You Don’t Have to Do This

 

Shop for a new smartphone and the choice of operating system appears limited to Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. The choice of wireless carrier network for the new smartphone is limited to five or six companies, and while there are more than a dozen smaller carriers, they all lease their networks from the larger carriers. Mergers of technology companies and globalization of supply chains have made it difficult for consumers to entertain enough options to simultaneously suit their desires for reasonable prices, efficient service, and in the best case scenario, ethical marketplace behavior.

 

To be a large player in the technology industry, as in many other industries, it seems engaging in horrible practices is simply a necessary cost of doing business. It’s as if economies of scale and ethical behavior are mutually exclusive. Apple iPhones are manufactured under terrible labor conditions in China, and the cobalt required for manufacture of those iPhones is mined using child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Google, Facebook, and Twitter all sell their users’ information to advertisers while double-dipping by generating enormous ad revenues from the wide use of their services. That’s the cost of “free” to the users. As an online retailer, Amazon’s reputation for egregious labor practices is as bad or worse than that of its major brick and mortar competitor, Walmart.

Ilhan Omar speaking at worker protest against Amazon (45406484475)
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaking in December 2018 to about 200 workers protesting conditions at an Amazon workplace in Shakopee, Minnesota. Photo by Fibonacci Blue. Protests by workers in this country against unfair labor practices by giant companies like Amazon would get a slingshot-like boost if lawmakers would repeal the anti-union legislation passed in the last 50 years at the behest of corporations.

That is by no means a comprehensive list of all the technology companies with reputations for treating customers, workers, suppliers, or the environment badly. Just as Americans are becoming more concerned with what is in their food and how it’s produced, they can devote some time and attention to how their technology products are produced and how companies are using the personal information they hand over in the course of using their services. It may seem like there are few to no alternatives to some technology products and services, but there are alternatives, and it may require effort put into research to find out about them, and then some sacrifices as it turns out they don’t offer absolutely everything consumers are used to getting from Microsoft’s Windows operating system, for instance, or Facebook’s one-stop social media and news sharing platform.

Some people simply won’t care, of course, and will remain interested only in what’s easiest and most convenient for them. This is not for them. Others who are concerned about voting with their dollars, however, should know there are ways to find alternatives to signing on with the big technology companies, and that informing themselves doesn’t have to suck up an inordinate amount of their time and energy. Currently there is almost no labeling on technology products and services such as there is on food for sale in supermarkets, informing consumers of organic and non-GMO options, and of nutritional content. There should be similarly easily apparent labels for technology, listing ratings from an impartial source, if such is possible, on a company’s treatment of workers, suppliers, and the environment. The companies are now required by law to enumerate the ways they use customer information, but that is for the most part buried in fine print legalese that few consumers bother to read.

In episode #1938, “Theresa Syndrome”, from the radio show Car Talk, the portion of the show relevant to this post starts at the 10:45 mark with a call from Brian in Harrisonville, Kentucky. Questions of ethics come up every day in everyone’s lives, and in this case as in many others, arguments of efficiency that mask motives of self-interest are all too common.

Until the technology industry catches up with at least the halting steps the food industry has taken to inform consumers about what they are buying and what kind of ethical or unethical behavior they in turn support with their purchases, it will remain up to individual consumers to inform themselves. Globalization has made it easy to hide the ugly details of technology manufacturing halfway around the world. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s not as if things were far better 100 years ago, though, because at that time for most Americans a sweatshop on New York City’s Lower East Side was as much on the other side of the world as a sweatshop in Bangladesh is today. Speed of travel and communications have changed the seeming size of the world, but sadly not the willingness of businesses and governments to exploit the less fortunate, and of the more fortunate to turn a blind eye.
— Techly

Editor’s note: Bonus points to readers who note advertising on this site for the products of one of the companies criticized in this post. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to exist in the modern world without some compromises, and like everybody else, writers have to eat. With a little effort and attentiveness, people do what they can to make the world a better place, but no one is without faults, and as Joe E. Brown said at the end of the movie Some Like It Hot, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

 

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Blurred Lines

 

A federal judge ruled recently that the city of New Orleans violated the First Amendment rights of street artist Cashy D and property owner Neal Morris when the city censored a mural painted by Cashy D on Mr. Morris’s property for the NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) Mural Project. The mural in question quotes off camera remarks made by the current president when he was still a private citizen to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. Those were the infamous “grab ’em by the p*ssy” remarks. For the mural, Cashy D painted pictograms to stand in for some of the words, and it was supposedly one pictogram in particular that some citizens and the city objected to, taking their case to court.

In a case like this, it’s probably impossible to separate politics from concerns about public display of lewd images. People engage in political displays on their own property all the time, the most prevalent example being electioneering signs. Those signs typically do not contain lewd images or profane language, though it’s possible some homemade versions might. Art displayed on private property where it can be viewed by the public is often subject to local zoning and nuisance regulations. The NOLA Mural Project artwork is a political statement expressed on private property within public view, and any lewd images and profane language it contains are directly related to the quotation from the political figure the creators are criticizing.


2015 Gay Pride Festivus Pole, Deerfield Beach, FL
A Gay Pride Festivus Pole and Nativity Scene on public display on private property in Deerfield Beach, Florida, in 2015. Photo by DavidCharlesFLA.

Simple as the language of the First Amendment to the Constitution appears, it is amazing how many different interpretations it has engendered over the years. It would seem fairly cut and dried, but obviously it is not, according to the nation’s judiciary. First Amendment cases decided one way by a lower court are often as not overturned by a higher court, an outcome that wouldn’t appear likely if it were not for the fallibility of judges and the judicial process, and the malleability of the law itself.

The current president may have made his foul remarks in private as a private citizen, but the way the American political game is played, he and his history became fair game once he entered public life, and remarks like those quoted in the Cashy D mural are indicative of his character, or lack of it, and become part of political discourse, their very offensiveness being the whole point of the mural. Political expression on public view from a private space is subject to interpretation and possible censure by the public, and its merits are therefore best judged on a case by case basis in the courts, as they should be, and not by bureaucrats and politicians in city halls around the country.
— Ed.

 

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There Are No Easy Answers

 

Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France. May 19 is also the birth date of Malcolm X, whose posthumous influence on the film Mr. Lee acknowledges with a quote from him at the end, along with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.. The quotes are about non-violent resistance to oppression (the Rev. King) and the occasional need for violence in self defense against oppressors (Malcolm X). As throughout the rest of the movie, Mr. Lee makes no judgements, but merely puts those ideas out there for the audience to consider. Do the Right Thing provokes thought; it does not provide answers, and 30 years later the state of race relations in America has hardly budged from what Mr. Lee portrayed in the film.

 

The film did not win the highest prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or, though it was nominated. It was not nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and the film that won the honor for 1989 was Driving Miss Daisy, a good film about race relations but a safe one for Hollywood, and a film that in the years since has receded in importance in the rear view mirror. Nearly 30 years later, Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but lost to another safe film about race relations, Green Book. Both Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book are films produced by largely white filmmakers for consumption by a largely white audience, and are meant to comfort white liberals without unduly upsetting white conservatives. That each received Hollywood’s highest honor is a testament to the institution’s eagerness to pat itself on the back for occasionally making a social message movie without rocking too many boats.

MartinLutherKingMalcolmX
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin in March 1964. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko for U.S. News & World Report, now in a collection at the Library of Congress.

What’s missing in that equation, of course, are African-Americans. In contrast, Spike Lee has made films for everybody, and Do the Right Thing was groundbreaking in that respect. All the characters he portrays are well rounded, with good and bad aspects to all of them. As the late film critic Roger Ebert noted, there are no heroes or villains that we can easily hang labels on. Those portrayals are more true to life than the safe, near-stereotypes portrayed in Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book. The complexity can also leave some viewers uneasy, since they desire the satisfaction of stories that follow a familiar arc leading to either a comforting conclusion or one that at least ties up some loose ends of the story. Do the Right Thing provides none of that. It is a wonder a major Hollywood studio, Universal, backed the film financially and distributed it widely. That it was popular with the public and, eventually, with most critics despite its unconventionality in style and substance is a testament to how well crafted it was by Mr. Lee and his cast and crew.

Ossie Davis as Da Mayor has a confrontation with some youths on the street in Do the Right Thing. Warning: foul language.

30 years later Do the Right Thing stays with people who view it now for the first time as much as it did with people who saw it then, prompting the same questions in their minds. A few years before Mr. Lee made the film, there was the racially charged incident at Howard Beach in the New York City borough of Queens, an incident which informed the events in Do the Right Thing. Two years after the movie came out, there was the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and despite the incident being filmed by a bystander, showing the excessive use of force by the police, the cops were subsequently cleared in court, leading to riots in black neighborhoods. There has been no end of ugly, often fatal, incidents in America like those portrayed in the movie, and they just keep coming, like waves pounding the shore. The observations Spike Lee made in Do the Right Thing about race relations in America are still relevant today; the question remains – is anybody listening well enough to change things?
— Vita

“I just want to say – you know – can we all get along? Can we, can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”
— Rodney King, speaking on television in relation to the riots in Los Angeles on May 1, 1992, after a jury acquitted the police who beat him the year before.

 

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The Body in Question

 

On Monday, five Georgia state legislators introduced a bill that would require all men over the age of 55 to report to law enforcement every time they ejaculate sperm. The bill obviously has no chance of passing, and is meant to make a statement about a bill that did recently pass which makes abortion illegal in Georgia after about six weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can detect a heartbeat from the fetus, but also more generally about how men, particularly older, white men, use legislation to exercise control over women’s bodies.

 

The nation’s abortion laws are constantly under attack, predominantly from groups on the religious right. They seem to think they are the only ones concerned with the ethical issues surrounding abortion, as if the women facing that choice have little or no concern about ethics. There are women as well as men in the anti-abortion groups. The women should know better than the men the difficult nature of the decision to abort a pregnancy, yet they still favor taking the decision away from the person most concerned with making it.

Spermatozoa-human-3140x
Micrograph by scanning electron microscope of human sperm cells magnified 3140 times. Pore size of the polycarbonate filter in the background is 1µm, or 1 micrometer.

Since the ethical questions will likely never be sorted out to the satisfaction of all parties, we can only resort to legal answers. There is in this country something called the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Since it was adopted shortly after the Civil War, it was initially intended to apply to recently freed slaves, to ensure they received equal protection as citizens under the law regardless of their former status. The Equal Protection Clause has been invoked on behalf of many other causes in the past 150 years, and it seems it should apply to the abortion debate regarding how one class of citizens – women – are subject to laws that do not apply to another class of citizens – men.

Of course there are many physiological differences between men and women, perhaps the most important being that men do not carry an egg, fertilized or not. Men do contribute their sperm toward fertilizing women’s eggs. It seems that if men are not willing to cede legal control of their sperm to make sure it does not contribute to unwanted fertilization of eggs, then they should be willing to relinquish all legal oversight of fertilized eggs in women’s bodies. The eggs reside in women; that’s just the way it is.

Michael Palin sings “Every Sperm Is Sacred” in the 1983 film Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. It’s not only Catholics who espouse this philosophy, but religious people generally.

Until such time as legal, medical, and ethical considerations are sorted out regarding whether men can have fertilized eggs or fetuses implanted within them, it seems they should have very little to say about women’s unwanted pregnancies. That a woman is contemplating aborting her fetus suggests a man has already expressed himself inappropriately. Men should leave women in peace to make the hard decision to abort or not to abort. It’s in the complications following the latter decision, after all, that men and all of society can contribute positive energy to the new mother and her baby to make life better for them instead of continuing to add to their troubles.
— Ed.

 

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Cops and Robbers

 

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
— Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In a unanimous decision on February 20, the Supreme Court ruled against the state of Indiana in the case of Timbs v. Indiana, a ruling which effectively ends the notorious practice of civil asset forfeiture. The applicable clause in the Constitution is “nor excessive fines imposed”, and it’s a wonder the states have been able to get away with lawless civil asset forfeiture practices as long as they have, considering the clause seems plainly clear. Apparently the application of that particular right slipped through as long as it has because the country’s founders meant the Constitution to apply only to the federal government. The Supreme Court has been gradually redressing that error ever since, and on February 20 the Court closed the loophole by which police departments across the country had been stealing citizens’ property under state laws allowing the practice.


Ten Commandments altar screen in the Temple Church London
The altar screen of the Temple Church in London, setting out the text of the Ten Commandments according to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Photo by Jheald.

What’s most remarkable about this historic ruling is that it was unanimous. The Supreme Court’s balance is now five to four in favor of conservative justices, and typically when conservatives weigh law enforcement practices against the rights of citizens they have decided for the former. Considering what was at stake in this case, the miraculously unanimous decision speaks to just how corrupt policing for profit had become, and ending it slows the nation’s slide toward becoming a police state. Now police employees nationwide have to heed the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution as well as the Eighth Commandment which, carved in stone in Judeo-Christian culture, reads “Thou shalt not steal”.

They can make more progress by heeding other Commandments, too, such as the Sixth, a paraphrase of which states “Thou shalt not wantonly kill, and then have thy buddies on the force close ranks and cover it up for thee”. That last bit incorporates the Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness, saving time. What does all this have to do with technology? If the police can finally be made to start following rules that have been set in low-tech stone for millennia, perhaps moving along to rules for 21st century high-tech will follow, like whether the controversial practice of going on fishing expeditions to obtain DNA evidence violates citizens’ rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. There are no equivalent strictures in the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the usual advocates on the Court for the police, the conservative justices, can rely on the Constitution alone and apply its plain as day language to the latest technology and once again vote unanimously for citizens’ rights.
— Techly

 

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It Wasn’t Funny Even Then

 

So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”
— Ezekiel 33:7, from the King James Version of the Bible.

Amid all the furiously backpedaling confusion promulgated by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over whether he was in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook picture of two male party goers, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) outfit, there appears to be no acknowledgment from the governor or his staff of why they seem to think blackface is less racist than wearing KKK garb. They appear to assume that it is racism lite, and therefore perhaps excusable, choosing to ignore that even in 1984 such behavior was not acceptable in general society, and certainly not seen as good clean fun. The governor professes confusion over whether he was one of the two men in the photo, but nowhere does he allow the possibility he could have been the one in the KKK outfit. He claims he was either the one in blackface or he was not in the picture at all.


This song and dance is understandable given the feelings of the greater society about the KKK. Apparently Northam feels if he needs to equivocate about his participation in racist costuming, he is safer with blackface than with the utterly out of the fold KKK. But why? Besides the ludicrous assertion that he somehow doesn’t remember participating in the activity depicted in the photo, why does he hide behind blackface as the lesser of two evils? Is ridiculing, mocking, and denigrating black people any less evil than intimidating and threatening them? They are two sides of the same coin. And no, taking the good ol’ frat boy defense that he personally meant no harm doesn’t fly.

Ralph Northam "Coonman"
Ralph Northam’s 1981 VMI yearbook photo showing his nicknames “Goose” and “Coonman”.

Lost in the national coverage of Northam’s foolish, insensitive, and casually hateful youthful behavior is reporting about his less foolish, equally insensitive, and more consciously hateful behavior regarding the Dominion Energy natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As always with things like pipelines, the planned route took it through less populous countryside, avoiding the estates of rich folks, of which there are many in Virginia’s horse country surrounding Charlottesville in central Virginia. Instead the route is planned to take it well south of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, through far poorer and far blacker Buckingham County, with a compressor station near Union Hill, a community noted historically for its population of freed black slaves.

 

2016-05-27 10 18 23 View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia to rural Buckingham County, Virginia
View east along Virginia State Route 56 (South James River Road) just after crossing the Wingina Bridge over the James River from Wingina in Nelson County, Virginia, into rural Buckingham County. Photo by Famartin. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would roughly parallel Route 56, intersecting several miles down the road at Union Hill for the compressor station.

Late last year, Governor Northam dismissed two members of the Air Pollution Control Board who disagreed about the pipeline route and placement of the compressor station, thereby assuring a yea vote from the Board. In Virginia, it should be noted, the biggest utility player, Dominion Energy, is also the largest single donor from the energy sector to political campaigns, regardless of party affiliation. Dominion Energy is pushing the pipeline through Buckingham County and its compressor station in Union Hill. Just north of Buckingham County is Albemarle County and its plethora of country estates owned by wealthy white people. South of Buckingham County would apparently be too far out of the way, making the pipeline more expensive.

In lightly populated Buckingham County, Dominion Energy could expect easily overpowered opposition to its pipeline and compressor station from poor, mostly black communities. The only remaining obstacle was two obstinate members of the state Air Pollution Control Board, and with the help of their man in the Governor’s office, they were removed. Like the 1984 yearbook photo, Governor Northam and his friends thought they could dismiss the racism implicit in it all by taking the position that he didn’t mean it that way. How insulting! It matters not at all how these people intend their actions, as if that somehow magically exonerates them, but how their actions ultimately affect the people on the receiving end, and professed ignorance of the effects on those on the receiving end is no excuse, any more than it was for the German people when their leaders packed Jews into cattle cars and sent them to concentration camps.
— Ed.

 

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The Neighborly Thing to Do

 

With gentrification occurring in many old city neighborhoods across the country, there has been a rise in calls of complaint to city officials from the new, mostly white, residents about the established, mostly black and brown, residents. New residents usually make those calls to a city’s 311 line, which doesn’t automatically entail a police response, and that’s just as well because out of control police employees are just as likely to escalate a conflict between neighbors as they are to defuse it, particularly since the complainants are pointing their fingers at black and brown people.

John William Waterhouse - Gossip
Good Neighbours, an 1885 painting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). While not a depiction of an ethnically diverse gathering, still this painting conveys the notion of neighborliness.

Some white folks, but not all, understand the possibly dangerous consequences for black and brown folks of having the police intercede in even the mildest disputes. Those who do understand how it works use the police as their personal enforcers, as a blunt instrument to get their way without having to simply talk with their neighbors. Involving city officials, especially the police, ought to be the last resort, but when you are rarely the target of a blunt instrument it is easy to take the view that it is a first resort.

The new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods have little in common with the established residents, and that has much to do with their reluctance to deal with them one on one as equals. Some are intimidated by people whom they have long been instructed by the greater white society to view as likely criminals, or at least as not worthy of the benefit of a doubt. A black or brown person conducting themselves in a manner not dissimilar to a white person, for instance conducting a house inspection as part of his or her official duties or job, is far more likely to be viewed with suspicion by a white person in the vicinity, with the white person eventually calling the authorities to report those supposedly suspicious activities. The glass half full for white people in this society is almost always half empty for others.


Sesame Street has always been at the forefront in portraying amicable relations among people of different ethnicities. This clip from a 1990s episode features a version of “The People in Your Neighborhood”, a song written by Jeffrey Moss and, since the show’s inception in 1969, usually performed by Bob McGrath and a selection of Anything Muppets representing various occupations.

 

It seems like this society is sliding backwards, and the rhetoric and actions originating with the current presidential administration are leading the way backward. No doubt that is the meaning behind the slogan “Make America Great Again”. For a few in this society, about one third of the population, going backward appears to mean returning to the days when black and brown people were rarely seen and never heard, and then only in a subservient capacity. One thing they overlook is that in the days before home air conditioning and home theaters, people got out and about amongst their neighbors in the evenings, getting to know each other.

Turn on the captions for the printed lyrics.

Granted, ethnically mixed neighborhoods were never part of life for the upper classes, but the upper classes have always been able to afford their own way of life and rarely cared much at all how the rest of society viewed them for it. Poor and working class people have always had more day to day experience with other ethnicities, though that hasn’t implied an always peaceful coexistence. It seems now that in gentrifying neighborhoods the new residents, wealthier and usually whiter than their neighbors, don’t bother getting to know the poorer and darker people around them, and consequently they are easily disturbed by unfamiliar behavior, calling 311 out of fear or annoyance. The pattern continues until all the established residents are priced out of the neighborhood. What a shame then that the new residents come from all political stripes, some with the best intentions, and yet the ultimate effect they have on their new neighbors reflects the same backward thinking as that of those cynical, small-minded leaders now making policy in Washington, D.C., and that of their frightened, small-minded followers, calling the cops out to hassle their neighbors over every little thing.
— Vita

 

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Reason to Smile

 

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” — Section 1 of the Equal Rights Amendment.

It’s a fair guess that at some point in their lives most women have had someone, usually a man, but sometimes another woman, urge them to smile more, as if it were incumbent upon women to always appear pleasant and non-threatening. No one tells men to smile, except maybe for pictures. This past week, on Wednesday, May 30, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), leaving the amendment one state short of the approval by three fourths of the states required to become law. That’s reason to smile. Celebration, however, may still be a long struggle away.

 

When the United States Congress approved the ERA in 1972, they sent it on to the states with a seven year limit for ratification written into the proposal, something that had become common practice ever since the proposal for the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), with the one exception of the 19th Amendment (Women’s Suffrage). After ratification stalled at 35 states in 1977, Congress eventually granted an extension on the time limit until 1982. The amendment has remained in limbo since then, until 2017 when Nevada, under pressure from a renewed groundswell in the women’s rights movement due to current events both in politics and in the workplace, ratified the amendment to move the total to 36.

Alice Paul, with Mildred Bryan 159039v
Alice Paul, on the right, leader of the feminist movement in America and vice president of the Woman’s Party, meets with Mildred Bryan, youngest Colorado feminist, in the Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs, where on September 23rd, 1925, the Party launched its western campaign for an amendment to the Constitution giving equal rights to women. Photo by H.L. Standley.

There is some question whether the amendment will indeed become law with ratification by a 38th state because of the time limit imposed in its proposal by Congress, and because a handful of state legislatures have rescinded their ratification since the 1970s. There is nothing explicit in Article V of the Constitution, which deals with the amendment process, stating Congress should impose a time limit on ratification. In the 1921 case of Dillon v. Gloss, the Supreme Court inferred from Article V that Congress had the power to impose a time limit, settling that argument on shaky ground. In 1939, in the case of Coleman v. Miller, the Supreme Court sent the ball back into Congress’s arena of politics on whether ratification by states after the expiration of a time limit had any validity, and whether states were allowed to rescind ratifications. Those questions have remained unchallenged, and therefore unsettled, ever since.

In an episode of the 1970s television show All in the Family, Archie Bunker argues with his neighbor Irene Lorenzo , played by Carroll O’Connor and Betty Garrett, about equal pay for equal work after Irene starts working at the same place as Archie. 46 years after Congress passed the ERA in 1972, the issue remains unsettled.

There has been a development since 1939 that further clouds the entire issue of a time limit on ratification, and that is the full ratification of the 27th Amendment (Congressional Pay Raises) in 1992, after a delay of 203 years since its passing by Congress in 1789. No time limit had been imposed by Congress in 1789, of course, but since it nonetheless became the law of the land after hundreds of years of languishing in the docket, it raises the question of the legality of the decision in Dillon v. Gloss and sets a precedent for proponents of the ERA to follow in seeking to overturn the expiration of its time limit in 1982. If and when a 38th state ratifies the ERA, that state most likely being Virginia, the matter will probably bounce from the courts back to Congress, where it will have to be settled politically, making the upcoming 2018 congressional midterm elections important for yet one more reason. Until then, smile when you feel like smiling, or not at all.
— Vita

 

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The Lost Sheep

 

The evangelical Christianity we are familiar with today in the United States does not resemble what it was prior to the Civil War, when evangelical Protestants promoted social justice issues such as the end of slavery. Slavery was the primary issue that divided some Protestant denominations, the Baptists more than any others because of the strong presence of Baptists in the South. Rancor over the issue within the Baptist denomination eventually led to its division before the Civil War into Northern and Southern sects, a division which has continued to this day.

Brooklyn Museum - The Good Shepherd (Le bon pasteur) - James Tissot - overall
Le bon pasteur (The Good Shepherd), a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by the French artist James Tissot (1836-1902).

When people think of evangelical Christians active in modern political life, largely in conservative Republican circles, they are primarily thinking of Southern Baptists, because that is the denomination which has dominated politics and culture in the South since the Civil War, and it is from the South in the 1970s that arose the major political and cultural movement known first as the Moral Majority, and since then mostly known as the Christian Right. For over a hundred years, the dominance of Southern Baptists over life in the South was as close to a state sanctioned religion as we have gotten in this country, or at least in one part of it. Other Protestant denominations in the South, such as the Pentecostals, have been a part of modern evangelical Christianity, but the Southern Baptists have always been the major players.

As the de facto state religion of the South in the Jim Crow era and beyond, Southern Baptists were more interested in preserving white privilege and power than in promoting the kind of social justice Jesus advocated in His teachings. The Southern Baptists chose to ignore many of those ideas from the New Testament, lest they give black folks unsavory and rebellious ideas, and instead focused on the rewards waiting for the saved in the afterlife, where it wouldn’t cost the earthly white leaders anything in money or power. As the South remained rather isolated and more conservative than the rest of the country throughout the first two thirds of the twentieth century, there were further fractures within Protestant denominations, with the more liberal Northern sects increasingly considered the mainline portions of each denomination, and the Southern sects more and more lumped together as evangelical Christians, but with the twist that these evangelicals were largely white conservatives more vested in the status quo than in change for social justice.

Jimmy Carter addresses the South Baptist Convention in Atlanta, GA. - NARA - 179898
President Jimmy Carter addresses the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, GA, in June 1978. Evangelical Christians were lukewarm at best regarding Mr. Carter, and in the 1980 election they turned him out in favor of the more conservative Ronald Reagan. Since then, Mr. Carter has devoted himself to humanitarian causes around the world, including Habitat for Humanity, all of which earned him the honor of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

President George W. Bush meets with the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention in the Oval Office, Oct. 11, 2006
President George W. Bush meets with the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention in the Oval Office in October 2006. Pictured with the President are Dr. Morris Chapman, left, Dr. Frank Page, and his wife Dayle Page. Mr. Bush the Younger was more to the liking of evangelical Christians than any president of the past 40 years other than Ronald Reagan. White House photo by Paul Morse.

When the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the 1970s went after Bob Jones University, a private evangelical school in Greenville, South Carolina, to revoke its tax exempt status on account of not adhering to Civil Rights era desegregation laws, Southern Baptists, which by that time had become indistinguishable from evangelicals, were catalyzed into action, forming the Moral Majority in order to take an activist role in national politics. They added abortion later as a rallying cause and it also served to mask the initial, primary impetus for organizing politically, which was the affront by federal interference into their pocketbooks and their white supremacist fiefdom. From the 1970s until today evangelical Christians, the Christian Right, have been a force in national politics, and never has their participation been more perverse at first glance than their unwavering support for the current president with all his defiantly un-Christian character flaws, but with an understanding of their history it begins to make sense, though it doesn’t make it right.
— Vita

 

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Sell All That Thou Hast

 

“Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”
— Luke 18:22, from the King James Version of the Bible.

Philanthropy, meaning love of humanity, differs from charitable giving in that the rich conduct philanthropy in broad brush strokes for society, while charity is usually in the form of small gestures from one individual for the benefit of other individuals or small organizations. Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, endowed libraries across the country as well as cultural institutions. the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations have similarly given large grants to institutions since their establishment in the early twentieth century. When John D. Rockefeller handed out dimes to individuals, as he was known to do, that was charity, not what is generally considered philanthropy.


Helping the homeless
Two women donate food to a homeless man on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Ed Yourdon.

Among modern philanthropists are Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Supreme Egotist wants to be included in that group, but like everything else he does, his philanthropy is a fantasy for the benefit of his narcissism and con artistry more than it is a real construct for the love of humanity. After first acknowledging what a good thing people like Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates are offering to do with their money, the next thing that springs to mind is how on earth they accumulated their kind of wealth in order to give at least some of it away. The conventional capitalist idea is that they gained all their riches through their own hard work and good fortune. Maybe so. An aspect of capitalism that is usually glossed over in this scenario is how wealth begets wealth in algorithmic numbers. In other words, rich people in our system can benefit from a snowball effect.

There is a negative snowball effect in operation for poor people in our system who find themselves slipping away due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, whether by their own making or not. A person working a non-union factory job gets injured and cannot work, and for one reason or another workmen’s compensation and unemployment insurance either do not apply or are insufficient, and within months or a few short years the person ends up homeless. Living paycheck to paycheck, disaster is always lurking around a corner of bad luck. These unfortunates, who for the luck of the draw at any moment could be almost any one of us, may have to rely for their next meal and night out of the weather on the charitable giving of those who for the time being enjoy regular meals and a comfortable night’s sleep in their own bed.

 

What about the philanthropists whose giving is steered toward redressing larger societal ills? Andrew Carnegie hired goons to bust heads when workers at his steel mills struck for better hours, wages, and working conditions. This was the same Andrew Carnegie who endowed libraries so that the children of those workers could get a better education than their parents. He stole from the poor to give to the poor, and as the money changed hands along the way he made a tidy profit for himself. Are today’s philanthropists much better? Instead of expressing thanks for endowments and grants, perhaps it would be better to question whither the gains were gotten. That’s not likely, however, since it is almost always institutions such as universities that receive those endowments and grants, and stodgy university bureaucracies are not in the habit of examining gift horses too closely.

Serving homeless veterans 090701-N-JD458-020
USS Constitution‘s Yeoman 3rd Class Roberta Lee serves lunch to residents of the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans. USS Constitution sailors volunteered at the shelter July 1, 2009, as part of Navy Community Outreach’s Boston Navy Week. Photo by U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Kiner.

What about the recipients of individual charitable gifts, are they relieved of responsibility? Did any of them question John D. Rockefeller about the provenance of the dime he handed them? Most likely not. It is better in spirit, however, for both giver and receiver if a charitable gift is borne out of the giver’s own honest labor rather than the exploitation of the labor of others or the use of money to beget money. Sharing the little extra one may have with another less fortunate is more meaningful and helpful to society than the sharing of largesse by another who came by it through the impoverishment in finances and spirit of the public as a whole.
— Ed.

A scene from the 1982 meditative documentary Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio, with music by Philip Glass.

 

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