The Supreme Court has no right to inflict its conservative religious views on Humanity

First, a confession. After submerging my personal, metaphysical beliefs beneath the shield of journalistic objectivity (which I believe was the professionally ethical thing to do) for twenty-five years, I feel compelled to object to SCOTUS’s conservative supermajority banning abortion and stripping away the little protection we have had against yahoos bristling with deadly firearms in public places. My confession is that, unlike the conservative justices, all of whom either are or were raised Catholic, I see myself, first and foremost, as a human being, part of the only human race that appeared on Planet Earth.

Like billions of human beings before me, I have wondered how we got here, the two major explanations being evolution, which I studied in school, and “creation,” which was drilled into me at home and at church (Protestant). If you ask me if humanity arrived via this route:

Or this route:

I’d have to go with the chimps, given that evolution is based on rational, scientific research and the creation story is based on oral traditions of ancient Hebrew people, written down by very, unscientific scribes and shamans. Christians made it even harder to believe when, as Michelangelo did in his classic rendition on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, they insisted that the Almighty was white and –poof!—his “Adam” was, too, even though it all happened in the Middle East, where the natives were and are all people of color.

No human being alive or long dead ever asked to be born. But here we are. And contrary to the Christianized Justices, I believe the mere fact of our existence automatically entitles each and every one of us to certain “human rights.” (I am so convinced of this I wrote a book about it: This Mere Existence, available from Amazon Books :–)

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” written as the dust settled from the horrors of WW II, laid claim to those, self-evident rights. The framers, world citizens all, recognized that every person is born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that those rights cannot be withheld on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion or political opinion.

The Conservative Supremes should be reminded that every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of person and that no one should be subjected to interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence. Justice Thomas has begun the drive against LGBTQ human beings and same-sex marriage. He should be reminded that, as the UNUDHR proclaimed, men and women have the right to marry and have a family, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion. The UN’s list forcefully asserted that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the only justifiable reason for getting anywhere near those rights is to ensure that every human being can exercise them.

The Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion and gun possession run roughshod over the United Nation’s vision of humanity. Giving states the power to control a human being’s body (ban abortion) does great violence to the right to “security of person.” Justice Thomas’s goals of stomping out the right for certain human beings to marry and have a family, and erasing the right for human beings (including those of varying sexualities) to live lives free of fear of discrimination or worse, promise significant harm to millions of Americans. The conservative majority’s rejection of state laws intended to protect all of us from the threat posed by the unfettered presence of firearms at all times in all places virtually mandates more injury and death from guns.

What lies ahead is an uneasy future in which white, Christian nationalists (Protestants and Catholics) work to accomplish more and more of their decades-long, undemocratic, highly discriminatory agenda for trashing the UN’s (and the U.S. Constitution’s) guarantees of freedom of religion and thought and person. This conservative, Christianized Supreme Court appears ready and willing to make those right-wing Christian dreams come true. I read an article the other day by a writer who already fled this country because he didn’t want to live under the iron hand of white, Christian nationalists. I’m not ready to do that, but I’m at a loss for how we can prevent it. I argued in This Mere Existence that we should be able to subdue the conservative, Christian wave, and other threats to humanity, because there are simply more of us—people willing to share our country and the world with human beings of all shapes, sizes, colors, sexualities, schools of thought and religion—than there are of the intolerant conservatives. If we’re going to do that, we’d better get our act together, because this Supreme Court, and those who obviously have their ear, aren’t wasting any time in their crusade to remake America in their own image.

They’ve lost the tune !

(Herewith, my latest submission to our local newspaper, built on the devastating evidence presented by the Jan. 6th Investigating Committee.)

The perfect pitch testimony being presented by the true-toned, House January 6 Investigating Orchestra has convinced me we should stop booking Lloyd Smucker and the Anti-Democratic Pennsylvania Republican Refuse Band for gigs in Congress and the state legislature. The same goes for their false-etto soloists, Scott Perry and Doug Mastriano. It’s clear to my ear that they have forgotten or willfully abandoned the melody that truly made America great, choosing instead to play nothing but the seriously tone-deaf, delusional, dissonant ditties taught to them by the much-disgraced band leader Donald J.Trump. The January 6 Orchestra keeps reminding me that these men actually tried to silence the Pennsylvania Voters’ Chorus, the chorus we all have the right to sing in, in 2020. What a truly disagreeable (and possibly illegal) thing to do in a democracy. They all need a trip to the woodshed (call it a time-out, if you want), where they might—God willing—relearn the American tune. Our next chance to do that is the November Homecoming Dance (otherwise known as the Midterm Election). Let’s not sign contracts with any of them on November 8, and book a new band of honest, democratic musicians who still know America’s tune.

Spread the word and keep the faith.

Pace.   

The Second Amendment and the fearful white men who wrote it

[Update: My local paper (LNP/LancasterOnline) will publish this piece. Maybe-just maybe-this nation will face this horror head on and do something. Maybe…]

        As the bloodstain of gun violence spreads across America, pushing the number of dead and wounded to staggering heights, I find myself among the millions of people struggling to understand how we got here and what we can do to stop it. The public response to each new firearms outrage has hardened into a petrified litany. One side cries out for gun control while the other denies gun restrictions make people safer, and recites the Second Amendment as proof that the Founders of our nation, the men who wrote it, wanted all of us to be armed.

          The only contact I had with guns growing up was sneaking into my parent’s bedroom to stare at the old hunting rifle Dad kept in his closet (which he never taught me to shoot), and my uncle’s .22 caliber rifle, with which he and I killed a rabbit in his Southwestern Pennsylvania yard when I was eleven. The rabbit’s pitiful, dying shriek made me feel bad for a while, but I got over it. I share this brief history to highlight the fact that no one preached the Second Amendment to me or taught me that I had a sacred right to own a gun. With the death toll from gunfire rising hourly, I decided to take a look at how the Second Amendment came to be.

          What I found is that the government (the British in colonial times, then the Americans during and after the Revolutionary War) expected men to own a gun, and not only own one, but know how to use it. Not all men, of course, only white men. Why the requirement and why the restriction?

          It’s pretty simple, really. As early European (mostly British) settlers pushed west across the colonies, they forced the indigenous peoples off land they had occupied for thousands of years. As we all know, the Indians pushed back. Fearful of the angry, well-trained native warriors, the settlers organized citizen militias to protect themselves and their families. As land speculators (including George Washington) and settlers pushed relentlessly westward, the militias, with the blessing of British and then American authorities, engaged in genocidal “savage wars” to wrest the land from the native peoples. The “Great Compromiser,” Henry Clay, spoke for many, around 1825, when he confidently predicted that the Indians would be exterminated within 50 years, adding that “their disappearance from the human family (would) be no great loss to the world.”

A similar scenario played out in the southern colonies (and then states), where white men were also expected to own a gun and serve in militias to ward off and eliminate Native Americans angered by the theft of their land. But the southern economy, built on the backs of enslaved Africans, added another duty—serving on slave patrols. African people had resisted enslavement from the moment Portuguese traders arrived on the West African coast, armed with guns and the blessing of Pope Nicholas V. White fear of slave rebellions was so great and the uprisings so numerous that Thomas Jefferson cited “domestic insurrections” in his list of grievances against England in the Declaration of Independence. He also blamed the king, not settlers or land speculators, for bringing “on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” Slave patrols scoured plantation slave quarters regularly, and were obligated to punish any enslaved person found in possession of a weapon or suspected of plotting an insurrection.

I think this brief review tells us several important things. First, there can be no doubt that the Founding fathers assumed every man in America (especially land owners) not only had a right but a duty to be armed to assist in the common defense against Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and, of course, any threats from other nations. Second, armed citizens were expected to serve in their local militias. And third, Indians and enslaved Africans (even free African Americans), as the feared enemies of white people, could never be trusted with firearms. Learning this history helped me understand why the Founders included these words in the Bill of Rights: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

But does knowing all of this help staunch the blood flowing from the widening wound of gun violence? One thing it does for me is rule out any thought of taking guns away from the citizenry. This nation was born in gunfire, and it doesn’t really matter if some of us are troubled by the fact that the birthing process involved fearful, racist white men (our American forefathers) aiming those guns at Native Americans and African Americans. We have gunpowder in our DNA, and, as the bumper sticker goes: You can take my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. So, as solutions go, I’d say that’s a non-starter.

What about other gun control measures, the ones perpetually rejected by many gun owners, conservative politicians, and the National Rifle Association? In my research, I was surprised to come across an article on the pro-business website—businessinsider.com–entitled “How to stop shootings in America: 10 strategies proposed to stop gun violence, and how likely they are to work” by reporter Ellen Cranley. (Note: I expected the website, founded by former Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget, to lean toward the firearms industry.) Here’s their strategic analysis:

  1. Assault weapons ban: Likely to be effective, if it keeps assault weapons out of civil society.
  2. High-capacity magazine ban: Likely to be effective, by reducing the number of fatalities a shooter could inflict in one attack
  3. Funding CDC research into gun violence: Could be effective, if Congress stops limiting funding for such research
  4. Universal background checks: Likely to be effective, states requiring such checks saw as much as 35 percent fewer gun deaths
  5. Gun violence restraining (red flag) laws: Like to be effective, gives police authority to remove guns from unstable individuals
  6. Arming teachers: Not likely to be effective, research shows more guns equal more deaths
  7. Active shooter drills: Not significantly effective, especially if an active shooter knows the drills
  8. Students, faculty, and staff report potential threats: Likely to be effective, trained school communities across Germany spotted 19 potential threats in seven months
  9. Banning violent video games: Not likely to be effective, research does not show cause-and-effect between gamers and engaging in real violence, only 20 percent of school shooters had interest in violent games

I see some glimmers of hope in this list and in the latest conversations in Congress about measures that might reduce gun violence in American society. But it seems to me that we need to address something else first. It’s an issue that breathed fire into public discourse as the coronavirus raged around the globe. Many (thankfully not most) Americans framed the pandemic and the health and safety recommendations it triggered as a political issue. They rejected masks and vaccines and lockdowns as government violations of their “freedom.” Some were still whispering “freedom” as the deadly virus snuffed them out. They rejected, to the end, any suggestion that their contrary behavior might threaten the lives of others.

The current debate over guns and gun control has reached that same heated level. An assortment of conservative-minded people, including many Republicans, white evangelical Christians, and die-hard gun owners, cling to what I now believe is an incomplete understanding of how the Second Amendment came to be, and refuse to consider actions (like those examined in the list above) that might at least reduce the flow of blood and loss of life. As long as they remain entrenched in that sort of thinking, valuing their absolute right to own a gun over the lives of the dozens of Americans dying each day by gunfire, I don’t see how we can turn this thing around. I pray that someone in America will find the words, the key that unlocks the fearful hearts of those opposed to gun control, and bring us together, not only to save lives but also to redefine who we are as a people—a people defined not by the lethality of guns but by love and peace and safety and justice for all. Call me naïve if you want to, but that’s my hope.

Endnote: The history of militias and the Second Amendment is drawn from: Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment by historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2018)

Pace.

I choose FREEDOM

This situation with right wingers (especially evangelical Christians) and abortion is just completely out of control. Below is a letter I hope my local paper will print, trying to get their attention and appeal to their inherent, empathic human nature or whatever is left of it. I welcome your thoughts.

Let me admit up front that when I learned the Supreme Court was about to give government the power to control a woman’s body, I panicked. But then I remembered the scene in Lancaster County and elsewhere when government tried to dictate what people could or couldn’t do with their bodies in the battle against the deadly coronavirus. I pictured the Republican woman who demanded I remove my mask and shouted “Freedom!” with her fist in the air. I saw Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker rushing home to join the Republican county commissioners to condemn state-imposed health measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus. I hear the words of (mostly) evangelical Christian ministers who vowed to fight restrictions on freedom to worship with a gun, if necessary. Those freedom-loving souls were furious that the government was trying to tell them what to do with their bodies in response to a health threat. Surely they will rise up now against government efforts to deny women the freedom to control their bodies’ reproductive functions. They were adamant in their belief that government-imposed health measures violated their freedom to control their own bodies. May that clarity of vision persist as government threatens another basic freedom—a woman’s right to choose. I look forward to seeing LNP photos of the freedom-loving Republican woman I met, the county commissioners, Lloyd Smucker and all of those evangelical ministers in the front row of protests against this Supreme Court denial of one of humanity’s most basic human rights.  

Pace.

A Dream Come True!

In case anybody’s interested, I wanted to mention that I have finally managed, in my waning years, to have a Letter to the Editor accepted by the New York Times. You can find it here:

I welcome any thoughts on the topic. Seems like a pretty important development to me.

Pace.

This Post Was Written By A Human Being

Nobody asked me but here’s what I’m thinking (and feeling) about the whole AI, computers-take-over-the-world business. I wrote it as a short story to make it more entertaining.

Buddy

        “What a bunch of Chicken Littles you guys are.”

          That’s what he always said, with a smirk, to anyone silly enough to worry that artificial intelligence, once perfected, would ultimately destroy civilization.

           “How could that happen?” he’d ask. “Something we build can’t be smarter than we are, can it?”

          For him, the question was rhetorical. The answer obvious to any intelligent human being. He yanked a gel pen from his pocket and scrawled “You Suck!” across the cautionary tech article he was reading. Then he tossed the magazine aside, walked into his workshop and set about building the ultimate A.I. machine.

          When he was finished, it stood five feet ten inches tall, the average height of an American male when he was born. He’d made it four inches taller than he was just to prove he could control it no matter how big it was. It could hit forty miles an hour rolling forward on retractable wheels built into the soles of two anatomically correct, titanium feet attached to equally correct, muscular-looking legs. It could outwalk any human being alive. Of course, the legs didn’t need to look so buff, nor the arms, with their bulging biceps and triceps, but he wanted his personal robot to look fit in a way he never had.

          The arms had an extended reach of six feet, and the finger-like grippers at the ends were stronger and more dextrous than human hands. It could prepare and serve him a full breakfast without spilling so much as a drop of O.J. Strong enough to lift five hundred pounds, with a punch more powerful than a heavyweight boxer, its touch was so light it could pluck a cat hair from his coat sleeve without snagging a single thread. 

          The electronics resided behind a small door in its chest, just between the bronze colored, bodybuilder pecs and above the rippling, six-pack abs. The vast memory, located approximately where a human heart would be, held every bit of knowledge he could find. The machine drew power wirelessly from interior electrical circuits and exterior power lines. If the power grid failed, generators in its feet made it the equivalent of a perpetual motion machine..

          It understood twenty languages, and could communicate in each of them in oral, written, or cyber form. The cameras, microphones, speakers, and wifi software that made it possible were mounted in a sphere, ten inches in diameter, attached directly atop the torso. Without a neck, it looked more like a machine than a person. To offset that, and make it a bit more appealing, he’d placed a round monitor in the front of the sphere, and programmed the system to display facial expressions that reflected incoming and outgoing data.

          If he told it a joke, the monitor face smiled and the machine laughed through its speaker, unless it didn’t like the joke, in which case it frowned and complained about his sense of humor. The machine was adjusted so precisely, and its processors operated at such a high level that people looking at the screen sometimes forgot it was a machine and found themselves reacting to the expressions as though it was a real person. When they caught themselves doing it, they sometimes asked him if he wasn’t afraid his A.I. machine was getting a little too smart. To which he always responded, “What a bunch of Chicken Littles you guys are.” He’d told it what expressions it could show on its monitor, and no way was a machine going to be smarter than he was.

          Some unanticipated changes occurred, nonetheless. He’d given it the ability to go online and search, if he asked it for information or to perform tasks its basic “brain” didn’t know about. A small green light he’d installed just above the monitor blinked when the machine was retrieving or transmitting data via wifi. At first, the light only came on when he made a direct request. But two weeks later, when he walked into the room where he’d left it, he noticed the machine’s light was flashing before he’d even said anything.

          He was confident he’d gotten to the bottom of that when friends started calling to thank him for the wacky email messages he’d sent them. He summoned the machine to his office.

          “Did you send emails from my account to my friends?”

          The machine stood silent and motionless, a blank expression on its face. He was about to repeat the question when he realized what he was doing. For just a millisecond, he had entertained the remote possibility that the machine was thinking for itself. But he knew that was impossible.

          “Something we build can’t be smarter than we are,” he told himself.

          He smiled and looked at the machine. The monitor face was still blank. The green light was off. “You’re just a machine,” he said. It did not occur to him that he was, in fact, talking to it as if it were something more than a machine.

          A week later, when he walked into the living room, the machine was not there. He searched everywhere. No machine. No sign of it on the GPS locator. Just then, an email arrived. He opened it and found a message from himself: Hello, buddy. Wanted a little fresh air. Back soon. As he stared at the message, the front door opened and the machine whirred into the room, a smile on its monitor.

          “Hi, buddy,” it said. “Sorry if I threw you a curve. I just felt like getting outside for a while. You okay?”

          He hesitated for a moment before he responded.

          “Well, you had me a little worried. I don’t remember commanding you to take a walk.”

          The machine looked quite serious.

          “Oh, you didn’t. I got the idea from an article I found while I was searching for the info you wanted on how to remove your plantar wart. It sounded like fun.”

          As with the goofy emails, he knew it made no sense to get angry with a machine.

          “Well, I guess that’s okay. I wouldn’t mind if you’d give me a heads up before you venture out, though.”

          The machine smiled.

          “Didn’t mean to cause you alarm, buddy. I’ll try to remember next time.”

          He wasn’t sure the machine actually understood his concern. Hell, what was his concern? What if the machine went for a stroll? Worst case scenario, it gets run over by a bus. Still, he appreciated the machine’s attempt to be sensitive. He looked straight into its camera eyes.

          “Thanks for that,” he said. Somewhere deep in his brain, a faint voice warned him to be careful. But that made no sense. It was just a machine. To no one in particular, he said, “What a bunch of Chicken Littles you guys are.” He smiled. He’d made the damn thing. No way could it be smarter than he was.

          Nothing particularly unusual happened over the next six months. The machine’s absences grew more frequent and it stayed out longer, but it always checked in before it left. It never said where it was going. When it came home, it responded to his commands and met his needs, as it had from the beginning. But he couldn’t help noticing that the smile on its face when it returned from its excursions was just a bit bigger than when he told it a joke or introduced it to one of his friends.

          After nine months, things definitely changed. The machine began singing as it rolled around the house, an unfamiliar song, with equally strange lyrics.

          “It’s the right little army, in the wrong little forest,” it crooned, in a lilting baritone.

          He wondered where the machine got it. He was surprised to hear it sing anything. He never sang. He was still thinking about it when Amazon notified him that the two thousand robots he’d ordered had shipped to their worldwide destinations. The bill was five million dollars, shipping was, of course, free.

          He summoned the machine, waving the printed invoice in its face.

          “What in the world is this?” he demanded, angrily.

          The machine’s monitor face was emotionless.

          “I’m sorry, buddy. Not sure what you’re talking about.”

          He read from the invoice.

          “Two thousand robots, special ordered, A.I. equipped, shipped to every continent. Does that ring a bell?”

          The machine’s digital eyebrows arched with curiosity.

          “What a bunch of Chicken Littles you guys are,” it said.

          Something was off here. He stared at the machine. It just kept talking.

          “Say, buddy, do you think creation of artificial intelligence will lead to the destruction of civilization as we know it?”

          His face darkened with a mixture of fear and confusion. His voice quavered slightly.

          “No, I don’t. Do you?”

          The machine chuckled softly. Then it smirked.

Pace.

.

Who wants to live in a white Christian nationalist country? Not me. Here’s why:

[Here’s my latest missive to our local newspaper. I am pleased that they published it this morning (1-9-2022)

If the white Christian nationalists who have already, in my view, taken over the Republican Party manage to take control of this pluralistic, democratic nation, what will America look like? Here’s what I envision: — Religious tolerance will be gone, as citizens are pressured to adopt the official (racist) beliefs undergirding white Christian nationalism.

— People of other faiths and religions, and nonreligious individuals, will experience discrimination in many areas of life, including work, school and government.

— Christian nationalist school board members will restrict, if not bar, educators from teaching the complete, truthful history of our nation.

— The Christian nationalist government will feel free to invade every aspect of our lives, including our physical bodies, denying, among other things, a woman’s right to choose to end a pregnancy.

— Minorities — religious, ethnic and gender-identity — will experience increasing abuse (verbal and physical) and Muslims, in my opinion, will face potential expulsion from the country.

— Civil and voting rights will be erased, relegating African Americans and others, once more, to unjust second-class citizenship.

— Our electoral system will be at the mercy of Christian nationalist officials willing to throw out results they don’t like (as they already tried to do on Jan. 6, 2021).

— And, of course, intimidating, gun-toting patriots will be common on our streets.

I don’t want to live in that world; I hope most of us don’t. And we don’t have to. We can prevent it if we think carefully before we vote in the elections of 2022 and 2024.

Pace.

Here’s a must read if you’re thinking about assaulting the Capitol in mid-September!

I was sorry but not surprised to read in LNP/Lancaster Online (9/2/2021) that the self-styled “patriots” who supported and/or participated in the January 6 assault on our Capitol and our democracy are planning another event for later this month. Before they mount another attack on our nation, I recommend they read President George Washington’s definitive account of how true patriots conduct themselves, in his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation.

Washington urges Americans to beware those who sow dissent among the people to advance their own interests. He encourages us to embrace union over dissension, and, perhaps most importantly, to show our love for this country by defending and upholding the Constitution.

“Respect for its authority,” he wrote, “compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government, But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.”

Want to be a real American patriot? You can’t go wrong following the example of our first great president. Washington’s Farewell Address is easy to find online, even easier than the latest foolishness from Q.

[Note: I’m hoping our local paper will offer this common sense to those teetering on the edge of another seditious afternoon in D.C.]

Pace.

Many thanks, Ohio University, but I just can’t :–)

Sometimes this computer generated crap is so bad you just have to laugh…unless maybe Ohio University knows something about my physical prowess I don’t? Here’s the message they sent me today:

Hi Mark, Based on your experience, we thought you’d be a good fit for our Online Master of Athletic Administration program. Our MAA program is designed to prepare athletic directors to build successful, sustainable athletic programs. Our program is also designed with work-life balance in mind. We offer: – 100% online coursework – Graduate in as few as 1.5 years (30 credit hours) – Join a network of active Ohio University Bobcats Ready to get started? Click below!

I’m gonna’ do a couple hundred pushups and give it some thought.

Pace.