KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

United States Defaults On Debt To Its Veterans

If a nation cannot afford to tend to the physical and psychological wounds suffered by its soldiers in war, then that nation simply cannot afford to go to war.

Such is the current situation in the United States. And it is beyond shameful. The amount of money we commit to spending on new weapons systems is measured in the trillions. Yet somehow, Congress cannot manage to fully fund appropriate medical and psychological treatment for wounded veterans. What exactly do the politicians mean when they proudly proclaim that they “Support Our Troops”?

I’ve started the following petition on the White House website. If it gets 100,000 signatures in the next few weeks, the White House will officially respond. And maybe that will be a start. Nothing else seems to be working – in this country that talks a good game about the price our veterans have paid for our “liberty and freedom”. It is time for the government to shoulder its share of the burden. You don’t have to support war, but we must acknowledge the horrific cost of our wars and help those who bear that cost. It is a debt we owe them. And we have been defaulting on that debt.

Please click on the link below and sign the petition. And if you are not an American, I hope you’ll repost this link on WordPress and other social media for your American friends to see. Thanks all.

http://wh.gov/i0c1C

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Songs Left Unsung

Thirty-five years ago an invisible monster started stalking the streets of New York and the hills of San Francisco. The first mention of it in the media was ‘the Gay Cancer’ story in the New York Times in the summer of 1981. AIDS would go on to kill nearly 40 million people worldwide, with a death toll that still exceeds one million people each year. This disease decimated several generations of gay men in the United States. It also ignited an historic and powerful community response among gay people and our straight allies which changed the course of the disease – and of civil rights in America. This cataclysm is one of the defining global events of the late 20th century, reflected in our politics, literature, music, film and art… but it played out on a much more personal scale. One person, one life, one death at a time. Countless hearts have broken, oceans of tears shed… with amazing courage and dignity shown in the face of disaster.

One of the first blogs I followed was Gay Dinosaur Tales by a fellow WordPresser named Matthew. Our paths have overlapped a bit, both geographically and experientially, though he had about a ten-year headstart on me. It’s been a bit like finding a big brother I didn’t know I had. I love the way he writes about coming to NYC after graduating from Kent State and the decade he spent coming of age as a gay man in Gotham in the 70s and early 80s.

Matthew recently announced that he was taking a break from publishing his blog. I hated the idea, and told him so. But I resigned myself to not seeing any posts from him for awhile. Then, unexpectedly, there was a new post from Gay Dinosaur Tales! It’s very much in keeping with his reminiscences of life in NYC – but this one was something else. It’s a part of his story that he hadn’t yet fully shared, and he needed to now. (click on the link below)

Like all the most involving stories of life and love and loss, its power comes from the truth and the details of the people in his life, his relationships with them, in that time, in that place. Matthew’s story stands on its own by bearing witness to this chapter in his life and remembering those who went before him. But it also reminds us of the dangers of superstition trumping science in our own time, when there is still no vaccine for fear and ignorance.

“I’ve often said, if I could go back to any one job in my life it would be here–this time–this place–that me. That is, until the world collapsed from underneath our feet.”

GayDinosaurTales.com: Celebrate Good Times

 

As Flies Are We To The Gods – Part MMXV

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.
– Shakespeare

The world has been drowning in the bloodshed of religious violence for thousands of years. Greece vs Egypt vs Rome vs Turks vs Mongols… Christians vs Muslims vs Jews… Shia vs Sunni… Catholics vs Protestants… eternal hatreds, endless wars. We like to think of ourselves as advanced and enlightened, but our medieval roots are showing.

Nine years ago, this commentary was published following the violent reactions of religious extremists to the publication of a Danish cartoon. So we don’t have to wonder what the late Christopher Hitchens would have to say about today’s massacre at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It’s worth another read, and sadly just as relevant now as it was then.

“Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.” (By the way, hasn’t the word “offensive” become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a “holy” book. But I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.”

Read the full article at Slate:
Cartoon Debate: The case for mocking religion, by Christopher Hitchens

“Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things, because to demystify supposedly ‘holy texts dictated by god’ and show that they are man made, what you have to show is their internal inconsistencies and absurdities. One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority… it is an indispensable thing. People can call it blasphemy if they like, but if they call it that they have to assume there is something to be blasphemed – some divine work, well I don’t accept the premise.” – Christopher Hitchens 16 May 2013

The Moral of the Story

A blogger friend of mine reblogged this piece, and I am compelled to do likewise. I have felt like a dragon spewing fire all day by blog, tweet and post. I am angry, and I am angriest at those who aren’t angry at all. But anger only gets us so far. And we pay a terrible price for it in the long run.

So I share this excellent piece by TheLuddbrarian, “The Moral of the Story”. It is so thoughtful and intelligent… and those are the two qualities most glaringly absent in the midst of racist hatred. Thoughtfulness. Intelligence.

The notion of “mutual aid” being the foundation for the evolution of human society and advancement is so simple, it is instantly recognized as truth. Yet in these troubled times, we seem so far removed from mutual anything — let alone any sense of obligation to each other as human beings.

I will be honest: I am not hopeful. At least not for the foreseeable future. Perhaps our species will find its way back to cooperation, obligation and mutual assistance. If that is to happen, it will be thanks to countless conversations that must begin now, like waves lapping at the shore. And to that end, I share this. Because my flamethrower is tapped out for now.

LibrarianShipwreck

When surveying the news of recent days, weeks and months it can be a rather troublesome exercise to ask the question: what is the moral of this story? Granted, not every story has a moral—the news is not a fable, after all—and sometimes the lesson to be gleaned is not a particularly uplifting one. Indeed, it may be a lesson that we had been certain we had learned so long ago as to make the retelling seem anachronistic. And yet, even if we are seeing the headlines courtesy of the latest technological innovations the content of those headlines is a reminder that we are not as far removed from yesterday as some would like to think.

From Ferguson to Cleveland to New York City – it is proving to be a brutally cold winter. On Tuesday, December 2, Americans were encouraged to participate in the festive showing of conviviality known…

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The new rules for black people in America

The new rules for black people in America:

#ICANTBREATHE

Photo credit: Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Photo credit: Scott Lynch / Gothamist

Pale Blue Dot

“…every saint and sinner in the history of our species… lived there…
on the mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam…” – Carl Sagan

From The Sagan Series

The End (so far)

 

 

A Response to ‘Women Against Feminism’

Blogging, in its highest form, is a conversation. Last week, I wrote a post expressing my own sadness and anger that I live in country which talks about freedom and equality… but too often does not walk that walk. A woman named Lisa clicked the ‘like’ button on my post. That led me to her blog, where I discovered this post that she had chosen to reblog.

We do not have to be white to understand the injustices suffered by people of color. We do not have to be female to understand the injustices suffered by women and girls. We do not have to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to understand the injustices suffered by members of the queer community. We already possess the only attribute needed to understand each other’s challenges: we are all human. Once you and I understand the injustices we all face, the only thing left for us to do is to act humanely toward each other. It is no coincidence that all of the world’s faith traditions and moral codes share one most basic tenet: Treat others as you want to be treated. What could be simpler? Easier? Less controversial?

I share this post with you because it speaks to the importance of looking beyond ourselves. I am not a woman, but I am a feminist. What about you?

iwantedwings

Imagine this:

The year is 2014. You are a white Western woman. You wake up in the morning in a comfortably sized house or flat. You have a full or part-time job that enables you to pay your rent or mortgage. You have been to school and maybe even college or university as well. You can read and write and count. You own a car or have a driver’s licence. You have enough money in your own bank account to feed and clothe yourself. You have access to the Internet. You can vote. You have a boyfriend or girlfriend of your choosing, who you can also marry if you want to, and raise a family with. You walk down the street wearing whatever you feel like wearing. You can go to bars and clubs and sleep with whomever you want.

Your world is full of freedom and possibility.

Then you…

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I AM (NOT) MIKE BROWN

A man at a protest holds a sign expressing his solidarity – and commonality – with Mike Brown.

“I AM MIKE BROWN”

Mike Brown is dead.

Mike Brown was shot to death.

Mike Brown was 18 years old. Black. Unarmed.

Mike Brown was gunned down in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day.

By a cop.

In Ferguson, Missouri.

In the United States of America.

Ferguson, Missouri is a suburb of St Louis. Its population is 70% black.

Its mayor is white. School board is white. City council is white (except for one black member). And the Ferguson Police Department is 94% white, with only 3 black police officers.

Mike Brown was shot six times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Four times in the arm, twice in the head.

His crime was jaywalking.

Later it was suggested by the Ferguson Police Dept that he may have stolen a handful of cigars from a convenience store.

Because, unlike jaywalking, that is a crime punishable by death in a hail of bullets from a cop’s gun in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

Eyewitnesses have reported that Mike Brown had his hands in the air in the universal sign of surrender. And then he was murdered. 

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

Photo credit Scott Olson / Getty Images

“Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.” has become a rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson, all over the country and around the world.

Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Dept left Mike Brown’s body lying in the street, uncovered, for four hours. The body of a dog that had been run over by a car would have been treated with more respect than this. How can this be?

mikebrown.deadinstreet

Ten days after killing unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown, and Darren Wilson still has not been arrested. He has not been detained. He has not been questioned. He has not been charged with a crime. The people of Ferguson are incensed. They are marching in their streets. They are venting their anger. They are exercising their Constitutional rights to assemble and petition their government. They are demanding the same justice that anyone has a right to expect in this country. But they are not getting any measure of justice. They have been met with an absurdly overblown paramilitary response including armored vehicles, automatic weapons trained on them, and tear gas canisters fired at them. 

The US military’s rules of engagement in Iraq did not allow soldiers to point their weapons at civilians.

Automatic weapons are leveled at American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

The United States is a signatory to treaties that ban the use of tear gas in warfare.

Tear gas is being used against American civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo credit: Eric Thayer / New York Times

Photo credit Eric Thayer / New York Times

Substitute your own racial or ethnic group in place of [a black man] in the following sentence:

In the United States of America, a black man is shot to death by a cop every 28 hours.

What would you do?

I am Mike Brown.

But I am not Mike Brown.

I am a 52-year-old white man who has never experienced one moment of fear that I would be shot to death by a cop. I have lived in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I have visited Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, St Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Baltimore… and many other cities, towns, suburbs and rural areas in this country. I have walked through downtown areas in the middle of the night. I have marched in the streets in protests.

But I have never – not for one minute of my life – known the fear of being targeted by a cop. I have never worried about being shot to death for jaywalking as 18-year-old Mike Brown was. I have never worried about being put in a choke hold by a group of NYC police for the crime of selling cigarettes on a street corner. While other cops stood by. While paramedics did not come to my aid. As 43-year-old Eric Garner was. I have never worried about being shot to death in a Walmart for picking up a BB gun from a BB gun display, as 22-year-old John Crawford was in Beavercreek, Ohio. I have never worried about being shot in the back while I was lying on the ground during an “investigative stop” as 25-year-old Ezell Ford was in Los Angeles. I have never worried about being shot to death by a vigilante as I walked home to my grandmother’s house as 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was. I have never worried about being shot to death at a gas station for playing loud music as 17-year-old Jordan Davis was.

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

Photo credit Whitney Curtis / New York Times

So no, I am not Mike Brown. I am not Eric Garner or John Crawford. I am not Ezell Ford or Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis.

I am not a black man in America.

But I am an American. As were all of these men. Why can I walk through my neighborhood, in my city, in my country without fear of being shot to death by the police? Why can’t black men do the same? Why can’t black women in America say goodbye to their husbands, their sons, their grandsons – without wondering if they’ll ever see them again?

Why are black men (and all people of color) treated so outrageously unfairly by our law enforcement and justice systems? 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. – read more at AmericanProgress.org

And what are we – you and I – going to do about it?

Join a protest. Raise your voice. And vote

Why vote? 

Because the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have a voter turnout of about 12%. That is how a 70% black town gets an almost 100% white leadership. In other words, that is how people get a government that does not represent their best interests. It may not be the government they deserve, but it is the government they gave themselves.

The government of the United States of America does not currently represent the best interests of the people of this country. There is an election in ten weeks. Every member of Congress is up for re-election. Many state and local elected officials, too. So vote. Whatever your race, your creed, your color, your orientation, your issue. Vote. It is your only power. And if you don’t use it, you will find yourself powerless. Like the people of Ferguson. And then it might be too late. As it is for Mike Brown.

Voting cannot end racism in this country. But voting can remove racists from elected positions in government at every level. And no, I make no distinction between racists and those who implement racist policies. Because there is no distinction to be made there.

If you are not registered to vote, or if you’re not sure,
click here >>> REGISTER TO VOTE NOW. AND THEN VOTE.

And if you have two minutes, watch this powerful statement from Jesse Williams on CNN

“I am Mike Brown” photo credit: Monica Almeida/New York Times

Continuing coverage by New York Times

Continuing coverage at Vox.com

“Pick Up The Battle. Take it up. It’s Yours.”

In light of the murder of Michael Brown and the continuing shame of Ferguson, Missouri… these words from Maya Angelou are still, and always, relevant. “Pick up the battle… it’s yours!”

The End

In 2006, Maya Angelou sat down in her home in North Carolina with Dave Chappelle for a conversation that was recorded as part of the Sundance Iconoclasts series.

The entire hour is available on YouTube in four parts. From the 5:00 mark of this clip, Maya remembers her friends Malcolm and Martin… how this is both historical and personal for her, these iconic figures were also her friends… and how the anger in the aftermath of their assassinations was fuel for action. She has a message for those of us who are angry about the state of our country and our world.


 “You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it…

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Trees

When I was very young the view from my bedroom window looked up to the massive tree in the front of our house. It was either a maple or a sycamore. The only reason I know that is that I remember the seeds – the kind that would helicopter down to the ground. You could try to catch them, but their flightpath was unpredictable. About the only thing they were good for (other than making new trees) was that you could split the fat end and stick it on your nose, like a rhino horn. I’m not sure why that was so amusing, but it was. At night the tree was illuminated by a nearby streetlight. The light and the movement of the branches and leaves made an endless kaleidoscope of images. It was quite a show. Especially during a storm. I can remember being frightened sometimes by scary faces that would appear in the leafy imagery… but they never lasted long. Mostly, it was a great way to fall asleep every night.

One day, some men came with chainsaws and they chopped down the tree… my tree. I don’t know why. Maybe it had grown too big. Maybe its roots were destroying the sidewalk. What I do know is that this was the first great sadness I can recall in my life. I mourned the loss of that tree. And I did it quietly, because I instinctively knew that this was not something that a little boy ought to moretreesbe doing. Mourning a tree? That sentiment would not have been greeted with understanding or sympathy. But it was the beginning of my lifelong affinity for trees. Do others share this? I don’t know. It’s not something that comes up in conversation very often. I do know that many people don’t give a fig about trees. Are they in the way? Cut ’em down! Blocking a view? Cut ’em down! I’d rather cut those people down.

Today I came across two remarkable videos having to do with trees. The first was shared by my friend Scott on Facebook. It is from a group called Cryptik Movement which is dedicated to enlightenment through public art. Their “About” page opens with this quote:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” -Albert Einstein

Remember that folks! The Smartest. Guy. Ever. says we need to keep a sense of wonder and awe. OK, so here’s the first tree video I want to share with you:

The Consciousness of Trees

 

If that reminded you of the movie Avatar, you’re not alone. (Or, maybe I’m not alone.) What I love about this is that it is grounded in science, yet crosses into the mystical or spiritual aspect of Nature.

The second tree video – from my friend M-R’s eponymous blog Margaret-Rose Stringer – is quite different. Yet so similar. The focus is on one remarkable man whose life has had one remarkable focus: planting a forest in a barren, environmentally threatened place. If you don’t have 16 minutes to watch this now, click on it and then watch it later. If you want to see a demonstration of hope in a hopeless place, watch it now.

Forest Man

Can one person change the world? Yes. So can one tree. Thanks to my friends for sharing these today. I haven’t thought about my childhood tree in a long time. I hope this post branches out to create some of the wonder and awe that Einstein spoke of. If you enjoyed it, leaf a comment. Just don’t bark at me for these terrible puns.

The End (so far)

 

 

 

Word Crimes

What’s this? A second Weird Al Yankovic video? In the same week? Egads…

Whereas Tacky is a send up of Pharrell’s HappyWord Crimes is a parody of last year’s endlessly looping Blurred Lines, morphing it into an indictment of America’s sloppy language habits. It’s clever, naturally. But it may also be miraculous – alchemizing the most vapid song of the century into something instructive and edifying. Plus, it’s got a great beat.

 

Nota bene: Weird Al released no fewer than eight videos this week, a splashy publicity campaign for his new album Mandatory Fun.

The End (so far)