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PRELIMINARY NOTE: I am not saying that most police are racist bigots. I am not saying that most police are the problem. I am saying though that there is institutional racism within enough of our societal organizations, including the police, to be a major issue. I am saying that enough of our police officers are affected and influenced by this racism that it is a problem. And I am saying that ignoring this problem is almost the worst thing that can be done.

In the many discussions I have either taken part in or observed regarding police violence and blacks, encapsulated now by the Black Lives Matter movement, there is one argument that consistently comes up as a way to avoid acknowledging that there is a true problem with police violence and that it has a racial component to it; an argument in the form of a question – why no one is talking about black on black violence? Or it’s variant, why aren’t more blacks concerned and working on black on black violence.

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The asking of this question is meant to deny by distraction any problems that exist with police brutality based on race, or, at the very least, minimize it. Basically it is arguing that any problem that exists (and the proponents of this argument are doubtful one really exists) between blacks and police is overwhelmed by the crushing problem of black on black violence and why aren’t all you worthless good for nothing protesters who are being lead around the nose by agitators and thugs dealing with the real problem instead of this fluff problem.

This is argument is tactically akin to the statement “All lives matter”  made in response to the slogan that “Black Lives Matter”.  A statement which downplays and ignores the problems that the Black Lives Matter slogan are meant to highlight. There already is an excellent explanation of why “all lives matter” is such a bad response, and so, other than providing the link, I won’t go into that more here.

But what about the question of black on black violence? The problem with this question lies in the two very questionable assumptions it makes.

First, it assumes that one cannot be against both and working to solve both problems at the same time. A rather ridiculous assumption when held up for examination.

The other assumption is that this question assumes that blacks are not working to address this issue. They are. Here are a few articles detailing some of the actions that have been taken and are still being taken.

I like this article from Slate magazine because it also points out many other problems with this question – for example, the crime rate of black on black violence has been declining.

First, a little context: In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a sharp drop in homicide among blacks, from a victimization rate of 39.4 homicides per 100,000 in 1991 to a rate of roughly 20 homicides per 100,000 in 2008. Likewise, the offending rate for blacks has dropped from 51.1 offenders per 100,000 in 1991 to 24.7 offenders per 100,000 in 2008.

It also points out many of the protests and actions that have been taken by the black community to deal with this issue.

In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there’s a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. Black Americans—like everyone else—are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.

I also like that it addresses the important difference between black on black violence and violence by police against blacks.

To that point, it’s worth noting the extent to which “what about black-on-black crime” is an evasion, an attempt to avoid the fundamental difference between being killed by a citizen and being killed by an agent of law….

Regardless of cause or concern, a community doesn’t forfeit fair treatment because it has crime. That was true then when the scourge was lynching, and it’s true now that the scourge is unjust police violence. Say what you will about “black-on-black crime,” just don’t pretend it has anything to do with unfair killings at the hands of the state.

I would add that being killed by another citizen does not as quickly or surely jeopardize and damage the bonds of trust that must exist for our societal institutions to exist and function. However, the unjustified killings and violence and arrests by police against a race does jeopardize those essential bonds. Which is why it is so important that they be addressed.

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This article from Atlantic provides some nice examples of the protests and work being done in regards to black on black violence (even has Al Sharpton participating in one such event).

Here is an article from Reason magazine telling of some of the actions of high profile members of the black community in regards to black on black violence.

“What about black-on-black violence?” demanded Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, who is white. “Where is Al Sharpton on that? Where is the president on that?”
Funny you should ask. Sharpton made a publicized trip to Chicago in November to focus attention on the city’s chronic violence. Last year, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old black honor student who was shot, allegedly by a black gang member.
The first lady later returned to Chicago to converse with students at a school that is nearly 100 percent African-American. “In choosing Harper High School for the visit, the White House noted that 29 current or former students there had been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally,” reported the Chicago Tribune.
The president also traveled to Chicago, meeting with kids involved in a mentoring program for at-risk adolescent boys, bemoaning gun violence and telling a crowd on the South Side, “Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound

And this is about the 30th National Preventing Crime in the Black Community Conference being held this year in Florida.

And this is just some of what is being done. This is not a problem that is being ignored, despite what those who want to ignore the other side of the issue, police violence, wish.

And now that I am thinking about it, there is a third assumption to this question, that the violence is due to blacks being blacks.

This racist assumption ignores the fact that poverty, lack of education, as well as opportunities being limited by institutional racism and by too many blacks being arrested and sent to jail and prison (more so than whites for the same crimes) and other factors other than just being black have a large role to play. These issues, while needing to be overcome by the black community, are also partly the result of racist societal forces and actions in the past and a more quiet one in action today, and must be addressed too in order for true justice to exist.
If you read the polls and look at what is being done by the black community, they are well aware of the problems within their community, including black on black violence. And they are working on correcting them. This use of questions as a means to distract from the role that racism and institutional racism still play in creating and maintaining their problems is to be willfully blind to the realities of our country and does a further injustice to the black community.

This same article from Reason magazine, in addition to providing support to the truth that blacks are working to overcome and decrease black on black violence (and with success), also highlights what I have just wrote:

There’s another, bigger problem with the preoccupation with “black-on-black crime.” The term suggests race is the only important factor. Most crimes are committed by males, but we don’t refer to “male-on-male crime.” Whites in the South are substantially more prone to homicide than those in New England, but no one laments “Southerner-on-Southerner crime.” Why does crime involving people of African descent deserve its own special category?

The phrase stems from a desire to excuse whites from any role in changing the conditions that breed disorder and delinquency in poor black areas. It carries the message that blacks are to blame for the crime that afflicts them—and that only they can eliminate it. Whites are spared any responsibility in the cause or the cure.

Excluding them from complicity is harder to do when the killer is white and the killed is black, as in the shooting in Ferguson. Raising “black-on-black crime” right now is not a sincere attempt to improve the lot of African-Americans. It’s a way to change the subject and a way to blame them.

If we really wish to solve the problems of racism, to provide equal opportunity to all regardless of race, religion, or gender, and to provide equal justice to all citizens then both issues have to be addressed – the problems within the black community and the problems with our society’s institutions, including law enforcement. Blacks seem to be well aware of the problems within their community and are working to improve them. If only the same could now be said of the conservative whites of this country.

When one thinks of musicians, especially the ragtime and jazz musicians, one thinks of emotions and hard living. Drinking, drugs, sex – turning experience into music. The common stereotype of a musician is not one of reason, not a champion of those arrayed against the forces of superstition. Which only goes to show, once again, how stereotypes can not only distort reality but obscure it. A case in point – Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime.

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For those, hopefully very few, people who do not know who Scott Joplin is, he was a black composer of ragtime music who , although dying young at 49 in 1917, managed to help make ragtime a national hit during his lifetime. His Maple Leaf Rag was ragtime’s first national hit, and the piece for which he was most famous. However, today most are probably more familiar with his work The Entertainer as it was the theme song of the Paul Newman and Robert Redford 1973 Academy Award winning film The Sting.

Part of Joplin’s life does fit the stereotype in that he did play in brothels (that and churches being about the only venues where black pianists of the time could perform consistently), and he did die of syphilis. However, most of his life did not fit the stereotypes expected. For example, he received most of his musical education from a German Jewish music professor who not taught Joplin music and but also exposed him to folk and classical music.

Another aspect of his life that does not fit neatly into stereotypes we have of musicians is that he promoted a skeptical attitude towards superstition and the supernatural. This is something I did not discover until reading an article in the July/August 2015 issue of Skeptical Inquirer titled “Treemonisha: Scott Joplin’s Skeptical Black Opera”.

The basic plot is outlined succinctly by the Wikipedia entry about Treemonisha;

Treemonisha takes place in a former slave plantation in an isolated forest between Joplin’s childhood town Texarkana and the Red River in Arkansas in September 1884. The plot centers on an 18-year-old woman Treemonisha who is taught to read by a white woman, and then leads her community against the influence of conjurers who prey on ignorance and superstition. Treemonisha is abducted and is about to be thrown into a wasps’ nest when her friend Remus rescues her. The community realizes the value of education and the liability of their ignorance before choosing her as their teacher and leader.

For those interested, a more depth synopsis is provided in this article from The Guide to Musical Theater. 

The Skeptical Inquirer article provides some of the lyrics of this opera. For example, here is where Treemonisha admonishes a conjuror who had been selling her community good luck charms that supposedly will “keep away enemies, bring good luck, drive away the blues”:

You have lived without working for many years
All by our tricks of conjury
You have caused superstition and many sad tears.
You should stop, you are doing great injury.

A refrain that applies just as well to our day as to then.

In addition to a skeptical attitude towards superstition, especially when money is involved, and in the harm done even in seemingly small superstitious practices such as buying good luck charms, Treemonisha also promotes the value of education and the importance of doing right instead of wrong, even to the extent of forgiving the conjuror. And, for good measure, it shows a woman taking a position of leadership within that community despite the argument being made during this opera that men would not follow a woman. It should be noted here that Scott Joplin’s second wife, Freddie Alexander, was well educated and was an early feminist as well as a promoter of black culture. And quite possibly also the inspiration for his composing Treemonisha.

All in all, a very good job by not only an accomplished ragtime musician, but an accomplished musician and skeptic, one that plays against the stereotypes we have of musicians and of that age.
And for those interested in what Treemonisha sounds  and looks like, here is a link to a performance of one of its pieces.
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Due to a recent Supreme Court Decision (not upheld by God though), in order to allow full religious liberty for all, we have had to revise our requirements and procedures for the obtainment of marriage licenses. Please read these instructions carefully and follow them fully.

In addition to the previous requirements of a valid photo ID and, if a previous marriage has been dissolved, proof of that dissolvement, the following information must also be provided (please be aware that a divorce could affect your ability to obtain a marriage license from this office)(please also be aware that providing false information on any of the information required is cause to reject your application and could also result in a fine of not less than $100).

  1. Form 434463-8BBB must be filled out fully.
    1. Include all employers, no matter how briefly the employment may have been.
    2. Include all past addresses, no matter how briefly you may have resided there.
    3. Be aware that to verify your checking and savings account a voided check will be necessary for the checking account and a blank deposit slip for the savings account.
    4. Your e mail address and passcodes for access to your e mail account are required.
    5. Your Facebook page, LinkedIn page, and other social media accounts are required.
    6. All information requested is needed for a thorough background check and is required. All lines and questions need to be fully filled out.  Should the information requested not apply to you do NOT leave the line blank.  Instead, put NA down.
    7. Be aware that leaving out requested information or providing false information are causes for rejection of your application and could also  result in a fine of not less than $150.
  2. Please answer fully form 2424998-CBU-21-X about your hobbies, interests, proclivities, and other activities.
    1. Provide a complete listing of all interests, hobbies, and other activities whether it is chess club, shooting range, flying, political party, etc.
    2. Be sure to include whether or not you drink alcoholic beverages and consume pork.
    3. Include both you and your potential partner’s religion and racial status.
    4. Be aware that leaving out requested information or providing false information are causes for  rejection of your application and could also result in a fine of not less than $200.
  3. Please answer fully form EZ956-29XZ-86680 about sexual preferences, past sexual history, and current sexual activity.
    1. This includes not only heterosexual or homosexual activities but also all instances of adultery (provided you have previously been married) pre-marital sex, mastubational activities, sexual acts with those related to you (provide degree of relationship), sexual acts with more than one partner, and sexual acts with organism or objects other than human.
    2. Be aware that leaving out requested information or providing false information are causes for rejection of your application and could also result in a fine of not less than $350.
  1. Once all forms and information have been provided please allow four weeks to process.  This is in order to ensure that we have a county clerk who, due to their firmly held religious belief, is not offended by one or more of your activities, associations, past history, decisions, employment, religion, racial status, sexual orientation, and sexual activities and thus not able to issue you a marriage certificate.
  2. Should this office have no one available whom you have not offended the firmly held religious sensibilities of, we will forward your paperwork to the next nearest county clerk office to see if they have a clerk whose firmly held religious beliefs will allow them to process this for you.
    1. Should all clerks there find that processing your application for a marriage certificate violates one or more of their firmly held religious beliefs then there will be a nominal charge of $25 to forward the application to the next county office.

Provided you can obtain a marriage license from one of our clerks, we wish you a very happy marriage.

Soon after the vicious and brutal murder of nine blacks at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by Dylann Roof I started to hear conservative commentators commenting on how different the reaction of the Charleston community to this killing of blacks by a white than that of Ferguson; about how the Charleston community, both black and white, pulled together in unity while that of Ferguson erupted in violence.

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The clear inference (one often made explicit by some conservative commentators) was that there really is no underlying race problem in America and that those who say that there is are race baiters intent upon stirring up racial conflict and hatred for their own personal and/or political benefit. The reality, according to these commentators, is that our society and its institutions are largely free of racial bias. That, contrary to the stated experiences of many millions of blacks, that our police departments are enforcing laws and reacting to citizens without regards to their color, that our justice system dispenses justice to black and whites alike largely without regards to color, that our educational system treats all students alike regardless of color, and that job opportunities for black and white are such that skin color plays no role the vast majority of times. In other words, that our society has achieved racial equality.

I call this Kum Ba Yah bullshit.

The danger of conservative’s kum ba yah bullshit is that It puts the responsibility for all change firmly on the backs of blacks. They are responsible for creating better families, for better educating their children, for better following the law and the police, for doing better on finding jobs. They are responsible for their culture and it is the black culture that is the problem. Blacks, according to this “logic” just need to work and try harder. No need for whites to change anything.

Now, in a discussion on this with a conservative a few weeks ago, he used a baseball analogy to try to bring home his point. He said that my position was akin to defeatism, that if we tell blacks that they cannot do it, that their problems are the result of institutional racism and unconscious biases and prejudices instead of them, then we are like the coach of a team telling his team that they are losers. And that by so doing that team, and blacks, do lose.

I applauded his analogy. And I agree, blacks do need to work hard at changing things, at trying to achieve goals and change their culture. However, I pointed out that a better analogy would be that of two teams playing a game of baseball. One team has the standard three outs in order to get hits. The other team though only has two outs before they are retired. No matter how good the coaching, no matter how much that team works at it, no matter how motivated they are, they are going to lose most of the time. Not because of talent or ability, not because of motivation and persistence, but because the rules of the game are rigged against them. And until those rules are changed to be fair and just no matter who is playing the game then members of that team are, justifiably, going to feel anger, are going to feel frustrated. So much so that they may take out their anger on the other team or on the umpires of the game. Or even those of the spectators watching the game.

Yes, the black community needs to continue to work hard to improve their culture and lot, but at the same time they are operating under a handicap even more severe than that of a baseball team playing with only two outs in hand. They are operating within a society that still has institutional racism as part of its fabric and in which largely unconscious biases and prejudices still hold sway in determining the actions of those in power. What makes it worse, so many do not even acknowledge that such problems exist and deny them totally.ferguson-riots-lin_3116889k

Black culture. That is the favorite response of the conservative when asked what is at the root of the disparities in education, economic status, and justice between whites and blacks. And to an extent they are right. However, they never ask the more important question of how black culture was formed and what maintains it today. Instead, they seem to see black culture as something of a virgin birth or as something coming fully formed from the foam.

Conservatives ignore the fact that black culture was formed from the brutality that was slavery, modified by them chains of Jim Crow laws and lynchings, formed by government policies and industry actions, and reinforced by the media.

Black culture was formed by the broken families of the slave era, by the repression of the Jim Crow laws and actions of the KKK and others. It was formed by practices such as redlining which from 1934 – 1962 kept blacks form getting any of the 120 billion dollars handed out by the government for home loans which thus forced segregation by forcing blacks into living in ghettos. This has the ripple effect in that blacks, unlike the whites who received these loans, did not have property they could pass own to their children and use as a basis for creating wealth for themselves and their family.

Or consider the effect this had on education. Schools are funded by property taxes. Since the vast majority of blacks could not afford to live in good homes and could not get the loans to attain good homes, they did not have the tax base to create good schools. Combine this with the segregation effects and you have the basis for the educational disparities we see today. All of which then lead to less opportunities for getting better jobs.

And that is just one example of what is called institutional racism. Another is how blacks are portrayed in the media – tv, radio, newspapers, magazines. White skin and standards are held up as beautiful, blacks are not. Blacks are shown as criminals much more often than they are in real life, and whites much less than they are in real life.

Such practices as these and more effect all areas of society – medicine, justice, and family. They are what helped form black culture. And without efforts on the parts of whites to acknowledge this and change it, then blacks can only go go far, can only do so much. Individuals can overcome it – after all there are great people of all races, but most people of all races are average, and it is those people who are going to continue to suffer the most from this unresolved racism.
And then there is the very real effects of unconscious bias within our society. It affects whose resume will result in a call for an interview and whose will not, it affects how police and judges and jury react and dispense justice., it effects teachers and educators expectations.

The only way true racial justice and equality is going to be achieved is if all or most whites will recognize this problem. Many already do. However, this is a blind spot of most conservatives. They refuse to see this and thus make huge mistakes in judgements and in recommendations on what needs to be done. Mistakes that not only do nothing to solve the problems, but often actually make the problem worse.

For example, comparing Ferguson with Charleston. Yes, in both cases a white person killed a black person or people. However, that is as far as the comparison goes. In Ferguson, a white police officer and member of a police force that was found to be engaged in racist practices, shot and killed an unarmed black man. In Charleston nine blacks were killed by a lone racist gunman who belonged to no government organization or private one apparently. That lack of government affiliation makes a huge difference. Ferguson experienced riots not because a white had killed a black person, but because a white representative of a government agency which had been engaged in racist practices killed an unarmed black person. Charleston did not erupt into violent protests because the gunman was working on his own and did not represent a government with power over the black community.

A clear and easily seen difference. And yet, one that so many conservatives seem to be blind to.

Just as they seem to be blind to the problems inherent in the government flying the Confederate battle flag. Conservatives article-2249806-168FF9A7000005DC-246_634x423insist on defending this as just an exhibition of pride in their heritage. Pride in a heritage that included the attempted dissolution of the United States in order to protect their right to treat people as property, of no more worth than a hog or a cabinet. Yes, many like to phrase this in terms of state’s rights, but it was the state’s right to allow whites to own blacks to do with as they wish. It was a state right to refuse freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly to those who advocated for abolition; to confiscate abolitionist literature and burn it, to break the presses of those publications advocating for the abolition of slavery, it was the fining, imprisonment, flogging, and tar and feathering of those who advocated for treating blacks as free people.

Those are the heritage that conservatives want to remember and honor? Yes, many brave and good men fought and died for the south. But so too did good and brave men die fighting for Nazi Germany. I wonder, if the conservatives would make the same argument for those who would honor the Nazi flag.

And finally, one last area of racial blindness conservatives seem to suffer from. Today, a podcast came out, an interview with President Obama by Marc Maron in which President Obama used the word “nigger”. Conservatives are jumping all over President Obama’s use of this word. However, just as in their comparison of Ferguson with Charleston, and defense of the Confederate flag, their blindness to context and meaning is apparent. Here is the full quote:

obama2010“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination… Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”

And this actually does a good job of summing up the problem with most conservatives. They believe that since we have made the use of nigger in public a thing to be ashamed of, since we have gotten rid of most of the overt discrimination that discrimination does not exist at all. And that is foolish of them. As President Obama said, “societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior”. In fact, I would amend that statement to say even as recently as the 1960s and 1970s this overt racism was still prevalent. And that past still lingers and impacts us today.

And this is something most conservatives do not see. They point to the very real gains that have been made in civil rights since the 1960s and declare victory. However, it is not. That was only the start of the victory. It is as if General Eisenhower had declared victory the day after the D Day invasion of Normandy and stopped all further actions since victory had been achieved. Blindness.

The greater struggle is with us now, the struggle to deal with those aspects of racism that are not so easily seen by those not on the receiving end of it. Change the institutional racism that still exists and make clear the hidden biases and prejudices that effect our decisions and then victory will be achieved. . And the first step that is needed to deal with this is to acknowledge that it exists.

Memorial Day, a day to remember the brave men and women who have died defending this country. We will remember them in various ways – parades, speeches, flags, and flowers. Articles have been and will be written about them and what their sacrifice means. And all of this is good.

However, I would like to add just one more way to honor their sacrifice. To my mind the best way to honor their deaths.

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Green Fields of France

Did they beat the drum slowly did they play the fife lowly,
did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
did the band play the last post and chorus,
did the pipes play the “Flowers of the Forest”

Well how do you do young Willie McBride?
do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside
and rest for a while ‘neath the warm summer sun
I’ve been walkin’ all day and I’m nearly done
I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
when you joined the great fallen of 1916
Well I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Willie McBride was it slow and obscene

And the beautiful wife or the sweetheart for life
in some faithful heart are you forever enshrined
and although you died back in 1916
in that faithful heart are you forever nineteen?
or are you a stranger without even a name
enshrined forever behind a glass pane
in an ould photograph torn tattered and stained,                                                                                                               fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Now the sun shines down on the green fields of France
a warm summer wind makes the red poppys dance
The trences have vanished under the plows,
there’s no gas no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now
but here in this graveyard it’s still No Man’s land,
the countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
for man’s blind indifference to his fellow man,
to a whole generation that was butchered and damned

Now Willie McBride I can’t help wonder why
Do those who lie here do they know why they died
Did they really believe when they answered the call
did they really believe that this war would end wars
Forever this song of suffering and shame
the killing the dying was all done in vain
for young Willie McBride it’s all happened again,
and again, and again, and again and again

article-2464087-18C9784900000578-971_634x424article-blackhistorymonth-coverstory-7-0206
The best way to remember the brave fallen who have defended this country is to work hard to create a world in which they are the last of the brave who have to die to defend liberty and freedom.

An impossible dream you might say. Quite possibly. But some impossible dreams are well worth striving for, for although they may never be attained it is in the striving to do the impossible that the world is improved.

Of course, setting impossible goals is easy. Finding ways to even start to attain them is much more difficult. As a nation though we need to:

– Make sure that any conflicts and wars we enter into are for a good cause and real need; that they cannot be resolved in any other more peaceful way even if the peaceful way may take more time (something difficult for us as we are an impatient people).

  • Realize that we are too quick to war and too impatient in allowing the working out of non-violent solutions. Realize too that war is always evil, even in those few times it is necessary.
  • Truly take a look at our and others actions leading up to conflicts where lives are lost. Even those that had to be fought.There are reasons why wars and conflicts become inevitable and learning those causes can help us – if we are wise – to avoid making decisions today that will create the seeds of future wars.
  • Realize that while there is a horrifying glamour about war and violence and heroism, that what we need to be focused on is the more mundane, the more boring, the more frustrating path of diplomacy, of forging relations not only in terms of economics but also in culture and society.

But that is for nations. What can we as individuals do?

As individuals we must realize that part of the greatness of America is that we make up our government and influence it. With this in mind, look at who we vote for and what they stand for and how they mean to accomplish their goals.

Write letters and communicate not only to your representatives but also on social media about issues of the day.

Join and support groups of like minded people.

But, before the voting, before the communication, before the joining together and monetary support, spend the time to read and learn about the issues and problems facing us. Take the time to read both sides, and not just skimming the side you initially disagree with but read and understand fully. Forget what you know for a moment, set aside your certainties, and read to understand first and foremost. And then decide. And then act.

And one final thing – get to know those you disagree with. Personally whenever possible. And encourage programs that do the same between groups and nations.

So, yes, honor the fallen by placing flowers on graves and lights in windows. Set out the flag in front of your home, as I plan to do. Remember the dead and grieve for them and for our loss. Feel inspired by their courage and sacrifice. But go beyond that to work and make sure that the final verse of the Green Fields of France does not stay true for ever and ever, in conflict without end.

imagesNow Willie McBride I can’t help wonder why
Do those who lie here do they know why they died
Did they really believe when they answered the call
did they really believe that this war would end wars
Forever this song of suffering and shame
the killing the dying was all done in vain
for young Willie McBride it’s all happened again,
and again, and again, and again and again

Lately I have seen several posts comparing the safety of pools with that of guns – with guns seemingly the much safer of the two (based on the work of Economist Steven Levitt) . This is almost inevitably followed with the complaint of “Why don’t the damned hypocritical idiotic liberals want to pass laws outlawing pools instead of guns?!”

hello-kitty-swimming-poolgun5s

So, to help out those who seem to be unclear on what the differences are between a pool and a gun, here is my quick down and dirty handy dandy reference guide to those differences.

1. Swimming Pools cannot be carried.

You will never find a person carrying a concealed pool sitting next to you at the restaurant of theater. Heck, you won’t even find one openly carrying a pool.

2. Swimming Pools cannot act over a distance.

To swim or drown in a pool you have to go to it. It cannot be thrown, launched or tossed at a person. However, the bullet of a gun can. And at a high speed killing velocity too.

3. Swimming Pools are meant for recreational use only.

The purpose of a pool is to have fun. The purpose of a gun is to kill.

Yes, people do enjoy firing ranges, target shooting, skeet shooting, and any other recreational use of a gun that I have missed. However, guns were invented with the intention to kill something. Most guns today are purchased with that purpose in mind. And even the guns used recreationally were intentionally created to be lethal too. If guns were not lethal sales would plummet so low as to be virtually non-existent.

I have yet to see a pool purposely designed to be lethal. If a pool could be designed so as to not ever be lethal – a drowning proof pool – sales would skyrocket.

4. Swimming Pools cannot be used in a fit of anger or annoyance to kill a family member, friend, enemy or stranger.

When someone is talking during a movie you cannot pull out a pool and drown him.
When that idiot driver cuts you off and almost causes you to crash into a guard rail you cannot then throw your pool at him.
When you are arguing with your brother in law over the $20.00 he owes you you cannot grab a pool and dunk him to death.

5. Swimming Pools cannot change owners or location without documentation.

You always know where a pool is located. Not so a gun. A gun can be sold without any accompanying paperwork fairly easily. A gun can be given as a gift to a friend or family member and no document created to give its new forwarding address. A gun can be stolen and never reported.

A pool is stable sort of entity, and rather boring. A pool always resides at the same home and never travels. Nor does it lend itself to being stolen…or, at least I have never heard of a pool thief before.

6. Swimming Pools do not kill as many adults as they do children. Guns kill more.

The article that created this rallying cry of radical gun owners groups is looking only at children’s deaths. Now, while it is flawed (something I discuss at the end of this blog) and while there are probably other factors involved in its finding (something I also discuss at the end of this blog), the bottom line is that more children are probably killed by accidental drownings in swimming pools than by guns.

However, that is not the case for adults. And I am not just talking about the killing of criminals. I am talking about accidental shootings, shootings between law abiding citizens who get into a heated argument, and suicides. Looking at those numbers then no, residential swimming pools do not cause more deaths than guns. Not even close.

In fact, according to the CDC, in 2010 unintentional drowning for all age groups was the tenth leading causes of unintentional deaths with 3,782 deaths. Coming in at numbers four and five though were suicide using a firearm with 19,393 deaths and homicides using firearms with 11,078 deaths. Either one of these gun categories totally eclipses the number of death by drownings – which by the way includes natural bodies of water as well as swimming pools.
Those of us advocating gun control do so not just because of children’s deaths, but because of all the deaths. However, a favorite tactic of the anti-gun control crowd is to follow that old advice about how to eat an elephant – one bite at a time (by the way, please  remember this elephant analogy – it comes into play again at the end of this blog). By doing so they can then ignore exactly how big and powerful that elephant is. This can be seen also in their almost monomaniacal devotion to only talking about crimes and criminals and ignoring the other aspects of guns.

Finally, let me point out just because one area may need to be more regulated – and I agree that pools probably should be – does not mean another area does not also need to be more regulated. This kinda falls under the heading of two wrongs do not make a right. But for the purpose of those opposed to gun control in any form, it does.

And a corollary to the two wrongs do not make a right rule is that hypocrisy by one group advocating an action does not mean that what they are advocating is wrong. It could well be right and they are just inconsistent on other issues. The solution then is not to not follow through on what they correctly advocate for but to get them to be more consistent while at the same time implementing their proposals.

Put into the context of this blogs subject – even if liberals and such were hypocrites in not advocating for laws more closely regulating swimming pools that does not mean that the ideas about gun control are wrong. They are two separate topics

And that’s it folks. Some (but probably not all) of the key differences between pools and guns. So now, when walking around the neighborhood, you can tell the difference between the two when you cross their paths.

Oh, and in regards to the study by Steven Levitt, here are a few problems with it:

1. It compares the number of homes with pools with the number of guns. The problem is that while almost all homes only have one pool while most homes with guns have more than one gun. When you look at households with pools versus households with guns and then do the comparison the numbers change. The chances of a child dying by gun increases from 1 in a million to 1 in 250,000. Still well below that of pools, but coming closer.

2. There have been several more recent studies strongly indicating that not all child deaths by gun get reported as such. They are often reported as just suicides or homicides. What this means is that the CDC data that Levitt used for his study may be seriously undercounting the number of gun deaths among children.

It would be nice if the anti-gun control groups were not so afraid of what further research would show and would allow further research to happen in order to clarify these questions. But no, they continue to obstruct and deny funding for this much needed data and research.

3. Other factors may be at play than just the safety of guns and pools – which is a risk of any straightforward comparison like this, it doesn’t really give us the reason for the difference in numbers. In this case it could be that:
a. Most parents consider guns more dangerous than pools and so guns are usually hidden away from children. If guns were left lying around and had the same level of supervision that pools do, then there is a good chance that children dying by guns would increase to the level of pools or possibly surpass it. Or possibly not. Intuitively I know it would increase. What is uncertain is the amount.

b. Given what I just wrote, then the simplistic comparison done by Levitt is really not valid. A better comparison would be a comparison of one activity when it is properly supervised and when it is not properly supervised against another activity when it is properly supervised and when it is not.

I eagerly await the results of such a study. I have a strong feeling it is only going to make that elephant the anti-gun control crowd is so studiously ignoring even bigger and stronger.

Inerrant Scripture Changing

So many people believe that religion cannot change – most especially the sacred scripture of their religion. To use Christianity as an example, the words of the Bible do not change and therefor our understanding of it is timeless – all that needs to be done is to read its words plain and simply. That is what I see repeatedly from both conservative literalists Christians and from many atheists. I find it amazing that such a wrong idea can be so strongly promoted by those at the opposite ends of belief. I imagine that this is probably the only area of agreement that literalists Christians and many atheists have. And it is ironic that it is so very wrong.

indexI wrote a paper for one of my graduate classes a couple of years ago that illustrate very nicely some of the reasons why it is wrong. It doesn’t hit at all the reasons, but gives an idea about how religious believers understanding of their sacred scripture can and does change over time. Although this paper focuses exclusively upon slavery and the Bible in the pre-civil war United States, the idea behind it applies to any and all scriptures – such as the Qur’an for example – and even such documents as the United States Constitution.

The Bible Wars: It’s Use For and Against Slavery

Slavery still exists today, not only in other countries but even here in the United States. However, today slavery is almost universally condemned instead of almost universally accepted as it once was. Governments have made slavery illegal. Religion and Christianity almost universally condemn it now. Not so very long ago this was not true.

In colonial America and in pre-Civil War United States slavery was a flourishing institution, one that was supported by many arguments ranging from the economic to the supposed nature of blacks. One argument of special importance and interest was the one based upon the Bible. Both the proslavery people and the abolitionists claimed Biblical support for their beliefs and positions. In this paper I plan to look at how the Bible was used to both justify and argue against slavery.

1. Pro-slavery arguments

The pro-slavery side had the initial advantage in using the Bible to support their views. The reason for this is that no special interpretation or treatment of the Bible was needed to justify the institution of slavery. Nowhere within the Bible does anyone condemn slavery, not even Jesus. It was an accepted institution, one that seemingly was considered both normal and moral. Because of this, the proslavery groups could rely on a literal reading of the Bible and upon Christian history to make their case.

Most Christians throughout history did not see the practice of slavery as conflicting with the Bible. Many church leaders from the first days of Christianity had slaves. Church policy since its earliest days supported the institution of slavery and the rights of slaveholders. Several early Christian writings include codes of household management; how husbands, wives, children, slaves, and slaveholders should behave. In these codes, slaves “were told to subordinate their wills to the wills of their master” (Glancy 55). Christian teachings often seemed to reinforce “the power of the slaveholder, even as they affirmed the dignity of the slave in God’s eyes.” (Glancy 53).

In fact, although there are some hints that some early Christians might have questioned slavery, real and unambiguous writings against slavery as being un-Christian did not come until medieval times when people such as Gregory of Nissa, Saint Patrick, and Saint Eligus started to write and speak out against slavery. However, other church leaders, such as Saint Augustine, Saint Aquinas, Calvin, and Martin Luther wrote that slavery was not un-Christianity. Although slavery eventually disappeared in Christian Europe it was still not widely condemned or considered un-Christian by most.

Due to this weight of history, and to a literal interpretation of the Bible, the development of a Christian defense of slavery in the United States did not come about until the early 19th century. In the years before this in America there had been no need for one. It was not until the rise of a larger abolitionist movement and a radical form of antislavery during the 1830’s that proslavery literature began to become significant.

The fact that the proslavery side had a plain reading of the Bible on their side can be readily seen in one of the first conflicts with the abolitionists. Initially the abolitionists had argued that the word translated as “slave” in the Bible actually meant “servant” and thus there was no slavery in the Bible. The proslavery side quickly pointed out that this was not only not how it had been historically translated but that the best and newest methods of biblical scholarship showed that the word in question meant slave and not servant. What is ironic is that those who used and understood the Bible literally to argue for slavery were able to use the new biblical criticism of the Bible, a methodology that would show the problems inherent in a literal understanding of the Bible, to support their position.

Those arguing that slavery was Biblical used a variety of arguments based on quotes from the Bible. They used the story of the Centurion’s Servant (Luke 7:1 – 10; Matt 8:5 – 13) to show that Jesus had not only met slaves but also had commended the slave’s owner, a Roman soldier, as a faithful man such as he had not seen even in Israel.

Taking the argument even further, they argued, on the basis of the example of the Roman soldier above and Jesus’ praise of him, as well as other verses, that not only was slavery not immoral, but that the proper Christian stance towards the world was hierarchical and patriarchical. “Importantly, Jesus praised the centurion’s use of commands to order military and domestic subordinates….The plain sense of this language means that military hierarchy and other forms of patriarchy ought to order human relations, especially between master and slave.” (Harrill, 183).

When the abolitionists used the Golden Rule to argue against slavery, the proslavery groups responded by referring to the above verses, saying that Jesus was not teaching egalitarianism, but rather patriarchical love. Such love does not make men social equals, but instead means that “the master should treat his slave as if the master, imagining himself a slave and aware of his own good, would like to be treated.” (Harrill, 185).

Using a plain reading of the Bible with the understanding that passages were to be understood in light of patriarchalism, and with a selective use of the new biblical criticisms, the proslavery groups defended the institution of slavery as being Biblical and Christian.

2. Abolitionist Arguments.

As I mentioned above, the proslavery groups had the easier argument to make in regards to the Bible and slavery. This was something the abolitionists recognized from the beginning. Because of this, instead of a literalist approach they used an interpretive approach.

Of course the proslavery groups interpreted passages too, as seen by their interpretation of the meaning of the Golden Rule. And the proslavery groups were influenced in their interpretations by outside sources such as their economic and political views and their prejudices. However, the difference was that while the proslavery groups found their key to interpreting biblical texts within the Bible (patriarchy), the abolitionists found their key from outside the Bible.

First and foremost of these outside keys was the outrage that slavery inflicted on their sense of morality. Regardless of the source of this feeling, morally they knew that slavery was wrong and that therefore any interpretation of the Bible that defended slavery was flawed. They had only to be perceptive and knowledgeable enough to discover the flaw. Or, failing that, some counseled rejecting the Bible altogether as a moral guide to slavery. “Garrison concluded that slavery, like just war and woman’s suffrage, ‘was not a bible question’, since nothing in regards to controversial matters had ever been settled by the Bible.” (Harrill, 176). While most did not go as far as Garrison, some did. All though were motivated by the same sense of moral outrage.

A large reason why this attempt to use outside sources to aide in interpreting the Bible was possible was due to the Enlightenment. It was an age of questioning everything, including Christianity and the Bible. It was an age of discoveries that made old understandings of the Bible questionable. The age of the earth, the orbiting earth and central sun, evolution, and other discoveries of science showed that the Bible could not be understood literally in regards to matters of how the physical universe worked.

The new higher criticism coming out of Germany was becoming increasingly influential among American scholars. It demonstrated that Moses did not write the Torah, that the Bible had multiple authors and did not always agree with known history and, most importantly, that the Bible might not always be the best guide in understanding itself.

At the same time a new religious movement had developed and was expanding, that of evangelism with an emphasis on a personal experience of God and not necessarily to adherence to old doctrine. Quakers were the earliest evangelical group to start to criticize and work for abolition. However they were joined by other such new evangelical religions as Methodists and Baptists.

It took some trial and error for abolitionists to find their way to their final arguments. One of their first attempts was to deny that Jesus had ever met any slaves, saying that the word translated as slave could also and more probably did mean servant. However, as noted above, that argument did not hold up to the new scholarship.

From there, they looked for another key by which to understand the Bible and its verses about slavery, one that would hold up to the new biblical criticism and would also align with their moral understanding of the Bible. Part of the key consisted of viewing the Bible as a work in progress instead of a static work with a finished understanding.

Taking their cues from their times, a time when progress was not only much talked about but actually being seen in the industrial and scientific revolutions, they argued that the Bible had “seeds” planted within it that would blossom and bear fruit as societies grew in knowledge and moral sensibilities. They argued that Jesus knew any condemnation of slavery would not take root in the culture and society of his age. Instead he planted a seed that would grow and blossom in the fullness of time. History, and our understanding of the Bible, were not static but were instead dynamic, growing, and progressive.
With this understanding of the Bible and how to read it the abolitionists then argued that the Golden Rule, as related in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, was the seed that Jesus planted and that now was the time for its blossoming. “True Christianity, through ‘fair application’ of the Golden Rule and related immutable principles such as charity and love of neighbor, is a Christianity against slavery.” (Harrill, 171)

The below quote of Dr. Thornton’s, taken from a report about slavery given to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina highlights this difference between the abolitionists and the proslavery groups.

“Opposition to Slavery has never been the offspring of the Bible. It has sprung from visionary theories of human nature and society. It has sprung from the misguided reason of man. It comes as natural, not as revealed truth; and when it is seen that the Word of God stands in the way of it, the lovely oracles will be stripped of their authority, and reduced to the level of mere human utterances.” (National Era).

Where the abolitionists would disagree with Dr. Thornton, is that this scheme amounted to “mere human utterances”. Instead they would say that, along with the Bible, God also created the natural world and the mind of man with its ability to reason.

Further, God had implanted within humanity a sense of morality. They would argue that theirs was taking the whole of what God had given them, whereas the literalist views of Dr. Thornton and the proslavery groups had rejected part of God’s revelations and gifts.

One final fact to note is that just because a white person was an abolitionist does not mean that they were not prejudiced. An argument that was used in conjunction with the early claim that Jesus had never met a slave was that if Jesus Christ had met slaves and condoned the institution, then it would have been the slavery of his time, a slavery involving whites. “This reductio ad absurdum disproof…. reveals the racism present in some abolitionist arguments: surely Jesus Christ agreed with the American beliefs that white people should not be enslaved.” (Harrill, 169).

While this was not an argument that was used as much after the abolitionists lost the argument on whether Jesus had met slaves, it does show that a white view of abolitionism might, and did, differ from that of an African American of the times.

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3. Free Blacks and Slaves

“Dark and Dismal was the day
When slavery began
All humble thoughts were put away
Then slaves were made by man.”

The above words are part of a poem by Jupiter Hammon, the first black poet in America and a slave since birth. The 25 stanza poem was titled: “An Essay on Slavery with Submission to Divine Providence Knowing that God Rules Over All Things” and, unlike his other poems and essays, it was never published; most likely due to its controversial nature.

In the beginning, blacks resisted Christianity. They feared that their master’s religion was meant as a means of control and oppression. At the time, the Christianity being preached was. As taught to the slaves, Christianity was strongly Calvinistic and taught that everyone had been put in their place by God, and that given this instead of questioning their God ordained station they should do their best within that station. Most African Americans were not attracted to this message.

Some blacks though did accept the religion of their masters; for example, Jupiter Hammon. Born a slave in Lloyd Harbor, NY in 1711, property of the Lloyd family of Queens, NY, he was fortunate enough to have owners who insisted that he attend school and learn to read and write. He was born and became Christian before the Great Awakening and the arrival of the evangelical Christianities that did not preach a religion of acquiescence to oppression, and so had a foot in both worlds.

The Christianity taught and accepted by Jupiter at his birth, and rejected by many blacks, was of a Calvinism that “did not believe that Christians, and even less so slaves, should do anything that distracted from a contemplation of a heavenly afterlife.” (Day, 2) This version of Calvinism, and not the one that “emphasized participation in the world with a view toward transforming it” (Day, 2) that many of the whites followed , was what the blacks were taught, when any were taught at all to become Christians. From the same poem:

“When God doth please for to permit
That slavery should be
It is our duty to submit
Till Christ shall set us free.”

But, while Christianity was taught as a means of oppression, it did not stay such. Instead it changed and became a means of resisting oppression; sometimes actively, sometimes more quietly. It did so by giving blacks “a sense of common identity and purpose that created the conditions for organization and collective action.” (Day, 3).

The African American was treated as and had the status of property, not person. Even Hammon’s owners, who by all accounts were good masters who treated him well, lists Hammon, along with their other slaves, as property in their ledgers, along with cattle and other goods. To resist this reduction to being nothing more than property, African Americans had to form a new identity as well as a new community. A large part of that new identity came with the arrival of the Great

Awakening. The Great Awakening created a number of new voices within religion, ones that were not part of the established religions with their political and economic ties, which allowed them to “reevaluate the old theologies and speak out against slavery as an organizational endeavor.” (Day, 15).

As a result of increasing literacy among the African Americans and the increasing numbers of itinerant ministers who were preaching a message of resistance to worldly oppression and not submission, blacks started to convert to Christianity in increasing numbers. They also started to assume leadership roles as preachers and ministers as well as organizing churches.

As they did so their understanding and ways of interpreting the Bible differed from that of not only their white masters and white society in general, but even from that of the white abolitionists. In fact, blacks often found themselves at loggerheads with their white abolitionist allies.

For example, the slave narrative became popular means by which the abolitionist movement pressed their cause. However, most of these narratives that had the approval of the white abolitionists were those that “focused on the ‘objective facts’ of slavery rather than on individuals’ ideas and interpretations.” (Day, 88).

This control of the narratives allowed the white abolitionists to control the content and priorities of the anti-slavery movement, resulting in an anti-slavery movement that was against slavery but not necessarily for equality. Even though sympathetic to the troubles of the blacks, most whites were not willing to give up power nor to examine with a critical eye their own views and thoughts about black.

Blacks agreed with and used the argument used by the white abolitionists of the Golden Rule being the key to understanding and interpreting the Bible. However, they also identified both themselves and their plight with biblical figures, most especially Moses and the Exodus narrative, although the figure of Christ as the “Suffering Servant” was also important. Blacks found much support and strength through such imagery and identification; and especially in the knowledge that both the Jews and Jesus were triumphant at the end of their sufferings.

And just like the earliest Christian groups, many blacks found the book of Revelation meaningful. It pointed to a time when slavery and prejudice would end, a time of the Apocalypse when “an abolitionist Warrior Jesus” (Harrill, 179) would come in wrath and retribution to end slavery and establish justice for the blacks.

Not only did the Bible provide support and comfort, but many blacks found within it the sense of group identity and organization necessary for an active resistance to slavery. Those times of unrest among the blacks that led into actual revolt against their masters were most often preceded by a rise in religious activity.

While the black community did have much in common with the white abolitionists, their goals and views were not identical. There were significant differences in how they understood and used the Bible. Given their differing social standings and needs this was inevitable.

4. Final Notes

These changes to Christian understanding of the Bible have now become ingrained and are considered the orthodox understanding today. Except for some small groups, even those Christians who claim to believe the Bible literally use this new interpretation of the Bible, this interpretation that takes into account ideas from outside the Bible to understand it, when they claim that the Bible is against slavery. This is a far cry from the literalists of the pre-Civil War era, and a change that has continued to create social changes up to today.

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