Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Sustainable Economics

We have put our good mother through a lot over the past few million years. Ever since we walked out of the great rift the biospheres dominant species has really left a mark. I know that mark is but a tiny spec on the archaeological record of the earth which spans a few billion years but our impact is unmistakable.
 
I guess it started with the invention of hand tools, fire, wheels, shelter construction, water cultivation and agriculture. You can’t forget hunting in packs, weaponry, domestication of animals, speech, art and writing. A consciousness of a portfolio of skills, specialization, division of labor and the ability to discern exchange value within the community birthed a notion of governance. Our social nature was crowned with our ability to transmit craft and knowledge to successive generations, assuring continuity and cohesion with a common history and a well articulated cosmology. Put it all together and I think you got your basic modern Homo sapien.
Oh yeah, we also developed a psychology, an ego, that incorporates the primacy of ourselves and our selfish needs. It rationalizes and guides our interactions with nature, transforming the intention of our labor into a transaction that alters the conditions of the environment. It also serves as indisputable empirical evidence of the master species, elevated above all others as time marks the progress and dominion of the human race.
 
Our dominion has been codified into our sacred literature. Our creation stories and cosmic mission statements expressly state to exercise our dominion over nature, to propagate the species and to be fruitful and multiply. The screaming unencumbered id, left to its own devises, unchecked in the grand supermarket. We human’s have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations and the species continues to be fruitful and multiplying. 
 
We sojourn on, notching the ladder of history with marks of our progression through the ages. Along the way we Cro-Magnons expropriated the Neanderthals and moved into their Mediterranean digs complete with fire pits, burial chambers and the best take on modern art until Picasso came along.
 
I guess that’s the point. Our survival comes at the expense of other creatures and things. I’m no Malthusian, but Tom Friedman’s flat world is getting crowded.    And as we celebrate the 44th Earth Day a midst the greatest die off of species since mankind coronated himself as master and commander of all things earth; it may be time to consider how our dominion is hampering the well being of the lesser flora and fauna kingdoms and what we can do to begin the practice of a more sustainable economics.
 
When I look at Las Vegas, I behold a garish mecca of capitalism on steroids.  I’m overwhelmed by the banality of the the things we so highly esteem. A community venerated and propped up on the foundation of vice, hedonism and the radical pursuit of money. Unbridled development of a crystal neon city constructed in the middle of a desert, recklessly consumes water and energy resources and misdirects human capital to maintain the facade of an unsustainable economy. 
 
Phoenix poses the same paradox. Darling child of the credit boom, Phoenix is a city consuming itself. The rising threat of climate change, blistering heat, dwindling water supplies and raging haboobs would give any urban planner reason to pause. A bustling city of many millions of striving citizens consuming energy, water and human capital built on the unsustainable foundation of excessive consumption and an unrealistic valuation of the capital required to maintain it. 
 
The explosion of fracking natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation is another example of sacrificing long term sustainability for the immediacy of shareholder returns. The Marcellus Deposit has proven reserves that only last a decade. As evidenced by the hyper development occurring in North Dakota,  economies tied to resource extraction are prone to experience classic boom bust cycles. During boom times all is well. But the good times don’t last all that long and communities are left in the wake of the bust cycle to deal with the aftermath. 
 
The Keystone XL Pipeline and the rapid expansion of the LNG extraction industries are being touted as the foundation of American energy independence. But this energy resource extracts a high cost on the land and its natural bounty. It poses significant risk to water aquifers, air quality, wildlife and the storage of waste-water byproducts will present long term remediation challenges to communities for many decades after the last well is capped.
 
Our new found fortune of LNG comes with a significant opportunity cost to develop alternative energy sources as it continues to tether our economic dependence on a dwindling supply of fossil fuels. Perpetuating this dependence also requires us to expend huge sums of money on the military. The political arrhythmia in the Ukraine and the keen interest of the United States has much to do with the changing political economy of fossil fuels and the protection and accession of markets.
 
Sustainability requires a new approach to the emerging realities of the global political economy. Recognition that competing interests bring important capital to the table, and that all must be recognized and fully valued in the new algorithms of sustainability is the keystone and pipeline of sustainability. The practice of unfettered development is unsustainable. Regulation, arbitration and revitalization cannot be sacrificed at the altar of laissez-faire politics that only serves to widen the wealth gap at tremendous social cost. The politicization of economic policy cannot continue to be beholden to rampant monetization. Sustainability is the creation of long term value for a diverse community of stakeholders. It needs to become our guiding mantra as the global population approaches 8 billion souls. Happy Earth Day.

 

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Risk: fracking, political, water, air, war, opportunity cost, renewal clean energy, climate change

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April 22, 2014 Posted by | cities, commodities, community, compliance, corporate social responsibility, ecological, history, politics, psychology, regulatory, sustainability | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Americas

Bill Maher recently did a bit on the Eco-friendly packaging of Sun Chips. In its desire to get down with the Go Green marketing trend, Frito-Lay developed a biodegradable bag. It was hoped the new package would alleviate some of the toxic burden traditional polyethylene packaging places on landfills. It was a great idea and a small sign of forward progress in developing environmentally friendly waste management solutions for our conspicuously consumer centric throw away society. Seemed like a good idea until Frito-Lay started to get negative feedback from its customers on its packaging.  The crescendo of noise the crackling bags made was too much for the sensitive ears of Sun Chips consumers. In deference to their clients wishes Frito-Lay scrapped the Eco-friendly packaging and returned to the old polyethylene bags.

Its amazing how a small inconvenience compels us to to cede the pursuit of the better path.  The paths that affirms our better nature and sustains life is abandoned because it is burdensome or makes too much noise.  It pesters our ears, it hectors our comforts.  We prefer to down our cholesterol in the silence of compliant bags rather then suffer the annoyance of a deafening crinkle to protect the environment and save the planet. We take the easier path that confirms the adage “have it your way”.  In America the personal “my way” is the only way.  After all this is America and that is what freedom is all about.  My way or the highway.  Can I get an Amen?

During the holiday season the big stink was about the Transportation Security Authority (TSA).  The news was flush with reports of travelers outraged by how TSA personal were overly intrusive and overstepped the bounds of decency and deportment as they screened exasperated airline passengers trying to board planes. Travelers became angry and ornery complaining about the violation of their person and screamed violent threats at TSA personnel if they “touched their junk”.

I find it a bit curious that the response to this egregious violation of personal liberty fails to call for the repeal of laws that codify the erosion of  our freedoms.  In its stead we learn states are busy passing privilege and immunity laws that confer special rights to certain classes of citizens. The Arizona Immigration law that was enacted earlier in the year burdens Latinos with proving they belong  to be living amongst us.  Its a pathway to a softer kinder Apartheid that codifies a bifurcation of citizenship and the value and validity of a persons humanness.  In its wake the value of liberty and our humanity both plummet.

The notion of Two Americas is not new.  Its just that the glaring injustice  threatening our society is becoming too stark to ignore.  This pernicious sedition is the gravest threat undermining our democracy.  It is a greater threat then any attack Al Qaeda could ever mount on America. In 1962 Michael Harrington wrote “The Other America”.  It was instrumental in publicizing the pervasive poverty that existed in America.  In response to the growing  threat poverty and the cultural and economic fissure it created between the of “haves and have nots,”  the Johnson Administration initiated a war on poverty.  The Great Society legislation was enacted to insure that all citizens are enfranchised with the vote and that a social safety net would catch any citizen from being swallowed by the great divide.  Today such notions are condemned as socialistic and unAmerican.

While the richest 1% of American’s continue to amass great fortunes for themselves gobbling up a disproportionate amount of income the much greater proportion of our countrymen sees its standard of living erode as the Two Americas  drift further apart.  The well off cash their fat dividend checks from a roaring stock market that has less to do with the economic development of America then the self enrichment of capitalist speculators.  The greatest irony is that as they sit atop their piles of cash they remain convinced that their riches confirm the greatness of America and that their wealth is why America remains great.

When President Obama took office the country was in a terrible state.  Two wars were raging, unemployment was spiraling upward, foreclosures were throwing millions of Americans out of their homes and an epidemic of small business bankruptcies was a plague ravishing Main Street USA.   During times like these you would think patriotic minded citizens would come together to aid the country in its dire hour of need; but the GOP led a virulent opposition whose single goal was Obama’s failure.  Their obstructionism added distance to the divide and America suffers for it.  The ugliness of the debates concerning Health Care Reform spurred the creation of a political dialog that delegitimatized governing institutions.  It  made the ability to reach consensus impossible and prompted threats that Second Amendment solutions would be considered to remedy ill considered legislation.

In the aftermath of the Tucson Massacre, we dusted off the old debate about gun control and wheeled it on to center stage again.  Many believe that the mentally ill murderer should have not been allowed to purchase a semi-automatic Glock and the 30 round clip that served to enlarge the scope of Jared Loughner’s terrible carnage.

All are thankful for Gabrielle Gifford’s miraculous recovery from her head wound.  All hope for a speedy and full recovery of the thirteen wounded and offer condolences to the six citizens whose lives were senselessly ended.  But all don’t believe the availability of guns should be restricted.  In fact many believe that had more citizens been armed the death toll of innocents would not have been as great because it would have included Jared Loughner before he could finish his grim work.  I’m not so sure.  I believe it more likely that a widely armed citizenry encourages wanton barbarity then the well considered promotion of dispassionate civic discourse.

Differences of opinion are critical to a healthy society.  The ability to have dialog and assimilate differences in a shared consensus in service to country is what makes democracies the best form of government.

If we are a people who prize freedom we cannot be complicit accomplishes in ceding our liberties.   We must be vigilant missionaries seeking to enlarge the pallet of liberty for all  people.  Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” Affirming a respect for our shared humanity, equal rights of citizenship and sense of duty to one another in service to our country and democratic way of life is how we breech the walls that divide us and bridge the fissures that separate.  These are the characteristics of  a great nation and protecting them serves to maintain the greatness of its people.  It is how out of many becomes one.  It may require that you put up with the annoying noise of a loud obnoxious windbag but the savory delight of the bread of freedom is well worth it.

You Tube Music Video:  Max Roach, Abby Lincoln, Freedom Now Suite, We Insist

Risk: democracy, civil liberties, culture, consensus

January 17, 2011 Posted by | Civil Rights, community, democracy, homelessness, MLK, Obama, poverty, recession, social justice | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kwanzaa 2010

We welcome the arrival of Kwanzaa. People of good will everywhere welcome this opportunity to bring more light into a world shrouded in darkness.  Kwanzaa celebrates community as a vessel to receive and dispense the flow of hope and service required to minister and serve others. It is a wonderful reminder on the importance of community and excellent opportunity to strengthen the bonds of the individual within communities.

The Seven Principles

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

We welcome Kwanzaa and wish its celebrants an enriching and transforming experience.

You Tube Music Video: Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Kawaida, Kamali

Risk: holiday, culture, faith

December 26, 2010 Posted by | community, culture, faith | , , , | Leave a comment

Sense of Gratitude

For this years Thanksgiving, I have decided to focus on developing a sense of gratitude. The world is full of real bad stuff happening to too many people and its easy to let the darkness of our times cast long shadows of resentment, anger and ill will over our outlook on life. So today as I travel to a relatives home to gather for our national day of thankfulness I choose to leave resentments at home and cultivate a sense of gratitude.

I’m grateful for my eyes. My sight allows me to perceive the million graces The Almighty abundantly confers upon the inhabitants of the good earth each and every day. My eyes help me to discover the pressing needs of others and respond to it. My eyes help me to discern light from darkness, distinguish the forest from the trees and eschew pedestrian views to behold a beautiful vista. My eyes are a pathway to my soul moving me to contemplate the good, forsake the bad and move against evil in service to truth.

I’m grateful for my ears. The grace of hearing permits me to listen. My ears alert me to the cries of my brothers and sisters and enables me to understand our shared human condition. My ears tune my spirit to the chords of exquisite music and the natural symphonies of Mother Earth’s angelic chorus of singing birds, heaving oceans, the majestic pause of silent mountains and the fleeting rush of the swelling wind are all divine voices singing the joyful hymns of life.

I’m thankful for my sense of smell. Graciously my nose breathes in the inviting aroma of a lovingly prepared home cooked meal, the wholesome scent of baking bread wafting from the door of the corner bakery, a briny snort from the boundless sea, the rich compost of the deep woods after a soft summer rain, the bouquet of an infants hair and the perfume of a lovers embrace.

I give thanks for my ability to touch. Hands engaged in productive work and gainful employment is a blessing absent from too many Thanksgiving Day tables this year. We yearn to connect and the sense of touch invites our ability to feel. Feeling is the father of empathy and the mother of compassion. Caring for our animal friends we live in communion with all sentient beings.  As we touch one another and allow others to touch us; the hardest of hearts is softened, the most grievous wounds are healed to liberate the sensual yearnings dwelling in the deepest recesses of ourselves. Feeling allows us to become fully present, fully aware and fully alive in the celebration of what it means to be fully human.

I’m thankful for my sense of taste. As Sinatra croons “from the brim to the dregs” the wine of our lives may not all taste good but it all flows clear and true. Sample, savor and learn. Taste and see the glories of the Lord’s banquet so abundantly placed before us. The bitter herbs, the sweet cakes, the leisure repast, the fortifying meal and unrequited hunger is the daily bread of being human.  Pause to consider those that are lining up for the tenth Thanksgiving Day meal in Afghanistan and Iraq and pray that the awful rations of war fed to our young soldiers be supplanted with the good manna of peace.

Perhaps we loose our sense of gratitude because expectations of ourselves and others always seems to come up short of the mark. Imperfection is our most endearing quality. It informs our ability to forgive transgressions, form bonds of friendship and unconditionally love each other. I remain grateful for the sense of my imperfection as I overlook your imperfections and remain ever hopeful that you  will extend your hand to help me over come mine.

Happy Thanksgiving.

You Tube Video: Jean Ritchie, Shady Grove

risk: resentment, gratitude, peace, metal health,

November 25, 2010 Posted by | armed services, community, culture, faith, family, life, psychology, recession, seasons, Spirituality, war | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leaky Reactors, Cyber Terror and Police States

This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
The Hallow Men TS Elliot

A few interesting  news items recently passed without much notice.  Two nuclear reactors located in the Northeast had to be  brought offline due to operational failures.  The Vermont Yankee reactor sprang a leak and had to be shut down.  The other incident occurred at the thirty six year old Indian Point reactor located about twenty miles north of New York City.  The cause of the problem at Indian Point was a transformer fire.  Both reactors  are owned and operated by Entergy and mirror similar problems at the Excelon operated Oyster Creek reactor located in south central New Jersey.

These incidents are endemic to aging nuclear power facilities.  These plants came on line during the the 1970’s and are now approaching the half century mark of service.  When these plants were commissioned it was believed they would have a shelf life of 40 years.   As the expected useful life span of these facilities approach regulators routinely grant extensions to the operators.  Operating these facilities past that point heighten potential risk factors.  As nuclear reactors age, the stress on these complex systems and containment facilities raise risk factors heightening the potential of system failure that lead to catastrophic events.

Leaky plumbing at the Oyster Creek nuclear plant is the culprit in poisoning the Cohansey Aquifer with 180,000 gallons of tritium contaminated water.  Regulators and environmental officials assert that the level of radio active isotopes in the water supply that serves South Jersey and parts of Philadelphia is well within acceptable levels for human consumption.  I guess that all depends on your definition of human; but I and many others remain skeptical on the subject of drinking radioactive laced water.

The aging nuclear infrastructure of the United States is a growing cause for concern.  The nuclear power industry was halted in its tracks in the 1980’s by a strong No Nukes environmental movement.  At the time it was generally understood that the cost of catastrophic risk and the industries inability to solve the long term problem of disposal and management of nuclear waste turned the public against the industry.

The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania and the disastrous meltdown at Chernobyl in the Russian Caucuses led to a moratorium on new plant construction in the United States leading to the actual abandonment of plant construction in the Washington and New York.  It created a capital market crisis as the fear of defaults on WPPSS  revenue bonds spread to cast long shadows on the entire Muni Bond market.  The state of  New York stepped in to purchase the facilities of Long Island Power in order to make bondholders of the closed facility whole with tax payer money.  It was kind of like socialism for investors.

While most of the world has continued to build nuclear plants to address growing energy needs; the United States has not built a nuclear plant since the 1980’s and has lagged the world in using nuclear power to address energy needs. Sentiment on the desirability of nuclear power is beginning to change.  The Pickens Plan, former VP Dick Cheney’s secret meetings to develop a national energy strategy, the Gulf Oil Spill, the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil and the growing acceptance that the burning of fossil fuels is slowly cooking the planet has placed nuclear power back on the table as a viable component of America’s energy portfolio.

China is committed to building 100 nuclear power plants to wean itself from its crippling dependence on coal.  The United States is charging hard to keep up with its fast growing Asian competitor in a 21st Century nuclear power race.  The aggressive pursuit of nuclear plant development will increase the power and control of corporate entities charged with their construction, management and on going administration.  To accomplish a dramatic build-out in nuclear infrastructure large areas of  land situated near a plentiful water supply will need to be secured.   Environmental impacts, regulatory oversight and public transparency will be sacrificed at the alter of cost efficiency, expedience in implementation and security to protect the vulnerable facilities against the pervasive armies of terrorists that lurk in the shadows near every nuclear plant.

The controversy surrounding the collusion of government and business to exploit the Marcellus Shale natural gas vein is an instructive model of what we can expect from the stakeholders pursuing an aggressive campaign to develop Americas nuclear power infrastructure.  The dismissal of regulatory controls, the eminent domain of corporate interests, the opaque wall that shrouds risks factors and hides the environmental degradation resulting from the practice of fracking and the sacrifice of watersheds and aquifers to the expeditious extraction of natural gas are some of the documented behaviors of  a wanton corporate will imposed on the body politic.  Tragically this near sighted perspective willfully sacrifices the sustainable ecology of communities to the sole purpose of the profitable extraction of resources to serve shareholders of private corporations.   The nature of the nuclear beast will require that its interests be enforced by courts of law guided by extreme prejudice and protected by police battalions, state  guard units and private security groups in the name of national security interests.

The recently discovered Stuxnet computer virus is an indication of how the stakes are being raised in the nuclear power shell game.  The launch of a successful cyber attack on a nuclear facility anywhere in the world is a real game changer.  Self deluded uber patriots act more  like real pinheads if they believe that the destruction of Iran’s nuclear power capability is a harbinger for Middle East peace or enhances the   security of either Israel or the United States.  A nuclear event in Iran or North Korea are real game changers for the course of human history and the well being of  humanity. A clandestine service that can take out Iranian nuclear reactors can also be deployed to take out a reactor that is twenty miles north of New York City.  Or consider the consequences of a summer heat wave ravaging the citizens Philadelphia dying of thirst because the water supply is contaminated with radiation.  The extent of civil unrest would be extreme overwhelming the local law enforcement and judicial capabilities.  If these bleak scenarios come to pass,  Americans will be pining away for the good old days when a quick feel up at the airport by a TSA gendarme is fondly recalled like a high school make out session.  The pernicious yoke of marshal law under the nuclear challenged corporate security state will be incessant in practice and swift, sure and dire in its execution.

You Tube music video: No Nukes Concert 1979: Doobie Brothers Taking it to The Streets

Risk: democracy, energy policy, nuclear power, civil liberties

 

November 22, 2010 Posted by | community, culture, democracy, disaster planning, ecological, energy, environment, government, military, nuclear, regulatory, risk management | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elevated Terror Threat for LGBT Community

The Department of Homeland Security needs to raise the terror threat level to Severe Bloody Red.   The escalation of attacks, intimidation and threats against the LGBT community is on the rise and taking a bloody toll.  The most recent consequence of escalating harassment have resulted in the tragic suicides of two young teenagers and the curiously deranged and dangerous social media stalking of a gay university student leader by an assistant attorney general from the State of Michigan.    These attacks pose a clear and present danger to the physical safety and emotional wellness of the LGBT community.  It exemplifies the prevailing climate of intolerance and bigoted hatred exponentially spawning in the polluted vitriol of America’s political culture.  It is clothed in the righteous banality of religious fundamentalism.  Justified with the certainty of theological platitudes  and enforced with the zealous sword  of biblical scripture.  It presents an extreme risk to the civil liberties of all citizens.  It assails our right to freely associate, compels behavior and demands conformity of thought and adoption of a common belief system.  It is a grave and  looming threat to our democratic way of life.

Tyler Clementi was a college freshman at Rutgers University.  Tyler, a gifted musician, diligent student, good friend and loving son jumped off the George Washington Bridge after Dahrun Ravi, his roommate of three weeks, surreptitiously videoed a sexual encounter Tyler had with another male and broadcast it on a social media site. To ensure the video attracted wide exposure, Mr. Ravi Tweeted to his followers that they should log on to the live stream.  The horror and shame of being victimized by a vicious hate crime and personally violated in such a manner was too much to bear.  Mr. Clementi chose to end his pain by taking his own life.

Understanding this event as the result of a misguided college prank gone wrong or an unfortunate consequence enabled by the misuse of powerful social media technologies misses the point.  To do so would absolve Mr. Ravi’s distorted and heinously warped value system.  His punitive glee in perpetrating the offense.  His demonstrative lack of capacity to feel empathy or acceptance of his roommates sexuality.  His failure to recognize his right to privacy.  His lack of any sense of compassion.  Mr. Ravi’s prurient pursuit of degradation and defamation of his hate crime victim and his intent to do extreme harm to Mr. Clementi is evidence of his deep rooted and socially acceptable homophobia that is shared with many people.

It is curious that one would expect that as a person of color, Mr. Ravi would have a heightened sensitivity to the poison of prejudice and the destructive capacity of  hate crimes.  Trying to understand Mr. Ravi’s motives for his action is an impossibility for anyone to fathom save himself; but one can surmise that as a person of color Mr. Ravi may have experienced a situation where he was cast as “the other”.  The other is always an uncomfortable and dangerous geography to inhabit.  The alien outsider, one who stands apart and is different from the dominate ethnic, racial, creed or sexual orientation is usually cast in shrouds of suspicion, fear and ridicule.  Perhaps Mr. Ravi’s attempt to revile an LGBT person because of their sexuality was an attempt to gain acceptance with his classmates by victimizing Mr. Clementi in league with other straits?   Mr. Ravi gets a pass and is welcomed into the inner circle as one of the good ole boys whose prejudices, fears and bigotries mirror the dominant culture.  The price of admission for Mr. Ravi was the death of his roommate.

The other disturbing factor in Mr. Ravi’s assault was the use of social media technologies.   Many youths enabled with powerful communication platforms like You Tube, Facebook and Twitter have a difficult time perceiving the boundaries of private and public life.  The domain of the public persona and private life has become obscured and confused by the ethical vagaries and accessibility of a multichannel digital life.  Since the time of their birth, today’s youth have been totally saturated, empowered and enraptured in the world of digital technologies and media.  It has become the necessary open source to project your ego, display your passion and live out your angst as a real time avatar.   The reality of interpersonal connections and human skills erodes in a universe of self seeking holograms guided by a radical social ethos to project power through the aggressive pursuit of self will with the ultimate objective to seek aggrandizement and demand  instant gratification.  Mr. Ravi used that power to devastating effect.

Mr. Ravi may believe that his technical prowess provided him license to pursue the character assassination of his victim.  Questions will arise about the harm these social media technologies can cause.  Many believe the power of the technology is to vast and dangerous for teens and children and provides tools for stalkers, predators and criminals to aid their enterprise to exploit others to do harm.  A great example being the recent clamor about Craig’s List and its promotion and support of child prostitution and sexual slavery.  The proliferation of online bullying, sexting and other pernicious uses of social media technologies are problems with no easy solutions.  No doubt these are real concerns but it is not the inherent nature of the technology that is at fault it is the values and intent of the users of technology that are cause for concern.

The problem is not about having too much freedom, or having access to enabling technologies we don’t yet  know how to tame.  Twitter,  Facebook, and blogging sites empower the user.  Like the Luddites of old who believed machines were enslaving them the crux of the matter lied in the intent, use, control and deployment of the technology.  These technologies are powerful tools to enlighten, cultivate, uplift and empower individuals but it can also  just as easily be used as tools to harm, denigrate, enslave and oppress.  Its all about human values.  The values of a society that believes it has the license and the moral conviction to defame and destroy the lives of others because they have the means and tacit consent to do so is terrorism.   The fact that one can quote Leviticus, or find the appropriate passage from the Quran or  St. Paul does not justify nor confer the right to “righteously” expose, denounce or shame a perceived moral depravity in a secular society.

That brings us to the other tragic suicide, 13 year old Asher Brown, returned home from school last week, walked into his closet and used a handgun to end his life as a result of being terrorized by his Middle School classmates in Houston.  Classmates of Asher bullied him and taunted him about his perceived homosexuality.  On the day Asher took his own life, he admitted to his parents that he was gay.  It is startling and comforting to learn that Asher felt safe enough in his own home to admit his sexual orientation to his parents.  Asher’s mother and father accepted their son’s sexuality and did not scorn or condemn him.  They continued to unconditionally love and embrace their son as all good parents do.

It is unfortunate that the boy’s  tormentors did not share the same understanding and practice the acceptance of Asher’s parents.  Children live and emulate what they learn from their parents and communities they participate and live in.  If children are prisms of the families and communities that create them the bullying behavior and bigoted hated must have been a keystone of Asher’s tormentors homes.  Public education is under sever pressure.  Homophobia and bullying is not on the curricula of the public school system.  Tolerance, diversity and secularism are values that  public schools try to promote and are often the ideals that are derided by indidivuals and institutions that condemn public schools as propagators of these “liberal values”.   In response to their abhorrence to these unsavory ideals they choose to home school their children and teach them to fear Ungodly secularism, be wary those who are different and condemn the sinfulness and moral depravity of same sex relations.  Demonizing homosexuals and preaching distrust for people and persons who may not look or think like you do is fertile ground for a violent reaction to express the pent up fear and resentment of the alien and reprobate other.

Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the public school system has been directed to be a “value neutral” institution.  It is pressured to reform its curricula to better reflect the prevailing conservative culture that demands creationism be taught as a science, Darwinism is dangerous and unionized teachers are fonts of liberal ideology that needs to be silenced.  The learning  experience in the public school system has devolved  into a mundane exercise of  preparatory drills  to take commercially developed state examinations.  Teachers and institutional  effectiveness is quantitatively  measured by a students ability to retain a series of specious facts.  The quality of the educational experience, love of discovery, pursuit and exchange of ideas, respect for diversity and different points of view are lost in the “value free”  world of pedestrian test taking and fact retainment.  Had these children been schooled in the value of tolerance and the reality of diversity or had time and opportunity to interact with other children unlike themselves, the fear and resentment of Asher may have been lessened and the young boy may still be with us.

The crowning jewel in this trinity of hate has to be the State of Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell.  Mr. Shirvell has engaged in a cyber bullying of University of Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong.  Mr. Armstrong is openly gay and was elected by the university’s student body to represent them.  This has not sat well with Mr. Shirvell a University of Michigan alumnus and a fundamentalist Christian.  Mr. Shirvell has started a website, Chris Armstrong Watch where he unleashes a consistent homophobic fueled diatribe against Mr. Armstrong’s alleged “radical homosexual agenda”.

As a private citizen, Mr. Shirvell closely peruses Mr. Armstrong’s Facebook page to pick out posts and photo’s that raise his ire and uses the material as grist for his Chris Armstrong Watch website.  The accompanying comments and altered reproductions of Mr. Armstrong photo’s scream about his elitism, sexual degeneracy and Nazi like political tactics Mr. Armstrong employs in service to the advancement of a radical homosexual agenda.

This is truly frightening stuff.  A state Assistant Attorney General scouring Facebook pages and setting up a blog site dedicated to attacking and undermining a student leader because of his sexual identity is sickening and comes dangerously close to the abuse of office which I understand Mr. Shirvell was relieved of today.  Mr. Shirvell defends his actions on the grounds that he is exercising his rights of free speech as a private citizen.  Driven by his Christian fundamentalist faith and a reactionary political ideology,  Mr. Shirvell’s political fixation and strident personal vilification of  Mr. Armstrong are classic Rovian attack politics.  Mr. Shirvell stands shoulder to shoulder with James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart.  All three have shown a disdain for the truth, law and private rights of their targets in pursuit of a radical right wing agenda.

The values of a society that believes it has the right and the moral conviction to defame and destroy the lives of others because they have the ideological conviction, means and tacit consent to do so is the definition of tyranny and its pursuit is terrorism.  The US Constitution protects all citizens from zealots emboldened by personal truths derived from their holy scrolls.  A secular democracy protects the civil rights of its citizens and frees them from the righteous tyranny of others.  The Constitution stipulates that there is a single law of the land and it is a  violation of civil rights and a crime to expose, denounce or shame a person based on a theological interpretation of moral depravity.  The Constitution is the final arbiter and surest protection of individual liberty for all; damning the psychological culture of extreme political egoism advanced by Shirvell, Breitbart and O’Keefe.

Character assassination and appeal to the baser instincts of fear and loathing help propagandists to demarcate the lines that separate groups, reinforce prejudice and make dialog and the formation of consensus all but impossible.  Consider if you will a government administration populated with individuals with the temperament of Shrivell, O’Keefe and Breitbart.  America would be ruled by a government that edits reality to conform to their ideology.  It would propagate a political narrative that blindly  pursues ideology by running rough shod over the personal life of citizens while resorting to character annihilation and entrapment tactics.  It would truly be an embodiment of an Orwellian nightmare

The terror threat must be raised.  Terrorists are harming our citizens.  The world will miss the gracious presence of Asher’s beautiful smile.  Asher will never anoint another with the promise of renewal again.  The dear gift of youthful transformation is now lost to a world deeply in need of a rebirth.  The precious resource of Asher is squandered and silenced by those clinging to the old ways of ugly bigotry.   Asher’s spirit will remain with all who loved him and venerated by all who respect individual liberty.

We have also lost the exquisite melodies of  Tyler Clementi’s music.  Tyler’s silence will never weave harmony into a cacophonous world crackling in ugly dissonance.  Tyler’s violin now entombed in its case will never sing the sounds of joy, enlightenment, revelation and transcendence to those who refuse to listen to the symphonies of understanding, acceptance and appreciate the celebration of love.  The beautiful music Tyler created and brought into the world will never be heard again.  Tragic that the wonderful harmony of Tyler’s life was quieted by the deaf ears of those refusing to listen and most needing to hear it.

Rest in peace beloved.

Youtube Music Video: Janine Jansen, Lark Ascending

Risk: LGBT, civil rights, constitution, free speech

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Bible, children, Civil Rights, community, culture, democracy, education, gay rights, government, LGBT, politics, Quran, religion, social justice, teaching, terrorism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect is a component of Chaos Theory.  A butterfly flaps its wings in a far away place creating tiny ripples that begin a flow of cause and effect energy that eventually creates a hurricane force wind.  These tiny ripples, seemingly irrelevant can precipitate and contribute to a major event. The right set of factors comes together and a major event takes place.  Can the humble service of an single person create a butterfly effect?

Last year President Obama designated Martin Luther King Day as a day of service.  It seems a fitting designation for a day dedicated to a man who lived a life in service to others and willingly gave that life to realize his ideals.  MLK, Jr. offered his life to the struggle for civil rights to protect the human dignity of all people.  There is no higher calling for citizens of a democratic republic.  Civil rights and the protection of human dignity is the foundation of a democratic society.  Equal protection under the law for all citizens and unfettered access to all its rights and privileges are the surest safeguard of a peoples security and liberty.  MLK, Jr. perished in the struggle to enlarge and protect that liberty for all people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, creed or color.  It is the responsibility of all citizens to place themselves in service to protect and enlarge the dream of liberty and freedom.  A failure to assume this responsibility risks failure of our democratic culture and the relinquishment of personal liberty.

As individuals,  we are overwhelmed by the massive problems that confront us.  We freeze in place as we witness an avalanche of cataclysmic world events.  The endless duration of incomprehensible wars, the vicious repression employed by intractable power elites, the posturing and threats of great nations intent on projecting their power, global economic calamity and disenfranchisement brought on by institutional excess and governance failure, cultural intolerance spawning sectarian violence and the massive natural disaster calamities intent on assaulting  our humanity by delivering devastation to the most vulnerable among us; conspire to immobilize us.   As a people we are left to stand mute unable to comprehend and unwilling to act out of fear of wasting good efforts to no effect.  Ambivalence of conviction, vacillation of intent, cynicism in thought are subversive elements that are more powerful then 1,000 Al-Qeada cells because the subversion of terror nests securely in the minds of seemingly free people.  These subversives incessantly whisper “distrust liberty for all and learn to loathe the responsibility that freedom requires of free people.”

This weeks Haitian earthquake is an event that startles, humbles and hopefully shakes us from our torpor and ignites a desire to serve.  The massive destruction and sweeping misery of its aftermath is a clarion call for a humane response to address this assault on our shared humanity.   Yet in its wake, leading televangelist Pat Robertson opines that the earthquake was God’s way of delivering retribution on the people of Haiti.  Mr. Robertson believes the old Haitian superstitious folklore that Haiti made a pact with the devil to free themselves from the colonial domination of France.  Mr. Robertson’s theology proves Thomas Paine’s wise maxim that “a belief in a cruel God makes for a cruel man.”    Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of President Obama’s immediate call to marshal aid to the stricken country prompted the Ditto-head and Chief to state that the President’s call to aid Haiti was a political ploy designed to gain favor with the light and darker shades of people of color.

We recoil in horror at Pat Robertson’s vision of a God that keeps score.  A God whose patience spans generations,  eagerly waiting to notch another victim into the wooden handle of his deadly cosmic six shooter.  Such spiritual poverty and moral bankruptcy is a self evident truth.  We are equally appalled though hardly surprised at Mr. Limbaugh’s deep cynicism and his gleeful celebration of racism and partisan vindictiveness.  What both pronouncements share is an offer of absolution for moral ambivalence to their constituents and a warning to remain politically suspicious of institutional  response to this massive human tragedy.

God weeps at the peril of his children and the Beneficent One is moving nations and people to serve and respond to the pressing need of the Haitian people.  Individuals from all over the world are giving time, treasure and prayers in response to this tragedy.  People of good will everywhere are placing themselves in service to the people of Haiti out of compassion to relieve suffering and a compulsion to protect the sacredness of our shared humanity.  The world goes up in a collective cheer each time a search and rescue team extract another small soul from the hell of a mountain of rubble.  Refusing to walk away from the plight, refusing to avert our eyes from the pressing need of a people in need is a desperate rescue mission of a most fragile respect for our shared humanity.

Small people everywhere are flapping tiny butterfly wings, creating a gale force wind to knock down the walls that divide us.  It is the only way to solve the massively complex  global problems that work to undermine us.  The collective desire to change overcomes the sense of our powerlessness to change.  Just like a Baptist Minister from Montgomery, or a tiny woman who refused to go to the back of the bus, big things emanate from the smallest places.  All one must do is begin to spread the wings and flap.  Today is a very good day to flap our wings and offer prayers that our small individual actions taken together will blow down the barriers that divide and address the problems that vex humanity.

You Tube Music Video: Mavis Staples, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Risk: ambivalence, paralysis, cynicism,

 

January 18, 2010 Posted by | Civil Rights, community, culture, democracy, faith, government, holiday, LGBT, MLK, politics, seasons, social justice | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wecome Kwanzaa

Tonight marks the arrival of Kwanzaa. People of good will everywhere welcome this opportunity to bring more light into a world enshroud in darkness.  Kwanzaa celebrates community as a vessel to receive and dispense the flow of hope and service required to minister and serve others. It is a wonderful reminder on the importance of community and excellent opportunity to strengthen the bonds of the individual within communities.

The Ancestors Prayer

Our great African parents who are among us we humbly offer our thanks
for the many blessings you have given.

We extend our love to its ultimate state of being –
For the suffering that you have endured so that we may not suffer so.

Mothers of our great African nation Fathers of our African selves –
We invoke you to furthur lead and guide us to a higher understanding

Of our true greatness –
And a more encompassing dedication of love for our African people.

Parents of all African children;
Guide us toward a greater unity –
Guide us in a stronger African Value System and lead us into the zenith of respect and love for our people, through education and the
“Family Communal Structure”

We swear upon the heritage and legacy that you have left us to uphold and sustain our rightful status on this earth, and to continue the struggle for the total mental and physical liberation of all African People.

The following is a Christian prayer offering for Kwanzaa

O come all you faithful, rejoicing and victorious! Come, let us adore the Lord of life and goodness, as we celebrate Kwanzaa and the African American heritage. Come and give thanks and praise for the journey. Jesus, by your mercy, grant us the grace to cherish this life. Guide us to uphold the dignity and respect of life from the moment of conception to its natural end at death. Lead us to be to true to our nature as you created us. We ask these things because we have our roots in the divine origin of Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier, Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Peace to all this Kwanzaa Season.

You Tube Music Video:  Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

December 26, 2009 Posted by | community, faith, holiday, seasons | , | Leave a comment

Prison Ministries: Speaking for Those Without a Voice

MARK 13:1-8 – Restorative Justice Sunday – November 15, 2009

Submitted for the John Hines Preaching Award by the Rev. Pamela Bakal

I recently came back from a Prison Ministry conference and one of the exercises that the participants were asked to do was, “Build the kind of prison that Jesus would want.” They gave us all wooden blocks and we worked together to come up with the ideal prison. We thought surely there should be a large worship space, and a place for multiple classrooms so that the inmates could learn job skills and education. We created an area for a garden so that the splendor of God’s creation would fill both guards’ and inmates’ souls with beauty and peace.  We constructed bridges so that the men and women could physically walk through the emotional changes and transitions they would be making in their lives. No matter what we tried the presenter kept shaking her head. And then it dawned on us; Jesus would have torn down the walls of the prison and set the captives free.

In a perfect world there would be no prisons. Building prisons is not the answer. If punishment really worked the recidivism rate would not be at its present statistic of more than 50%. The problem is so much more complex than using the crime and punishment formula. If we are going to solve the problem of our enormous prison population (There are as many in the prison population as there are Episcopalians – 2 ¼ million!) we are going to have to change the way we structure our prisons, and all work together to support our less fortunate neighborhoods.

How do we redesign a society that needs to put so many people in prison? That is precisely what the work of Jesus is about – changing the world and the way we understand it, so that all might be free.

Most of you have probably never seen the Essex County Jail, on Doremus Ave in Newark, New Jersey. Whenever I visit there I feel like the disciple who said to Jesus, “Look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”  (Mark 13:1) That jail is huge! There are 3200 inmates housed there!  And what is Jesus’ response…” Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Could this be the prison that was conceptualized in the Prison Ministry conference?

This Scripture passage is what we call apocalyptic Scripture. It is about the end time. It can create fear and trembling in some people because one way to read it is that the end of the world could be imminent, and when it arrives we will witness the terrible wrath of God. Those who are good and faithful will be saved, and those who are sinners will be damned forever. They say that when it comes to apocalyptic Scripture, there are two kinds of people; those who love to scrutinize it for symbols and hidden meanings, and those who pass over these texts as quickly as possible. For me apocalyptic Scripture passages contain tremendous hope. Apocalyptic Scripture tells us that God has a mission which God is in the process of fulfilling and perfecting. God is shaping our future, this world’s future, toward an end that is grace filled and loving. When we read and hear these scripture passages about “the end time,” we are challenged to bring them into a meaningful perspective of how God’s reign, God’s Kingdom will be brought in.

And who would not look forward to the end of a world that binds people and keeps them from living out their God given gifts.

Apocalyptic Literature has something in common with Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is a process that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, both to the victim and society. It is best accomplished through a cooperative course of action involving victim, offender, community, and government. Rather than viewing the current system of justice as reparations being doled out in dollars and cents, and the “penal” system as punishment for a crime, its focus is to be a system of healing for all parties concerned. These principles are the principles of Jesus: repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, healing. We speak of these all the time in church, and as Christians it becomes our mission to bring these values of Jesus into fruition in the world.

Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” (Mark 13:5) Haven’t we indeed been lead astray by our retributive system of justice? Punishment is equated with revenge and revenge only multiplies anger and violence. These times look like the end time. We have “kingdoms rising against kingdoms,” (Mark 13:8) such as we might see in gang wars.  Violence is creating a vortex that drags our children into the criminal justice system, and any attempt to climb out only gets swallowed up as a tenuous earth cracks beneath them.

Ah, but these might in fact be “the beginning of the birth pangs”. (Mark 13:8) As we see that retributive justice does not work, we will begin the change. Jesus’ sense of justice asks us to respond to evil with love. God’s love for us in Christ Jesus extends grace to all; even those we do not think can be loved. Grace is unearned forgiveness and unearned generosity of spirit. Restorative justice allows a place for grace. To discover how grace operates in the justice system might just bring about the change and transformation needed. As we come to realize the old ways no longer work, as we tear down the old institutions, we allow for grace to enter in. Grace naturally focuses on the future and how things can be changed for the better, both for the victim and for the offender and the community.

Followers of Jesus do not need to fear such a time when all will be thrown down, or wonder what it all means. What might at first appear to be foreboding and anxiety provoking is now transformed into hopefulness and anticipation. We can face the troubles and anxieties of this age because we know that this is not the final state of things. We have reason to be excited that the salvation of the world draws near, and that we too can join with Christ in bringing in a time when the walls of our prisons will be cast down, and our prisoners set free. I thank God that the day is coming when Jesus will make all things new, all things right, all things just, all things infused with grace.

This is very good news.

 

The Rev. Pamela Brownlow Bakal is Rector of Grace Church in Nutley, NJ and President of Prison Ministry, Diocese of Newark.

Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” [2] Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

[3] When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, [4] “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” [5] Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. [6] Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. [7] When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. [8] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

You Tube Music Video: Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

Risk: social justice

December 26, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, community, culture, faith, family, prisons, social justice | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living Water

holding-a-piece-of-time-2It was an amazing experience to attend the Gay Pride parade in NYC last Sunday. The colorful exuberance of celebratory revelers enthralled in a proclamation of who they are is a refreshing revelation to experience. For so many LGBT people, the prevailing culture still casts aspersions on their lifestyles and persons. Many LGBT people face ridicule, terror, exclusion, violence and death as a daily reality of their lives. It forces them to hide who they are. Many go throughout their entire lives hiding or denying their identity for fear of discovery or from the guilt of self loathing. This is a pernicious condition of a daily life that takes a physical, emotional and psychic toll on victims guilty of nothing more then claiming a sexual identity different from what is perceived as the cultural norm. It is brutally enforced by religious pronouncements, civil law and a pervasive peer pressure that seeks to eradicate anything that diverges from acceptable community standards of sameness and conformity.

For LGBT youth it is particularly damaging. Afraid, alone, uncertain and unaware they are extremely vulnerable and remain at risk to the dangers and condemnation their sexuality exposes them too. So it was wonderful to witness young people at the parade expressing pride in their identity; perhaps for the first time in their lives beyond the eyes of judgment. It is wonderful to witness and participate in an event that allows people to express a self affirmation and experience the joy of true freedom.

So it was with great pleasure that I recognized the Reverend Gene Robinson, Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire offering water to the Gay Pride marchers and celebrants. It was a poignant scene to witness, and it brought to mind the Woman at the Well scripture from the Gospel of John.

At its center, John’s passage speaks about affirming identity. Indeed it is the through the acceptance of one’s identity that allows one to drink from the well of living waters. God calls the faithful to affirm oneself in spirit and truth. I cannot help but to think how this scene captures Bishop Robinson’s personal journey of discovery, self affirmation and coming to terms with the truth of his sexual identity. As he offered water to the thirsty, I realized how the many generations of LGBT celebrants and activists salved the thirst of Bishop Robinson as he came to the well of living waters wanting to live into the spirit of truth about who he was and what God calls him to be. On this day Bishop Robinson was dutifully living into God’s spirit of truth by offering water to marchers and celebrants ever so thirsty to drink from the same life affirming well of living waters. This could not have been possible had there not been someone from a non-distant past  encouraging Gene Robinson to drink from the ladle of living water, dipped in the truth of God’s deep well of unconditional and inclusive love.

Let our hearts not be troubled. Bishop Robinson stands with ladle in hand offering all who thirst a long and cool drink from God’s abundant well.

Thanks be to God.

You Tune Video: Mahalia Jackson, Women at the Well

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Bible, children, Civil Rights, community, faith, gay rights, holiday, LGBT, life, politics, psychology, religion | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment