What a wonderful week for the US Supreme Court & the country…

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

Thomas Jefferson – letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jan 1, 1802

King v Burwell  – a somewhat surprising 6-3 ruling that determined that the intent of Congress in the ACA legislation was to include both state & federally operated exchanges to be eligible for tax credits. This would appear to be accurate as far as the intent is considered. At issue was the specific use of the word ‘state’ in the legislation. It also bears reminders for those that disagree with the decision that the word ‘state’ is often used to refer to the government in a broader sense, not just to the individual US states. The suit was attempt to effectively invalidate the federal exchanges because of the wording. This had the potential to negatively impact millions of people in the 34 states that utilize federally run healthcare exchanges. Ironically, this conservative loss was also a win for Republicans (and 34 governors are heaving sighs of relief) because a different outcome would have left the fallout squarely in the Republicans’ laps – a political land mine they did not want to deal with. Now, they can merely continue to campaign on what a bad thing the ACA is, without anyone experiencing the downside to having it taken away.

Texas Dept of Housing v Inclusive Communities Project – a 5-4 decision that determined that Texas’ distribution of landlord tax credits, which require acceptance of low income housing vouchers, is effectively perpetuating segregation by having a ‘disparate impact’ on minorities, and that Fair Housing Act violations occur even when there may not have been deliberate intent to discriminate. It will be interesting, though, to see how much really improves as a result.

Obergefell v Hodges – a 5-4 decision that was, perhaps, not so surprising, given the Court’s previous gutting of the Defense of Marriage Act. The core of this issue has been the religious contention that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and certainly from the perspective of most religions that is true – and churches that do not support marriage equality certainly should not be, and are not, required to officiate at wedding ceremonies. But marriage predates most religions, and even Biblically, it can be argued that marriage has certainly NOT always been clearly defined as one man/one woman. And the debate will go on, because those opposing opinions are unlikely to change, but in the ruling, the court determined that from a Constitutional perspective, the government does not have the right to ban gay marriage. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”

I know that there are many who disagree with me, but all three of those decisions released in the past two days have been the constitutionally correct ones – and that is, after all, what the Supreme Court is for.

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Tuesday’s quotes #30 – And the crownless shall be king…

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

— JRR Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring”

What a wonderful thought….

Liebster Award redux

I was very pleasantly surprised the other day to have been nominated for my second Liebster Award by 4 year old adult. I try not to let award nominations go to my head – but it is always nice to know that someone, outside of my family, actually reads this stuff. So – thank you very much for the nomination & the opportunity to share a bit more about myself.

My previous experience with the Liebster Award involved the additional step of listing random things about yourself, but I can be very uncreative, and since that does not seem to be a requirement this time around, I’ll just refer you to my previous award posts for anything else you might want to know about me. And, happily, this version also has only 8 questions!

The answers to the question that I was given are:

1. What is the most disgusting thing you have ever done?

Possibly eating the worm at the bottom of a bottle of mescal, but I’m a parent – many, many disgusting things have passed my way over the years.

2. What is the most wild fantasy you have ever had?

Possibly no one else’s cup of tea, but I would really love the opportunity to drive an F1 car, on the Monaco circuit, at speed.

3. Have you ever hit upon someone online?

No – my days of hitting on guys preceded the internet by a long, long time.

4. Which is your favorite movie genre and why?

Impossible question – in a theatre, I prefer action films because it makes full use of the screen and the sound system, but at home I’m really a mystery & suspense type of person.

5. Do you believe in God?

No, but I also think that what comes after this life is irrelevant. We all have a responsibility to do the best that we can, and to make our own piece of the universe a better place while we’re here. We should do that because it is the right thing to do – regardless of whether we believe in a higher being, or in any sort of afterlife.

6. Which punishment would you choose for hypocrites: shoot point blank or life imprisonment?

Well, I’m opposed to the death penalty (though it is tempting with some people…), so it would have to be life in prison with no possibility of parole. And an equally offensive cellmate.

7. Name one singer whose lips must be stitched for ever?

There are several who leave me wondering how they got recording contracts, but I just don’t listen to the ones I truly dislike.

8. Who is your favorite sport-person?

Assuming drivers count, Fernando Alonso. Failing that, I’m clueless.

Many of the bloggers that I read do not accept awards, but I rudely disregard that when I nominate. However, I do appreciate that decision, so, as always, I have no expectation that you accept, or acknowledge, the award, but hopefully the nomination will bring you some new readers. And my nominees are:

Far Beyond the Stars

beyondtheflow

Pheonix Grey

Science Alcove

Voices from the Margins

My questions for any of my nominees that choose to participate:

  1. If you could go back to any single point in history, when would you choose and why?
  2. Who is your favorite author?
  3. Why did you start blogging?
  4. How do you define happiness?
  5. If you could have dinner with any 3 people, living or dead, who would you choose, and why?
  6. What is the number one thing that you would like to see/do before you die?
  7. What was the last movie that you saw in a theater?
  8. What was the most unusual, or amazing, thing that you’ve ever seen?

More thoughts on compassion from a mere human in a troubled time

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”. Action is not necessary for compassion to exist. and certainly not all kind acts arise from compassion. With most tragedies, my ability to act is limited – sometimes just to donating money, oftentimes to writing. Sharing memories of places in happier times, asking people to think about how they can make a difference globally by making a difference in their own piece of the universe. A reminder of the deeper meaning to be found in Lao Tzu’s words on peace:

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”
― Lao Tzu

It needs to start with us, individually, in our own space. And like the ripples on a pond, it radiates out from there.

It is, perhaps, ironic that my original plan for this post was a broader sociological view on the necessity of compassion for the survival of a society. But my plans were thrown off track a bit by the murders of 9 people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, on the night of June 17. So, with a very heavy heart, I’m writing now with a slightly narrower focus.

I have spent much time, and effort, over the years writing, venting, about how we, in the US, have allowed ourselves to be convinced that we are deeply divided. And that willful ignorance seems to be our new national direction. We are being manipulated, and we don’t seem to care.

And alarmingly, over the past few days, I’ve heard repeatedly that prior to the election of President Obama in 2008, we did not have a ‘Liberal v Conservative’, or ‘Black v White’ problem in this country. WTF?! Under which rock was it necessary to have lived for the past 30 years to believe that was true? The rise of hate talk radio in the 1980’s. George Dukakis being derided as a ‘card carrying member of the ACLU’ in which presidential race? And it didn’t start in the ’80s. It’s an extension of something that has always run, and will likely always run, through our political system – most political systems – because it is human nature. It grew in the 1960’s as we boomers began to come of age in a new world – one with the potential to destroy us all. And then, unfortunately, as our technology changed and grew, our new normal became mass communication and instant access to information. And those divides have become magnified. In the speed of light. And that has made it easier to manipulate our emotions.

“‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure”

Queen & David Bowie “Under Pressure

The simple fact of the matter is that we DO have a race problem in the US. A magic wand was not waved with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We have a problem that has long been simmering, and occasionally flaring. And sadly, I honestly believe that it has seemed to have become worse since President Obama took office – but NOT because he is willing to, occasionally, address it. Even living in the ostensibly ‘liberal’ northeast, I see far too many “put the white back in the white house” bumper stickers and tee shirts for comfort. And a sudden, and alarming, increase in NRA sponsored 2nd Amendment bumper stickers, and, oddly, Confederate battle flags. Seriously, people?

On June 17th, a young man, surely disturbed, killed nine people in cold blood inside a church because he apparently didn’t just hate blacks, but wanted to start a race war. The fact that Fox News, and a couple of Republican presidential wannabe’s seem to think that this was an anti-Christian attack, and are willing to jump through many hoops to avoid acknowledging that it was racist is astonishing. The fact that Rick Perry managed to refer to a cold-blooded, premeditated, mass murder as an ‘accident’ is downright bizarre. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Salvador Dali painting. Or perhaps MC Escher.

And yet, the families of the victims are expressing forgiveness. And I admire that. But forgiveness does not equal acceptance, or forgetting. And metaphoric forgiveness, does not excuse what happened or mean that there is no severe legal ramification. And it does not mean that we, as a nation, get to pretend that this proves that racism is dead in this country because, unlike the Alabama church bombing in 1963 that stole the lives of 4 young girls, our leaders are willing to acknowledge that it was racially motivated. Except, apparently, for most of the Republican presidential candidate field.

Following the shooting, the US flag, and the SC state flag, were flown at half-mast, but the Confederate battle flag that adorns the Capitol? Nope, not that one. In a single photo, a scary portrait was painted of a state that values its role in an, unsuccessful, treasonous war of secession more than it does the lives of 9 people gunned down in a church the day before. The same state that was unable to agree on a state fossil without wanting to include a Biblical reference, and wants to include a mandatory several week course of study on the 2nd Amendment in public schools for every grade, has clearly got its priorities skewed. But US Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from SC, says well, it’s not really a racist symbol, even though many people view it that way – it’s part of the state’s heritage. Yes, the treasonous part. Stop pretending that flying that flag on the grounds of the state Capitol is anything but a bit of in-your-face aggressive posturing. The Civil War was a complex thing that was about many things, including, but not limited to slavery, so yes, that flag is more than racist. But none of it is good.

If we want to start getting along, and cure racism, one of the things we need to do is NOT flag the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of any state Capitol. Germany and France both banned Nazi memorabilia after WWII – do we clearly understand that there was a reason? We, as a free speech loving nation, do not ban the use, sale, or display of Nazi memorabilia, or copies of. And as a result, too many groups seem to think that swastikas, and confederate flags, are great way to get their point across. And that point is not pretty. In spite of the white supremacist groups trying to back far away from this shooting. 

I do have a great deal of respect for the 1st Amendment, and I agree that symbols cannot, and should not, be banned. We can only avoid repeating the past when we learn from it. But it is wildly inappropriate for States to actually promote their official use.

“Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step i take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”

Sy Miller & Jill Jackson “Let There Be Peace On Earth

Nothing can change until we are willing to acknowledge that there is a problem. Like an addict, we have to recognize the problem, and want to address it, in order to fix it.

And, although none of us have the capability to change the world on our own, we do have the ability to make our own corner of the universe a better place. And as more pieces get better, the whole becomes better, and stronger. And we have to try. Compassion compels us to act. I can only directly impact those that I interact with, but I can hope to have a broader impact, indirectly, by continuing to write. About compassion, about injustice, about choosing NOT to be ignorant. Even when it seems, to borrow a line from Ian Anderson “my words but a whisper, your deafness a shout”. And to keep promoting the Charter for Compassion, in the hopes that more an more people will take it to heart:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Of Mice & Men, awards, & The Donald, too

“The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”

— Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”

Well…

This week is certainly not fitting itself well into my plans. My intent for today was to post something light(er) while I worked on finishing tomorrow’s compassion post. The world simply will not cooperate with me.

Between the awesome comedic value of Donald Trump’s presidential bid announcement, some disturbing local regional news, and the horrifying church shooting in Charleston, SC, I’m finding it harder to focus – especially when it comes to compassion. So I’ve shifted gears a bit for the next few days worth of posts.

My compassion post this month will, for better or worse, be more news driven, and I’ll save the post that was intended for this month for September.

On the positive side, I was surprised to discover today that 4 year old adult has very kindly nominated me for my second Liebster Award. I will happily use my Sunday post to accept the award. 🙂

And today? Well, today there’s still Donald Trump. His candidacy is every comedian’s dream. And it would be a reasonable person’s nightmare if he had any real chance of winning. But he doesn’t, so we can all sit back, for at least the next few weeks, while Trump spouts nonsense, fights with the media for not taking him seriously as a candidate, and generally manages to keep his name in the news. His candidacy announcement, which can be seen here in all its glory, was definitely one for the history books. Even for a man so self-obsessed, and insecure, that he puts his name on everything, it was breathtaking in scope. All of Sarah Palin’s ignorant insanity, but without the folksy appeal that keeps her in the news. Perhaps they should consider running together as independents? His arrogant hostility plus her charming incoherence? A comedy dream team, but with the scary potential to get a decent number of votes. No. Better to keep them separately pissing people off.

And it was kind of fun listening to him talk about how rich he is by way of justifying his candidacy.

But seriously – Trump is an ass. He has been as ass as long as he’s been speaking. Most of us know his rags to riches “Art of the Deal” story – how he parlayed a multi-million dollar inheritance into over a billion. Those of us that live in the New York metro area, have been hearing from or about him for the past 30 years. And seeing his name on an array of buildings, casinos, billboards, and wherever else he could put it. We been unable to completely escape his marriages, divorces,  affairs, and now, his children. He may be good at running businesses – and I have my doubts about that given his multiple Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings – but he really does seem to suck at being a decent human being. Besides informing us how rich he is, and how many properties bear his name, he also managed to dismiss most Mexican immigrants as criminals (“but some, I assume, are good people”), muddle many facts, and inform us that he has good diplomatic potential because he beats China “all the time”. And he may have paid background actors $50 each to wear t-shirts and cheer. And for reasons that can only be clear to Mr. Trump, he chose Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” as the event’s theme song. Let’s be clear, Neil Young is definitely not Trump material, and the song in question was a slam at the first President Bush (father of George W & Jeb). Argh.

My guess is that he is running for office strictly for the publicity, and that there is nothing remotely serious about his candidacy. And if I’m wrong, well, at least I know he really can’t pull off a win – because even in a Republican presidential pool full of nonviable candidates, he manages to land at the bottom.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic, Photographed by Tom Samuelson.