Sunday, April 28, 2013

Forcing Religion in Public Schools is not Frowned on in Mississippi. I'm Shocked.

So one day somebody at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Mississippi came up with the idea to hold a series of mandatory Christian assemblies, where students would be required to watch a Christian video and listen to ministers (and fellow students) from the Pinelake Baptist Church preach to them about the importance of being a Christian. 

Now, it isn't so much that someone in a public taxpayer-funded secular school came up with the idea--off-the-wall ideas are everywhere. It's that so many others thought the idea was a good one.  They thought it was such a good idea, in fact, that part of the plan was to station teachers and parents at the doors so that no kid could escape leave.  When some of the students tried to leave, according to the complaint, Officer White, the truancy officer, "harassed them and told them to sit down".  When some of them tried to go from their classrooms to the library instead, Officer White was on it.  They were herded to the assembly.

The complaint says that over the three assemblies there were anywhere from 20 to 30 staff members in attendance, along with anywhere from five to 10 of the student church representatives' parents. So, in essence, (no, in fact) the kids in that public school were forced to listen to the preaching of a particular brand of a particular religion, and--get this--nobody in charge thought there was anything wrong with that.

It wasn't a one-time fluke of a thing.  As noted, it happened at least three times, starting on April 9.  At least three times preachers were invited into a public school assembly and at least three times the students at Northwest Rankin were pulled out of their classes and required to attend.

Finally, one of the kids taped a portion of the assembly and it found its way to the American Humanist Association.  Now it's a First Amendment issue, along with another chance at embarrassing a heretofore oblivious sorry mess of an American state--futile as that might be.

Some of us will be shaking our heads over this, tsk tsking all over the place, but who wants to bet nothing much will happen here?  At most, they'll have to agree to stop holding Christian assemblies and that will give them a chance to scream about freedom of religion.  We'll be seeing those posters and tee shirts where God is sad about not being allowed in schools, and anybody who sees what happened at Northwest Rankin High School as a bad thing will be reminded that the lesson is an innocent one about Jesus' love so who but a liberal commie atheist would complain about that?

 Well, I would.  And I did.  And I will.  Because it isn't about God, it's about religion.  And because forcing any religion in public schools is frowned on in a country where freedoms are supposed to be cherished.  All across this free country laws upholding fundamentalist Christian values are being written in states where those groups have gained a foothold.  They're re-interpreting the constitution to read that while no national religion can be established, it's perfectly okay for states to have some wiggle room regarding somebody's idea of faith-based values.

You might have seen that North Carolina was in the news last week over a state religion proposal by a couple of Tea Party legislators.  It was quashed the next day but there's something just weird about a headline that reads, "North Carolina Won't Establish State Religion."  (Alrighty then.  Next?)

Apparently there's nothing mandatory about elected or even school officials being made to understand the reasons why certain clauses in our particular constitution came to be.

We should probably work on fixing that.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Politicians out of control on Guns: Never Forgive, Never Forget

Yesterday 46 members of the Senate voted down a proposal that would have been a logical first step to gun control--universal background checks.  They were able to vote it down, even though 54 members voted for it because they rigged the way the votes count now.  Voting it down for no good reason is bad enough but they did it through cowardice, lies and cheats. The whole process was despicable, made even more so by the fact that it happened in the chambers where expectations of fairness and fidelity used to run quite high.

These public servants ignored the wishes of at least 90% of Americans and caved, instead, to willful profit-oriented special interests.  They lied about the content of the bill and insured their success by forcing a 60-vote approval instead of a fairer, more honest majority vote.

In a sane world, this would be enough to cause those who voted against the wishes of the people some actual discomfort, if not some actual punishment.  Our outrage (those of us who have sense enough to be outraged) comes today because we know nothing will happen to them.  They will go on for another day and another day after that making bad decisions that will affect all of us in one way or another, and all we can do is shout about it.

We are outraged.  The parents and families of the Newtown School massacre are outraged.  Gabrielle Giffords is outraged. The president is outraged.  The Democrats (all but four senators) are outraged. Certain members of the press are outraged.  But our rage at these 46 members of the United States Senate who voted to keep guns out of our control is, in the end, no more than hot air.  Rage, like hot air, dissipates.  It weakens to anger, and anger, when it is not satisfied, weakens to a sigh.  A futile sigh. We are exhausted.  We inevitably leave it behind and go on.

They get away with these undemocratic actions once again because we have neither the authority nor the strength to stop them.  And they know this.

The president gave a masterful speech yesterday, designed to both clarify his rage and to shame them for their actions.  They don't care.

A portion of what the president said: 
Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders –- not just to honor the memory of their children, but to protect the lives of all our children.  And a few minutes ago, a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it.  They blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery.

By now, it’s well known that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun.  We’re talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness.  Ninety percent of Americans support that idea.  Most Americans think that’s already the law.

And a few minutes ago, 90 percent of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea.  But it’s not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea.
A majority of senators voted “yes” to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks.  But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward.
Gabrielle Giffords wrote an impassioned editorial in the New York Times yesterday, designed to show her rage and to shame those senators.  They don't care.

From Gabby:
Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.

James Fallows wrote a great piece in the Atlantic yesterday called "For the Love of God, just call it a Filibuster".    They don't care. 
  1. Today a provision that would increase background checks for gun purchases was blocked in the Senate, even though consideration of the bill was supported by 54 senators representing states that make up (at quick estimate) at least 60 percent of the American population.
  2. The bill did not fail to "pass" the Senate, which according to Constitutional provisions and accepted practice for more than two centuries requires a simple majority, 51 votes. Even 50 votes should do it, since the vice president is constitutionally empowered to cast the tie-breaking and deciding vote, and Joe Biden would have voted yes.
  3. It failed because a 54-vote majority was not enough to break the threat of a filibuster, which (with some twists of labeling) was the real story of what happened with this bill. Breaking the filibuster would have required 60 votes.

The Twitterverse clogged the place yesterday listing one by one the names of those senators who voted "no".  They don't care.

Journalists, essayists, bloggers, and hundreds of thousands of enraged activists took to their preferred soapboxes and shouted out in anguished rage.  The senators ignored us all.  They don't care.

They're counting on our inattention, our tendency to be distracted and manipulated, our refusal to believe our elected politicians could turn against us so cruelly, so blatantly, and so often.

This is our chance to show them how much we care.  We can't forget.  We must not forgive.  We will not let them get away with this latest insult.  They should not be allowed to win again.  Not if we are who we think we are.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hulabaloo at the Soo

Let me just say right off that when it comes to Homeland and border security, I'm all for it.

When it comes to appreciating how essential shipping is to the Great Lakes, I'm right at the head of the line.

When it comes to being in awe of the engineering feat that is the Soo Locks I am so in awe I can't stand it.

The Soo Locks.  From Left: MacArthur, Poe, Davis, Sabin

So when I got back on my turf last week and read in our local paper that an investigation into a possible bomb threat had closed the locks just days after the spring shipping season opened, my first instinct, naturally, was to blame Gov. Snyder and the Republican legislators and then the Koch Brothers and the Mackinac Center. (Because they're to blame for so much around here it's hard not to blame them for everything.  I'm sure you can understand.)

But here's what happened:  At 7:30 AM on the morning of March 29 a mailroom clerk at the Soo Locks was gathering up mail to be delivered to the boats scheduled to go through the locks on that day.  (It's a most efficient mail delivery system, given that the boats are girdled into the narrow lock and mail bags can be cast onto their decks as they wait out the raising or lowering of the water in the lock.)  This person heard beeping in one of the packages and thought it might be a bomb.  He called the Army Corp of Engineers who then called the Chippewa County central dispatch, who then sent out the police to check things out.

The police set up a command post at the guard building at the Locks main gate.  From there (and I'm quoting here from the St. Ignace News, April 4, 2013 - not yet available online) :
"Sault Ste. Marie Fire Department, Army Corp of Engineers, Coast Guard, Customs, Border Patrol, Immigration, the U.S Post Office and staff from the International Bridge were also on the scene.  Police on the Canadian side of the St. Mary's River were also advised of the situation.

The Coast Guard temporarily closed traffic on the St. Mary's River and established a 'limited access area' in the vicinity of both the locks and the International Bridge while the investigation was in progress.

A Michigan State bomb disposal unit was brought in from Gaylord [A full 115 miles to the south of the locks, it should be noted] before both it and a MSP K-9 unit searched the mailroom, where no explosives or other hazardous material were found and no packages were heard to be beeping.  Several small packages were then removed from the room where the beeping originated and checked using a mobile scanning vehicle.

Following the scan the packages were opened with one providing the source of the beeping:  an alarm clock."
It seems the alarm clock was set to go off at 7 AM (35 minutes before the mailroom clerk first heard it) and someone packing the thing either forgot to turn it off or neglected to take out the batteries.  (Admonition from Sault Ste. Marie police chief:  "Because of situations like this, the public is reminded not to include batteries in packages that are being sent through the U.S Mail.") So in the course of that few hours of shut-down, 11 lakers and salties (ocean-going vessels) were laid up --six upbound and five downbound--anchored far away from any threat of explosion.

Every boat, big or small, heading into or out of Lake Superior has to go through the Soo Locks System.  In earlier times it was possible to portage around the rapids (there is a 21-foot height difference between Lake Superior and the St. Mary's River) but nobody does it anymore.  Now we depend on the locks.  (Another note:  A new and bigger lock has been approved since 1989 to replace the obsolete Sabin and Davis locks but guess what?  The approval didn't come with funding, and even though they finally broke ground for the thing 20 years later, in 2009, that apparently wasn't impetus enough to free up some cash for it. I would say that's like promising a congressman an annual salary of $174,000 a year without actually providing the funds to pay it, but it isn't.  It's nothing like that.  So never mind.)

But back to the story:  Beeping from a package is a big deal.  (A thought here: Would a bomber really create a bomb that beeps?  Yes.  In the movies. How else would you know to be terrified that there was a bomb in there? Otherwise, probably not.)  Our locks at the Soo are a big deal.  So while I do admit that the Keystone-coppishness of that story tickled my funny bone, I've wondered at times about the vulnerability of the locks.  So I felt pretty good knowing our law-enforcement agencies are sort of on top of situations like these.

In this video (not mine), taken from the public observation deck at the Soo Locks Park, you can see how close the public is allowed to get to these boats.  The observation deck is glass-enclosed but there are other areas in the park where fences might keep humans out but bombs could easily be dispatched.  After 9/11, security was tight and we could only enter the park through one entrance, where guards with wands checked us through.  Now we can meander through unguarded gates at any time during open park hours without fear of bodily wanding.  Since that whole color-coding plan went bust, there is, it seems, nothing written in stone about Homeland Security. 

 A few of my own photos from the Locks:

MacArthur Lock in foreground; Indiana Harbor in Poe Lock
Algoma Transport downbound in MacArthur Lock
"Saltie" Whistler entering Locks channel downbound.  International and railroad bridge ahead.
Locks tour boat upbound in MacArthur Lock.  International Bridge in background.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Back in Michigan but not quite home

Just to let you know I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. We've been living out of suitcases for almost two weeks now as we worked our way north from our winter digs.  We're in the U.P finally, on the last leg home.  Should get there today and I'm hearing bad news about a snow mound that still needs digging out before we can get to our door.  Should be interesting.

Our nephew plowed out our driveway but put his back out before he could shovel the walk.  Don't know what we're going to do with him but rest assured he'll be punished for this.

Our house in winter

But the worst of it is that my brother Mike died suddenly of a heart attack on March 21.  He was 66 years old. My brother Chris and I are his only next-of-kin and we've been trying to do what we need to do to put his soul to rest and to clear up his affairs.  Someday I may write about him but for now it's too soon.

Life will settle down soon, I hope, and then I'll be back to doing what I love to do best:  Antagonizing the hell out of myself and others.