Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why You Should See (or Read) 12 Years A Slave and Why You Should Never use the N-Word

Scars of a whipped slave (April 2, 1863, Baton...
Just in case you didn't know the movie 12 Years a Slave is based on the novel, really a diary, of Solomon Northrup. The book is the recollections of a free man who is taken captive, kidnapped and subjected to 12 years of slavery in New Orleans in the 1840s.  It's a fascinating look at what slavery was actually like from a well educated man who could articulate his experiences and who was able to escape and have the opportunity to write them down. I think the book is every bit as important as the Diary of Anne Frank and I'm at a loss as to why it has not become a classic and required reading for school children.

There's not a lot of action in the movie.  No big escape scenes, no romance.  It's just the hard reality of what it was like to be considered the property of another, a prospect made especially difficult when you were born free, well educated, extremely talented and married with two children and a wife who were waiting for you, wondering for years where you were.

There is a woman in the book/movie, I won't call her a character because it's important to remember Patsy was a real person.  Solomon has a few "masters" during his time as a slave, some worse than others.  "Master Epps" is a "Christian" man who has a lustful eye for Patsy.  Patsy is cursed not only by having this man rape her at will, she is also the best cotton picker on the plantation.  So, she will never be sold, never escape.  The poor woman lives in hell with no hope of ending other than death or growing old enough for the master to no longer desire her. The master's wife detests Patsy, torments her and demands she be sold. Master Epps of course refuses to sell her.  He hates and loves her at the same time.  He can't resist her allure.  He justifies his adultery by saying she is just his "property" and a man can do whatever he likes with his property. Since Patsy is less than human his rape of her isn't adultery, isn't rape, but for some reason in his twisted mind isn't bestiality.  Patsy is played by Lupita Nyongo who well deserves the Oscar she won for the movie. Her scenes are nearly impossible to watch because they are so completely heartbreaking.

There is a scene in the movie that sums up the white slave owner's mentality concerning his slaves.  Even after all of these years of hearing the word "nigger", it never really struck me why that word is so awful until I read this book and read this scene in particular.  The word is beyond redemption and should not be used or compared to any word used to simply denote race.  I've heard people try to compare nigger to cracker or honky.  There is no comparison and, for me, this scene illustrates why.

One day, while working on the new house, Bass and Epps became engaged in a controversy, to which, as will be readily supposed, I listened with absorbing interest. They were discussing the subject of slavery. “I tell you what it is Epps,” said Bass , “It’s all wrong— all wrong, sir— there’s no justice nor righteousness in it. I wouldn’t own a slave if I was rich as Croesus, which I am not, as is perfectly well under stood, more particularly among my creditors . But this question of slavery; what right have you to your niggers when you come down to the point?” 
“What right!” said Epps, laughing; “why, I bought ’em, and paid for ’em.”
 “Of course you did; the law says you have the right to hold a nigger, but begging the law’s pardon, it lies. Yes , Epps, when the law says that it’s a liar, and the truth is not in it. Is everything right because the law allows it? Suppose they’d pass a law taking away your liberty and making you a slave?” 
“Oh, that ain’t a supposable case,” said Epps, still laughing; “hope you don’t compare me to a nigger, Bass.” 
“Well,” Bass answered gravely, “no, not exactly. But I have seen niggers before now as good as I am, and I have no acquaintance with any white man in these parts that I consider a whit better than myself. Now, in the sight of God, what is the difference, Epps, between a white man and a black one?” 
“All the difference in the world,” replied Epps. “You might as well ask what the difference is between a white man and a baboon. Now, I’ve seen one of them critters in Orleans that knowed just as much as any nigger I’ve got. You’d call them feller citizens, I’s pose?”— and Epps indulged in a loud laugh at his own wit. 
“Look here, Epps,” continued his companion; “you can’t laugh me down in that way. Some men are witty, and some ain’t so witty as they think they are. Now let me ask you a question. Are all men created free and equal as the Declaration of Independence holds they are? “ 
“Yes,” responded Epps, “but all men, niggers, and monkeys ain’t;” and hereupon he broke forth into a more boisterous laugh than before. 
“There are monkeys among white people as well as black, when you come to that,” coolly remarked Bass. “I know some white men that use arguments no sensible monkey would. But let that pass. These niggers are human beings. If they don’t know as much as their masters , whose fault is it? They are not allowed to know anything. You have books and papers, and can go where you please, and gather intelligence in a thousand ways . But your slaves have no privileges. You’d whip one of them if caught reading a book. They are held in bondage, generation after generation, deprived of mental improvement, and who can expect them to possess much knowledge? If they are not brought down to a level with the brute creation, you slaveholders will never be blamed for it. If they are baboons, or stand no higher in the scale of intelligence than such animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet— yes, Epps, there’s a day coming that will burn as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s a coming as sure as the Lord is just.”
 “If you lived up among the Yankees in New England,” said Epps, “I expect you’d be one of them cursed fanatics that know more than the constitution, and go about peddling clocks and coaxing niggers to run away.” 
“If I was in New England,” returned Bass, “I would be just what I am here. I would say that slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished. I would say there was no reason nor justice in the law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold another man in bondage. It would be hard for you to lose your property, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be half as hard as it would be to lose your liberty. You have no more right to your freedom, in exact justice , than Uncle Abram yonder. Talk about black skin, and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on this bayou as white as either of us? And what difference is there in the color of the soul? Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel. You may own niggers and be hanged, but I wouldn’t own one for the best plantation in Louisiana.”
Northup, Solomon (2013-10-22). Twelve Years a Slave (p. 187). HarperCollins Canada. Kindle Edition. 

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Here we go again... "You can't save yourself, but you better save yourself"

Français : Logo de la société LOGIC
Every time I start to feel somewhat comfortable with a new church, they screw it up and start talking theology.  Churches do so much good.  Just stick to that.  More specifically when they start talking "salvation" any sense of reason and/or proportion seems to go right out the window.  Last week it happened again; that sermon you eventually inevitably hear if you go to most mainstream churches long enough.  The one that starts off with the total depravity thing. "There is nothing you can do to save yourself.  I know your ego doesn't like that.  You need a savior.  Jesus is your savior."  So far, OK...  Then "All you have to do to save yourself is believe in what Jesus did for you.". Wait, what...?

I don't go along with the whole total depravity bit anyway nor original sin.  I wasn't born bad, evil and/or defective. I'm not so hideous that God had to kill Godself to "save me".  But, let's assume all that is true.   Let's assume I can't accept that because my ego won't let me accept it.  If there is nothing I can do to save myself, no act that I can do to save myself, wouldn't that include forcing myself to believe that God killed Jesus to save me?  Wouldn't that be an act that I have to perform to save myself?  Isn't that going to puff up my ego, believing that my belief just saved me and your unbelief condemns you?

As the pastor was going through the sermon (which of course, I am highly paraphrasing here) he actually pulled out the number one proof text us universalists use.  If we had to pick one verse in the Bible that clearly shows all are "saved", it would be this one.  

1 Timothy 4:10  That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe,
When this one popped up on the screen I pulled my palm away from my face and waited with bated breath to see how the pastor would handle it.  God, the savior of ALL people, ESPECIALLY (not exclusively) those who believe.  Oh boy, here we go.  I wish I could remember his exact words, but  it went a little something like this. He acknowledged that while God is the savior of ALL people, in a general sense, he is not really the savior of all people in an actual you have been saved sense.  He's just potentially the savior of all people and is exclusively the savior of those who save themselves by believing.  Doh! Yes he did.  A masterful sleight of hand (words) pulled off and I'm not sure how many people even noticed.

There are several things about mainstream Christianity that defy logic and are completely inconsistent.  Perhaps the two that bug me the most are that Jesus died for all of your sins.  All of them, except one.  The sin of "unbelief".  Not believing that Jesus died for your sins is the single sin that can send you to the eternal torture chamber. The other is that God is the savior of all men, especially those who believe, but not really the savior of all men, just those who believe.  

Oh well, the church does do a lot of really good things, they have great music and my wife likes it.  I've heard this all before, I can stand to hear it a few more times again.  :::: deep sigh:::::

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Idolatry of God- Book Review

The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and SatisfactionThe Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction by Peter Rollins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you have been silently suffering through the Dark Night of the Soul, wondering what is wrong with you why your "faith" isn't stronger, why others seem to have the certainty you can't seem to find you should read this book. The idea that God is a being out there, something or someone to be "known" was what i was taught and when I couldn't find "Him" or know "Him", I felt like something was wrong with me. When I discovered panentheism, it was not in a Christian context, but it made sense to me.

I was raised as a Christian from the time I could talk. I was taught that the right relationship with God would solve all of my problems. I was in a constant search for that peace I was supposed to have to reach that state where there was no uncertainty, no doubt, no fear. I was always looking forward to the day when I found that Idol that was going to give me the satisfaction I thought I was supposed to have. I never got there. It wasn't until I began to let go of the search for certainty that I started to experience some peace. For me, I had to turn to Buddhism and meditation to find it. The type of Christianity that Peter Rollins teaches was completely foreign to me at the time. It's nice to see some Christian authors writing about embracing our humanity fully.

Peter defines Original Sin as the lack that we all feel that longing to attain something that we feel we once had and are now missing. The Idol is the thing that we think will bring that to us. The Idol can be "success" or money or yes, even "god" in the sense that if we can just get right with god, all will be well with the world. It's strange to hear God called an idol, but when you read it in the context of the book and you begin to understand that God is not a person "out there", it will make sense to you.

I like the idea that this book not only gives me permission to feel the uncertainty that is inevitable, but to embrace it. It presents a different view of Christianity from anything I have heard before and it's one that makes a lot of sense to me.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Healing of America- A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Healthcare (my review)

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health CareThe Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.R. Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a friend a couple of years ago. After months and months of debating friends about the necessity of "Obamacare" (The PPACA or ACA for short), I decided it was finally time to pick up this book and get an idea of what others were doing in the health care arena. I know what I don't like about our system- cost, lack of access for those who don't have insurance or money. And, I know what I like- the availability of doctors and medicine and procedures as long as you able to pay. What I didn't know other than from some very biased perspectives- my right wing friends who say all "socialized" medicine is horrible with no choice and long lines- and smear jobs like the movie "Sicko" was what are others doing that is better than us? What can we learn from what other countries have done?

T.R. Reid does an excellent and it seems objective job of summarizing the pros and the cons of each medical system he visits. And, there are pros and cons to each. None is perfect. If you're going to cover everyone at an affordable price, you cannot offer every procedure under the sun with no waiting. If you're going to have the absolute best care available with complete choice of doctors, hospitals, etc. you're not going to be able to cover everyone. What every system in the developed world seems to have in common, outside of the United States, is the will the moral imperative, that everyone will be covered.

This book made me both hopeful and discouraged at the same time. Hopeful because other countries have made the change from where we are today to a more equitable and cost effective system where everyone gets covered and outcomes are actually better than they are here. However, I am discouraged because Americans seem to lack the will to cover everyone and American exceptionalism gets in the way of us looking to those who do it better and co-opting their ideas. We demonize the systems that are different from us and scare people about waiting periods or lack of access to certain things while we ignore the thousands who die each year here due to lack of access.

The good news is there is a better way to do things and we don't have to reinvent the wheel. This book clearly lays out what is good and bad about our system and others. While it probably wouldn't make sense to copy anyone's system whole-hog and while we would like to preserve the best things about our system, we can take inspiration from others as we design a better system for us. There will be some sacrifice involved for some, but overall, there is a better way.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Personal Responsibility or a Failure of the System?

Men in Black (franchise)
The Trayvon Martin case has ignited discussions on race that we only seem to get around to every few years when some black man is shot or beaten and it makes the national news.  This time around more than any I can remember, I am hearing a lot about how prejudice against and fear of black men is justified by crime statistics. In the Trayvon Martin case, I've heard people actually blame the "black community" for the image that led to the profiling of Trayvon Marting- laying his death at the feet of the people who are supposedly at fault for the stereotypes that led to his shooting.  The stereotypes are valid since black people are "so violent".  I'm hearing that basically the problems in certain segments of the black community are self-inflicted.  If black people would just pull themselves together, pull themselves up by their bootstraps all of their problems could be solved and the negative stereotypes would simply fade away along with those problems.

I'd like to remind people once again that race is only one way to segment people, although in America it seems to be the preferred way.  Not all black people are part of the subculture that is the "problem". Black people are not all part of some monolithic culture.  We, like people of any skin color, come in a variety of cultures and socioeconomic classifications.  Perhaps the one thing we do all have in common is the experience of being judged because of the color of our skin. The problems many people associate with the "black community" are more socioeconomic problems  than race problem.  Not all black people live in the 'hood.  I grew up in an all black neighborhood and in my entire time growing up never saw drugs in the neighborhood, saw a gun once (in the home of a neighbor around age 13) and didn't know any kids born out of wedlock. And, not all people who live in the 'hood are criminals.  The vast majority of black people are not violent criminals.  While the crime statistics are skewed in some very disturbing ways, at least a part of the reason for that skewing is law enforcement and the court system. Just as one example, black people are arrested at a far higher rate than white people on marijuana charges even though they actually use marijuana at about the same rate.  Sentencing is far more harsh for the poorer version of cocaine (crack) than the richer version (powder). So, black people involved with drugs end up doing more time than white people.  

Liberals tend to blame the system for the failures of certain segments of our population on the system.  If we could just fix the system, we could help people break out of these cycles of poor education, generational poverty, crime, etc.   At the extreme, they dismiss personal responsibility for people being in adverse situations. Conservatives say it's all about personal responsibility. We live in a post-racial America. Everyone has the same opportunity.  If you don't make it it, it's your own fault.  The truth is it's actually both.  Just because you are born into a disadvantaged situation does not mean you cannot pull yourself out of it.  With hard work and dedication, you can overcome it, but you will have to work harder than the person not born into that situation.  Black children must be taught to never give up, but to know that they will have to work harder and perform to a higher standard than a white child will.  Success is not impossible, but it is more difficult.  Why are black people struggling more than white people?  Well, given a normal distribution of drive and talent, we would expect a population given a distinct disadvantage to not do as well as a population given an advantage. Individuals will shine, but the disadvantaged population overall will be behind the population with the advantage.  

This hit home for us this week when my wife's cousin was shot and killed by his half brother.  My wife's family is largely "successful", well educated, non-criminal.  They are not part of the stereotypical view many have of black families.  My wife's aunt (the dead child's grandmother) made some decisions in her youth that resulted in children born out of wedlock and without the benefit of being raised with a father in the home.  That has had a ripple effect through their family.  Her grandson was shot and killed by his half brother on Sunday. Her son (the father of the boy who was killed) was first arrested in high school for selling marijuana.  That was around the age of 18.  When he was arrested later (in his early 30s) for selling cocaine, because of his prior conviction, he got hard time.  He has been in prison for the last five years. His son, who was killed on Sunday, tweeted recently that he had had a dream that he was shot.  He also tweeted "Blessed to make it this far in life and to still be alive."  When I read that I thought "What kind of world did that boy live in to make him dream he had been shot?" and "How sad is it that a 16 year old boy would feel 'lucky' to have made it this far in life?"  As we reflect on this as a family, it's hard not to think about how the decisions one generation makes impacts the next.  The father of the boy arrested for killing his half brother was first arrested around the same age as his son.  Both boys were raised in homes without a father, like their father was.  What happened on Sunday was not the fault of the grandmother or the father, but the situations their sons were born into made their lives more difficult.

The fact is it is more difficult for African-Americans in America.   It's more difficult in many ways from little daily things like being pulled over for driving while black or being followed through a department store to big things like employment discrimination and the justice system. But, just because it's harder doesn't mean we can give up and say "Woe is me.".  It means we have to work harder. It means we have to take more personal responsibility.  It means we have to continue to work the system to make opportunities more available to everyone.  It means that we have to be cognizant of the image that is portrayed of us in the media- both fictional and news coverage, to begin to chip away at the stereotypes that follow us.  We have to stand up against the images that reinforce the stereotype of black men as thugs and someone to be feared are more realistically balanced by the images of most of us as law abiding citizens who have feelings just like you do.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2013/07/29/2738348/teen-charged-in-lexington-homicide.html#storylink=cpy
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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Can you expect digital privacy?

How Would a Patriot Act?
Since the stories of the government looking at cell phone records broke, I have friends on the left and the the right (and especially the Libertarians) who are very concerned, and some shocked, at the amount of information the government has access to about us ordinary citizens.  I guess maybe some of them weren't really paying attention when FISA was being renewed and when the Patriot Act was enacted.  None of this is exactly shocking to me. The only "news" was some of the details.  I had already heard the government had a program for monitoring internet activity for key phrases associated with terrorism.  I certainly expected that they could get access to phone records in the course of an investigation.  I think these stories are being blown way out of proportion. The bigger concern, for me, a law abiding non-terrorist citizen is not what the government is doing with that data, it's how that data impacts our "private" lives.  I'll get to that later.

First, I think we need to sit back and think of how much privacy we can reasonably expect in the digital world we live in.  I had a friend use the analogy that the government going through our phone records is like coming in and looking through our panty drawers.  Of course, all analogies fall apart at some point, but here are the reasons I don't see this as being particularly analogous.  I think we could all agree that to have the government come into our homes and go through our personal property would be an invasion.  They have to come into our homes to do it.  And, our panties are obviously our personal property. Data though- whom you have called- not the call itself.  Is that "property"?  If it is, is it your property? Does it belong to the phone company?  It's not a physical thing.  You didn't purchase it.  You didn't make it.  Do you own it?  Keep in mind, the program that has so many people upset is the government looking at records of who you called.  It's not the phone conversations themselves.  This is not "wiretapping".  It might feel like an invasion, but is it?  This is being called spying by some, but I don't agree with calling it spying.  If the government were listening in on the conversations themselves, that would be spying.  They are looking at lists of records gathered/generated by the telephone companies.

Then, I think about how much paranoia we have since 9/11.  We gladly allowed the government to spy on us, with limits, after we were attacked almost 12 years ago.  We expect the government to keep us safe from terrorists domestic and foreign.  The Boston Marathon bombing was a reminder that not all terrorists come from outside the United States.  Both brothers, even though foreign born, were US citizens.  There was some amount of criticism, rightfully not much, that the FBI and other agencies didn't do their jobs because they didn't know what the Tsarnaev's were up to.  One way of finding out who is being radicalized would be to find out who is talking to the radicals.  That data is just sitting out there as many of these groups are using the internet and telephones to do their communications.  Anyone who didn't expect law enforcement to go after that, well....

Last, as a law abiding non-terrorist, I don't care if the government is looking at metadata about whom I call.  I don't care if they're looking at my Facebook posts or my emails for key phrases.  I really don't.  What concerns me more is what private companies are doing with the data out there about me.  They have a lot more likelihood of impacting our personal lives. Already, credit card companies are lowering people's credit ratings based on patterns like spending more time in bars or buying certain items.  Grocery stores are selling loyalty card data (your Kroger Plus card purchases) to insurance companies who are using it to see what type of risk you are.  This article Grocery Loyalty Card Purchases Surveilled by Insurance Companies has me a lot more concerned than anything I've heard about the government looking at phone records.
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Friday, April 26, 2013

The (Un)Intentional Straw Man- Why We Can't Talk To Each Other

Straw Man
I spend a great deal of time trying to talk across the divide in our country, the divide between right and left.  Sometimes it's gratifying. More often it's frustrating.  It seems to me that any intelligent, sincere people should be able to sit down and at least have a conversation and it amazes me how often we simply cannot.  I keep trying to figure out why. There are many reasons, but one is the straw man arguments we keep dragging out.  I know some people who do it intentionally.  Others, I believe do it unintentionally.  Here is classic example.  Yesterday we were discussing why Muslims do or do not speak out against the acts of terrorism committed in their name.  I gave an example of a Muslim group that did speak out, very publicly on their website.  Well, instead of discussing that, we immediately jumped into whether or not Islam is an inherently violent religion.  Given the Boston Marathon bombing last week, we of course made our way to that.  And, then the conversation went a little something like this.

    • Non-Hyphenated America There is ONE factor in Islamic terrorism : the KORAn and its pedophile terrorist scum bag founder Mohammed
    • Brian Smith Statistically Muslims have not been the ones involved in most terror plots in the United States. In fact, since 1995, 88% of the domestic terrorist plots have been by right-wing groups, ecoterrorists and anarchists, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress.
      19 hours ago · Like · 2
    • Non-Hyphenated America What a crock...name me 10 ...name me 5 major attacks by right wing groups...and no McVeigh was an atheist...not a christian
    • Non-Hyphenated America leftists like eco terrorists are indeed a major problem. Still no one comes close to Muslims as a threat and anyone that does not get that is a lemming
    • Non-Hyphenated America But yes I get it...the American left wants to blame America for the Boston bombing...all expected and predictable of course.

      Brian Smith Maneesh, I don't know anyone who wants to blame America for the Boston bombing, but to say "They just hate us." or "Their religion made them do it." is simplistic, counter-productive and narrow-minded. There are a lot of factors involved and yes, we have contributed to the problem. Mature people can look at two sides of a thing and take responsibility for their own part.

So,  my friend says "the American left wants to blame America for the Boston bombing.  And, I said "I don't know anyone who wants to blame American for the Boston bombing..."  Then a few minutes later he posts on his wall (tagging me).

Moonbat Brian Smith blames America for the Boston bombing...no surprise

So, in spite of me directly saying I don't know anyone (including me) who wants to blame America for the Boston bombing, what my friend took away from this conversation is I do blame America. Now I wonder if he did really hear that because when he posted the lie on my wall (the lie that I blame America for the Boston bombing), he tagged me to be sure I'd see it and to try to draw me into the conversation to defend this position.  The thing is if I don't jump in, his friends will believe I do blame America.  If I do jump in, I spend all day denying something I didn't say in the first place.  This same friend posted yesterday that I hate Christianity and the Bible and love Islam. Again in spite of me saying repeatedly that Islam is FAR from my favorite religion and would probably be the last religion I would choose if choosing a religion.  Not to mention I am an practicing Christian and have read and studied the Bible extensively.

Many ask me why I bother to talk to people who do this.  Well, there have been times, a few times, where they actually listen to what I say instead of what they think everybody on "the left" says.  There  have been times we actually listen to each other and understand that we pretty much want the same things.  Unfortunately, most of our conversations go like the one above.
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