Thursday, March 20, 2014

Letter to the Editor in Rolling Stone

I have been thinking about the blog a lot lately, way more than I have actually been posting. It must be that time in the election cycle when the GOP and right-wingers really start grinding my gears.

For today, I just wanted to brag about my biggest accomplishment in life: getting my letter to the editor published in Rolling Stone (RS1203, the one with Philip Seymour Hoffman on the cover). I confess that I spent the better part of one Friday night and all of my brain power editing the heck out of this little paragraph in the hopes that it would be published. 

My letter is in response to "The Stealth War on Abortion" in the January 30th issue of Rolling Stone.

RS1203 Letter to the Editor

Enjoy the first day of Spring*!

*Offer good in the Northern Hemisphere only.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Protesting the KXL pipeline

Hell hath no fury like a hippie scorned.
Hello friends. It turns out that summer in Seattle is delightful and I got distracted for a few months, so please forgive my rusty writing skills.

I am very much against the Keystone XL pipeline project, as are most people who have done more than three minutes of research into the issue. The pipeline extension's effect on climate change alone would be "game over" in terms of guaranteeing more carbon pollution. On top of that, the inevitable enormous spill from this pipeline is more than likely to devastate key components of our ecosystems. James Hansen's short essay "Silence is Deadly" is a stunning summary of the serious consequences that would result from building this pipeline. A few political aspects have changed since this paper was written, but the message remains the same. What possible reason could there be that we would allow such a thing to be built on our land, or anywhere on our planet? 

Answer: money. Isn't that always the answer?

I can go on and on about this KXL monster itself, but I would rather tell you about my experience protesting it. I signed up with 350 to protest KXL Sunday evening outside of a northwest Seattle home where President Obama was attending a private fundraiser. Since my invitation got lost in the mail, I decided the next best thing to rubbing elbows with the POTUS would be to wave a sign at him. I just wanted to remind Barry that KXL was a bad idea and if he really loved us he would not approve the project. I donned my best Obama sweatshirt and met the hippies environmentalists at the agreed upon location. There were quite a few people already waiting when I arrived around 4:30 p.m. It did not take long to realize that, whether or not this was intentional, the protesters' language was not only anti-KXL, it was anti-Obama

This I did not like. The best example of my frustration? One of their chants went like this:

Hey, Obama!
We don't want
Your pipeline drama!

This sounds like a taunt from a middle schooler who has been held back a grade...twice. (To be fair, some of the other chants made sense and had better messages.) One woman near me quickly moved to a location across the street, literally distancing herself from us, saying "Oh no, I'm going over there, I'm for Obama." To her and many others, we protesters sounded like we were against Obama, not just the pipeline. And there is a huge difference between those two ideas.

At one point, a protester leader made a classic "us vs. them" comment through his megaphone about how we were outside the fundraiser, and not inside the house, because none of us had $1,600 to spend on a ticket to the dinner. He implied that President Obama only listens to the big donors. I just don't think this sort of rhetoric is productive: who are we to judge what people spend their money on? If I had $1,600 to spend on a political fundraiser, I would go and hopefully have a chance to voice my opinion on how terrible KXL is and how Obama should not approve the project. Is it crazy to think that some of the donors at last night's fundraisers were doing exactly that? Why assume that someone attending an Obama fundraiser is not pro-environment? I would imagine the donors who were inside the fundraiser actually have similar values to those of us who were outside the fundraiser. Why create an "us vs. them" mentality?

In general I really do believe that 350 is a great organization with a strong and important message. And perhaps the individual protesters, not the organization, were the real problem. I liked the inflatable KXL monster they brought (see photo above). But to attack Obama with such childish remarks makes me angry. How is that tactic going to further the 350 cause? Really, all it does is placate the protesters. It is a distraction. Many of the protesters were eager to join in the chanting, no matter how little thought was put into it. I am sure that some of the less intelligent ones went home and slept soundly, thinking "I did a great thing today, I gave that scoundrel Obama a piece of my mind." Firing up the base with mindless messages, without really accomplishing anything, reminds me a lot of the Tea Party's tactics.

We climate activists are better than that, and this issue is too important for us to manufacture outrage on top of the real outrage this issue warrants. We have reason and facts on our side, so I don't need your drama, 350 protesters. President Obama is the first sitting president to publicly acknowledge climate change and the need to take action to reduce our carbon emissions. Let's work with him, not against him.

I agree that it is wise to address all politicians with a healthy dose of skepticism, but what evidence do we have that Obama is anti-environment? Has he done everything perfectly? No. Has he accomplished a few key things using the shreds of political capital he has left? Yes. (My favorite small example of this: "An obscure new rule on microwaves.") 

Furthermore, ascribing the "pipeline drama" to Obama is such a distortion of reality. I suppose the proverbial ball is in Obama's court on the KXL approval, but implying that this is Obama's issue alone (as if this was his original idea to cut a disastrous pipeline through America and that there are no outside forces affecting this decision) alienates the thousands of people who blogged, phone banked, canvassed, and otherwise fought to get this president elected.

I'm interested in getting things done, not just getting people worked up. Until I'm proven wrong, I'm going to continue to protest KXL and support my president.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Everything about the Trayvon Martin story is horrible. Right now, I am most upset about the number of people expressing sympathy for George Zimmerman and such blatant scorn for Trayvon Martin. (For the purposes of this post, I'm not talking about the jury or the legal facts and agruments of this case. That is a different subject.) I understand the people who truly do not want to take sides due to the fact that they do not have first hand knowledge of the situation. I don't agree with them, but their position is logical, so I won't argue with them.

As for the people who are "pleased" with the verdict or otherwise support Zimmerman over Trayvon? Or a weird subset of these people who are irritated with those of us who want justice for Trayvon (i.e. the people who are clueless about their own white privilege and racist mindset)? I'm not even sure where to start. George Zimmerman is one of the least likeable defendants I have ever seen. I cannot find one instance where he expresses any remorse* for ending the life of a child. Even if Trayvon had been the aggressor, wouldn't a normal human being be distraught that he had killed a 17 year old?

Let's look at what we do know, and compare the two people in this case:

Trayvon: A child. Walking home from the store. Approached by a stranger wielding a gun and asking questions. Fights. Gets shot and dies. His life is finished at the age of 17.

Zimmerman: An adult. Sees a child who looks suspicious to Zimmerman. Calls 911. Is told to stay put.  Confronts Trayvon. Fights. Shoots Trayvon. Found not guilty of any crime, gets to live among us and keep his gun.

Seems to me that Trayvon Martin did exactly what almost anyone in his situation would have done. And it also seems like Zimmerman did exactly what an overzealous, racist gun-nut would have done.

We know for a fact that Zimmerman killed Trayvon. By all accounts, there is nothing to suggest that Trayvon did anything wrong until confronted by Zimmerman, which I personally assume was a natural fight response (as opposed to a flight response, which is not a great option when directly confronted with a gun). How, as a spectator to this case, does anyone side with Zimmerman?

The racism surrounding this entire story is unbearable.

*If you can find an example of Zimmerman expressing remorse for his actions, please send me the link or post it in the comments.

Monday, July 1, 2013

In case you didn't like my last post

Please read this piece from the Chicago Sun-Times, "Anti-gay bias loses its legal whip." A straight Jewish man schools the sad "straight fundy Christians" on not having your religious beliefs made into secular laws.

I'm still thinking about my last post and the myriad ways I could have offended someone. With every post I write comes discomfort: I am still learning to truly own my opinions. But unlike my previous post, I'm usually towing the Democrat party line for a liberal audience. Voicing some sympathy for religion, especially when I have very little scholarly training on the subject, makes me nervous. Although I will give myself bonus points for exploring the intersection of liberalism and Christianity with an open mind, instead of shutting down the conversation and imposing my beliefs, however flimsy, on others.

Just yesterday I was walking around with a friend who started talking about a job interview she'd had recently. My friend was raised Jewish, although more in the cultural sense than as a religion. She was reading the text of a speech the potential boss had given, at a Jesuit institution, in which he had pointedly discussed "Christian values."

"It just makes me uncomfortable," she said. I felt a little pang of guilt and sadness. Maybe this problem is even more pervasive than I thought. Both she and I largely interact with open-minded, educated people in our work life. This potential employer she described even sounded like a great boss, one who wouldn't actually impose his beliefs on others. She did not make a big deal of this observation, but clearly this had made an impression on her, even as a non-practicing member of another faith. 

I still stand by my previous post, but I promise to be more cognizant of these situations. I can see how a Christian using the phrase "Christian values" implies that they are fundamentally better than Jewish values or atheist values. Personally, I avoid using that term because to me it has so much hypocritical baggage that it is nearly a joke. I do think many people say "Christian values" and really do mean adhering to Jesus' teachings and the Ten Commandments, without judging other value sets, but I get it. Coming from the religious majority, it really does sound exclusive and judgmental. 
I'm sorry.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Judging others for thinking they are judging others too

I mostly enjoy the Everyday Feminism page on the Facebook, but like anything other issues-oriented site, they sometimes preach to the choir and don't think through their assumptions very well. Or, I'm just way off base here. Either way, I wanted to post a slightly atypical HTBB post about being a liberal Democrat who also identifies as Christian.* A post on Everyday Feminism yesterday caught my attention. Read "30 Examples of Christian Privilege" here.

I totally agree that these types of "privileges" alienate non-Christians. The idea of a "War on Christianity" in the U.S. is completely ridiculous. However, I think part of the premise of the general argument here is wrong. I genuinely do not believe it is the Christian faith itself that is the problem. Stay with me here...the Christian faith is based on the teaching of Jesus. (It doesn't matter if you personally believe Jesus existed in order to follow my logic here. And the Bible is a document. Which may or may not depict real events. OK, it definitely depicts some made-up events, but we're getting off topic here...) Jesus' actions and words, as represented in the Bible, overwhelming show a doctrine of love and acceptance, especially for marginalized people. (For those who are unfamiliar with Christianity, a lot of the weird and self-righteous "Christian" rules you may have heard of are probably from the Old Testament portion of the Bible, and the worst of them are essentially reversed or forgotten in the New Testament.)

So based on my ramblings above, it's not the faith itself that creates a hostile environment for people who have other belief systems. It is bigots and extremists in the Christian religion that are the problem. Bigots and extremists are always the problem, no matter if we're talking about racism, sexism, religious always comes down to the bigots and extremists.

I do acknowledge that there seems to be a connection between Christians and narrow-minded thinking, but at least part of that perception is due to how The Media operate. Plenty of Christians are peacefully going about their daily lives being accepting people of all faiths, but the loudmouth bigots in the group get all the attention. This is how the media generally sells stories to us: they focus on the fringe. Think about how Muslims are sometimes depicted and how right-wing conservatives think all Muslims are violent Islamists. It's ridiculous and so far from the truth! (Obviously the Muslim scenario is more harmful than the Christian scenario here. There are degrees of influence and differing consequences from traditional media and social media on our perceptions.)

The introduction to this list on Everyday Feminism states that "If you identify as Christian, there’s a good chance you’ve never thought about these things." Well, I actually think about these things a lot and so do other Christians. I don't want to marginalize anyone, and through my volunteer work, political work and my everyday behavior, I try to prevent, stop and reverse any such marginalization. Period. I don't know where they get their stats for "a good chance"; I have no idea what that percentage is. Even if most Christians are intolerant (in which case I would argue that by some measures they aren't even really Christian, since they're missing the whole point of Jesus' teachings), why do you have to judge the rest of us? Doesn't that just exacerbate the problem?

Please do not think I'm saying Christians are bullied. Christians definitely enjoy more advantages in this country than any other belief group. I'm saying we're all getting into a vicious cycle of judging here. You're judging me by thinking I'm judging you. I think it would be better if we all focus on the bigots and extremists, not the religion itself.

Also, I just want to explicitly give a shout-out to the atheists: I think that the majority of my friends are atheists. I will never try to convert them or any other atheist. I appreciate the fact that atheists are operating under a very solid system of logic. My only real request is that you don't associate me (or the vast majority of Christians) with the Westboro Baptist Church people. Just thinking about that makes my stomach turn.

If I wish you a "Merry Christmas" in December, please feel free to respond with a "Happy Hannukah," "Happy Holidays," or simply "Have a great day!" My use of this greeting doesn't mean I think you need to celebrate my religion's just means I sometimes say "Merry Christmas" in December as a way to express my best wishes for you. Really!

*When I say I identify as Christian, I mean I was raised Christian and my extended family are all Christians. I believe in a higher power and many of the teachings of Christianity resonate with me. I also believe that you can be a great Christian and still trust modern science, accept LGBTQ people as 100% equal to heterosexuals, and allow a woman a right to choose. Even if I wake up as an atheist tomorrow, I'm still going to celebrate Christmas and Easter, and from time to time I will accidentally say "Oh my God!" and "Holy Moses!" It's not a glamorous culture, but it is a culture that I belong to.

Monday, April 29, 2013

An endangered species

"[Mother Nature] is just chemistry, biology, and physics. Everything she does is just the sum of those three things. She's completely amoral. She doesn't care about poetry or art or whether you go to church. You can't negotiate with her, and you can't spin her and you can't evade her rules. All you can do is fit in as a species. And when a species doesn't learn to fit in with Mother Nature, it gets kicked out. Every day you look in the mirror now, you're seeing an endangered species." 

     ~ Rob Watson, as quoted in Hot, Flat and Crowded 2.0 by Thomas L. Friedman

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This week's winners: criminals, the gun industry, anti-government fear-mongers


President Obama says it better than I can say it, so before you read my post, you might want to just save yourself some trouble and watch the video above.

The POTUS is angry, angrier than we've ever seen him during the last four years. I'm angry too, for the exact same reasons. I've been planning a post on expanded background checks, but today is the real kicker.

A majority of Senators voted for the Manchin-Toomey Amendment to the Firearms Bill and 90 percent of Americans support the measure. The sponsors of the amendment, one Democrat and one Republican, are both gun owners and have "A" ratings from the NRA. But somehow, this was not enough to make a law that would move us an inch toward reduced gun violence. We have a mile to go, and we can't even move an inch.

Who won today? Criminals who cannot pass background checks. The gun industry, interested in selling more guns and more powerful guns that can shoot expensive ammunition more quickly. Anti-government fear-mongers. To be succinct: anyone who profits (financially, politically or intangibly) from more criminals people buying guns or simply the idea that anyone should be able to buy a gun.

I have many, many thoughts on this subject but in light of today's vote and Monday's bombing in Boston, I do not have the emotional strength to explore these in a coherent fashion tonight. I will fight again tomorrow, and I hope you will, too.

I leave you with one thought for today: think of a reason to reject expansion of background checks that is not also a reason to scrap the whole background check system entirely. Every "reason" I've heard so far (infringing on 2nd Amendment rights, it's too expensive, hurts law-abiding gun owners, etc.) seems to be a reason to get rid of all background checks, which is extremely scary and dumb. That's not a very polite thing for me to say, but I'm done with being polite when it comes to this subject.