Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Courageous Conservative?

Yesterday was the Iowa Caucuses and Ted Cruz won the Republican nod.  In his speech, he referred
to a win for courageous conservatives all across the nation and implied that he is the last best hope for true conservatives.  I guess I see where some of his support comes from as he massages the fears of folk who feel as if "their country" is melting away or already has.

I don't like him and would never vote for him under any circumstances... but for those who are considering him, let me make a few observations.

Ted Cruz is not a conservative.  The root of the word comes from "conserve."  There is nothing that Ted Cruz wants to conserve.  He has shown again and again that he does not believe in government (except when it interferes in individuals' lives around the "hot" sins he rails against) and his sole agenda is to destroy not conserve.  The values upon which this nation was founded seem to hold little attraction to him - equal justice for all, opportunity for all, the right to have the government stay out of one's personal life, true freedom of religion, etc. etc.

He is no brand of Christian that I recognize as following Jesus.  He comes from a strain called dominionism where "the Church" is called to take over the institutions of society and establish what can only be seen as the Christian equivalent of the radical Muslim vision of the Caliphate.  The movement (and Ted Cruz) obviously has either not read or not understood John 18:36 "Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.'"  While Ted Cruz has been careful not to say these kinds of things directly, his father is a prominent preacher of this theology and a number of other prominent dominionist preachers have said that God is advancing Ted Cruz as part of the plan to take over the seven mountains of society.  Terry Gross has a wonderful interview regarding this brand of theology.

While Ted Cruz is certainly not a traditional political insider... he is Princeton and Harvard educated.  His wife is a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  His career includes stints on the Federal Trade Commission, as an assistant deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice, Solicitor General of the state of Texas, and of course, the junior senator from Texas.  You can't get much closer to the center of power than that.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Insurrectionists? Terrorists? in Oregon

I have to admit that I have really mixed feelings about the mess in South Eastern Oregon... My first reaction was that if a group of heavily armed black folk took over a government building, we'd have the National Guard with armored personnel carriers and there would be blood shed.  If it was a group of unarmed Muslims, even if the group was primarily women and children, we'd have the same reaction. 

And that is exactly what the folk who took the building want.  They have said they want the public lands to be returned to local control - i.e. they want to be able to use public lands for their benefit at no cost and with no restrictions and they'll stay there "as long as it takes."  As long as what takes?  Do they really believe that federal land use policies will be changed because a group of somewhere between 20 and 150 heavily armed idiots are sitting in a building way out in the middle of nowhere?  No, the "what" they're waiting for is for someone at the federal level to get impatient and come in with guns blazing so they can be martyrs for their cause (sound anything like the fundamentalists of Da'esh?).

I have to admit that my gut first said that the government should give them what they want.  Treat them the same way a group of black men or Muslims would be treated.  Responses that I routinely condemn by the way...  No... it seem to me that the government is responding in a reasonable way so far in avoiding violence. 

So what do I think they should do from here?  First, this group should be defined officially as terrorists.  That is what they are.  They are using violence and the fear of violence to influence political outcomes.  They are clearly seeing themselves as fighting against the federal government as they embrace that crazy reading of the 2nd Amendment that says the reason we have guns is so we can fight against a tyrannical federal government.  "Tyrannical" means whenever the federal government does something they don't like.  Their intent is to use violence in order to get their way.

Then, all power should be cut off and a perimeter set up around them to keep anything - food, water, information, whatever - from going in or out.  Then wait.  If some go out to hunt, arrest them, and try them for terrorism.  They say they'll stay as long as it takes... let them.  Arrest them as it becomes possible.  Continually offer a non-violent resolution which results in their arrest.  If they begin a violent confrontation, do the best possible to keep it from escalating but do not allow them out except as prisoners.

At the same time, it does seem that our federal government has taken a hands off approach to right wing insurrectionist groups.  They cannot be allowed to flout the law without serious consequences.  Armed insurrection while threatening to kill law enforcement and military personnel must result in significant prison terms.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Islam and the Power of the Press

We have a small Muslim community in Santa Barbara.  There is a student organization at the University of Santa Barbara and a single mosque that currently does weekly prayers at the Goleta Community Center.  They've been trying to build a proper mosque for about 10 years... so goes building in this area of California compounded by the fact that it is a mosque...

It is a wonderful community of people.  Because it is the only mosque and the community is relatively small, Shia, Sunni, and any other brand of Muslim worship together.  They are comprised of folk from very conservative countries like Saudi Arabia all the way to folk from more "western" cultures like Bosnia, immigrants, students, professors, and folk whose families have been US citizens for generations.  That mix certainly has its tensions, but in large degree they work it out.  Folk from the mosque have also been very involved in the larger interfaith community, building strong relationships with Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus.  They are both appreciative of and advocates for what more than one of them has called the "genius of America" - freedom of religion.  They have also clearly condemned religious violence and spoken strongly against acts of terrorism.

When I think of Muslims, it is these folk who come to mind.  When I read statements like, "Why aren't moderate Muslims speaking out?" I shake my head and want to point to my friends. 

About a year ago, Muslims in Great Britain have begun a campaign on the web #NotInMyName and the phrase and hashtag is being used all over the world.  Yesterday our local mosque organized a march and vigil to speak out against religious violence, particularly in response to the terrorist act in San Bernadino.  They invited interfaith partners and all people of good will to be part of the event and representatives from every faith tradition and no faith tradition walked with them and stood in silence in memory of those killed. 

I'm not good at estimating crowd sizes (and we all know that pastors tend to exaggerate numbers), but on what Santa Barbarans call a frigid night, I'd guess about 300 people walked, listened to speakers, and stood in silence following the Imam as he and his congregation affirmed that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and that above all, they desire to be part of the larger American community.

One of the local televisions stations covered the event.  As far as I could see, the others did not.  I picked up this morning's paper - The Santa Barbara News Press - and the headline article with a large photo was that a group of students from Westmont College had gone to the Children's Wing of the local hospital to sing Christmas Carols to the ill children.  The event was not even mentioned.

Now, I have no idea how many similar events have taken place around the country or the world.  I do know that Muslim leaders and Muslim scholars have spoken out again and again against religious extremism and especially against terrorist violence.  If the press does not cover these events, how can "moderate" Muslims get their message out?  To what degree does the media feed off and support the narrative proposed by fanatics?  And in doing just that, are they not complicit?

This message and similar ones are out there...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Good Guy with a Gun

Following the events in Paris, I have read multiple right wing commentators who speculated that if only Parisians had had guns, there would have been a very different outcome at the Bataclan.  Well, they're probably correct, but I don't know that the different outcome would have been a better one.

I won't argue whether or not a gun ever helps to deter crimes.  I understand there is good data that points that way but there is also good data that indicates that the very presence of a gun makes things more dangerous.  That is what I expect would have happened at the Bataclan.

Imagine the scene with me.  There is a large crowd of people gathered in a fairly chaotic place when all of a sudden one person pulls out a gun and begins firing.  Then a second pulls out a gun.  Then a third and a fourth.  How would you know who is a "terrorist" and who is not?  A fifth person, whom we know to be a "good guy," pulls a gun and begins to fire at one of the previous four, who then fires back.  If that fourth shooter was actually not a part of the terrorist group, he or she likely thinks the fifth is.  Multiply that by many people pulling guns and beginning to shoot at someone else who is shooting, all the while a number of innocent bystanders have been hit.  (After all, none of these shooters are trained to fire at real people in highly stressful situations while others are shooting back at them.) Then the police arrive on the scene only to see multiple shooters with weapons drawn, shooting at others in the panicked crowd.  How do they know who is a "good guy" and who is not?  So they begin firing as well.  Multiply all of that as the number of "good guys with guns" goes up.   What began as an horrific event has turned into the shootout at the OK corral. 

Recently in less crazy settings we have seen incidents that went horribly wrong.  There is the story of the car jacking victim in Houston a few weeks ago who was shot in the head, presumably by a "good guy with a gun" who was trying to help stave off the crime.  Instead, the victim was shot, the carjackers escaped, and the "good guy" picked up his shell casings and fled the scene, no doubt worried that he would be arrested.

I'm reminded of the meme that went around a few weeks ago... A small boy was throwing stones at other children in the school yard.  The teachers knew that something needed to be done or one of the children would likely be injured so, they handed out more stones to the other children.  That makes sense...

Adding more guns to a terrible situation does change things... but not necessarily in a positive way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fear and Religious Freedom

You have likely heard freedom of the press referred to as the "first freedom," because it is central to the functioning of a democracy but also because many folk think it is the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights.  While it is part of the first amendment, it is not the first one listed.  The first freedom listed is freedom of religion.   One might argue that the order is irrelevant but I think it is not.  Freedom of religion tells us that the government has no say in the way that we order our values and shape our lives.  Freedom of speech and of the press is rendered impotent if the government first has the power to repress or support that most central of individual functions - the way we shape who we are, what we believe, what we value.  As with all of the freedoms in the Bill of Rights, religious freedom is aimed primarily at protecting those who fall outside of the centers of power - odd groups, minority groups, those who do not

Like all freedoms, freedom of religion comes with risk.  There are religious systems that by their nature are oppressive and destructive.  There are religious systems that by their very nature work against human progress.  There are even some that promote violence.  As a nation we have wrestled with the ways to deal with those issues and have decided - rightly I believe - that before the government can interfere with religious practice, it must show a compelling interest.  Fear is not a compelling interest.

Recently, because of the actions of a very small group of jihadists, Muslims have been the object of
fear and of discrimination.  One piece that comes up regularly is the wearing of burqas or niqabs which cover everything except the eyes (and sometimes even the eyes) by Muslim women.  The arguments go two ways.  One says that such treatment of women is oppressive (that is another post).  The second is more prevalent now in these days following the terrorist attacks in Paris.  It says that these loose fitting garments allow someone to hide weapons which are then easily used to commit violence and prevent others from being able to identify the person wearing the garments.

The fact that the vast majority of terrorists are men and that loose garments that cover the majority of the body are often worn by folk for very practical reasons (spend any time in northern Minnesota in January without everything being covered?) and that in many states in the US, citizens are allowed to openly carry weapons down the center of the street tells us that this is more about fear of the other than about terrorism.

It is worth understanding Muslim discussions and thoughts regarding hijab - modesty of dress for both men and women - in various Muslim cultures and theological traditions but that is basically irrelevant at this point.  Many religious groups including orthodox Jews, the Amish, Sikhs,  some groups of evangelical Christians, and some Muslim traditions have proscribed ways of dress for both women and men.  The question is whether or not the government has the power to define religious expression in terms of dress.   Perhaps a more blunt way to phrase the question is whether or not the government has the power to tell you or me what we must wear?  If some Orthodox Jew finds it offensive that my wife's forearms are showing as she walks down the street or some Amish folk think my dress is too colorful should they be allowed to enforce their religious understandings?  Should a Sunni from Saudi Arabia be able to make my female readers wear a niqab?  We would be up on our hind legs in a second if any of those enforcements were to take place.   We should feel the same repulsion at the idea that the government can make a woman who believes that her religious commitment to hijab requires her to be covered to uncover herself. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Economic Problem

I listened to most of the Republican debate last night and I have to wonder what universe they're living in... for that matter, a similar question can be raised with the Dems.

Again and again, I heard how they were going to rebuild a growth economy that would provide good, well paying jobs for Americans.  Regardless of how I feel about their tactics, the truth is I don't think that is a possibility right now.

Let's imagine the very best possible outcomes... a bunch of these big multi-national companies decide to come back to the US and build big modern factories... The fact is that those factories will hire some folk, but not nearly the number that a similar factory would have hired 50 years ago.  Automation is the word.  Robots and computers would be doing the work that Tom, Bill, John, Jean, and Sally did in the 50's.  Bob might still have a job making sure things are going well but the productivity of the individual worker is way higher which basically means that fewer flesh and blood employees are needed to produce even more goods.  As time goes on, there will likely be fewer of these jobs in the factories with more and more of the work becoming automated.  Even if those few workers did get higher pay (which in today's economy they do not), because of increased productivity, the lions share of income goes up the ladder to those who own the capital.  Labor doesn't count as capital and besides, there are scores of folk who would love to leave the fast food job for a chance at a position that pays closer to a living wage.  Of course we still need folk to design and program the robots... but those aren't blue collar jobs that pay well.

We could use serious work on infrastructure which does require skilled labor and just plain labor... but that requires bigger government and nobody is really talking about the kind of government commitment required to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges all across the country. 

Which leaves us service jobs which have grown.  The Obama presidency produced significantly more jobs that previous Republican administrations but the observation is correct, many are not jobs that provide a living wage.  The reality is that fewer of those service jobs will be needed in the near future.  Retail has rapidly shifted to the internet, putting scores of retail clerks out of jobs and moving those tasks to large distribution centers where much of the work can be automated and even that which is not requires radically fewer workers than your local Macys.  Think of it, there is no real reason that McDonalds really needs more than one or two people.  Virtually everything done at a fast food restaurant could be automated.  You could punch your order into a ouch screen, swipe your card, and wait for a series of computerized robots to provide you with a custom made burger without the possibility that someone overlooked your order or put extra pickles on when you had clearly stated none.  It won't be long until it is less expensive for a new franchise to do just that vs. hiring  real people who make mistakes, get sick, and get weekly paychecks.

So much work can be centralized.  More and more Universities are moving to online classes where a video of a professor who died a decade ago can continue to  "educate" students while, yes, computers can grade the papers.  Surgeons can use robots across the globe to perform surgeries and my insurance is rewarding customers who use online physicians.  Multi-site churches use star preachers and show the sermon on a big screen while volunteer musicians lead the worship.  One of our local wine tasting rooms has a bank of spigots on a wall with a touch pad, a description of each wine, and a card reader.  When you arrive, you receive a card with a computer chip to use at the pouring stations.  You then choose the wine you want to taste, slide your card, push the size of the taste, and hold your glass under the spigot where you receive exactly the pour you ordered.  At the end of your tastings you hand the card to the one person (not really required) who places the card in another reader that then tells you your bill... which as likely as not, you pay with a debit card swiped through another card reader.  The few places where real people are required - wait staff at a high end restaurant, a real pourer at the wine tasting room, artisan crafts, personal care givers for the elderly, etc.  - are luxuries.  We simply need fewer people to do more work... and as the technology improves, we will need fewer yet. There simply are not and will not be enough jobs out there.   And some of the work that does require real people, such as music, art, literature, is becoming devalued by the current means of distribution (digital via the internet) and those folk are less able to make a living at their work.

What all of that adds up to is that the current direction of our economy does not bode well for those without significant capital in the short term and for just about anyone in the long term (owning an automated factory doesn't do much for your bank account if there is no customer base to purchase your goods).

It really does feel to me as if we're headed to a choice between a future that looks like Star Trek The Next Generation where people spend their time doing things that bring meaning to their lives or a world like Blade Runner or The Hunger Games where the vast majority of folk live in dangerous and depressing places, just on the edge while a few reap whatever rewards there might be and live behind walls in gated, protected areas.

Now, I'll get a bit political... those who argue for smaller government push us towards a world like the latter.  That is certainly the world their current patron saint - Ayn Rand - would have advocate (think of the places in the world with "small government" like Somalia and tell me you'd really rather live there).  Even the more left leaning, worker centered views of some Democrats like Bernie Sanders just holds off that new world for a few short years.  As a society we will have to make decisions and a radical rethink of the way our economy needs to be shaped is necessary if we want to avoid that future.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Musical blessings

It has been a wild and woolly couple of weeks for me - being on vacation and then two conferences.

The second conference was the regional Folk Alliance conference called FARWest.   FARWest is essentially a trade conference for acoustic musicians and bookers.    There are workshops aimed at helping touring musicians and venues to do what they do better and lots and lots and lots of music.  The performances begin in mid afternoon and run until 2:30 in the morning... followed by an open jam session for those who still don't want to go to bed.  Add getting to spend time with old friends and make some new ones.

I have no idea how many performers there were but between the official showcases and coffeehouse and the guerrilla showcases that take place in hotel rooms, I think I saw at least 40-50 different acts.  Some literally knocked my socks off and I hope to book them for Cambridge Drive Concerts.   Some were really great but didn't seem as if they would be the right acts for Cambridge Drive.  Others... didn't click for me... which is not a swipe at the quality of the performer's art, only a statement that it wasn't my cup of tea for a variety of reasons.  Depending on how I was feeling at any given point it was either musical nirvana or musical overload. 

Then, I got home and began working on music for a gig I have this Friday (10/23) with Robin Howe and the Darin Lee Project.  They've got a full band for this gig with Grace Feldman on drums, Eric Brittain on guitar, and me on bass.  It is some very nicely crafted pop music and I' looking forward to the gig.  At the same time, it has been a long time since I've played with a full fledged rocking band... and I forgot my earplugs for rehearsal.   I'll not do that again.  If you're in greater Santa Barbara this weekend, we're at The Brewhouse at 8:30.  Stop by for some really great music.

On Sunday, I am back playing bass with our excellent church band.  We do a very wide variety of musical styles and (if I do say so myself) are one of the better church bands that I've heard, especially when you realize that our players are mostly volunteers while the big churches mostly have paid players.  IMHO we hold our own or better any of the bands I've heard.  Still, church music is not about performance.  It is about experiencing the presence of God.  I can only speak for myself there, but I certainly feel God's presence in the music this band makes.

Back to Cambridge Drive Concerts... more wonderful music.  We present on the first Friday of each month and have a great show coming up in a bit more than two weeks from this writing with Dulcie Taylor as our headline act and banjo gal, Donna Lynn Caskey opening.

All in all... I am blessed with the opportunity to hear and play some wonderful music.