Friday, December 11, 2009

Best Protest Signs of 2009

Here are some shots of what the Huffington Post is calling the funniest protest signs of the year:

Wikipedia strikes back :

How dare you say Americans can't spell:

The problem with quoting from the Bible:

My favorites:

You know, you just can’t make this stuff up!

Sanctity of Marriage

John Marcotte is going to take Californian voters at their word. Because they voted for Prop 8, which banned gay marriage, in order to protect marriage, he is working on pushing them to their logical conclusion. He is currently collection signatures for the "California Protection of Marriage Act." If passed it would make divorce illegal in the State of California. Married couples could however seek an annulment. While done more tongue in cheek, it is gaining momentum, although they need 700,000 signatures. But he does address the sheer hypocrisy of the anti-gay marriage movement, which has nothing to do with protecting the sanctity of marriage. Of those I know who are separated or getting a divorce in Massachusetts not one of them is because gays can marry. And as long as the divorce rate remains at 50% the actions are not doing anything to protect marriage. So, if you live in California please sign the ballot initiative so we can protect marriage.

I finally figured it out, part 2

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post. The United Methodist Church's position is for "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness." That, of course, is a position I support. The only mention I can find on a position regarding sex education is some brief lines in the church's stance on pornography which says: "Children, youth and adults need opportunities to discuss sexuality and learn from quality sex education materials in families, churches and schools. An alternative message to pornography, contained in carefully prepared age-appropriate sex education materials that are both factual and explicit and portray caring, mutually consenting relationships between married adults, is needed." What that actually means I think is open to debate.

I know that Pastor Joel did have thoughts about whether to talk about condoms in last week's message on World AIDS Day, but he decided that in the age of AIDS, condoms have to be talked about openly and honestly and that means they must also be talked about from the pulpit. I have two daughters so I can assure you that I want them to know that abstinence is the expectation, but I also know the reality of life and so I want them to know what they need to know about sex as well, including protection not only from pregnancy but also from sexually transmitted diseases. Having had numerous friends and acquaintances die of AIDS this hits close to home.

Education is always the best tool and I believe abstinence only programs simply don't work, either for drugs or for sex. We need to give kids the most information we can with the hope that they will make the right decisions, but with the knowledge that if they don't do what we would like that they are not doing things that will damage them for the rest of their lives, or kill them. The other problem with some abstinence only programs is that sex is portrayed as something dirty and disgusting that "good" people (especially girls) don't do, oh except with the person you love the most. What sort of a message does that send?

Let's be honest. The more we tell teenagers not to do something, the more curious they become in wanting to do it. That's what teenagers do and what being a teen is about. However, that does not mean we have a laissez faire attitude and let them do whatever they want; but let's provide them all the information and then set the bar of where we want the behavior to be and give them the skills and the trust to make the right decisions. Kids know when we are lying or trying to deceive them and when we do that they shut out everything else we try to tell them and discount everything that had come up before that.

In our conversation with the God Squad last year I was amazed at some of the questions they asked, not only that they didn't know some of the answers, but also in their desire to know more information. They do want parents and their church to have a say, and they will listen to us more than we believe they will.

For a good, and scary, look at the modern state of teen sexuality I recommend Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I finally figured it out

In the closing section of one of the classes I am taking, the professor, Helmut Koester, was asked about his background and how he ended up where he was today. He was born in raised in Germany and served in the German. Because he grew up under Nazi rule, for most of his life, which included his father losing his job and being imprisoned by the gestapo for a time, he had not had access to anything which the Nazi's deemed "inappropriate" including books, music and art. While he was in the German army during the last two years of the war, they were working out of a building in Berlin which had formerly housed governmental offices. In one of the offices they found a stash of some of those forbidden materials and so the first exposure he had to jazz music was listening to records that had been confiscated by the Nazi's but not destroyed.

This should hardly be a surprise as often those who seek to "protect" us from things hold onto them in order to make sure we don't get them, or even worse watch, read or listen to them (this is not true of all). If you study the anti-pornography movement you will find that some of them have very large collections of pornography. Some who specialize in their distaste of certain types will even have the largest known collection of that type. And of course they have to watch these materials in order to know how disgusting these things are so they know what we need to be protected from. In other words it is not us that have problems but they need to be protected from themselves and their own interests.

Which leads me to this. I think I have finally figured out why conservatives have been pushing so strongly for abstinence only sex education. It can't be because it works, because it doesn't. All the independent studies show this, and reality shows it as well. Teenagers with the highest rates of sexual activity are those that self-identify as evangelical Christians, and areas with the highest religious identification also have the highest teen pregnancy rate as well as out-of-wedlock birth rates. These things shouldn't go together if these programs work. Then today, because of some events in my own life which I won't go into, it hit me. They don't want these programs to work because what they know is that the biggest cause of abstinence amojg adults is children. If teenagers go out and have sex and have children then they will become abstinent because they no longer have the time or the energy to have sex. Of course it's the second child that really gets it going, so the bigger the failure the program is the better it works. They know that if the initial education fails and the kids have children that this will lead to true abstinence, and then the program is a success. It's diabolically genius!

Welcoming and Reconciling Nativity

Here's a funny story from one of the other clergy in Sudbury, which of course also relates to my last post:

Every year they have a living nativity. Last year when the minister went down to see what was going on, she found two girls in the stable with the baby Jesus, but no one else. When she asked which roles they represented, one girl said "I'm Mary and she's also Mary, remember we're a welcoming congregation." Too funny!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Getting Along

Last night in our conflict management training the facilitator had us practice a circle process in which everyone was given the opportunity to say a few words about their feelings surrounding this congregation's decision to become a reconciling ministry and the process that brought this about. Neither Pastor Joel nor I were here for this process, but we have certainly heard the pain that remains on both sides of the issue. I think it was very enlightening for some because they had no idea that people felt the way they did. For others it reopened old wounds and for a few it created wounds that were not there before. But the only way we can get beyond these feelings is to actually deal with them in constructive and positive ways. We cannot just move on because they will invariably come up again.

In hearing stories of past conflicts I would also say that while the issue was different, the story is the same. Each church has a DNA that exists regardless of who is attending, and can span generations and sometimes centuries. People become enculterated into a system and operate the way that system works, even if they might like to do something differently. But this requires someone identifying the system, everyone deciding that a change is necessary and then taking the time to actually make the change. Systems can be changed, but they require us all being open and honest, listening to each other, recognizing hurts and pains and all working to move forward together.

We are all children of God and precious in God's sight and when we forget that, when we move into us versus them, winners and losers, then not only do we all become losers but we also lose our way and our focus on our reason for being, God who loves each and everyone of us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You Have the Right....

On Monday the Supreme Court heard a case involving a man who signed a confession, after receiving his Miranda rights, but who said he did not know that he had a right to have a lawyer present when he was being interrogated. According to observers it appears that the justices were siding with the need to have this expressly stated. If this is the way the Court goes, and I hope they do, I applaud them on this change, which could make a significant impact in interrogations.

If you watch enough television, and everything seems to be about crime or medical shows these days, very rarely is there ever a lawyer present during questioning. When they are present they are portrayed as obstructionists who are keeping the police or the DA, the "good guys," from finding out the truth from the "criminal," who is clearly the bad guy and has something to hide because he wouldn't be a suspect if he wasn't guilty (and that was even said by a US Attorney General). But the normal portrayal is the police/DA interrogating someone without a lawyer present, and when the "criminal" asks for an attorney to be present the police either refuse (which is illegal by the way) or they talk them out of it because an attorney will only get in the way and make things worse, or at least that's what they are told. This invariably results in the person saying okay they'll talk without an attorney and then they confess to everything without legal counsel.

Now I know that TV is not real life, but how many people decide what is good or bad, or how things are really supposed to happen based on a TV portrayal? I would guess the percentage is pretty high. All we have to do is look at how many people think that torture is okay because when Jack Bauer does it it always works, the intelligence is good, and the end justifies the means. For those without a good education, who don't understand legalise and who are often scared out of their minds, it is little wonder that we get false confessions. Making clear the need for suspects to be specifically told that they have the right to have an attorney present when they are being questioned. That is when the most damage can be done and often when their advice is needed the most. The right to a fair trial is guaranteed in the Constitution and the framers knew first hand how coercive the state can be through the use of the police and the court and sought to protect this. Now if we can just decide as a society to adequately fund the public defenders office. Unfortunately this does not match up with our "get tough on crime" mentality coming from both the right and the left.

As an interesting aside, Miranda rights are named for after the court case Miranda v. Arizona, in which Ernesto Arturo Miranda confessed to rape and robbery following a police interrogation. Miranda had a long and checkered past with the law, but the case claimed that police should have told him that he had the right not to talk to the police, had the right to an attorney, etc. Federal law enforcement officials had been using a similar statement for years, but most local forces did not until they were ordered to by the Court in 1966. If Miranda thought he had problems with the police before the decision, they were just beginning. Every time that he got out of prison the Phoenix police department would literally follow him around town and stop him for even the smallest infraction, often leading to his arrest. I could tell some good stories that I have heard, not only about Miranda, but others, but I will refrain. Miranda was stabbed and killed in a bar fight at the age of 34. One of his killers was apprehended shortly after and as he was being cuffed he was read his rights which Miranda had won him the right to hear.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Believe

Here is a great quote about Santa from Readers Digest:
On Christmas Eve, my nine-year-old son, David, put out milk and cookies for Santa, plus an extra treat -- a beer. The next morning, David came tearing into our room. "Santa came!" he shouted. Holding up the half-full bottle of beer, he said, "See? There really is a Santa, because Dad would have drunk the whole thing!"

Is Anyone Listening?

So Tim Donaghy conducted his first interview last night on 60 Minutes about his time betting on games as an MBA ref. Now the question is, will anyone actually pay attention to what he had to say? ESPN and everyone else have been saying all along that he had fixed games and that he was, in the words of the NBA, "a rogue ref."

That of course is not what he pleaded guilty to nor was it what was actually taking place. (If they had paid attention to the case and not the NBA's spin of the story they would have known this). He placed bets on games simply knowing who the refs were going to be (and if there were any last minute injuries). Let me say that again, he could place bets on games, and win an astounding 75-80% of the time, simply by knowing who was refing the game. The NBA, and the sports reporting world, have not wanted to talk about this because the ramifications are enormous. He also said he could bet based on memos sent from the NBA about certain issues, such as that Kobe was not having fouls against him called enough, and so he knew they were going to crack down and Kobe was going to be going to the line a lot. In other words the NBA office was directly contributing to games being changed in one teams favor. Players and coaches have been complaining about this for a long time and the only people listening was the commissioner who would fine them. Is anyone going to pay attention now?

Now what the NBA, as well as the sports media machine, has said all along is that there is no reason to believe this guy because he is a convicted felon and committed the most heinous crime in professional sports of betting on his own sport. We will disregard the fact that the NBA, NFL and MLB love to host events in Vegas, because of course there is no hypocrisy taking place. We will also disregard the fact that the NBA found that most of their refs were gambling in violation of their contract, but no discipline followed because there were simply too many doing it. Instead they just changed the rules.

The problem with saying that Donaghy is lying is that the FBI and the NBA both did investigations in which they found that he did not throw any games he officiated, and the FBI believes he is telling them the truth. If they didn't he would still be sitting in a prison somewhere. The other problem for the sports media is that they believe Brain McNamee, a convicted felon, is telling the truth and Roger Clemens is not. We need a little consistency here. Convicted felons can of course tell the truth or lie, in this they are no different than anyone else, but how we choose who to believe cannot be simply because we want to or don't want to believe what they are saying.

I've been shouting into the wind that what was being reported about Donaghy was not what was taking place but no one seemed to care. Maybe now people will care because this is potentially damaging to all professional sports not just the NBA. The NBA has to finally wake-up and deal with the reality of the claims not simply dismiss them, and I hope that the media finally holds them accountable for these claims. This is not just the rantings of some "rogue ref" this is about the entire system and needs to be addressed.

8:30 pm Update: I think the answer to my question is a resounding "NO". This interview was not talked about on any of the sports programs I watch, including Sports Center (unless I missed it) nor is it addressed on the sports webpages accept to say that he was interviewed on 60 Minutes. No one wants to touch it. What happened to journalism?

Friday, December 4, 2009

What are we doing?

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India. For those that don't remember, a toxic gas leaked out from the plant which was located in a crowded slum of Bhopal. 4,000 people died the first day and another 10,000 died within three days. To put this in some comparison, 2, 985 people died on 9/11. Union Carbide claimed that the leak was caused by a disgruntled employee, although they were never named or charged. Activists and neighbors claimed that it was poor maintenance that caused the leak. I'm usually going to tend to side with activists over the company, especially based on their track record and the reason why they were located where they were in the first place. It is estimated that at least another 100,000 have had significant health impacts from this leak and 30,000 live in the area drinking water still contaminated. The Indian government says they have cleaned up the area and the high incidence of birth defects is from the fact the people live in slums not from the chemical, as if somehow that justifies them and stops the debate. To prove the area was safe, they said they were going to open up the site to visitors, but later changed their minds and the site remains closed but of course perfectly "safe."

Regardless of who you believe or don't believe, this is a clear example of environmental racism. The plant was built were it was for a specific reason, because they could. The same way that BU doesn't want to build their facility dealing with highly deadly bacteria in Sudbury, but instead in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Boston, and the reason that hazardous waste dumping sites are located almost predominantly in areas with high minority populations. Native Americans are particularly hard hit.

When Jesus said do unto others as you would have them do unto you and love your neighbor as yourself I don't think this is what he had in mind.