This place matters

This place matters

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving

American history is filled with half-truths and disappointments. Here's a little snippet on gratitude from a man who, by all accounts, was exactly who he seemed to be.


Do me a solid, kids. Declare your dinner table a hate free zone tonight. Just tell everybody you love them and we're not going to fix anything throwing hate and blame. Hold your family tight in the memory of all the people who don't have a family to hold tight anymore.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pompous Circumstance

I've had one and only one job that I've left without notice, and that was the job at which I graded standardized tests. Or would have graded standardized tests - I made it through one whole day of training before I left.
My would-be employer was a temp agency that graded essays for a company whose name we were never told. Essays would be graded on a scale of 1 to 5, and we received handouts giving example essays for each grade. Based on the content of the essays, it was pretty clear that the low-scoring examples were kids who lived in poverty. The instructor kept pausing to point out and mock the students' mistakes while the trainees laughed. 
Though numbers vary widely by school district, third grade students now spend over 20 hours of the school year taking tests, while eleventh graders can spend close to 60. These tests have high stakes - they affect things like teacher pay and school funding, so schools dedicate up to 150 hours a year just to test preparation. 
People today bristle at the idea of government and corporations controlling our lives - except when it comes to standardized tests. You've probably never even heard of the Educational Testing Service, yet few corporations have more control over our lives and the lives of our nation's kids. The Educational Testing Service develops so many national standardized tests that many, including Americans for Educational Testing Reform, consider it an outright monopoly. The big one is the SAT, but it also develops AP tests, the GRE, several state-level proficiency tests, and the Praxis. Educational institutions continue to use these tests even though the ETS's own data reveals the tests to be wildly unfair. 
The Wall Street Journal reports that the average score of students whose parents' combined income is below $20,000 is almost 400 points lower than the average score of students whose parents clear more than $200,000. 400 points is the difference between Harvard and state school, the difference between a full ride and no ride. This is in no small part due to the fact that the ETS sells expensive test prep materials to those who can afford them. No wonder the rich get richer. 
Inside Higher Education reports that Caucasian and Asian American students far out-perform African American and Mexican American students. FairTest.org points out that this disparity is partially responsible higher rates of unemployment, lower rates of pay, and lower college enrollment for black and Hispanic students. Certainly this problem exists in standardized testing across the board, but the ETS has more than adequate resources to research and try to find more income and race-neutral questions. But they don't care about fair. They don't care about who really does or doesn't have scholastic aptitude. They care about delivering a uniform bell curve.
Generally not-for-profit organizations are supposed to be trying to do some good in the world. This not-for-profit organization are trying to put more money in the pockets of their executives. Even though the organization's supposedly not for profit, Bloomburg reports that the company's CEO made $1.3 million in 2009 - more than the head of the Red Cross, more even than the president of Harvard. The company's execs are also compensated far more than the industry average. 
Why are we okay with this? 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How well do you know your scripture?


Try this fun quiz with your friends and family - identify which of the following verses are from the Bible and which are from the Quran:

  1. If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you.
  2. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet... But women will be saved through childbearing.
  3. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
  4. Suppose you hear in one of the towns your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. 
  5. Then I heard God say to the other men, "Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.
  6. If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods... do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you.
  7. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. 
  8. Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.
  9. Now go, attack the Amalekites and utterly destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

If you guessed they're all from the Bible, congratulations, you're on to my little game. This isn't to prove that Christian scripture is evil, or that it is more violent than the Quran, but just to point out that you can cherry pick evil stuff out of Christian scripture as easily as you can the Quran. Just as Nazis used Christian scripture to justify their actions, ISIL uses the Quran to do the same. But just as the Nazis conveniently ignored all the bits in the Bible about loving and not murdering, ISIL conveniently ignores passages in their own scripture - the bits about never killing women or children or non-combatants or clergy...

1) Deuteronomy 21:18-21, 2) Timothy 2: 11-15 3) Matthew 10:34-36 4) Deuteronomy 13:13-19 5) Ezekiel 9:5 6) Deuteronomy 13:7-12 7) Numbers 31: 17-18 8) Hosea 13:16 9) 1 Samuel 15

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Soundtrack of freedom

We don't know what was going through Billie Holiday's mind as she stood on the stage at Cafe Society, New York City's first integrated night club, that night in 1939. Maybe she was reflecting on how much she had to lose. She'd first been in trouble with the law at 9, when she'd been hauled into court for truancy and sentenced to nearly a year in reform school. At 11, she'd nearly been raped, only to spend another several months in protective custody at the same reform school. At 13, her mother forced her into prostitution, yet when the women's brothel was raided several months later, Billie Holiday served five months in prison to her mother's two.
Music had been Holiday's ticket out, but that night in 1939, the night she first performed  Abel Meeropol's Strange Fruit, could have ended it all. Meerpol had written the song in 1937, following the Indiana lynching of lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith a few years earlier. White jazz fans then liked black music a whole lot more than they liked black people. White audiences might not like being confronted with the reality of racism. But she sang it anyway. And audiences, most of them, loved it. 
I can't imagine that anything I will ever do in life will be as brave an act as Holiday's. 


Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop

Here is a strange and bitter crop
--- Hollywood wasn't eager to take on Hitler. Even in the twilight of the 1930s, when it was becoming clear that Hitler might just be the human embodiment of evil, studios didn't want to touch Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. Indeed, no one would have blamed Charlie Chaplin for walking away from the film he'd written satirizing Hitler and the Nazi regime. Most of the folks in Peoria hoped to avoid getting into World War 2, and a decent number still thought those Nazis might be on to something. Then there was FBI's massive file on Chaplin; the little tramp would have been wise to stay off their radar. J. Edgar Hoover was already convinced that Chaplin was a communist, and these words from The Great Dictator's final monologue could only strengthen that conviction. 
I should like to help everyone if possible- Jew, Gentile, black men, white…
We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery... In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. 
The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will!
Chaplin hoped that his magnum opus would shorten the coming war, and he didn't care about the consequences for him. He hoped it would wake America up to the atrocities they were so eager to ignore. I don't know if it did, but I do know I watch it every time I need a shot in the arm.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Of course you realize this means war

There's a war on Christmas; Fox News says it so it must be true. When a business says happy holidays instead of merry Christmas, it's clearly because they hate Jesus, and not because they're trying to be inclusive (and welcoming and being kind to all people is so the opposite of the Christmas spirit). 
The fact is, Christmas lovers, you are not persecuted warriors because you're not fighting anybody. 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. 95%. 88% of folks have no problem with businesses saying Merry Christmas, with the remaining 12 saying only that they prefer "happy holidays". 82% of all Americans view Christmas as a religious holiday, with 62% attending religious services on Christmas, 65% displaying religious decorations in their homes, and 78% saying that they think it's important to use the holiday as a time to reflect on the birth of Christ. In fact, Americans are far more likely to be offended by being wished "happy holidays" than those who are offended by "merry Christmas." I could find no research indicating that a statistically significant number of Americans want to bring down Christmas - the vast majority of folks who don't celebrate Christmas don't declare any desire to stop others from doing so.
But I think that actually, there is a different kind of war on Christmas. A war between greed and generosity, a war between consumerism and kindness, a war between words and actions. Christ says, "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray... on street corners so that others may see them." And yet we have this douchenozzle literally standing on a street corner shouting about the lack of effing snowflakes on his Starbucks cup being an assault on Christmas.*

See, Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ, a leader who hated greed and preached against lavish displays of wealth. Christ says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be... you cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:19 and 24). Yet corporations want us to celebrate Christmas by doing exactly that - piling more treasures and trinkets onto all that we already have. I think that if there is a war on Christmas, it is a war between our generosity toward those in need and greed for ourselves.
At Christmas, we all give lip service to peace on earth and good will toward men, but how many of us actually do anything to help the people who need it most at Christmas? Jesus says, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" If the faithful scream and yell about businesses failing to recognize their faith in exactly the right way, but do not share their wealth with those in need, they truly are the clanging cymbals Paul spoke of in his first letter to the Corinthians. 

You want to truly fight for your Christian values this Christmas? Refuse to participate in the orgy of greed that is Black Friday. 
Boycott jewelers who sell conflict diamonds and consider lavish gifts to charity instead of lavish displays of wealth. 
Want to avoid supporting businesses that openly defy your Christian values? Boycott Nestle USA and other chocolate manufacturers who use forced child labor and force employees around the globe to work unsafe conditions for terrible pay.
Want to fight companies that don't reflect your Christian values? Don't worry about who does and doesn't wish you a merry Christmas, and instead worry about who does and doesn't force workers to do their jobs in horrible and unsafe conditions. Boycott H&M for the preventable deaths caused by terrible conditions in their suppliers' factories. Boycott Victoria's Secret for buying from suppliers that beat their workers and force children into picking cotton. Boycott Disney for using suppliers who pay pennies to child laborers and force workers to do their jobs under deadly conditions. 
The real threat to your Christian values isn't the design on a damn paper cup, it's greed, abuse, neglect, and hatefulness. You want to keep the Christ in Christmas? Behave a little more like Christ this Christmas. Give a little more and take a little less. Be kinder. Be more compassionate, more conscientious, more loving, less angry. Give more and preach less. Love one another as Christ has loved you.
From "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" by Edmund Hamilton

*Other bible verses I could have used here: "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." (Matthew 5:22). "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1). "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed." (Romans 2:1-5).

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Flim flam and woo woo

Lately you hear a lot about doctors being closed-minded about natural remedies and alternative treatments. Doctors learn a very narrow view of healing, heavily influenced by Big Pharma and Western values. They want to treat us with chemicals, which we all know are bad and unnatural, and they hate natural remedies because they're a threat to their bottom lines.
Except doctors prescribe natural remedies all the time. When those natural remedies are supported by science.
If you go to a doctor with pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia, or an injury, the first prescription they're likely to write is for physical therapy. Physical therapy may not seem like a natural remedy because it doesn't come drenched in patchouli oil, but physical therapy uses a person's own body to heal itself. Nothing is more natural than that. If you've ever been to physical therapy, you've probably met about a few people who complain bitterly about their doctor refusing to "do anything" about their pain - they don't want PT, they want the drugs. Why would a doctor who is in the pocket of big pharma put up with all the whining and crying of people who just want a pill? Why not just write them an expensive scrip and shut them up? And if people get hooked on the drugs, so much the better - repeat business for everybody! If doctors are just out for the money, why would they go to such lengths not to keep the customer satisfied?
Proponents of the allegedly ancient practice of ear candling say that shoving a burning thing in your ear is a natural way to remove ear wax and draw out toxins. ENTs give advice that's even more natural - leaving your ear wax where it is. See, science tells us that ear wax is a powerful anti-microbial that protects our hearing and prevents disease. Science tells us that ear candling, on the other hand, not only doesn't remove earwax or toxins, it is dangerous and has resulted in at least one death. If ENTs were all about the money, they'd be all for ear candling. Doctors report having treated burns, ear infections, occlusions, hearing loss, and ash remnants on the ear drum. And if ENTs were in the pocket of big pharma, they certainly wouldn't tell you to leave your ear wax alone - without ear wax, we're more prone to all kinds of infections - infections that could be treated with expensive pharmaceuticals.
If you have a break or a sprain, the doctor's first orders will be rest, ice, elevation, and compression. A good doctor knows to weigh the patient's pain against the risks of the various drugs. Why does a doctor prescribe ice and not, say crystals or essential oils? For the same reason they don't tell you to take a bath in jello or fill your pants with Cheez Whiz. There are a billion very reliable clinical trials showing that ice treats inflammation; there are no scientifically valid studies showing that crystals or jello treat inflammation. One's own feelings on the topic of crystals and jello aside, it's not ethical for a doctor to recommend a treatment that she doesn't know to be safe and effective. 
Endocrinologists urge, beg, and cajole diabetic patients to change their lifestyle choices and stay alive. Why, when there are so many pills and needles and vials and surgeries to sell? Have you any idea how profitable diabetic complications can be? Why do doctors keep warning people about diabetes and pre-diabetes when there are so many billions to be made? 
If doctors are willing to teach people some natural ways to avoid diabetes, why not others? If cardiologists preach oatmeal and olive oil, why wouldn't they also share the truth about wheat grass and heavy metal detox? Because some natural remedies are supported by science and some aren't. 
As for the unscientific stuff - oils and crystals and such - I'm not entirely knocking them. I'm for anything that helps people feel better, so long as nobody's being lied to or endangered. But doctors are in the business of science and evidence, and society needs them to be. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Take this blog and shove it

In crochet, pulling out stitches is called frogging - a play on the sound frogs make - rip it, rip it, rip it.
In online gaming, the term rage quit refers to abruptly quitting a game when things aren't going one's way. KnowYourMeme.com says that this term may have originated in chat rooms, and probably originally referred to abruptly leaving a chat room after an argument.
Rage quitting is similar to taking one's ball and going home. Google NGram Viewer says that the expression first appears in print in the 1946 book Easy to Do Novelty Entertainment. Two men are discussing their golf game. Jones tells Brown that he'd scored an even 80 that day. And an even 80 the day before. And the day before too. Brown asks how this can be. Jones replies "When I get to eighty, I pick up my ball and go home." 
Perhaps the best song title ever written is David Allen Coe's Take This Job and Shove It. 
Wikipedia calls this phrase a snowclone -  a common phrase that people like to swap words into and out of. For example, Take This Job and Love It (the title of about a million different motivational career books), Take this Hijab and Love It (article by Jillian C. York), and my favorite, Take This Banana and Shove It (a DailyKos.com article about corruption in the banana industry).


Grammar scolds like to complain about neologisms like unfriend. Those scolds might be surprised to learn that the term is at least 200 years old. The term was far more popular in the early 1800s than today, according to Google Ngram Viewer.
Ghosting refers to intentionally disappearing from another's life. Ironically, all this technology designed to bring people closer together makes ghosting super easy. On Facebook, you don't just have the ability to unfriend a person, you can hide your profile from them (until Facebook changes your profile settings so that your stalker ex has another chance to attempt a joyous reunion). You no longer have to just ignore a person's calls - you can set your phone so that it never rings when they call. In a world where everyone can be in touch all the time, it is easier than ever to disappear. 

Well kids, I'm tired and crabby, so I'm gonna take my blog and go home. Laters baby.

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