06 March 2015

Oh, Slate, please.  This is not "a new low" for the NRA.

If liberals want sensible gun control measures to pass in this nation, they have got to stop dancing around the truth:  the NRA is a right-wing terrorist organization that has repeatedly called for violent revolution against the federal government and has literally no moral scruple when it comes to putting weapons of mass murder in the hands of white people (yes, its racial notions are pretty flipping obvious).

I'm a little puzzled why the Southern Poverty Law Center hasn't put it on its list of hate groups.

In the 2013 CPAC convention, Rep. Carolyn Mccarthy, who lost her husband to gun violence and sponsored a bill to prevent similar tragedies, was mocked as a stupid liberal elitist.

If there's one thing Democrats who care about gun control should take away from this latest feces-slinging from the NRA, it's that "reaching out" to Wayne LaPierre[1], Mitch McConnell, et al.  is pointless.  It'd be one thing if you had any common moral ground with these monsters, but no matter how you try to be conciliatory toward the gun industry and preach "responsibility, not control," they will turn right around and plunge the dagger into your back to a cheering crowd of extremists and total idiots who just want a free duffel bag.

These bullies do not want to cooperate with you.  Indeed, their business model requires them not to.  The only shooting victims the NRA cares about are imaginary (white) victims of imaginary (almost certainly black or Latino) killers.

[1] Who still publicly denies that Obama is a legitimately elected president.

20 February 2015

The Muslim

He's either a fanatic, or not really religious at all;
god stopped speaking to men around 200 CE
and we as a species have grown out of prophecy
and revelation and holy scriptures
(Steve Pinker lays it out so well in his TED talk)
If my grandchild's school gets a bomb threat
I feel afraid and it's then that Obama's summits
on extremism pay dividends, don't they?

Yeah there are churches out there that are kind of kooky
and preach against unbelievers
and I've heard that not all Hindus are easygoing
but there's a problem with Islam
and it treats women so badly,
even worse than those college boys who're
always getting accused of rape
and that medieval ritual nonsense
about wiping your ass with the left hand
has no place in our time, (excuse me Jane from
the Elks club is calling -- I have to take this)

01 February 2015

In health care reform, the most mundane, tried-and-tested solutions are usually best.  We do not need an epoch-making breakthrough in personalized medicine or genomic analysis to save American health care.  (We need, simply, a national health plan.)

This Aetna-sponsored video lauds Google for, among other things, doing a research study on "what defines a healthy person."  Having already chosen 175 "healthy" volunteers, the project seems flawed to begin with.  I suspect Google will come up with the same answer that the ancient medical writer Galen formulated:

...unless we take discernible impairment of function as our criterion for distinguishing illness from health, and instead consider the exact qualitative condition in each case, we shall have to adopt the doctrine that one is always in a pathological state, since there is no one whose functions are all in an optimal state.  (Galen:  Selected Works, translator P.N. Singer, Oxford UP)

It's very convenient for the insurance industry to pump up our desire to attain perfect individual health.  Obscenely high premiums and extortionate copayments become easier to justify when we've been drenched in data about healthy behaviors and risk factors and genetic predispositions. 

(The last of these three is of very little use, anyway, without a better understanding of how genes interact with each other -- see studies on the causes of homosexuality.  When it comes to knowing how our genes communicate with one another we are just as clueless as Galen.)

30 January 2015

Last night I went to a forum where four candidates for Madison mayor introduced themselves and laid out their ideas for change.  The good news is that I would be happy to vote for any one of them if it comes down to a choice between reelecting Mayor Soglin or opting for a new start, as it may well do.

I thought often about the class backgrounds of these four candidates, or what I could discern of those backgrounds, and their ways of speaking.  A mayor should be a competent rhetor -- a good communicator.  Knowledge of the issues is important, but Einstein's dictum that "imagination is more important than knowledge" applies to political leadership too.  Getting people excited about new possibilities, or riled up about assaults on their human integrity, is the work of rhetorical imagination.

With this imperative in mind I've decided to support Scott Resnick in the primary next month.

I'll conclude by gently admonishing Madison's liberal and progressive voters that catty side-swiping at our neighbors' perceived deficiencies is an unworthy use of our breath.  (I say this as one who's done a fair share of it in the past.)  Let's be wary of Pharisaism towards each other.  I hope that Freddie deBoer's lament that "the prohibition against ever telling anyone to be friendlier and more forgiving is so powerful and calcified it’s a permanent feature of today’s progressivism" can be turned into rejoicing.

16 January 2015

Movie Review:  Selma

Ecclesiastes tells us that "for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (3:1, NRSV).   Ava DuVernay's film Selma is made for this American moment, a strange season of nominal economic recovery and 'winding down' of wars, when much public discussion is occurring over persistent racial inequities, but nobody wants to admit culpability for treading their little cogs in the grand machine that perpetuates them.

David Oyelowo's Martin Luther King is a fully human theologian and self-questioning activist.  We see about a year of his life unfold and are left to fill in his youthful past as well as his predetermined future with our own knowledge -- a wisely chosen narrative frame.  The only haloed martyrs in this film are the girls whose church was blown up by white supremacists, and even they seem pretty ordinary.

The questions of legacy and agency are the main drivers of this movie.  Who is to blame (is God to blame?) for the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, asks a wrenching passage in the midsection of the film.  The sudden extinction of this young Army man's life stirred questions in me about the point of similar extinctions in the ongoing non-war US occupation of Afghanistan.  Is George Wallace a depraved political mastermind or a fourth-rate song and dance man who happened to be born at the right time to head the forces of "segregation now and forever"?  The movie doesn't decide for us.  The portraits of Confederate generals and slave-owning presidents that loom over many of the quieter scenes remind us that white supremacy has been cooking for a long time - and that yes, some of those white Freedom Riders probably underestimated how hot the oven was.

The inclusion of Bayard Rustin and Andrew Young as strong, although minor, characters, is certainly matter for praise.

5 out of 5 stars.

08 January 2015


On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was fatally shot in the head while serving as an usher at his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kansas.  His murderer, Scott Roeder, was an anti-abortion campaigner with ties to a group calling itself The Army of God.

Assaults on the right of women to make choices about their own bodies are an assault on my freedom too.

28 December 2014

"For reasons that remain unclear"

Maybe in 2015 we can all stop pretending that the American news media has been racially enlightened ever since World War II, that Martin Luther King was welcomed with open arms by sage white liberals just waiting for the right black man to put the capstone on their steady and unflagging efforts to elevate black achievers in all fields of art and science; maybe, just maybe, we could let go of the thought that none of our grandparents who may have worked for Life magazine or anchored radio news were actually racist, only those other white people who had never read Kerouac or Ginsberg.

Jesus Christ, the New York Times pisses me off sometimes.