Saturday, July 23, 2016

Safety



Someone recently raised concern about how the US was "spiraling out of control" and in a dangerous place. I mentioned that the data does not support that fear. We are all certainly concerned about the very public violence that has been in the news recently, these acts are truly tragedies. But that doesn't change the fact that violent crime is trending downwards. This person responded saying, "Hey, if you feel safe, go ahead and vote for Clinton..."

I'm pointing out: It's not that I "feel" safe - although there certainly is some validity to that idea - but that, in reality, according to the data, we ARE safer. Violent crime (murder, assault, rape) is down and trending downwards. According to FBI violent crime statistics...

"Today, the national crime rate is about half of what it was at its height in 1991. Violent crime has fallen by 51 percent since 1991, and property crime by 43 percent. In 2013 the violent crime rate was the lowest since 1970. And this holds true for unreported crimes as well. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, since 1993 the rate of violent crime has declined from 79.8 to 23.2 victimizations per 1,000 people."

http://www.nationalreview.com/.../careful-panic-violent...

Read that again:

since 1993 the rate of violent crime has declined from 79.8 to 23.2 victimizations per 1,000 people.

Also...

"In 1970, during Nixon’s presidency, the violent crime rate (number of crimes per 100,000 people) was 363.5. It had been rising since 1961, and ROSE every year of NIXON’s “law and order” presidency.

It kept rising through the Carter, Reagan and Bush presidencies, peaking in 1991 at 758.2. During the Bill Clinton presidency, the violent crime began to decline, down 33 percent on his watch. It dropped another 9.5 percent under Bush II. As of 2014, the most recent year of national data from the FBI, during the Obama presidency violent crime is down 20.3 percent, for a rate of 365.5."

http://www.usw.org/.../donald-trump-is-wrong-crime-is...

Also important to note in that data: Crime began dropping during the CLINTON years (DOWN 33%) still trended down during the Bush years, but at a slower rate (9.5%), then the rate of decline picked back up during the OBAMA years (20%). We are just factually a safer people, at least as far as violent crime goes.

This is actually quite an important point. Some in the GOP/Trump's campaign are portraying us as fundamentally unsafe ("Make America SAFE Again"), to a degree that is almost silly (as Trump read through his list of disasters that are barking at our feet, I could hear Bill Murray in Ghostbusters adding, "Cats and Dogs... Living together! MASS HYSTERIA!!").

These people are betting that people will ignore the data and listen to their fear-mongering because, what else do they have? We ARE safer, now. The economy IS improving. The unemployment rate IS down. We ARE better off now than under the Bush administration. Human rights are being extended more in keeping with our better values.

Don't buy the fear-mongering and let's work to educate people. Things ARE better in so many ways, and certainly moreso than under the Bush administration.

Also (and this is important, too), ask people, "When you say Make America Safe Again... to what time period are you alluding?" If they're speaking of the Nixon/Reagan/Bush years, they are just mistaken. If they are referring to the "Golden Age" of the 1930s-1950s, well, violent crime may have been down, but moral crimes - Jim Crow laws, discrimination, the denying of rights and abuse of minorities... those "good ol' days" were pretty monstrous. Black folk, gay folk, other minorities were NOT safe during those days in very real ways.

Even if you think this, you should recognize that a large percentage of your neighbors hear you longing for the good ol days when "the blacks" and "the gays" knew their place and stayed in it and women recognized their place in the home... ie, you should recognize you will sound like a bigot when you say "Make America Safe, or Great, Again."

Look, I come from a conservative and traditional people. These are very good people, don't mistake what I'm saying here. Moral, concerned about justice and taking care of those who need to be taken care of... NOT bigots. Good, decent people. I'm not complaining about "the conservatives" and how awful they are as a group. I'm warning against those few in any group who'd use fear to divide and tear down. I'm warning against those few in any group who would say, "I am the one with the answers. I am the one who will save us from this apocalypse that will surely come without me!"

What I'm saying is that we're all in this together, that things are not as bad as some make them out to be, and that we need to unite, not divide, to solve the problems we do have and we WILL continue to do so together. Not because one man who says that things are going to hell and he's the only one to save us. That is something to be wary of.

I would hope we'd all be able to agree.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Partially Perfect Knowledge Theory



As I have said, I'm really to the point where I'd really like to spend most of my time on this blog reflecting on nature and this beautiful creation - human and otherwise - and living simply and lovingly within it. But I am still fascinated with rational problem solving and considering reasonable questions about apparently hard to settle issues. So, in that spirit, not in the sense of wanting to disagree with anyone and certainly not argue with anyone, but just to consider some reasonable questions...

In a recent conversation with Bubba, he was speaking of the ability to know some things perfectly and he was offering his idea of what he thought my position was. Specifically, we're speaking of ideas of morality and scriptural interpretations that we can't prove demonstrably and objectively.

Bubba and I were having this conversation about the idea of having what I termed "partially perfect knowledge." Bubba preferred calling it Absolute Confidence, Limited Scope, which he defined as follows...

- Absolute Confidence, Comprehensive Scope (ACCS). "A person can be absolutely confident about ALL proposition."

- Absolute Confidence, Limited Scope (ACLS). "A person can be absolutely confident about SOME propositions."

I reject the first but affirm the second. It seems you reject both -- and it seems you're ABSOLUTELY confident that ACLS is false, and **THAT** is what is incoherent, that a person can be absolutely confident that absolute confidence is impossible for ALL propositions.


I am fine with Bubba's definition and framing, with the reminder that we're speaking about unprovable ideas, morals, theologies... and specifically about biblical interpretations.

And Bubba is correct that I reject both theories. The thing is, I reject both for the same set of reasons, which can be explained by considering the following questions:

ACCS

1. On  what bases would we presume we have ACCS? We don't, it's a rather delusional suggestion, we probably all agree.

2. Has God told us this? No. God simply hasn't.

3. Has the Bible told us this? No, it hasn't... and even if it did literally say that, on what basis would someone who is not a biblical literalist take the claim from the Bible at a literal face value?

4. Do some people INTERPRET the Bible in such a way that they, personally, are convinced that this is what God wants us to think? Perhaps, but so what? On what bases would we listen to these people? 

I can think of no reason, presumably, Bubba would agree.

5. Does reason insist upon it? No, clearly it doesn't. Reason would say that if it can't be objectively and demonstrably proven as a fact, then we can't have complete confidence in all given propositions.

I believe Bubba would recognize this when we expand it out to ALL propositions, but how are the  answers different for having complete confidence in SOME propositions?

ACLS

Okay, so let's just look at ACLS and the rational problems we have, considering some more questions that the view begs.

5. IF there are SOME ideas, morals and theologies that we can be known with perfect or absolute confidence, which ones are they?

6. That is, can we know with complete confidence that slavery, rape, forced marriages, polygamy, drunk driving, deliberately killing children in wartime, smoking pot, buying baseball cards... are always wrong in all circumstances? And which items are and are not on this List of Perfectly Knowable Ideas?

[NOTE: I would suggest that for those of us who say that, at the least, Harm to Innocents is a fairly perfect, if not totally perfect, guideline for those who accept that measure... Saying it is always wrong to cause harm to innocents because it is a denying of basic human rights would preclude at least most of these actions... For the biblical literalist, it seems to me that there is at least the caveat that these actions are not always wrong, because God might command you to do them sometimes (since God literally did in the Bible at times, if you're taking it as literal history), and God wouldn't command you to do something that is inherently wrong... That's how it seems to me, feel free to correct me, anyone. But that is sort of an aside.]

7. The reason why the notion of knowing The List of Perfectly Knowable Ideas is important, because, if you don't have an authoritative list and Joe believes IDEA 1 is one of these things, on what bases do we conclude that Joe's IDEA 1 is an entirely reliable belief? Says who? On what authority? How does Joe know that the idea that he's got an opinion on is one of the ideas that we can know perfectly? Because he knows it perfectly? Says who? It's circular reasoning, is it not?

Or, if Joe thinks IDEA 1 is on The List, but Janet is sure that it's not, but IDEA 2 IS on the list, who decides? Where is the authority to make that decision?

8. If there is no List, then on what bases can we individually make the call on IDEA 1, 2, 3... 120,245? Is it every person for themselves? How is that authoritative and reliable?

Do you see the problem I'm having? I don't see how you can appeal to any given unprovable idea as "THIS is ACLS! THIS we can know with perfect assurance, 100%! with our partially perfect knowledge!"...unless you have an authoritative Source that can tell us definitively, Yes, it's on the List, or Yes, that opinion/interpretation/idea can't possibly be wrong. It is as a fact.

Is "Genesis is written more figuratively..." one of the ideas?
Is "Genesis is written as literal history one..." one of the ideas?

Says who? On whose/what authority can we say objectively and with Absolute Confidence one idea or the other or neither is absolutely right?

I mean, I think that there is observable data and science that insists that Genesis, at the least, can't be taken as totally literal history, that the earth was not created in six days, 6,000 years ago, that the world didn't flood, that language diversification didn't happen on one day... that based on evidence, we can discount that... but I think Bubba might disagree with even what seems like to be incontrovertible data... so Bubba would/might say that this is NOT one of the issues that is ACLS... or that it IS one and Bubba's opinion on it is the conclusion we can know with absolute confidence.

On what bases? Says who? What are you appealing to as an authority?

That (perhaps as you know) is the on-going problem I'm having with what Bubba is suggesting... I just don't see how it can be explained and defended objectively.

Unfortunately, I don't feel I'm covering this as comprehensively as I'd like, but I'll leave that there for now and see if anyone would like to offer their respectful opinions.

Thank you so much.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Sunday, June 26, 2016

All 'Round Me


And in my moments of grief and groans
the world marches on without me
but not to leave me all alone
it's there, I know, all 'round me.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pride Festival, 2016


With so much bad news
in the news,
shootings,
hatred,
division,
oppression...

with all the bad news
it was a pleasant evening
to gather together with
a few thousand friends
and strangers
and take a stand for
      Love.

Truly, a beautiful day.




Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Muslim Strategy for Peace-making


From an op-ed by Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. His next book, "How to be a Muslim," will be out in 2017.

...The hundreds of millions of Muslims who reject extremism must start building out real, institutional alternatives to extremism, with serious funding, talent and commitment behind them. We've spent tens of millions of dollars in the United States, for example, and on what? We have some nice mosques. Most of them are empty most of the week, except for a few hours every Friday afternoon. We built some Islamic schools. I guess that's cool. But on the major metric, we've failed. It feels as if we are more unpopular than ever.
Many Americans want us banned from the country. In the battle for hearts and minds, we're losing. Badly. When Muhammad Ali died, a lot of Muslims I know were despondent precisely because they wondered if we would ever see such a champion again.
We need to turn this around. We need to fight back against extremism. We need to take ownership of the problems, because it's the only way we're going to take ownership of the solution. If you can't criticize yourself, you can't better yourself. If you can't lay out a vision of the future, you're going to live someone else's future.
I'm calling for the chaotic Muslim middle -- too long unrepresented or underrepresented -- not to stand up and speak out, but to stand up and build out. We must design, fund, sustain and expand programs that target the very people extremists are going after. Young men and young women of all backgrounds. These programs would realize a positive vision of Islam. They'd make young people feel like they're doing something. They'd make them feel valuable. Empowered. Capable. Agents.
As a friend of mine likes to put it, these programs should help create protagonists, writers of their own narrative. That becomes the kind of program that young people all over the world want to be part of. They should be so well-funded that we can afford to take people regardless of their personal circumstance. So egalitarian they aim to assist and uplift people regardless of where they come from, what color their skin is, what religion they believe in, or what language they speak. That begin to crowd out the extremist narrative, and extremist ideology.
Imagine if we could send significant numbers of young Muslims to meet their co-religionists and offer them aid and assistance, or to meet people they've never been exposed to, to be taught and to teach. Imagine if we leveraged our resources and our numbers to fight hate, intolerance and extremism. Imagine if young people saw they could help their co-religionists by working with mainstream institutions.
I am tired of simply saying terrorism is wrong. We should know that already. We should be known for that. I'd rather build up an alternative, a Muslim world that doesn't just reject extremism in word, but defeats it in deed, that does more than acknowledge homophobia, and intolerance (and the many other ills we see rampant in some Muslim communities, like anti-Semitism and racism), but actively fights them.
We certainly have the resources among us. We have more reasons to act now than we should...

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

An Insane and Hellish Legalism...

Cracked Pot
From Stan, at the fundamentalist blog, Winging It, on the "Regulative Principle of Worship...."

"I'd guess that most of you have never heard of this concept. Don't worry. I wouldn't expect it. Popular at one point, there are now very few churches that subscribe to it and, as you would expect, the rest have mostly put it out of their minds. So ... what is it? You've heard, I assume, of the principle of Christian Liberty. Based on passages like Romans 14 and1 Corinthians 10:23-33, this principle holds that Christians are permitted to do anything that God's Word does not forbid within the confines of conscience. Now, that's an oversimplification, perhaps, and there are lots of considerations, but that's the idea. Well, the regulative principle of worship is like that, except in reverse. This principle says that in worship believers are only permitted to do that which God commands.

The idea, believe it or not, comes from Scripture. The most compelling clue comes from the story of Nadab and Abihu. These priests, sons of Aaron, offered "strange fire" and were instantly burned to death (Lev 10:1-2). For "strange fire"? Oh, sure, the ESV says "unauthorized fire", like that helps. The point is that they didn't violate a command from God; they simply did something in worship that He had not commanded. When Aaron started to complain, Moses told him, "This is what the LORD has said: 'Among those who are near Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And the text says that with that, "Aaron held his peace." (Lev 10:3) 

It looks then like God is concerned with specifics in the worship He receives. Thus, Moses was not allowed to make whatever he thought appropriate for the tabernacle. He had to make everything "after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain." (Exo 25:40) The first two commands of the Decalogue are about the proper worship of God (Exo 20:1-6). Paul warns about "self-made religion" which "have indeed an appearance of wisdom" but "are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." (Col 2:23) Jesus rejected "the traditions of the elders" (Matt 15:1-13) and required a return to "the commandment of God". So it looks like the regulative principle of worship may have a biblical case.

After that, of course, the case breaks down..."

I will point out that my response is not, of course, an attack on Stan, but on this human (and nutty-sounding) theory... The "Regulative Principle of Worship..." Also, I will note that Stan does not fully endorse the claim. He merely says he thinks "the case for the regulative principle of worship has merit."

Here we have a "principle" that Jesus never advocated being proposed as a serious Christian tenet. The case is built almost entirely on one obscure passage from the OT, and even there, it does not promote this as a principle, but humans have taken the passage and fabricated out of thin air a principle they extrapolated from this obscure passage something that even Stan notes is the reverse of a more reasonable and consistently biblical theory, the idea of Christian Liberty.

[I will note here that I find Stan's description of Christian Liberty interesting, as taken literally, it would destroy his arguments against gay folk marrying, since God's Word never "forbids" it... it is a human extrapolation. So, presumably if one is going to be consistent on the notion of Christian Liberty, one would embrace grace on the topic of gay folk marrying or transgender folk going to the bathroom in the reasonably appropriate place, rather than the legalism of modern fundamentalist/conservatives.]

Using this approach, all manner of evil and craziness could be promoted as "coming from Scripture."

"There's this line in the Bible where God clearly okays the selling of one's daughters into forced marriages. This comes from Scripture and, thus God..."

No!

"I just read about how God told the Israelites to slaughter all the people of a nation when they invade, so that is how God wants us to deal with our enemies, it comes from Scripture..."

No!

This is the problem with the legalistic approach to using/misusing/abusing the Bible... Merely finding a passage and then, extrapolating OUT FROM that passage a human theory about what God wants (even when God never said so) is a potentially horrible idea. However, as long as you are fine with admitting it is your theory and NOT "God's Word," then okay, so perhaps it lets you extrapolate out bad or irrational theories, but it is clearly your theory and you gladly and humbly admit as much. We might could live with that. But the problem is when one conflates the extrapolated human theory with God's Word.

"It comes from Scripture..."

If it doesn't mesh with the teachings of Jesus, don't offer up an extrapolated theory as being a reasonable Christian tenet. If it sounds crazy and legalistic on the face of it, don't offer it up as a reasonable teaching of Jesus. If JESUS didn't say it, don't say it's a teaching of Jesus.

The idea, believe it or not, comes from a HUMAN head, not from God. It is something that humans are extrapolating out and imposing upon God when God has not said it. That is a bad idea. It is irrational and presumptuous and, quite possibly, even evil. Don't do that.

The one line Stan (and presumably others who might agree) got right is, "the case breaks down."

Indeed, the case breaks down when you move from an amusing "what if this were taken THAT way...?" party game about human theories and the Bible and move to "I've decided this is biblical and thus, what God wants. HEED MY WORD."

Bad, bad idea.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Research on Corporal Punishment...

...or why spanking doesn't work.

A new report on spanking confirms and rather puts a nail in the coffin of the idea of spanking as a good idea. From the University of Texas at Austin...

The more children are spanked, the more likely they are
to defy their parents and
to experience increased anti-social behavior,
aggression,
mental health problems and
cognitive difficulties,

according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking.

The study, published in this month's Journal of Family Psychology, looks at five decades of research involving over 160,000 children. The researchers say it is the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes associated with spanking, and more specific to the effects of spanking alone than previous papers, which included other types of physical punishment in their analyses.

"Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors," says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. "We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents' intended outcomes when they discipline their children..."

Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.

"We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors," she says. "Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree."

Gershoff also noted that the study results are consistent with a report released recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that called for "public engagement and education campaigns and legislative approaches to reduce corporal punishment," including spanking, as a means of reducing physical child abuse. "We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline."
=====

Read more in Science Daily...

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160425143106.htm

Monday, May 16, 2016

One Voice


Pentecost at Jeff St Baptist. 2016


In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is that time shortly after Easter, after Jesus had ascended into heaven and his disciples were sitting around figuring out, "What next?" The remaining followers of Jesus (about 120) were gathered together in a house in Jerusalem on a Sabbath when the Holy Spirit came upon them. This is where Jesus had just been crucified a few days before... these were no doubt very scary, dangerous times for his followers. When the Holy Spirit of God came to the disciples, it was like "tongues of fire" falling down upon them. After this happened, they went out into the city and began to preach about Jesus and, in spite of the dangerous political climate, these sermons served to bring people together.



At my church yesterday, some friends joined together to sing the song "One Voice," which you can see above. Here is what the book of Acts has to say about this special day (sometimes called the Birthday of the Church...)


When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

Peter’s Sermon

But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all HUMANITY;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved...’
~Acts 2

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Freedom!


There will come a day
when the very grains of sand
buried within the concrete sidewalks
will shake loose their bonds
and break down the structures that
imprison them
and be free.


I want to be there on that day
with a hammer in hand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Condolences



Just a few thoughts on this Trump thing...

1. I don't think Trump is a Republican, not in the normal sense of the word. I don't think he strictly speaking holds to Republican or conservative values.

2. That is not to say that I think he's a Democrat or liberal... God forbid!

3. I think Trump is most likely a charlatan, a PT Barnum, loudly and proudly proclaiming "There is a sucker born every minute! And I'm here as living proof of that!"

4. That is, I think Trump is in this not for political ideals, just for himself. He'll say just about anything because he knows there's a certain apparently large percentage of the population that will believe just about anything, if you frame it just right and say it with enough bluster and demonize any who disagree with you.

5. This makes Trump potentially dangerous, because you just don't know what he'll do next and he's beholden to no groups, no community, no others but himself and that's all he needs, he thinks. It could well be this whole thing was a joke, to show how gullible a certain percentage of the population is, and how they'll go for anything if the right "leader" shows them the way. As Trump said himself, he could kill someone and his supporters would not stop supporting him. That's dangerous.

6. So, all that to say that the main problem in this Trump candidacy is not Trump himself, he's just an megalomaniacal con man. No, the problem is that so many people could fall under his spell. That's what is scary in all this.

7. Having said that, I'm not worried that Trump will win. I'm certain he's unelectable. Just because there is a large portion of the mostly "conservative" camp that will support him does not mean that there's anything like a majority who'd vote for him across the board.

8. Early on in this election cycle, when Trump was just beginning to establish himself, some GOP spokesperson said that he hoped Trump would be the nominee, just so that he'd get trampled in the general election and hopefully purge the GOP of this wing of their party. Not a bad idea, except that there's a chance that it might just kill off the GOP instead of rebuilding it. Sometimes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but sometimes, it kills you.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Earth Day


     Softly, she whispers
and - leaning into the wind -
              softly, I listen