Archive for the ‘Society’ category

07.10.16 Rage

July 10, 2016

Rage about all the black men killed by racist cops (not to mention all the injustice meted out that stops short of outright murder).

Rage at the sniper who killed innocent officers who were protecting protesters, setting back the cause of justice.

Rage at the NRA and the venal politicians who take their money and do their bidding.

Rage at the gun nuts who claim that an armed crowd at that gay bar in Orlando would have saved lives: tell that to the armed and dead cops in Dallas.

Rage at almost all Republicans for almost everything they support, oppose, and lie about.

Rage at the Clintons whose arrogance and paranoia have handed rope to our enemies over and over again for 25 years.

Rage at the right-wing freaks who think that misuse of an email server merits prison but starting a war founded on lies with hundreds of thousands of dead doesn’t.

Rage at the driver who ran over the kitten in the road today and was in too much of a hurry to stop, seconds before I arrived on my bike and held the kitten in my hands as it died.

Rage at the white people who chose on Friday to tell us how much better things are than we think, because violent crime rates are going down and GDP is going up.

Rage at the white people who will never get why Black Lives Matter.

Rage at a judge for putting a rapist in jail for only six months in order not to inconvenience him too much.

Rage at North Carolina for making me carry my birth certificate the next time I need to pee there.

Rage at the Nader and Sanders supporters who value their purity over the need to prevent evil.

Rage at Trump for everything.

Rage at Trump’s Virginia campaign manager, Corey Stewart, who blamed Hillary Clinton for the dead cops in Dallas.

Rage at Kansas for renaming public schools “government schools.”

Rage at Romney, Ryan, and Wall Street for not giving a shit about anyone who isn’t as lucky as they are.

Rage at journalists who enable climate change deniers and supply siders in the name of “balance.”

Rage at ideologues who decry science.

Rage at theocrats who declare Jesus white and bigotry right.

Rage at anyone who stays home on November 8. Rage at the right wing machine that steals voting rights while it proclaims freedom and tries to enforce it elsewhere at the barrel of a gun.

Rage at myself for looking forward to my page-view counts for this post.

Rage at the universe for not fixing any of this.

©2016 Keith Berner

04.09.15 Theology, Theocracy & Ideology

April 9, 2015

Theology

I’m an atheist. I’m quite certain there are myriad phenomena in the universe we can’t explain – and don’t even know about. I just don’t see how that proves the existence of god(s), though. That is, I believe there is a “science” – a logical explanation – for all but one of these mysterious phenomena, even if the explanation is beyond our current ability to fathom.

So which mystery can never be explained scientifically? The fact that anything exists at all. Either it has existed forever, which is impossible. Or nothing became something, which is equally impossible.

Theists will say that “God*” (or gods) provides the explanation. This does me no good. You posit a deity? Well, what predated and created that being? All your god construct does for me is to add an unnecessary layer on a still-unsolvable mystery. So why bother?

I respect of spirituality – things like mindfulness and meditation have unquestioned value. And even paranormal phenomena can fall under the rubric of that which cannot presently be explained, but which certainly has an explanation. Telepathy? Telekinesis? Foretelling the future? I don’t pooh-pooh this stuff out-of-hand, even though I may be skeptical of the particular claim or claimant.

I’m tolerant of faith. If you believe in Jesus or Mohamed or the Hindu gods, what is it to me? I get why humans seek explanation for the unknown, rebel against randomness and entropy, and take comfort in ritual. I see how church provides community.

Theocracy

Even though I don’t have a problem with faith per se, once any religion claims certainty and exclusivity, I begin to take umbrage. Seriously, out of all possible explanations of reality, across an infinite universe, what are the odds that some white guy who lived 2000+ years ago provided a correct explanation, nonetheless the only correct one? Given the lengthy odds against any human theology’s being remotely accurate, I don’t get religious adherence.

I suspect that many original prophets and a huge majority of current practitioners are sincere in their faith. But the corruption of a theology is inevitable as men (and it is nearly always men) exploit it and twist it to gain and maintain power (see Jimmy Carter quote, below). Just as the wealthy in modern-day USA use their economic power to control our politics, the media, and education, so have the charismatic and clever used their made-up doctrines to keep slaves in chains, women as chattel, and homosexuals in hell. It is this political religion that is beyond the pale. From Indiana to ISIS, the world is awash in cynical, brutal, hurtful religion.

And the hypocrisy is mind numbing. US Christian fundamentalists condemn Iran’s theocracy as they legislate their bible across this country. It’s not just the “religious freedom” laws, but also the disappearance from our textbooks of evolution or honest American history. (Since god ordained the US as “his” own nation, everything the US does – from its genocide to torture – must ipso factor be beyond reproach.)

Notwithstanding the secularism of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution (church-state separation, anyone?) religion is the law of the land, with explicit theocracy dominant in one of our political parties. Big US cities are islands of rationality and enlightenment. But the suburbs, small towns, and countryside – the vast land area of the country – lives in 13th century make-believe. Or, rather, it should be make believe, but isn’t, for the reason that the Constitution gives undue power to land over population (i.e., rural areas and small towns get huge bonus in our system).

Ideology

Political ideology is just like religion, except it’s directly about power, rather than pretending not to be. Consider:

  • the Iraq War
  • climate change
  • austerity policies
  • the certainty of a Romney victory in 2012.

In each instance, ideologues knew the answers before questions were asked – no facts or insight required, no feedback accepted. I hardly mean to categorize every person of faith (or politics) as an ideologue. I do mean to accuse religious and political institutions of exploiting doctrine to maintain power at huge costs to humans and the planet.

As Catholicism’s ban on birth control condemns millions to die of sexually transmitted disease or starvation; as al Shabab massacres 147 students in Kenya; as Buddhists, Hindus, and Moslems slaughter each other in Southeast Asia; and as the icecaps melt, it is apparent that blind faith won’t bring peace or progress.

Yet, we are crippled in our body politic; our fear of offending the religious makes the nonobersvant deferential and meek. Even our most progressive officeholders won’t proclaim secular values as such or risk appearing publicly unpious. At least one bow to  religion is practically required in every stump speech and God Bless America has taken over baseball stadiums.

We need articulate and forceful leaders who will address directly religion’s impact on human dignity – people of stature who can reshape the discourse around religion, rights, and progress.

Last Word

After a few days of working on this post, I had left it there, looking for leadership and not sure what else to say about it.

Then today – by sheer coincidence** – I came across the perfect closure to these musings: a 2009 article (“Losing my religion for equality”) by Jimmy Carter. He writes:

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.

Jimmy Carter is a moral leader, a man of stature. Having left his church, he remains a godly man. In this piece, he holds religion explicitly accountable for hurting women. I might not have thought Carter a comrade in arms on these issues, because our theologies are different. But Carter provides a refreshing reminder that not only atheists make the case for secularism. That makes this atheist a bit more hopeful.

For today, anyway, Jimmy Carter is the leader I was looking for.


*I capitalize “God” when referring to the supernatural being Jews, Christians, and Muslims address by that name. I use the lower case when referring a generic deity.

**Or was it an act of God?

©2015 Keith Berner

12.02.12 Red state blues: a retraction

December 2, 2012

My post-election post suggesting that we kick out all the red states generated more disagreement than anything else I’ve posted. I was really just blowing off steam and expressing my feeling of utter alienation from what I might call “red state thinking.” Now I realize I was entirely wrong.

This insight stretches back at least a dozen years, to the first time I saw a map of national election results in the New York Times, broken down by district or county. I saw then that, even in blue states, the blue in them was heavily concentrated just along the coasts or in big cities. The only exception to this was in New England, where entire states were blue. I paid somewhat less attention to the counter-case: even in red states, there were blue pockets for cities, albeit less in the south than elsewhere.

Nonetheless, I was aware that the political split in this country is only partly regional, but is mostly urban vs. rural. I ignored this phenomenon when I called for dispensing with the red states once and for all.

Now comes a fascinating piece of analysis in the Atlantic, titled Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide is Splitting America. I didn’t realize that even Dallas and Houston — in (nearly fascist) Texas — have voted blue in two consecutive elections. So have cities like Birmingham, Tucson, Little Rock, and Charleston, S.C. In fact (quoting from the article), “the only major cities that voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election were Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City.”

I have seen some other recent analysis (that I cannot put my finger on right now) that living in close quarters makes people blue: there is a need for more common infrastructure and regulations to keep life civil and flowing in large population centers. The Atlantic article, while not getting at root causes, makes that point: “The voting data suggest that people don’t make cities liberal — cities make people liberal.” It’s not that lefties move to cities because of arts, restaurants, and creative jobs, but rather that city life makes people need government in a way that rural living doesn’t.

Of course, there are some regional differences: a given city in a given southern state is less likely to be blue (or likely to be less blue) than a similar city elsewhere. And, as I mentioned previously, New England is the only part of the country where even rural areas are blue. But still, it is abundantly clear that population density trumps regionalism when it comes to voting.

So, can anybody think of a  way to get rural America to secede?

©2012 Keith Berner

10.14.10 David & Sam Get Married

October 14, 2010

This is cross-posted with the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local.

I’m thankful to live next to Washington in a year when Republicans didn’t control Congress and its power to override DC laws. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to attend last weekend’s wedding of David and Sam – dear friends who have been a couple for 12-ish years, about the same as my wife and me. What a fabulous wedding, from the ceremony, to the ambiance, to the luscious food! The utter joy of the event was transcendent.

And that is what a wedding ought to be. But could not have been – for these two people – in most other places at most other times.

There has been so much pain just recently: bullying and suicides and beatings, not to mention outrageous political pronouncements. But justice for gays and lesbians will not be stopped. If nothing else, the rise of more gay-friendly generations will ensure that.

In the meantime, even for David and Sam the struggle for justice isn’t over. Sam is Korean. He’s been in the United States for years, under student and employment visas. But David can’t sponsor Sam’s permanent residency in this country, because the federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage. A lost job for Sam could cost this loving couple the right to live in the same country.  (To do something about this, please give to Immigration Equality.)

Sadly, the prospects for marriage equality aren’t so bright in Maryland. This state may appear very blue at first glance, but political power resides with social conservatives such as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and the Roman Catholic Church. I’d wager it will take six years for Maryland to catch up to DC on this one. It would probably take longer still if Maryland didn’t have DC’s good (and demystifying) example right next door.

©2010 Keith Berner


10.11.10 For Want of Wisdom

October 11, 2010

Last week, fellow local blogger Dan Malouff bemoaned the turning of the United States from a “can-do to can’t” nation.  In the piece, he asks, “Are we really so poor that we can’t afford to pass along to our children a working infrastructure?”

The next day, Dinesh D’Souza – president of King’s College in New York City – opined in the Washington Post that President Obama “flays the rich.” D’Souza denounced Obama’s (in my view rather weak) attempts to get the rich to shoulder more of the burdens of society as “anti-colonialism” (as if that were a bad thing).

And the day after that, Ezra Klein – a Post economics columnist – started out writing about Facebook, but ended up painting a compelling picture of how innovation relies much more on societal infrastructure than on individual brilliance.  No surpirse to find him dismayed that our country is investing less and less in education and other prerequisites to progress.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party thunders its opposition to government and taxation. Though aspects of the movement (e.g, the sheer idiocy of some of its candidates) are troubling the GOP, it represents in fact the utter embodiment of the GOP’s world view for decades: starve government and transfer wealth to the wealthy.  Right here in Maryland, former governor Robert Ehrlich campaigns on tax cuts, without any specific mention of budget cuts or other costs, continuing the long ironic switch from the GOP to the Democrats as the party of fiscal responsibility.

What are the common threads of these columns and campaigns?  Selfishness and greed. Deception and gullibility. Theft from the future in thrall to the present, not to mention from the poor and middle class in subservience to the rich.

It seems remarkable how right wingers have successfully spun a populist tale such that seniors scream for the government to keep its hands off their Medicare and working-class families vote for policies that reward almost entirely the smallest sliver of wealthiest Americans.  It seems equally remarkable that this tiny sliver is so enamored of today’s tax breaks that it has lost touch with tomorrow’s bridge collapses (due to deferred maintenance) or costs to our collective wealth when inventions get developed in far-away lands.

This is all not really so remarkable, though.  After all it’s the ultra-rich who are underwriting the campaigns that result in education cuts.  They are the ones controlling almost all of the media that almost all Americans consume – a mainstream media that chooses to put their stories and idologies on the front page, while marginalizing other views.  The result is a populace less able to analyze truth and fiction, more susceptible to empty rhetoric, more ready to believe that the entire cake can be eaten and preserved at the same time, without cost to anyone.

As for the the wealthy’s inability to see beyond today, I can only guess that they are so captivated by their own deceptions that they have become true believers. The system they have created (Wall Street!) rewards this quarter’s results and neglects next year’s.  The participants get so fabulously, stinking rich that their seventh house and third yacht seem to be free.  Damn the torpedoes!  Damn tomorrow!

No, Mr. Malouff, this country is not too poor — in cash — to invest in its future.  We remain the wealthiest country on the planet by almost any measure.  Where we are desperately impoverished is in attention span and social conscience. And we have become that way, because that is the path the utlra wealthy have chosen for us.

When D’Souza and his ilk reinvent “anti-colonialism” as a pejorative, when thousands of teachers lose jobs as Wall Streeters regain their obscene bonuses, when GOP leaders fight to stop a $20-billion jobs program at the same time they toil tirelessly to preserve $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, it is no accident.  It is all according to plan.

I loathe this selfishness and shortsightedness.  If that amounts to anti-colonialism and class warfare, bring me more.  Yes, I say, tax the rich: disable the pernicious influence their greed has on society by taking away at least some of their means to purchase that influence. Yes, I say, build more and better schools, enact laws that break up media dynasties, invest in clean energy and rebuild dams, and, yes — use money from the ultra wealthy to bring this about.  Do this because progress is not measured or produced by today’s stock market close or the number of houses owned by members of the Senate. Rather, it is measured and produced by wisdom.  And that is our greatest lack.

©2010 Keith Berner

09.02.10 Bus-Stop Bigotry

September 2, 2010

This evening, I was waiting for a bus at Takoma Station.  I found myself sitting on a bench between two African American women, one of whom is a neighbor from two doors away, whom I’ve met and talked with several times.

Our conversation turned to the mayor’s race in in DC.  Though these are both Marylanders, the women were in passionate agreement with DC’s African-American community:  Adrian Fenty (the mayor) and Michelle Rhee (the schools chancellor) have got to go. After a bit, the woman I didn’t know burst out with: “That woman [Rhee], needs to get back to Korea.”

“But she’s American,” I sputtered, absolutely astounded.  “She was born and raised here.”

The woman repeated her statement.

“How is this different than someone’s commanding you to go back to Africa?” I asked.

“It’s completely different,” she said, while my neighbor — who makes a point of telling people how much time she spends in church and thanks god several times an hour — nodded in agreement.

“But this is bigotry,” I declared.  “How can you be bigoted?!”

I got blank stares.

My neighbor, incidentally, has lived in Japan and speaks Japanese.  And she wants to send Korean-Americans “home.”

I always want to believe that bigotry is too bizarre to actually be real, so I never expect it.  My naivite — my inability to grasp the entire phenomenon — keeps setting me up for devestating disappointment.

Perhaps I’ll become inured to it at some point.

I hope not.

©2010 Keith Berner

08.31.10 I’m a Muslim Now

August 31, 2010

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

*          *          *

My stomach turned last week, when I read the Washington Post headline: “Nowhere near Ground Zero, but not more welcome.” Here was another story about the fervent hatred sweeping the country.  I don’t need to make the case here about what’s wrong with this bigotry or any bigotry or about how the purveyors of hate — now housed welcomingly in the Republican Party and spreading like wildfire through the heartland — are much father removed from American values than those they target.

Now is the time for people of conscience to stand up in solidarity with our our Muslim neighbors. Every act of hatred toward them is an attack on ourselves, an assault on liberty, an assault on the diversity that is our nation.  If we love freedom and justice, if we have compassion for humanity, we have no choice but to declare we are one with those being persecuted in our midst.

I’m a Muslim now.

©2010 Keith Berner