Category Archives: politics

Psst! Did You Hear the One About the Pope?

i’m guessing that for the part of the country that is outside of the ny, pa, dc area the fact that the pope was in the u.s. was just a headline somewhere. but in the middle of the tri-cities of his visit, there was a popenato of epic proportions.

here in philadelphia there was the typical mixture of excitement and grousing and at times the grousing out-shouted the excitement 4 to 1. now, that may have been a result of the stupid things city officials said in the run up, like “treat this as a severe storm event (which translated means to stay the hell home)” or that the secret service coordinated a lockdown situation that paralyzed a good portion of the city, or that at times there seemed to be no logical coordination between the secret service, public transportation and city officials.

whether the event lived up to expectations or broke records, it seems that the only measure worth talking about is whether pope francis can successful lead his church in a direction that brings people back. it’s no secret that participation in the roman catholic church has been dropping off – due mostly to (finally) the public airing of the horrors perpetrated by the church and their continued failure to not only acknowledge them but right them.

i was raised in the catholic church – 12 years of catholic schooling, followed by 30 years of a tenuous relationship where c and i participated in the church only to raise our children with some kind of tradition. but as the same sunday sermons from decades ago continued on as an opportunity for priests to berate the crowd for disobedience with the edits of the church—oddly enough only centered around issues of sexuality and not morality, most of which have to do with controlling women — i transitioned from not listening to drifted away. then, like most people i know, when the horrors of the sex-abuse scandal and systematic cover up hit the headlines i decided i was completely done with the roman catholic church.

in order to even stay with the church for as many decades as i had, required me to recite the mantra: “render unto ceasar what is ceasar’s and under god what is god’s”. meaning: ignore church bullshit and concentrate only on the lessons of christian tradition that matter: love one another and take care of one another.

then along comes pope francis. there has been much written about his life and how he has lived the teachings of christianity and it seems that he is carrying that into his leadership of the church. and to a large extend that’s true, certainly his words are a much more thoughtful message that has to do with love and forgiveness, mercy and inclusiveness not to mention just taking care of one another.
and then… well, then it’s just more business as usual. his inspiring words were followed by a visual of a cathedral filled with white men and the visual of seminarians and local priests, deacons and bishops – all men. men who ignore or distain women while dressed in dresses and funny hats. it all just looked so irrelevant.

sure, the pope was careful to include women in his words, but i think that’s because without them (the slave class) the church cannot function so it seemed like that was more about protecting an investment than sending a message of inclusion. and here in philadelphia there was the additional message from a hard-liner, perpetually ornery archbishop chaput who chose to use this stage to issue a ridiculous remark about the only real function of sex is to procreate, ignoring all the other more relevant messages that could and should have emanated from his moment in the spotlight.

and for all of its moralistic preaching about sexuality what is the true origin of priestly celibacy? don’t answer jesus ‘cuz that’s not it. property. and money. no married priests then no families to support and no nasty legal battles about rights of inheritance. the true reasoning is not high and mighty.

in his defense, pope francis has accomplished a lot of revolutionary things within the church, not the least of which is cleaning up the vatican bank (you want to know something about real scandal? read god’s bankers by gerald posner).

listen, i’m all for carrying on ancient traditions and rituals, in fact very much so when those traditions involve rituals where a family and a church family are able to share meaningful moments together. but when the trappings of a religion far outweigh its reason for being, i’m out.

francis may be delivering the right message, but he’s stuck delivering it in the wrong container.


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Filed under catholic, lies, Love, politics, religion, scandal

Inspired Independence Day Words

I thought a lot about what to write in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and its proximity to our national Independence Day holiday and then read what Harold Jackson of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. I think he says it all.

Ruling shouldn’t change right to religious freedom
Were he alive today, I believe my younger brother who lived in San Francisco would have married his longtime partner, with whom he had lived for several years, long before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage nationally.
Being a Christian, as was my brother, I would not have recognized that union as a Bible-blessed marriage sanctioned by Scripture. But as an American who believes this nation was founded on the promises of freedom in the Constitution, I would have accepted the right of him and his partner to be a committed couple with all the legal guarantees granted to heterosexual spouses. I would welcome them in my home, invite them to my church, and love them as my kin.
I can’t say that I have always felt that way. My brother and I grew up in a different time, when most homosexuals who wanted to succeed in life kept that part of themselves hidden. I was in college before I found out that one of my favorite Sunday school teachers when I was a child was gay. Apparently, so long as he didn’t do anything that might be construed as attracting undue attention, he was accepted just like any other upstanding member of the congregation. In retrospect now, I think of how tortured his life must have been in trying to always present an image that wasn’t really true.
That was before gay men and women came out of the closet. Today, gay couples hardly get a second glance as they stroll down streets hand in hand, embrace in movie theaters, and, depending on the church, pray together in pews. Many are also getting married in churches that believe biblical references to homosexuality as sin are either misinterpreted or somehow no longer apply. God will make the ultimate ruling on that. In the meantime, churches that do not believe they should be required to marry gays are wondering if the Supreme Court decision will force them to do just that. It shouldn’t.
Religious freedom was one of the most important reasons, if not the most important reason, that so many colonists left Europe to establish a new home in America. It’s why the very First Amendment to the Constitution both forbids the establishment of a state religion and guarantees the free exercise of religious practices. That means the same Constitution that the Supreme Court cited to remove all prohibitions of gay marriage can be cited by churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious institutions that want to continue to place restrictions on whom they will marry.
I don’t know if my brother would have wanted a church wedding. He died in 1996 of AIDS, having kept his illness secret for years. To admit the disease would have required him to admit other secrets that, 20 years ago, he didn’t feel he could. I will always be sorry about that.
I’m glad that gay couples today no longer have to live secret lives. The Supreme Court says they also can marry. But it is important that the court did not invalidate religious objections to gay marriage. That keeps the constitutional separation of church and state intact, which, as I understand it, is also what the Bible prescribes. The Good Book also tells us to love everyone as we love ourselves, and to leave the final judgment of each of us up to God.
Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer.  

May we all celebrate Independence Day together!

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Filed under courage, Heroes, holiday, Love, patriotism, politics, religion

In Search of the Perfect Killing Machine

america is hard up for a way to kill people. seems unlikely, doesn’t it? what with all the guns we have on the streets you’d think it would be easy to kill someone. and, unfortunately, based on the murder rate, it still is. but when the state wants to kill someone, they’re more likely to go wanting these days.

for decades the electric chair was the tool of choice to kill a convicted criminal, but with the rise of lethal injection, the electric chair, along with other forms of capital punishment fell out of favor. besides, lethal injection just seemed so much more humane, civilized, easy, not gruesome – kind of like when you put down your pet. unfortunately for the states, some recent news stories highlighted the grisly details of executions by lethal injection that went terribly wrong. since lethal injection has been the preferred method of execution for decades now, why has it gone wrong all of the sudden? primarily because drug companies began refusing to supply drugs for lethal injection and compounding pharmacies refused to compound drugs for such purpose not to mention that physicians refused to participate in executions. something about those pesky oaths health professionals take to use their knowledge and skills to heal rather than kill…

a dear friend sent me an article about methods of capital punishment in this country and was astounded to find out that jut recently utah passed a bill mandating firing squads to mete out capital punishment in the event that lethal injection is not available. so, what that means… wait, what?! what?!

are we really living in this kind of a country?

apparently we are.

we are in the business of killing people for crimes for which they were convicted of committing. not necessarily that they actually committed, but for which they were convicted. we all know how fair, unbiased, reasonable and affordable the justice system in america is, right?

look, i’m as much of a revenge seeker as the next person, but i’m not a supporter of the death penalty. death penalty supporters will say that it acts as a deterrent, yet the 18 states without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates.

after witnessing some recent verdicts in capital cases along with the work of the innocence project, can we really say with 100% certainty that the person convicted actually did the crime?

so if the death penalty is not a deterrent, then it only serves as revenge, like old testament stuff, eye-for-an-eye all that.

you know, the kind of stuff we’re condemning other nations for.

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Filed under crimes, death, history, politics, terrorism

Silly Citizen, Opinions are for Big Bank Accounts

money bags photo: money bags money_bags.jpg

I’ve been writing emails lately. A lot of emails. Emails in favor of things, emails opposed to things, emails reviewing things, emails complaining about things and emails praising people and things. Most of the time I get canned responses to those emails: “Thanks for your opinion!” “We value what you have to say!” and an occasional “So sorry we can’t respond personally…”

After reading the State Department report and numerous other reports, articles and analysis, I wrote a carefully crafted and passionate email to Senator Toomey (R) Pennsylvania opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. (Before you jump all over my hide and namecall, just know that I try to be a risk vs. benefit kind of person rather than an ideologue and my risk vs. benefit analysis here leads me to oppose this project. I read this particularly good analysis.)

Anyway, I emailed Senator Toomey, which was probably a fruitless exercise since he’s co-sponsor of the bill to construct the pipeline, but I just couldn’t tamp down my inner Leslie Knope*. I made sure to title the email “NO Keystone XL Pipeline” so it didn’t get counted among the emails in support. When you send an email to a Senator or Representative, you have to first choose a category for your email, which I’m sure routes it to a folder. Then, hopefully, the emails get sorted based on title for a count, since I’m sure no one actually reads them. Then I’m guessing a staffer just delivers a count to the Senator or Representative and assumes that every email supports whatever position the Senator or Representative is supporting.

I know the emails are never read because I stated quite clearly that I do not wish for my email address to be placed on his newsletter or fundraising list. You can guess what happened next.

A couple of days after my email I received a response back from “Senator Toomey” thanking me for my support and continuing to enumerate all the positives of the Keystone XL pipeline. So yeah, my email just got counted among the supporters of the pipeline so now the Senator can continue quote that “the American people are in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline”. Dammit.

I’m going to wager that the Senator would never get the opinion of a Canadian oil executive wrong and I’m also going to wager that he would actually sit down and answer an email from a Canadian oil company executive, or more likely enjoy a lovely meal with said executive.

Kind of sums up elected officials in America today doesn’t it? I’m not picking on Senator Toomey particularly because I think he’s probably no different than any other Senator or Representative. The process is rigged so that the only side of the argument they hear is from those to whom they bother to listen and it just so happens that those to whom they listen are not those of us out here in the great unwashed.

The next time your elected official votes for or against something, make sure you run the cost vs. benefit analysis and ask yourself why they’re taking the position they’ve taken. Don’t settle for all the highfalutin’ talk of “liberty” and “constitution” and “rights” but two simple questions without cynicism: what do you have to lose or gain by voting the way you are voting? And what do we the people have to lose or gain by the way you are voting?”

*Leslie Knope, former Pawnee City Council member and current head of the National Parks Department, is the fictional eternal optimist from the sitcom Parks and Recreation for the role of government to enhance the lives of all citizens.

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Filed under civil rights, economy, patriotism, politics, united states

Which America?

The US economy is back! Well, maybe. The stock market is surging, though that’s not really a good sign of an altogether healthy economy.

Since I work in the financial sector, what I see is mostly anecdotal evidence that the economy is working well… for some.

High net-worth individuals are walking into our office with five and six digit bonuses, clients who are trust fund baby report that they’re jetting off to the far ends of the earth with their every increasing yields and our everyday investors are calling and expecting their returns to be double digits. The corporations they work for (or own) are sitting on piles of cash and just about everyone is upsizing their home or buying a second one.

There’s more evidence in the local news.

A couple of stay-at-home moms recently started a small business called I Hate Camp Laundry , which does pretty much what you guess it does – picks up and cleans your kid’s camp laundry so you don’t have to do it when they get home. Their tagline is: “For just about 1% of the cost of camp, all your cleaning is done!” That 1% equals $169, so you can do the math from there.

I also just read a review of a new restaurant in Philadelphia that seems to indicate a return to the “roaring” economy of the past. Not only do you have to buy “tickets” to the restaurant in advance, once there you are in for 15 courses and four hours of your time, all of which can be had for about $250 per person. And prices are going up this fall. (Interesting aside: the space where the restaurant is located was partially funded with public (state) funds). Some of us are doing well enough to consider, in the words of reviewer Craig LeBan, “… a mortgage payment” on a single dinner for two but how many of us?

Hopefully we’re all benefitting from the first America, but let’s not forget about the other America.

There is still an increasing need for food banks in the area and kids who participate in the school lunch program during the school year sometimes go hungry over the summer.

More people might be employed now that at the height of The Great Recession, but they’re working at lower paying jobs. There’s a persistent notion that raising wages will tank a fragile economy in spite of evidence to the contrary.

So government policies protecting the wealthy and corporate profits have worked and the model of floating monies to the top in the hope that it will trickle down hasn’t worked.

There’s increasing evidence of two Americas. I’m not as militant as Randy Moas

But I think that Nick Hanauer might have a point.

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Filed under Business, Charity, civil rights, economy, patriotism, politics, Vote, Wealth

Nurture is Nature

everybody knows the definition of human nature, right? but, is there one definition of “human nature” or does it depend on your economic status?

“evolutionary theorists have traditionally focused on competition and the ruthlessness of natural selection, but often they have failed to consider a critical fact: that humans could not have survived in nature without the charity and social reciprocity of a group,” says maia szalavitz in an october 8, 2012 article for time magazine.

ah, so human nature is really both rugged individualism and the social reciprocity of a group. it seems that we live in an age where only the ruthlessness of natural selection is valued and the very idea of social reciprocity of a group is distained. as the economic gap grows, so grows the gap the definition of human nature.

psychologist paul piff studied the phenomenon in a scientific way and published a paper in the proceedings of the national academy of sciences that made him semi-famous. titled “higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior,” it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can, colloquially speaking, dehumanize people.

“while having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” piff says, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. it makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”

well then. so, money allows us to be more independent and less interdependent, which in turn allows us to think more of ourselves and less of others.

in an interview with piff for new york magazine, lisa miller asks how living in an environment defined by individual achievement—¬measured by money, privilege, and ¬status—alter a person’s mental machinery to the point where he begins to see the people around him only as aids or obstacles to his own ambitions? piff won’t name a tipping point after which the personality transformation kicks in, only that his studies of ethical behavior indicate a strong correlation between high socio¬economic status and interpersonal dis¬regard. it’s an “additive” effect; the fever line points straight up. “people higher up on the socioeconomic ladder are about three times more likely to cheat than people on the lower rungs,” he says. piff’s research also suggests that people who yearn to be richer or more prominent make different choices than those more content with their present level of material comfort.”

here’s a great example.

okay, so let’s say you buy into the theory that selfishness becomes the “human nature” of those with more. so what? when selfishness extends beyond the scope of the personal social world it begins to tear at the entire fabric of a society. lopsided access to a political voice, correlates to an ever widening economic gap.

let’s just say that you don’t object to that on a moral, ethical, religious or societal basis because afterall, you got yours so screw everyone else. problem is, it won’t last.

economist robert reich says this: “…no economy can continue to function when the vast middle class and everybody else don’t have enough purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing without going deeper and deeper into debt. seventy percent of the entire economy is basically consumer spending. and if consumers don’t have the wherewithal to spend because all the money’s going to the top, and the people at the top only spend a very small fraction of what they earn, then the economy is almost inevitably destined to slow.”

you stop everyone else from getting theirs, you may not be getting much for yourself either. in an interesting way, charitable and believing in the social reciprocity of the group is actually being selfish, kind of an “all for one, one for all” point of view. maybe that’s the kind of understanding of human nature from which we can all benefit.

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The Democratization of Fact

now that this newfangled internet thing has been around awhile, we’ve all gotten pretty used to reading our journals and magazines on-line. you might even read the comments at the end of the article. and that’s when you’ll find the same old diatribes, same old screeds, same old trolls commenting with the same old stuff. Now, we’re all free to avoid the comment section, but the question is: does it change your perception of the information in the article?

if it’s an opinion piece, comments are probably part of a lively debate, but when the article is publishing results of a scientifically conducted study, do comments matter?

that’s what university of wisconsin – madison science communication researcher dominique brossard decided to study.

according to the report of the study published in university of wisconsin-madison news, “the study, now in press at the journal of computer mediated communication, was supported by the national science foundation. it sampled a representative cross section of 2,338 americans in an online experiment, where the civility of blog comments was manipulated. for example, introducing name calling into commentary tacked onto an otherwise balanced newspaper blog post, the study showed, could elicit either lower or higher perceptions of risk, depending on one’s predisposition to the science of nanotechnology.”

brossard reported that “the results of a study showing the tone of blog comments alone can influence the perception of risk posed by nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at the smallest scales.”

so, what does it matter?

according to brossard, an estimated 60 percent of the americans seeking information about specific scientific matters say the internet is their primary source of information — ranking it higher than any other news source. for on-line news outlets or journals, comments have been an issue for quite some time, mainly because of trolls.

some sites, wishing to extricate from the intensive process of policing comments, have employed various strategies, most popularly, forcing the commenter to connect through their facebook or twitter account. the thinking is that lack of anonymity will encourage more civil behavior. well, maybe. Others have tried to solve the problem in another way by moving comments to a completely separate section of the site in addition to requiring a login. this blogger has some interesting thoughts on the topic, not the least of which is the misperception that people go to news sites to feel like a part of a community. it would be safe to assume that people visit news sites to read the news. Shocking, I know. We may be able to extrapolate the same of people who visit an on-line science site.

but the bigger question is whether comments are necessary at all in the context of a science journal.

for this, and many other reasons to be sure, popular science is ending comments in its on-line format. jacob ward, editor and chief of “popular science” magazine says “we had three deciding factors that it came down to. one is the rise of trolls, which is a pretty well-understood term these days – basically, people who come into a comment section of a website to be abusive or unpleasant. second, we had bumped into on our own site, and then had seen it sort of confirmed in other places – and seen, also, studies about this – we discovered that troll behavior – that being unpleasant, being uncivil, sort being really fractious in a debate – can cause readers to actually misunderstand things that are scientifically validated.”

There is, and has long been a long-standing war on actual science in lieu of ideological belief or agenda and this, even in the context of free speech, is not servicing anyone.

“when people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment,” explains ashley anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the center for climate change communication at george mason university and the lead author of the upcoming study in the journal of computer mediated communication.

again, why does it matter? it matters because in our ability to access vast amounts of unfiltered information, we are losing the ability to access the validity of the information and in so doing, we fall back on our lizard brains.

You might be able to think of some current day examples of this. Fact is, when lizard brains are allowed to rule, we all lose.

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Filed under communication, politics, religion, science