Response to Charlottesville

Having lived in David Duke’s home state of Louisiana for two years, I can tell you what he did today. He woke up and got to work, as he has done every day since he decided to spread his message. The man neither paused nor did he let defeat deflate his drive or let success give him pause through all these years. He may be cheering and celebrating today yet he was on the phone, posting online, and planning his programs, intent on his goal just as he has done every other day.

He is a racist, a bigot, and an anti-Semite but the First Amendment protects his right to spew his hatred.

What about you? What about me? Do you and I have the same depth of passion, but for justice and right? After all, fighting for climate change legislation is tough in a fossil fuel world. Explaining racial injustice and raising awareness of the economic injustices of energy policies to communities that do not want to hear facts and reason is a stubborn climb. Holding proudly to one’s faith in a cynical world can be a daily hurt. Are you still fighting?

This missive is not about the Neo-Nazis and the White Supremacists though. This message is about those who have the passion to fight for what is right, good, and godly, about those who stand up to the evil and hate. These people are our family, our friends, acquaintances, workmates and our members-in-faith.

One died and nineteen more lay wounded in the Charlottesville confrontation. Many, many more though, people of all colors, creeds and faiths, marched; they held the lines, and shouted down the hatred. Their passion brought them forth and their courage kept them going. The citizens of Charlottesville refused to accede to hatred, to acquiesce to murderous rage. Instead they welcomed those who hold beliefs of equality, justice, and freedom for all of God’s children. Together, they gave the voices of hatred no quarter and no measure of comfort to broadcast their message of intimidation and confrontation.

Evil only expands when it is allowed, when people of goodwill do not stand as a bulwark against the malicious tide. Silence, apathy and vacuum are tacit permissions to continue to fill the streets with hate-filled rhetoric. The streets of Charlottesville were not silent though and intimidation was met with spirited determination.

What about you? What about me? Are we going to sink into the sofa cushions or lean back into our computer chairs, and watch passively as a few good souls contest a contagious fear and paranoia? Whether the summons is the Hindu call of Gandhi, the Christian call of Martin Luther King Jr., or the beckoning of the ancient Israelite prophets, the universal demand of justice is broadcasting loud and clear across the land.

Will you and I answer the call? Shall we answer with unequivocal passion?

“Then I heard the voice of my God saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? Then I replied, ‘Here I am; send me.’”  Isaiah 6:8

Here I am; send me.

In Search of the Root Cause of Calamity

For more than curiosity, people will ask for the root cause(s) of events such as wars, accidents, and traumatic events. Perhaps they ask in hope of identifying preventive process or they to provoke meaning to a tragic loss of life. “Just tell me why” seems like a reasonable plea on the surface but the reality of an event betrays the simplistic nature of the request.

Root causes are a grail, a belief that if we can identify the one first cause of the event in question, then we can eradicate the possibility of this trauma every occurring again. Ending tragic death by the erasure of the elements that lead to strife, death and destruction is a lofty, noble goal yet a naive one. A simple argument is that humanity is far too enmeshed in the struggles for security of all types, the consequences of history, and the needs of the day to affect by the removal of one element easily and thoroughly. War and terror is always a combination of elements, of factors, of processes put into place some time ago and chance that all the prerequisites will align.

When they align, someone has to explain standing near the debris of the aftermath. Pundits hate non-specific explanations.  The person at the microphone, whether the person is the sheriff, head of an agency or investigative board, a district attorney, or the president of a country appears as defensive bureaucrat because they can offer no one concise reason. They declare in one form or another, “It is complicated; there are many reasons; the reasons are unclear; we have differing points of view, ideology or religion.” The presenters are condemned for hiding the answers when they do not have the answers or worse, there are no real answers to be had.

My example: Columbine was a terrible massacre. The reasons and explanations of motivations of the two shooters were a universe of opinions, innuendo, pseudo-science, and arm-chair punditry – and every educated speculation offered up in the first years, including many of the facts, were wrong. Only after ten years was a definitive study of the event, including an examination of all of the facts, published. The conclusions offered did not resemble anything presented in the first year and the reasons confounded most of the speculation of the early years. At the end of this thick tome, the reasons did not lend themselves to easy or satisfying solutions.

If Columbine was restricted to two shooters and one high school, and after a thorough, ten year examination there was no simple straightforward answer of why, then how do we turn to the greater events of the day, the Syrian Civil War, the so-called Islamic State, the massacres of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the slaughter by Al Shabab in northern Kenya, and expect explanations that lead to solutions?

The point is now clear: the simplistic hope of a root cause leads only to absurdity and despair. Even if there is a root cause, there are plenty of other elements, other causes that lead to outbreaks of war, invasion, revolution, and self-righteously justified slaughter of innocents. There is more than one root cause and the answers we need to seek are not going to be simple. Why indeed.

Precipitating the argument above is a paper released recently on the effects of climate change on the Syrian Civil War. A root cause, if such a thing exists, is a recent migration within the country. As the southern and southeastern parts of the country were consumed by an accelerating and expanding desertification of the land, the people who eked out a living on these previously marginal lands were forced to relocate in camps surrounding the urban centers of Syria. These displaced families, clans, and tribes received little or no support from the government and they became the fuel upon which the civil strife exploded into civil war. All of the fractures of economic, social, and civic struggle were already in place, a product of the al-Assad regimes but climate change may have been a root cause among many, many reasons.

The purpose of the paper was to demonstrate a larger thesis that climate change will exacerbate tensions and clashes across the globe. With the rapid expansion of the Sahara Desert, we should expect war and violence in the countries affected: Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia, Chad, Somalia and so on. When resources such as water and arable land disappear, people will compete for ever-shrinking resources. Villages and tribes will migrate and fanaticism born of desperation will fortify them as they surge outward.

The hatreds and the competitions are already there. The battles between religions are millennia-long wars that may be the continuance of tribal wars that preceded the missionaries. The competition over resources, the best land or the water source or the salt pan is ancient. The xenophobia is ever present. By luck or by goodly intervention these points of friction were kept cool and calm for periods of time. If the thesis is correct, climate change will overwhelm the good luck and extinguish the noble efforts of peacemakers.

The solutions are easy to state and terribly hard to implement. In fact they sound like the prophets of the Bible railing against the kings of Judah and Israel. (Addressing climate change is essential but at this moment it is not the concern of this argument.) The solution is to support the peacemakers and pull back the warmongers. Feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Give the homeless shelters and to the displaced give jobs. Stop selling weapons overseas. Demand diplomacy first. Yet all of these reasonable solutions, all of which address fundamental causes, are nigh impossible to implement in part much less in full.

The time has already arrived when we need to stop asking “why” and start accessing “what can we do?” We are not helpless and we are not without possibilities. However, we are lacking time and we, the peacemakers and the repairers of the world, need to act.

A better Recycling Day

Despite all the troubles in the world, we should also take time to compliment and give thanks when people, companies and governments take good actions. Yesterday my local government held one of its ongoing recycling events. This one specifically targeted electronic recycling but also included pharmaceuticals and paper shredding.

County workers directed us from the street through the parking lot to the “Recycle Run” as I named it. They took my name and my categories of recycling materials. I had old CPU’s, monitors, and printers. I followed the cones to the site and never left the car. Huge packing boxes were set out on both sides of the drive. After popping my trunk, the county workers pulled everything out of my trunk, sorted it immediately and placed it the appropriate boxes. If they took 90 seconds I would be surprised.

The United States lags behind most other nations in recycling usable materials. Some nations reach 90% while the U.S. hobbles along at 7 – 10% if the studies are accurate. There is no federal mandate and most states that provided funds at the local level have cut back. Counties and municipalities are left to grapple with their local landfills and trucking fees for getting the garbage out. South Hempstead Township in Nassau County, NY has made shrinking the landfill a priority with the recycling of the most dangerous and poisonous products to the most reusable items found in households.

Hats off to the township. This is a worthwhile program, well-conceived and executed as well.

To understand what a federally mandated but locally run successful garbage pickup/recycling program looks like, read the rules for South Korea here:

Angry Black Woman

Shonda Rhimes, an actress and producer of good repute, responded heatedly to an article by a television critic to the New York Times. The article intimated that Ms. Rhimes has cemented her position in the entertainment world by playing “The Angry Black Woman”. Ms. Rhimes responded appropriately.

Contrary to the Supreme Court decision that gutted a major tenet of the landmark Voter Rights Act of the 1960’s, racism is alive and well, dwelling with mundane comfort throughout our nation. As a nation we have learned not to use the “N” word and to be conscious of using “hyphen” words when more dated, loaded terms are no longer tolerable. We no longer sound racist, biased, or bigoted in public and when someone does use these dated terms, we know what to conclude.

All of these changes in public vocabulary are shallow and trivial. A casual racist will not be swayed by a change in labels; the casual racists of the past decades have not been convinced to turn towards enlightenment. They did learn to promulgate their convictions with subtlety, calm, and legal maneuvers worthy of a master script writer.

However, human beings cannot easily hide their deep convictions, their hatreds and their loves. Last week the stereotype emerged as “The Angry Black Woman” and this week or next, another, probably polite example will pop up. This is not cynicism; this is an argument that the battle to overcome xenophobia is an ongoing dynamic and that there is no one final battle in the public square that will finally defeat stereotyping, neither from the subtle to the extreme.

The point is to get out in the public square and call out racism and bigotry for what it is. We should thank Shonda Rhimes, not for defending herself, but for reminding us that we are all responsible.

Bibles in School

Did you know that in Orange County, FL (Orlando), there is a group that is legally distributing Christian Bibles in the public schools? Matthew Stavers, who represents the book distributing group, is upset because another group is asserting its right to distribute its religious texts in the public schools.

The new religious group demanding the same access is called “The Satanic Temple” and they hope to distribute materials including their forthcoming “The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities.” This is a situation that brings into glaring focus the reasoning behind the need for a strict interpretation of the Separation of Church and State.

As a public entity, public schools should not be promoting one religion over another. Schools should not be elevating or tolerating religious education or proselytization on its campuses. Bible distribution is one of those activities that clearly crosses the line of a strict interpretation of the principle.

The Satanic Temple demonstrates the danger of allowing religion on campus. This issue has nothing to do with religious people attending a public school but has everything to do with the promotion of a religion in a given public school. Religious people should be able to attend public school without fear of threat or ridicule for their beliefs and also, without fear of proselytization by other religions while on campus.

The Satanic Temple is a protest, a perfectly legal and legitimate one that demonstrates the absurdity of the Orange County Public School System. Lucian Greaves, who is the spokesman for The Satanic Temple is quoted by a reporter at WFTV Orlando as admitting, “The whole point here is not indoctrination but rather counter-indoctrination.”

This episode is another example of why proselytism needs to be kept off of school grounds.

The sad news is how old this battle in Orange County is. I grew up in this county and they were distributing “Bibles” that were only The New Testament when I was in elementary school. This is decades of nonsense.