.  Part of that effort includes recognizing that sometimes, some of these individuals, while definitely in need of care, also pose a very real, very grave danger to themselves and others.  Restricting their access to deadly weapons, most especially firearms with which they would be familiar and well trained, is an important part of protecting them and others around them.

In the real world, including the world in which we've been talking about restricting access to firearms to people with diagnosed mental illnesses (as ridiculous, insulting, and truncated as that discussion has been over the past couple months), this is important stuff.  It is necessary.

For people who routinely navigate the Escher-like recesses of their own minds, however, all these contradictions and nonsense can only mean the camel's nose of gun-grabbing is already in the tent of American freedom.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Here's What's Not Happening (UPDATE)

Since Christmas, I've been doing a lot of reading at Wonkette and alicublog, two sites that are dedicated to pointing and laughing at some of the whackier things on the American right.  The trouble is, too much immersion in this kind of thing can lead a reader to despair for the United States.  Yet another story about how some blogger or writer on the right is proposing a conspiracy theory about Benghazi or Newtown or Pres. Obama skeet shooting and you begin to wonder if it's possible for the United States to survive.

Add to this a recent foray to the Fox News website fore the first time - it was for reasons that had nothing to do with blogging, suffice it to say - and I realized it isn't just fringe places like American Thinker or World Net Daily.  Right there on Fox are stories that, put together like a jigsaw puzzle, really do create an alternative America.  It isn't one that exists by any stretch of the imagination; all the same, sad to say, it is the picture that millions of Americans accept because it is their source for news about our country and our world.

So, in a kind of public service, here are some things that just aren't happening:

  • No one from any government agency is planning on taking anyone's guns.  No one from Congress or the Executive is planning on asking for permission to take anyone's guns.  No one from Congress or the Executive is even thinking about planning on asking for permission to take anyone's guns.  In fact, Pres. Obama signed two laws during his first term that expanded gun rights.
  • The government has not and will not take over health care, or the health insurance industry.
  • Government spending, as a percentage of GDP, is at its lowest point since the Eisenhower Administration.  Since taking office, even taking the stimulus package in to account, the Obama Administration has cut federal spending by over $1 trillion in four years.
  • Tax rates, both on individuals and corporations, are lower now than any other OECD nation; tax collections are at their lowest levels, as a percentage of economic activity, than at any time since the Great Depression.
  • Our borders are not open, and people are not rushing across them at record rates.  On the contrary, since taking office, Pres. Obama has strengthened border security, increased the number of armed border patrol agents, and the number of people seized and deported is greater during the years Obama has been in office than all previous Administration's combined.
  • Recent catastrophic weather events - the on-going drought through the middle part of the country; Hurricane Sandy; the massive noreaster recently on the East Coast; this past summer's heat wave across Russia - all have direct links to global warming.  Even the recent series of cold snaps across the middle part of the United States, followed by a few days of moderate weather, then back to bitter cold temperatures, are the result of warming oceans as well as warming temperatures in the lower atmosphere effecting change in the wind patterns in the stratosphere.  Addressing climate change is something we should have been doing for 10 - 15 years.  We cannot wait, nor can we avoid many other results that are already in the pipeline, as it were.  We can, however, act to prevent it from being a far worse problem over a far longer period of time.
This is the real world.

You're welcome.

UPDATE:  It isn't just dorks on the internet, acting like mother birds and regurgitating whatever they eat at right-wing news sites. raised the question whether Chuck Hagel had ever spoken to a group called "Friends of Hamas", but it turns out it came from an over-the-top comment made by NY Times columnist Tom Friedman New York Daily News reporter Dan Friedman.  Hagel may not get the nod as Secretary of Defense because the writers at Big Dead Breitbart aren't smart enough to take ten seconds to use the internet.

Then, there's the news today, as Alan mentions in comment, that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell actually wasted time and money after a constituent took an Onion article seriously.

Do these people need cue cards to help them breathe?

UPDATE II: Just when you think the event-horizon of stupid has been reached, you stumble across this:
In a typical fair and balanced panel, Fox News warned on Wednesday that Al Jazeera is set to “infiltrate” the United States amid dire warnings about “sleeper cells” in the Muslim suburbs of Detroit.
Host Megan Kelly began a segment about Al Jazeera’s expansion into the American television market by raising questions about the network’s “real anti-American bias.” Contributor Lisa Daftari agreed, veering into blatant Islamophobic fear-mongering in the process:
 DAFTARI: The point is they want to differentiate themselves from their sister network, but at the same time, it’s the same thing. They’re having the same type of coverage. They’re apparently expanding to eight cities, including Detroit, Michigan. Detroit, Michigan is a large ex-pat community of Muslim-Americans and sleeper cells have been detected. You can Google this, you can find out all this information. So if you’re trying to set yourself apart the Qatari petro-dollars are backing this, you’re still developing in this area where the sleeper cells have been detected. They’re going to have do do much more to prove to me that they’re different from their sister network.
There are so many wonderful and strange and scary things in the world.  And Fox News viewers know about none of them because of garbage like this.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Drawing Out

A big emotional and logistical hassle of our impending move to a different city is the fact that our children will be switching school systems.  Again.  Our older daughter will be finishing her sophomore year in high school, our younger sixth grade.  Clearly, for the high schooler, there is much more angst and emotion, although this shouldn't be thought to discount our younger daughter's hurt at leaving her friends and a school where she's been both happy and successful.

Add to this that the public schools in the city of Rockford aren't the best, as well as being quite large, and the result is this is the single most important issue facing us.  Indeed, it was the first matter Lisa and I discussed even before we talked about whether or not to accept the appointment or not.  Of course, not accepting the appointment would have meant trouble for her; on the other hand, I know Lisa would have accepted it for the sake of our children.

Before we went much further down the way of discussing the matter itself, Lisa mentioned the possibility of private schools.  In fact, not far from where we shall be living is the campus of Rockford Christian Schools, a non-denominational K-12 school that, while expensive, won't be outside our ability to afford.  Our older daughter, in particular, is interested in music and theater, so we checked out what the school offered for someone like her, and were pleasantly surprised to find all sorts of programs, many of them similar to those at her current, public, high school.

At the same time, we thought it important to check out the public schools the girls might attend.  The high school for our area of the city has a student body of 2,000, with a faculty/staff of 200.  That's not a pleasing ratio, at least for me.  At the same time, the school offers music and theater courses, too, providing opportunities for students to explore these particular art forms.

So, Lisa and I decided the best thing to do is offer the girls a choice.  When we started talking about this matter when we let them know about the move, we had them take a look at the websites for the schools.  Of course, there are other private schools in Rockford - a Lutheran High School and a Catholic High School as we well as the non-denominational "Christian" school -and we may yet take a look at them, too.  All the same, our younger daughter seems willing to go the private school route.

One thing that got me thinking was the fact that, while unaffiliated with any denomination, the school does include religious instruction, including required courses in Bible reading and study.  Obviously, I don't care much about that one way or another; at the same time, I did wonder whether the schools would offer real science classes or teach "creationism" or "intelligent design".  As soon as I thought about it, though, I realized I couldn't care less.  If the girls want a real science education and the school doesn't provide it, that's something they can get at home.  The far smaller student body - each class, K-12, has about 100 students in it - combined with a Christian atmosphere, are all advantages; also, being a private school, the other students will be far more accommodating to new students than an enormous public school, filled with kids who have already drawn the social lines firmly and clearly.  All in all, I would be much happier if our older daughter chose to go to Rockford Christian, but we are determined to honor her choice.

Education literally means "to draw out" our "draw up".  Rather than pound a lot of facts in empty skulls, the whole point is to get people to use the tools education offers them to be the best persons they can be.  I can't think of a better, more healthy, more accommodating atmosphere than a Christian school for two girls who will be making a big transition in life, all the while still needing to learn and grow.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Rockfordphiles

I've been pretty much absent the past couple weeks because something big has been brewing on the homefront.  It's something I couldn't talk about, except in hushed whispers with my wife.  The news was made public yesterday, so now I feel a bit more relaxed about sharing it.

My wife is being appointed Superintendent of the Rockford District of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Like all appointment changes, this is bittersweet.  We've only been here at Cornerstone UMC for three years, very short to say the least.  As with all the churches Lisa has served, we have all come to know and love the people of Cornerstone; they are our church family, people with whom we worship and learn and grow in faith.

At the same time, I am, as usual, excited at the thought of something new for us as a family; a new challenge, with tremendous responsibility, for Lisa; something new, yet familiar (we lived in the Rockford metro area for six years, so we are returning, in a sense, to a place we know well), that will offer all of us challenges and opportunities.

The office of District Superintendent is one of those weird things that's like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin: It just growed.  Once upon a time, many if not most of the circuit riders serving small Methodist congregations were local pastors, not "ordained" yet still called to serve.  In order that order and discipline (a favorite word for we Methodists, you know), a system of presiding elders was created.  These were persons who went through seminary, were ordained, and served not so much as managers or overseers as much as senior clergy, arriving at these small churches to consecrate the elements for communion, to perform the sacrament of baptism, and to perform other duties where they might see a need.

Over the years and decades, as the Methodist clergy became both better educated and more professional, the role of the presiding elder began subtle shifts and changes.  While there is a long section of the Book of Discipline on the Superintendency, the best way for non-United Methodist folks to think about the office is this: Middle Management.

Our is a connectional system; that means that each and every local church is linked to all the others.  These linkages spread out to embrace the whole of the denomination.  At the same time, for many local churches, these links can seem less tangible and concrete, the relationships not only among United Methodists, but even with the Annual Conference of which that church is a part can seem more theoretical than actual.  For many people, the District Superintendent is an embodiment of the connection, the personification of the links among United Methodists, and more specifically from the local church to the Annual Conference.

The District Superintendent has many responsibilities; one thing, however, is missing.  They do not serve a congregation.  For the first time in 19 years of ministry, Lisa will not be working through a sermon each week; she won't be presiding at funerals and weddings; she won't be baptizing or confirming or serving the Lord's Supper with a congregation.  These have been and will continue to be important, vital parts not so much of her "job", but her identity.  I know she is struggling with how that will fit with her new tasks.

So, the packing begins.  As does the whole "saying goodbye" part, with which there is, of course, also a "say hello", although in this case it will be strange.  I would ask that Lisa be remembered in your thoughts as she moves in to this odd and wonderful new ministry opportunity.  I would ask prayers for our family, particularly our children, who are making a move none of us expected, yet dealing with all the emotional back-and-forth and up-and-down that comes with moving.  Finally, a prayer for the United Methodist churches of the Rockford District, whom I believe Lisa will serve with her usual combination of love and deep, abiding faith; their clergy, for whom Lisa will be "the boss", but always one whose first concern is the health of their ministry; and finally a prayer that the mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church - "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" - will live on through the Spirit that gave and gives it life, and that the clergy and members of the Rockford District will come to see and hear in Lisa yet another embodiment of that same Spirit.

And, boy, am I glad I can finally talk about all this!

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