Wednesday, January 21, 2015

read it yourself | 2015 State of the Union Address

Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address

U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.
9:10 P.M. EST 
THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

We are 15 years into this new century.  Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world.  It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.

But tonight, we turn the page.  Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  (Applause.)  Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.  More of our kids are graduating than ever before.  More of our people are insured than ever before.  (Applause.)  And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.  (Applause.)

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.  (Applause.)  Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.  And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe.  (Applause.)  We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we have endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:  The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.  (Applause.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

backward reasoning | a southern white guy retraces his steps on Martin Luther King Day

How do you want to be treated?

“Negroes,” James Baldwin wrote in the vocabulary of his times, "want to be treated like men: a perfectly straightforward statement, containing only seven words. People who have mastered Kant, Hegel, Shakespeare, Marx, Freud, and the bible find this statement utterly impenetrable” (“Fifth Avenue, Uptown,” Esquire, July 1960).

A 21st-century writer might say we all want to be treated like human beings, rather than like men, and probably wouldn't say, negroes. Other than that, it would be anybody’s guess whether Mr. Baldwin wrote those sentences to be read in July 1960 or last July.

I don’t think it’s news that the majority election of Barack Obama (twice) failed erase prejudice from that portion of the minority who voted against him because he’s black. No thoughtful person I know seriously expected it would—no more than ending legal slavery in 1865 eradicated the attitudes that assumed and promoted racial inequality in America. Our problem operates at a deeper level than elections and the laws—the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the National Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994—that define and regulate racially motivated misbehavior and criminal conduct. Our racial problem reaches to our hearts.

I was raised in the segregated southern United States, where through grade school I had limited contact with adults of African descent and no contact whatever with their children. When I was in junior high, the “all-black” schools in my town were closed and our student bodies consolidated—and just like that we were side by side in one place every school day (and into the evening for kids like me playing school sports).

I think the adults--the white ones anyway--anticipated social and educational collapse following desegregation. I know of no such breakdowns in my location. The new normal felt pretty ordinary, pretty quickly to me. I did lose my presumptive starting guard position on the basketball team to a black kid named Elijah Gilliam, who had been in one of the schools that was closed. But, honestly, anyone could see he was a more talented player than me. Starting Eli was a no-brainer.

In those early years, weekends and summers became odd fugue states—spans of time during which black and white schoolmates did not see each other because there were few integrated neighborhoods in our town—I knew of none—and because the city closed all the municipal swimming pools. Swimming, like public education, had been administered on the separate but equal doctrine that still held sway more than a decade after the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1896. This—the swimming pool closures—was, I think, another situation in which the adults anticipated the worst from what was sometimes referred to as “mixing the races.” So, everyone (except those whose families could afford membership in private clubs) sweated out some very hot summers in obedience to the perception that no good could come from black kids and white kids splashing around in the same water.

There was in those years a rapid increase in the number of private, all-white schools—many of them located in churches—confirming, I suppose, the determination by some self-described Christians to keep a safe distance at home, even as their denominations poured money and human resources into evangelizing Africa.

Despite all that, once the children began to learn and play together 30 hours a week for nine months a year, some things changed rapidly. Then, the first indoor shopping mall opened in our town, attracting regional and national chains more interested in moving product than preserving racial purity. Thus, commerce further diminished the distance between people who had until then, even on shopping days, lived almost entirely separate lives. A decade after the Civil Rights Act, I felt welcome in soul food restaurants in parts of town my family avoided when I was a boy.

That said, there’s a problem with this picture if you think it shows a complete recasting of relationships in my town. To say I felt comfortable eating soul food in restaurants that catered mostly to black patrons says nothing about the restaurants, swimming pools, “white” churches and private schools where my black classmates and their families did not feel—and were not in fact—welcome.

It’s clear that racial integration—or at least desegregation—was faster and smoother for me than for many others in my community. This is another way of saying that desegregation does not equal engagement, inclusion, and life shared.

I was a year or so behind Tommy Curtis, the finest high school basketball player I ever saw. Tommy built on his considerable natural talent with an impressive work ethic. Cruising about in my '57 Dodge Lancer, I occasionally saw Tommy around town. He wasn’t driving; he was training—dribbling a basketball while he ran at a pace I could never match over distances I was sure were meant to be driven. One night, leaving the school gym after the building crew turned off the lights, I heard Tom shooting free throws in the dark. Bounce, bounce, bounce, swish. There wasn’t much I cared about enough to work that hard.

Tom was the first black kid to play basketball at our school. I asked what that was like in the beginning. School desegregation had been hard on Tom. In addition to name-calling and general shunning, rednecks sometimes spat on him from above in the open stairwells of our three-story building. In his first game, Tom controlled the opening tipoff and waited for his teammates to set up to run the offense. While Tommy was still way outside, an opposing player came out to meet him and hissed, “Go on, shoot the ball, nigger.” Welcome to the Deep South in the mid-60s. I cringed when he told me. “What did you do?” I asked.

“I took the shot,” he said, and scored his first high school points from a spot beyond what’s now the three-point line. 

I don't want to make it sound like I hung out with Tommy. By the time we connected, he'd been in  college a while (studying and playing basketball at UCLA for the legendary John Wooden) and I was still in high school. The connection was so brief he may not even remember me. I remember him for being a remarkable student athlete, and because when I asked a few honest questions, he was kind enough to trust me with answers that still resonate down the years. Much later, I learned that Tommy’s parents were both professionals, and his family was likely better off than my own. They probably could have afforded one of those private schools or swim clubs had there been one they cared for.

In the four-and-a-half decades since high school, every American black man I’ve spoken with in any depth about his life has disclosed personal stories about being treated as if he were less than human—episodes of racial bullying from the earliest years of life through adulthood. None of those men ever volunteered these stories; I’ve had to ask, and ask in a way that made these friends and acquaintances believe I could be trusted.

It may be that these men’s hesitation about revealing such episodes explains to some degree why when I say every black man I’ve asked has disclosed a personal story of racial bullying—not against his father or cousin or neighbor, but him—many light-skinned American men don’t believe me. Apparently, most white men in America haven’t heard stories of racial bullying from black friends. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to them to ask. Their friends certainly aren’t going to just volunteer stories of personal humiliation—or even attempted humiliation. (Light-skinned women, by the way, don’t generally disbelieve me; perhaps because it seems like it might parallel the gender bullying so many of them have experienced.)

Even if it’s awkward—maybe because it’s awkward—regardless of our own racial identity, I think we have to be open to hearing our friends’ stories with great sensitivity and compassion and respect. Otherwise we’ll never learn how close we live to people who’ve been, and may today be, exposed to racial bullies. I don’t think we can afford the cost of leaving people we care about isolated with painful experiences that should never have happened and should never happen again. Of course we can’t demand that people reveal those stories— every person’s story belongs to him or her and choosing to tell it is not an obligation but a gift. What each of us can (and I believe must) do is become the sort of person to whom someone might risk telling a painful story.

For me, all this begins with asking a question I've inferred from something the early followers of Jesus remembered him saying: it begins with asking, "How do I want to be treated?” Do I want to be disrespected, devalued, or threatened? And if I were being mistreated would I want people to look the other way?

“Negroes want to be treated like men:" James Baldwin wrote, "a perfectly straightforward statement, containing only seven words. People who have mastered Kant, Hegel, Shakespeare, Marx, Freud, and the bible find this statement utterly impenetrable.” For the record, Mr. Baldwin was poking fun at people who ought to know better; people whose walk does not match their talk.

You and I may not have, “mastered Kant, Hegel, Shakespeare, Marx, Freud, and the bible”—I certainly have not—but it doesn’t take a genius answer the question, “How do I want to be treated?”

And what sort of person—what sort of self-described Christian—does it take to obey Jesus when he says, "Do to others as you would have them do to you”?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On White Privilege

White people can turn off the TV when we're sick of talking about race. White, liberal people want to be nice. We don't want to be racist. We want to be, "Oh we're post-racial. We don't want to talk about white privilege and it's all good, right?" It's not the case. Silence is an action and it's my privilege that I can be silent about this issue. And I'm tired of being silent about it. We have to get past that awkward stage of the race conversation. As a white person, we have to listen.  -- Macklemore, quoted in Rolling Stone, 11.30.14

Saturday, December 20, 2014

DJesus Uncrossed | back in action

In the spirit of Christmas I'm sure, a number of people came looking this week for the SNL short, DJesus Uncrossed. Unfortunately the link was dead, but now, after just a few days, it's...well, you know.

The clip is still guaranteed to offend about as many as it delights (though delight is probably not the right word). Anyway, the question remains: Is this, or anything like it, really anyone's preferred image of Jesus — let alone the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and/or John? Sadly, it probably is.

If you haven't already, you can find DJesus Uncrossed

Monday, December 15, 2014

in the wind | tweets from the space ending 12.13.14

over it? Bloomberg survey finds ½ of American don't want their sons to play football

...and the truth will make you flinch before it sets you free | thoughts on torture as American policy

God help us | Letter to Mr. Lord re: 10-year Priorities, 2005-2014 

@commonsense picks for best 2014 movies to watch with your children, tweens + teens

@commonsense picks best holiday books for children, three - nine years

This is not the conversation parents are supposed to dread 

Friday, December 12, 2014

shutdown vs bank bailouts | a letter to my senators

December 12, 2014

Senator, the last government shutdown cost billions, but the last bank-precipitated financial crisis cost trillions.

I hate the prospect of a shutdown, but I urge you: Don't put the course of our economy back in the hands of actors who demand their exercise of high-risk investment schemes be backstopped by taxpayers.


Jim Hancock

Thursday, December 11, 2014

God help us | Letter to Mr. Lord re: 10-year Priorities, 2005-2014

December 15, 2004

To: Mr. Lord
From: USLT
Re: 10-year Priorities, 2005-2014

Dear Mr. Lord, 

As the year draws to a close, no one knows better than you that our branch is working with limited resources. With competing interests in the Morals & Ethics department and insufficient bandwidth to tackle everything, the team could use a quick reality check.

If, for the foreseeable future, we have to choose between A and B, do you want us to prioritize:

A. Speaking against the torture of suspected terrorists by employees and agents of the government in the US jurisdiction

B. Speaking against equal protection under the law for LBGT citizens in the US jurisdiction 

[Or perhaps there's a "C" that we missed? (wouldn't be the first time, lol)]

Sorry to put you in this position so late in the year. Hopefully, we’ll have greater resources as our real estate and other investments begin paying out, but until then...

Awaiting your reply, 

The US Leadership Team

p.s. Candidly, some in the branch feel like we’re getting mixed messages from you and your son. It would nice to clear that up at some point.

p.p.s If we don’t see you, Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

You will know the truth and the truth will make you flinch before it sets you free | thoughts on torture as an American policy

"You will know the truth and the truth will make you flinch before it sets you free." 

It's a saying passed down by friends of the Baptist preacher Carlyle Marney, He doesn't seem to have included the line in any of his writings or published sermons, but he appears to be stuck with until somebody steps forward to claim it for someone else.

We are in the grip of one of those massive flinches right now as we digest the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture as a tool of US policy.

Some of us feel blindsided by the release of hundreds of pages detailing horrendous acts committed in our name. But not everyone. The conversation has been going on for more than a decade. In 2006, I decided to stop just talking about torture and start recording what I knew, what I suspected and what I feared about my country's decent into officially sanctioned torture.

I'm indebted to those who held the light so others could read the handwriting on the wall.

Here, for what it's worth, is one person's progression of posts — some original, much borrowed —tracking how the wind's been blowing on torture as an American pursuit. 

March 06 2006 | Mr. Conyers Steps Up 

Democracy Undone with the Stroke of a Pen

February 15 2008 | Senator McCain Said What?

May 23 2013 | Barack Obama on the components of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy 

October 27, 2014 | If... National Security + Moral Law 01