Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blue Dogs Going Down

I was surprised to hear that Alison Lundergan Grimes has fallen behind that idiot Mitch McConnell in the polls.  How is that possible?  McConnell has done more to disrupt the workings of government for the people of his state than just about anyone except Tim Scott in the Senate.  Maybe it's because she begins a new ad with, "I'm not Barack Obama," and then says that she disagrees with him on "guns, coal and the EPA."

Well, I'm here to say that she may have just gotten a whole lot of supporters to decide to stay home on election day.  There appear to be in Kentucky actual liberals who don't equate gun control with tyranny but with increased safety and a reduction in crime.  They may also think that coal should not be their children's future; they just may want their kids to grow up without the threat of cancer and climate disasters; they might want to see renewable energy be the source of jobs in Kentucky.  And as for getting rid of the EPA, well, we've heard that old song a lot, but we didn't think we'd hear it from a fellow Democrat.

We don't need another blue dog Democrat undermining the progress the current president has worked so hard (against the tide of Congressional ignorance) to promote.  And I don't think the voters in Kentucky are going to get quite as excited about someone who promises to be McConnell-lite.

Hearing Grimes promise not to be like Barack Obama raises some other questions.  For example, while she supports equal pay for women and help for victims of abuse, she fails to mention whether she supports a woman's right to reproductive freedom and privacy.  I shudder to imagine her failing to support access to birth control and abortions, but can you really trust someone who opposes environmental regulation?

Just as here in South Carolina, we have had to make some tough choices, and Grimes is a sight better than McConnell, but it is disturbing to see members of our own party attempting to curry the favor of those who oppose Democratic principles.  And I have to think that I am not alone in my disappointment.  Those of us who understand the consequences of not voting will grit our teeth and pull that lever for the Democratic candidate.  But sadly, a lot of those who are less informed will go with what they know rather than someone who is trying to sound like them.  And way too many others of us will just stay home.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Prayers Not Required

Yesterday I was at Charleston's Blue Jamboree, where too few Democrats turned out to hear some very exciting candidates.  One young man was particularly stirring.  He is smart and heartfelt, and it would do us proud to elect him in November.  But he ended his remarks by asking us ALL to pray for him.  Well, I plan on doing my part, but praying is not included.  Many of you know that I am an atheist.  Over the years, as I have felt more and more bombarded with Christian "goodwill" I have felt it incumbent to let others know how they can stop treating us as nonentities.

So when he was done, I went to the young candidate and waited to speak.  He turned to me and went to hug me, a little, round white haired lady who surely wanted a hug.  I said to him, "I think you're great, and I hope you get elected, but I want you to know this:  I am a good person and a strong Democrat, but I am an atheist, so I won't be praying for you.  I hope you'll remember that next time you speak."  He recovered nicely and I patted his arm, and walked away.

I felt really good about speaking up for myself, and for those of us who are of the atheist "persuasion."  But when I got home, I began to feel... guilty.  I'm sure I put him on the spot, and I'm sure he misunderstood, and I could have just not said anything....

But here's the thing.  Even well meaning Christians, and you know who you are, often forget that the rest of us (non-Christian and non-religious alike) are out there.  Here in the south, I've gone to town meetings where they skipped the Pledge of Allegiance, but said The Lord's Prayer.  I know those blowhards in the Supreme Court believe they have gotten where they are through God's grace (How else would idiots like Clarence Thomas and Sammy Alito have gotten on the bench without a miracle?), but I maintain that I can get through a day without being blessed by the person at the Dollar Store checkout counter.

What atheists have that religious folk should aspire to is an awareness of our boundaries, and a respect for the feelings of others.  That tends to be our strength and our weakness.  Because of all things, I would feel guilty about informing this young politician that I don't pray.  And yet, had he not emphasized that he wanted ALL our prayers, I may well not have said anything.
But the fact that we atheists do not believe in god or gods does not mean we don't "believe" or "have faith."  I was disgruntled when President Obama, in a rather lame attempt to reach out to his atheist supporters referred to us as "non-believers."  We believed in democracy and in his goodness enough to get out and vote for him.  We had faith that once elected he would mostly work to do the right thing.

I am frankly tired of being silent while Christians assume we should have school prayer, and offer prayers at public meetings.  Praying doesn't indicate a good person any more than wearing a flag pin defines a good American.  We tolerate all the references to Christianity throughout our lives, and at the same time all the whining about how Christians feel left out.  But that minimizes us. Atheists should not accept being minimized by our teachers, our employers, our candidates, our government. 

Women and minorities are minimized in much the same way; our beliefs and needs are not seen as being equal.  When we confront those who neglect or control us, we are told we are overreacting.  We are not.

So with all due respect, you politicians need to find a different way to ask for our support than "pray for me."  I respect that prayer is an important part of your life, but it is not a part of mine.  That does not make me irrelevant or wrong.

When I first moved to the South, I was really thrown by people who end an interaction by saying, "Have a blessed day."  It made me angry that they would just assume I would want them to bless me.  Later, I tried to toss it off by thinking that I should reply, "Wow.  I didn't know you had that power."  But now I just try to ignore it, because I don't want to waste that emotional energy being outraged at someone who doesn't know any better.  But there are some who need to know, because in the end, they will make decisions that affect me.

So it comes down to the fact that I had to speak out and to this candidate I say:  I hope you are the person I think you are, and that my comment will give you a little insight into others who think differently about life than you.  And that you will recognize that we are all here, trying to do the best that we can.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Deadly Proposition

Yet another person shot by a police officer.  As of September 22, there have been 34 officer involved shootings in South Carolina, promising to beat last year's 42.  I am thankful that my son and daughter are not police officers.  And I hope that they are never in a potential conflict situation with one.  Because shooting has become the default option for police.

And while I hold the individual officer responsible for shooting innocent members of the community they patrol, the situation they find themselves in is not their fault.

The NRA is happy to promote the need for more guns to defend ourselves from threats that are unlikely to materialize -- unless we allow more people to indiscriminately own and carry guns.  They have made lemonade out of the blood of victims for years, increasing the profits of the arms manufacturers that they truly represent.  They seem to be having a great time doing it, too, filling their own coffers and convincing our pols that it is the NRA that is really in charge.

Which leads us to the other group that has been bought off by the arms industry, our very own legislators.  We can laugh at Lindsey Graham's hysterical wanderings, once again recently featured by Jon Stewart.  When Graham suggests that mothers should be armed with assault rifles at home:

“One bullet in the hands of a homicidal maniac is one too many. But in the case of a young mother defending her children against a home invader — a real-life event which recently occurred near Atlanta — six bullets may not be enough. Criminals aren’t going to follow legislation limiting magazine capacity. However, a limit could put law-abiding citizens at a distinct disadvantage when confronting a criminal.”

it's fine to snicker, but we must also remind ourselves that he is one of the idiots that has the power to make our laws.

More locally, we have addressed the situation of gun violence with the bizarre legislation that allows those who feel naked without their guns to frequent bars and restaurants with their muzzles by their side.  And in a partnership from hell, towns all over South Carolina and the nation have lined up for military gear, including tanks as well as assault rifles, from our own federal government, who despite all that talk about budget deficits just can't stop buying these things.  And once you own a grenade launcher, doesn't your finger just itch to use it?  The downside being the cost of training and practice, and, by the way, the lack of call for those particular services.

All the post 9-11 paranoia that has led to arming our local community governments for war naturally has resulted in a backlash of fear from citizens, with more and more instances cited of warrantless (and unwarranted) acts of violence against citizens.  When you are all suited up for battle and have no terrorists to fight, it seems the next best thing is the local pot smoker or poker game, and sometimes the family dog becomes the collateral damage.  In the case of the Texas German Shepherd Vinnie in 2013, the officers were at the wrong address in the wrong neighborhood, looking for someone wanted for god's sake for an expired vehicle registration.

Obviously, what happens next is we all need to get armed to protect ourselves from our own government, hence, all the phony fourth amendment nonsense.  And when scared citizens get armed, and you have scared police wielding weapons, you have the daily barrage of unnecessary death in a war zone of our own invention.

On September 18, in Georgia, police shot a man who was handcuffed in their cruiser after being arrested, when they failed to find the gun he was carrying in their search.

And South Carolina made international headlines in March when a York County officer shot a 70-year-old man who was reaching into the back of his car for his cane at a traffic stop.

The community response to the shooting of Michael Brown in St. Louis is a reflection of the national fury over a country that encourages its citizens and its defenders to see each other as potential combatants.

So it's really a matter of who will be next.  Police get shot at by fearful citizens, who are too quick to shoot at citizens for fear they will be shot.

And meanwhile we have the NRA cheering on fools like Lindsey Graham for stoking that fear, and our federal tax dollars buying so many military weapons that they are trickled down to our local governments.  For our local police, it may seem like Christmas, but they may want to rethink the situation when faced with a frightened citizen.  And we just might want to elect lawmakers who are less likely to want to fan the flames of distrust encouraging an armed citizenry and militarizing those whose mission should be to protect and defend.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Books or Shiny Objects

I have a bumper sticker on my car that says,

Vote for Libraries

and I wonder these days if I should cover it over till November.  Because I don't want people to think that voting for the upcoming building referendum is the same thing as voting for your library.  Au contraire.

The library has been a heart-rending subject for me over the past several years, as many of you know, since the current director took over and began to run our wonderful Charleston County Public Library into the ground.  After years of cruel and insane state budget cuts, and the retirement of a long-time director and the death of her successor, I believe the board must have been feeling a bit shell-shocked.  And vulnerable to the candidate that told them what they wanted to hear:  "I can make your library better and save you money."  If that sounds familiar, it is because it is the song of the political south.  Long story short, they hired this guy who was once director of the hot-shot Louden County, Virginia, library system, over the acting director, whose smarts and dedication to our library should have made her the natural choice.

He demonstrated his snake-oil charm when he came in to visit the various branches.  He has the ability to make you think he is listening and agreeing, except if you actually think about it afterwards, you can't pinpoint a single point that you made that he agrees with (unless he agreed with it to begin with).  He has used that ability well since he has been here.  He hired a group of consultants and paid them to tell us exactly what he wanted them to; that is, that the library needed to downsize its collection.

In a manner befitting a tyrant, he instructed supervisors that their annual employee reviews were too generous and unacceptable, so that those who were already living far below a reasonable wage were now forced to endure reviews that were obsessively critical.  He instituted an employee chat site, which he could monitor, telling us employees that its purpose was really to bring us together as a group, or some such nonsense.

His coup de grace was the fulfillment of his promise to downsize our collection.  Books that had not been circulated in one year were to be tossed ("weeded").  Further, different branches did not "own" certain holdings based on their size and needs, but instead, books were kept at whichever branch they were returned.  Main Branch is no longer Main Branch in the sense that that is where you once went if you wanted to browse Charleston County's collection.  Smaller branches had to contend with overcrowded shelves and were encouraged to just keep weeding.

Books, music CD's, newspapers and periodicals are being cut, and we are being sold a not-ready-for-prime-time electronic collection in their place.  The bizarre "floating collection" in combination with the severe weeding policy has led to half filled shelves with multiple copies of lesser known newer books and the loss of older titles that are either not "hot" titles, or that just take up too much space.

So I am a fervent library supporter who cannot support what they are jokingly referring to as a library "expansion."

And neither is the Charleston Chamber of Commerce.  Ironically, we are opposing the referendum for totally different reasons, but they come down to the same thing.

It may be important to have more public computers, more meeting rooms and more programs, but in the end that is not what people will be willing to fund.  Without the books, the library will be a community center, and therein lies its vulnerability.  If we no longer need to keep our libraries open so the public can come in to browse and check out its collection, the funding is not going to be there for more and larger buildings.  Libraries experienced phenomenal growth throughout good times and bad (until recently) because they gave people the ability to expand their horizons.  As convenient as it is to place items on hold and then run in and pick them up, when we lose the desire to browse we are losing our ability to discover new things.  When you are reading your newspaper online, you aren't going into the reading room.

It is true that many people use the meeting rooms and computers and attend the programs.  But many more people do not.  We have virtually nothing to show for those big new buildings.  In fact, our virtual library is a shadow of what our once great libraries were.  So when it comes to funding, the public pressure just won't be there.  And that means that the funding we have will continue to erode.

The many thousands of volumes that we have lost in the past several years will not be replaced.  I will not vote for more shiny new buildings without a real commitment to return our library to a growing collection of books, wherein there is depth: older books, important books, classics, books on a range of subjects that may be hard to find.  Libraries were not built to house merely the popular, but the books that we might not ever read without our libraries.