Saturday, June 20, 2015

Final Thoughts on the Confederate Flag

I'm afraid that I have offended some of my friends with my strident language in recent days about the flag. I apologize to those who have taken offense. So let me explain my thinking in a less strident way.

For many South Carolinians, the stars-and-bars is a symbol of honorable men defending their homeland and their way of life. But for about one-third of South Carolina citizens, the flag also speaks to the experience of their ancestors. These forebears were ripped from their homes and their way of life, shackled and chained in the holds of ships. Those who survived the 6-week voyage across the Atlantic arrived in places like Charleston, and were auctioned off like livestock. That history is a stain on our nation, and that flag symbolizes for them the stain of slavery, the stain of lynchings, the stain of Jim Crow laws and segregation, and the stain of institutional racism that still exists.

As an American, we pledge our allegiance to a different flag, and the Republic that exists as "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." The flag of the confederacy stands in clear and direct opposition to the notion of liberty and justice for all. Its waving on the Statehouse grounds in Columbia celebrates nullification and secession, rather than one indivisible nation and liberty for everyone. It is an affront to justice for all.

Its flying at full mast, while the flag of the United States flew this week at half mast in remembrance of those massacred in Charleston, violated Federal law. Those images sent another message, that of indifference to the suffering of generations described above, and to the tragedy on Wednesday night. Many excuses have been offered to rationalize not lowering that flag, but each of them rings hollow.

As humans, we have the unique capacity to recognize and understand the feelings of our fellow humans, all created in the image of God. Not only that, we have the unique capacity for reconciliation. State Rep. Doug Brannon, a Republican from Spartanburg County, will file a bill to remove the flag from the Statehouse grounds. I hope that South Carolinians of goodwill will support Rep. Brannon's bill. Let's hope that is a first step toward understanding and reconciliation.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Industrial Ecology and Theology

We are just getting started in the new semester in my MS in Sustainability Studies program, and I'm taking SUS 529 - Industrial Ecology.

One of the definitions or models of industrial ecology is the notion that industrial/manufacturing processes should mimic that of natural processes. In the natural world, there is little, if any, waste, with the waste or remains of one life becoming the basic fuel of another organism. Organic matter (even our human body) decomposes, providing nutrients for plants, and carrion for scavengers. We exhale carbon dioxide, which plants "inhale" and produce, through photosynthesis, oxygen, which we then inhale. There is a nitrogen cycle and a water cycle, in addition to the oxygen cycle.

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of this "circle of life," in the words "From dust you were formed, to dust you shall return." Physical and chemical processes, bordering on the supernatural (especially photosynthesis), are part of a creation that, at the end of sixth day, the Creator described as "very good." It would follow logically that such a very good creation, using such very good processes, would be the very model of how we should design our own processes to extract raw materials, process them, manufacture useful tools and items, and dispose of them. The goal would be to transform byproducts of the process, and the end of life of the item itself, into the beginning of a new cycle, rather than throwing that stuff "away."

Yet very few of our manufacturing and industrial processes consider even where "away" is, and even fewer consider that many of these waste byproducts are indeed useful as inputs in other processes. Perhaps it is seen as too costly or too much trouble to recover these waste byproducts, and transform them into a suitable input for other processes. Perhaps we fail at connecting the dots, because we fail to communicate or fail to establish the framework within which to connect those dots. Or perhaps we just don't really care, as the circle of life extends beyond our individual, and our generational, interest.

Anyway, this is going to be fun!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Common Core Standards and the Right Wing

Right wing reaction to the Common Core State Standards for K-12 education is an almost instinctive rejection of anything aimed to the "common good." Perhaps this "reject instinct" hearkens back to the Cold War, where communism, which sounds like "common" and shares etymology tracing back to the Old French "comun."

In various social media exchanges, one of the things I have been instructed on is the notion that "parents should be trusted with decisions regarding their children, not bureaucrats." As a parent myself, with what most people would consider a reasonable level of education, I certainly want to be trusted with decisions regarding my children. But if pressed, I would not be able to come up with a list of skills and knowledge in math a 5th grader should be expected to understand and demonstrate, compared to the skills and knowledge that child should have learned in 4th grade. I suspect that, when pressed on the issue, most parents would be equally clueless on the matter.

But that is exactly what the Common Core State Standards establish - a list of expected skills and knowledge students should master at each grade level in the specific areas of mathematics and English language arts. For example, one of the specific standards for grades 11-12 states:

Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

Similarly, here is one of the specific standards for high school math:   Distinguish between situations that can be modeled with linear functions and with exponential functions.

Now, apparently these types of standards are somehow controversial, yet the basis for controversy is unclear. In my mind, these sound like perfectly normal and acceptable expectations for an 11th or 12th grade public high school student.

And while these standards seem perfectly reasonable and appropriate, I would be hard pressed as a parent to develop such standards or proficiency targets for my children or anyone else's children, and I challenge any other parent who is not a professional educator to do the same.

REF: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core State Standards2010

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Letter to my Legislators

To: Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon) and Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood)

Gentlemen: Care to comment on yesterday's report in the Raleigh News & Observer that one Joe Hauck was paid $228,000 over 8 months as a consultant to DHHS Secretary Alana Wos?

DHHS Spokesman Ricky Diaz defended the consulting contract in a statement. This is the same Ricky Diaz who, at 24 years of age and with absolutely zero public health policy experience, enjoys a taxpayer-funded salary of $85,000, including a $23,000 raise after a few months on the job.

What kind of racket is DHHS running? Is this agency's budget being used as a slush fund to reward campaign aides and big-money contributors?  Meanwhile, working class North Carolina residents, school teachers, firefighters, police, state troopers, and others are being told to sit down, shut up, and be thankful you have a job at any wage. Hospitals are closing down, teachers are paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets, and the courts are bogging down in a backlog of cases.

This came after the Governor and his business executive Budget Director "found" $10 million in a blatant attempt to pander to teachers. Isn't the Budget Director the state's model of the ideal businessman - selling cheap imported goods to low wage workers who can't afford anything else? How does a competent business executive "find" $10 million after months of budget negotiations and legislative action?

Who's in charge? Who's minding the store? Who's allowing these shenanigans? Someone's obviously doing a heckuva job.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Response to Syria

I've given much thought to, and read as much as i could about, Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own people and President Obama's proposal to respond. I don't claim to understand all the intelligence, don't pretend to know our military capabilities to attack appropriate targets, and certainly don't have a crystal ball to see which of many possible responses might yield the best possible outcome. Despite the failures of intelligence and our administration's use of the intelligence in the run-up to our invasion/occupation of Iraq, I trust that our intelligence agents and analysts, acting in good faith today, have given our Commander-in-Chief and the chain of command the best intelligence, and our civilian and military leadership have presented those estimates in good faith to the appropriate parties in Congress.

Now we can only trust that our elected Senators and Members of Congress come to this issue with the same good faith and professionalism that the intelligence community, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the White House have demonstrated. Each one of our elected legislators must answer for him or herself one simple, yet profound question. Would I send my son or my daughter, my niece or my nephew, my next-door-neighbor's child, into battle as a pilot, as a sailor, as a Marine, against the Syrian regime?

On that question rests all the preliminaries, all the intelligence, all the nuances of international law, all the ramifications of moral obligation. To ignore that question is to stoop to the lowest form of political gamesmanship, to abrogate one's duty as the Constitutional declarer of war, and to abandon any pretense to humanity.

I don't know how I would answer the key question, and I don't presume to suggest how anyone else, including our Senators and Representatives, should answer the question. But I pray they will search their consciences as they consider this matter.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

NRA Must be Backpedaling This Week

Three unrelated news stories this week, two of them national and one here in Haywood County, NC, must have the NRA and its 2nd clause of the 2nd amendment crowd reeling a bit.

First, the local story. Seems 58-year old Dan Crawford, owner of Crawford's Pawn Shop in the Dellwood area of Haywood County, took some shots at his son, Jason, and Jason's girlfriend on Wednesday, August 21. The elder Crawford has been charged with attempted murder. I know this family, but I don't know whether Crawford's Pawn Shop sells firearms or whether the owner is a federally licensed firearms dealer, although internet listings call the shop "Crawford's Pawn and Guns."

In national news, there was the cold-blooded murder in Oklahoma of Australian college baseball player Christopher Young by 3 teenagers who were bored. In addition to vigorously prosecuting these three criminals, I hope that authorities vigorously pursue those who allowed these three to get their hands on a firearm.

Finally, there was the shooting at McNair Elementary School in suburban Atlanta. Because of the heroic actions of Antoinette Tuff, the school's bookkeeper, the shooter was taken into custody and no one was injured.

These three stories blow huge holes in the NRA narrative. First, the NRA and other pro-gun groups suggest that those who sell firearms, especially licensed firearms dealers, are implicitly trustworthy. Secondly, the NRA applauds and celebrates the proliferation of firearms, resisting any attempt to place restrictions on gun sales or transfers, allowing guns to end up in the hands of criminals. Finally, America's new heroine Ms. Tuff  silenced the myth perpetrated by Wayne LaPierre after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

State Farm and ALEC

I have been a policyholder with State Farm for auto, life, and homeowners insurance since the day I started driving. My parents were State Farm policyholders. Even when I was in the Navy, and could have had a better deal with USAA or other companies, I stuck with State Farm because of reasonable rates and good service. I have never had an issue with a claim or other matter with State Farm agents over the years.

Recently I learned that State Farm is a corporate sponsor of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). I sent an email to my local agent expressing concern. He passed that up the chain, and forwarded me the following response:

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a nonpartisan forum of conservative state legislators and private enterprise interests who work together to develop model state legislation for a variety of subject matters. The organization has a commitment to limited government and free markets. More than 400 companies participate in ALEC. As a state-based regulated enterprise, State Farm began participating in ALEC many years ago to effectively ensure our voice was heard on insurance-related legislative issues with the potential to affect the interests of our policyholders.
State Farm customers, agents and employees come from all walks of life and represent diverse political views. We "participate" in many organizations representing varied viewpoints – to hear, firsthand, what legislation or regulation may be on the horizon, and then – to have our viewpoint heard. The organizations in which we participate run the gamut of the political spectrum. We participate, but do not support all of the positions or policies adopted by these organizations.
  • State Farm’s participation in ALEC is focused on insurance and related matters. We have had no involvement in other ALEC matters, including the development of model laws like “Stand Your Ground.”
  • It is our understanding the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force that worked on the "Stand Your Ground" Act disbanded some time ago.
  • We are told the organization's legislators are focusing on the core mission of economic and job development and free market support – a decision State Farm supports.

Note in the above response all the non-specific weasel-like language in the above. The disclaimer that "We have had no involvement in other ALEC matters" is bullshit, as financial support for ALEC is de facto support for the ALEC agenda in its entirety. Phrases like "it is our understanding" and "we are told" are State Farm's attempt to deflect attention from ALEC's real agenda.

I have given my State Farm agent (an independent contractor as all State Farm agents are) a chance to convince the parent company to disassociate from ALEC before I pursue other insurance options.