Friday, February 27, 2009

acceptable disenfranchisement?

the republicans in the south carolina house of representatives recently passed a bill requiring voters to present a photo identification at the polls in order to vote. the vote took place after the black caucus and house democrats walked out of the chamber.

the issue overlooked by the house republicans was that the requirement would place an additional obstacle on elderly, poor and minority rural voters across the state. particularly in our state's rural counties, there are many people who lack transportation. even though the bill makes a free photo id card available from the department of motor vehicles, it does not make it any easier for people without transportation to get to the dmv during their limited hours. it also does not provide additional staffing to expedite transactions or make any additional accommodations for people who cannot stand in line.

the question becomes 'what is an acceptable level of disenfranchisement?' apparently, house republicans have decided that losing the voters who would be frustrated by the bill's requirements is entirely acceptable.

this bill is being touted as protecting the integrity of the vote. the irony is, however, many precincts use touch screen voting machines that can be programmed to flip votes to favor one candidate over another. someone should remind our lawmakers that joseph stalin once said 'the people who cast the votes do not decide an election, the people who count the votes do.'

Sunday, February 22, 2009

corridor of shame

the title of this post is borrowed from a documentary which was produced several years ago and documented the deficiencies of several school districts in south carolina along the i-95 corridor. the school districts profiled are all underfunded, under-performing and under-supported.

the problems there have been festering for the last forty years. they began, coincidentally, with what was supposed to be the end of segregated schools. 1967-1970 proved to be pivotal years for education in south carolina. a look at the charters of many of the state's private schools will show them founded during that period. the impetus for their founding was the same as that behind the 'separate but equal' era of public education. it was racism, pure and simple.

the school districts along the so-called corridor of shame share several things in common. the affected school districts are predominantly black and the majority of the white students are in private schools. (dillon district 2 is a possible exception, where perhaps a slim majority of the white students are in public schools.) the districts are among the poorest in the state. local funding for schools depends on property taxes, and the affected districts have a very low tax base. there is considerable resistance from the white community to any increase in taxes to fund the schools, in large part because the white parents and property owners have withdrawn their children from the public schools.

the problem facing the schools along the corridor (which extends well beyond the three districts profiled in the documentary) is the result of the combined forces of poverty and racism. the solution, ultimately, needs to deal with both facets of the problem. one thing that must be done, is the funding for south carolina's public schools must be restructured. that is part of the solution, that is the easy part. the more difficult task is face the deep-seated racial fear and mistrust that perpetuates the enslavement of our children. no one can be free when racism shackles us to our past and bars us from our future.

remembering things

apparently, i remember things differently than other people. i've known this for quite some time, since childhood actually. my co-workers have referred to me as 'the archive' and usually either shake their heads or roll their eyes when i remember some trivial detail.

i have a fairly accurate visual memory, though my auditory memory leaves much to be desired. this was a fact that was documented relatively late in my academic career, though i had already learned to use my visual memory to compensate for my lack of auditory memory.

one difficulty i had in school was taking notes. i learned early on that i got lost if i tried to take the detailed notes that i saw my classmates taking. the problem was, when i tried to take detailed notes, i lost track of what was taking place in class. i learned that i was much better off, if i was going to take any notes at all, to simply jot down brief phrases to cue me to key points. my notes were useless to anyone else, a fact that was evident because no one ever asked to borrow my notes twice. i did best in classes where the instructor was animated and interesting, especially if they were faithful to the material in the textbook. the classes i did poorly in were the ones where the instructor was more subdued and included significant amounts of material on the test which was not in the textbook, but presented in the lectures.

i remember my freshman year at francis marion college, i was taking a history course from a professor whom i found interesting because he did some things that i found unusual, like bringing his irish setter to class on occasion. his lectures were reasonably faithful to the textbook. i took his class for two semesters and took virtually no notes in class. i would preview the material in the textbook prior to class and review the material in the textbook after the lecture, paying special attention to the portions he had emphasized.

the day before second semester final exam, the professor was walking through the snack bar and spotted me sitting at table watching a card game. he came over and called me by name. 'you know the final exam is tomorrow,' he said. i replied that i knew, and he continued by saying that he had noticed that i didn't take notes in his class. he pointed out that i had been doing pretty well in the class. [as i recall, my lowest grade that semester in his class had been a 95.] his next comment, however, caught me off-guard. he looked at me with this incredulous expression and asked how i did it. as i stumbled for an answer, he said, 'that's ok, i'm going to screw you tomorrow.' although i am absolutely certain that i knew everything on the exam, and i answered everything fully and completely including the extra credit question, i ended up with a 'b-plus' for the class.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

why bi-partisanship failed

the economic stimulus package passed congress yesterday with no republican votes in the house and only three in the senate. congressional republicans, railing against liberal government spending, and touting their own panacea of tax cuts for businesses, voted no in a final childish tantrum because they didn't get their way.

yes, it would be nice if our elected representatives could behave as statesmen rather than spoiled brats and join together to support a solution to our economic mess that reflects the consensus of leading economists, in short, do what is best for the country for once. but that is too much to ask.

in the final analysis, bi-partisanship is over-rated. the republican party grew in popularity because they appealed to our most immature instincts, selfishness and prejudice. their time in the sun is, hopefully, over. it's time to grow up and move past that. in the meantime, i have a suggestion for the gop stalwarts. perhaps it's time that you changed your party's mascot from the elephant to something more appropriate... like the woolly mammoth.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

debacle or catastrophe?

i watched president obama's press conference last night as he put forth his case for the economic stimulus package currently before congress. several things came to mind.

first of all, with regard to present situation which he inherited. make no mistake, we did not just get into this mess in september, or in the last eight years or sixteen years even. we have been digging this economic hole with a variety of tools for at least the last forty years. this is not solely the result of mismanagement under the bush administration or the clinton administration.

this goes back beyond the "reagan revolution." if you recall, one of reagan's campaign issues was a faltering economy. gasoline prices at the pump had nearly tripled over a seven year period, after well over a decade of relative stability. mortgage rates were climbing, home constuction was suffering, manufacturing plants were closing and american jobs were being shipped out of the country. prices were rising and incomes were stagnant. sound familiar?

so what was the solution then? remember that massive federal deficit that reagan campaigned against, 60 billion dollars in october 1980? according to reagan we needed to balance the budget, increase spending on our national defense and cut taxes so that businesses can afford to invest.

did it work? well, in a word, no. defense spending was increased and taxes were cut, especially for the higher incomes. the budget, however, was not balanced. in fact, the federal budget deficit ballooned under the conservative ronald reagan to then unprecedented heights. the budget deficit when reagan left office was three times higher than what he had inherited. what did the money reagan borrowed buy us? more manufacturing jobs? not hardly. half of all u.s. manufacturing jobs have been exported to "emerging economies."

it's a little bit funny, in light of the facts, to watch the republicans in congress posturing as if they are the guardians of american economic health. every republican administration since 1969 has left our country deeper in debt, and with fewer wealth producing manufacturing jobs than before. one major difference between the current economic mess and the "great depression" is that for the forty years prior to the great depression, our economy had seen a steady increase in manufacturing jobs, i.e., jobs that create wealth by producing a product that people buy, whereas the forty years preceding our current economic debacle have seen the greatest decrease in american manufacturing since the industrial revolution.

to suggest that present crisis can be solved by essentially the same thinking that got us into this hole is absurd. while everyone likes the sound of tax cuts, and it would be wonderful to have a balanced budget and not be mortgaging our grandchildren's future, there is no available evidence that tax cuts create jobs. the simple fact is, jobs are created when people (or goverments) spend. to cut spending from the stimulus package is to render it completely impotent. of course, that what the republicans (following rush limbaugh) want... to see president obama fail, regardless of the effect on our country.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

imago dei

one purpose i had in mind when i started this blog was to actually write out some of the things i believe, primarily to clarify some things in my own mind, but also as a vehicle to stimulate discussion with others who may be interested. this is my first post in what i intend to be a series.

genesis begins with an account of god creating 'the heavens and the earth,' culminating with the creation of man 'in his own image.' this is where the bible starts and this is where i will start. my upbringing was one which placed the bible at the center of religious belief.

i believe in god. i believe that god is the first cause, the creator who set the universe in motion. as the genesis account relates, god created the heavens and the earth and all that is therein.

the genesis account provides something else. there is the assertion that god created man in his own image, or likeness. what does that mean? for me, the meaning here is that like god, we have the capacity to create. in the biblical account, the image of god is attributed only to mankind. though all of creation bears the imprint of the creator, humankind is unique in its ability to create. it is this ability to create that portrays our likeness to god.

when we embrace the creative impulse within us, in whatever form it may manifest itself, we embrace the 'godness' in ourselves. whether we acknowledge it or not, when we create, we connect with something deep within ourselves.

i used to write songs when i was younger. it was the writing that allowed me to find myself, to discover who i was. it was through the writing that i discovered my authentic self. when i stopped writing, i lost touch with a part of myself.

as i look back, the times in my life that i have been most content were the times when i was engaged in some sort of creative activity. the jobs that have been most satisfying were the ones where i had the opportunity to create something on my own. conversely, the times which i found least satisfying were the situations in which i found my creativity stifled.

the image of god is, in my mind, the unique ability that humankind possesses that allows us to create. regardless of what we create, when we create we find our true authentic selves.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

life is a journey...

"life is a journey, not a destination" is almost cliché, but for me, it is true nonetheless. this is especially true with regard to my faith journey.

i was raised in a very devout southern baptist family. for as far back as i can remember, weekly church attendance was assumed. for most of that time, weekly meant sunday school and worship on sunday morning, 'training union' and worship on sunday evening, and prayer meeting on wednesday evening.

implicit in my upbringing was that the bible was to accepted in more or less literal terms, and questioning that basic assumption was something akin to blasphemy.

my first 'mistake' was, i suppose, trying to make sense of what i was being told to believe. i tried. really. i tried to believe what i was taught, the way i was taught, but i just couldn't. of course, since admitting that i just couldn't believe the 'accepted teachings' would be 'blasphemy', i kept that information to myself.

i remember how liberating it felt when, as an undergraduate, i learned that there were people who actually questioned the same things that i did. for the first time, i actually felt free to think about what it was that i personally believed.

my sojourn has taken me from my upbringing as a southern baptist, to a pastorate in the united methodist church, back to a baptist church as a layman, then back to the united methodist church as a layman and then another pastorate, a stint as a pulpit supply, then a period as an occasional lay member of a united methodist church, then moving to the presbyterian church, where i have been for the last 15 years, in varying levels of involvement.

my beliefs, however, are not what would be considered mainstream for the presbyterian church, at least as far as my local presbytery is concerned. my personal beliefs would probably be best characterized as reflecting the liberal quaker perspective.

a couple of weeks ago, i made my first visit to an unprogrammed friends (quaker) meeting. the meeting was in conway, sc, in a building that serves as an ecumenical food pantry for the local area. there were six people in attendance besides my wife and me. it was a very different experience. the meeting began, after brief introductions, with us singing a few hymns. three actually, the eight of us singing a capella. the hymns were the same hymns i was familiar with, though on two of three, i noticed subtle differences in the words, changes that reflected the quaker beliefs. after the hymns, the next forty five minutes were spent in silent prayer and meditation, or expectant waiting. no one spoke. at the end of the meeting, we greeted those next to us, there was some comment about plans for the next week, and the meeting adjourned to refreshments and fellowship.

i've been reflecting on that experience for a couple weeks now. i enjoyed being in the presence of like minded people, for a change. sometimes i feel like i have very little in common with the people sitting next to me in church. it's more than a little frustrating sometimes.

my plan, at this point, is to follow this post with a series of posts outlining some of the beliefs that are most important to me at this point. i don't know if this will interest any readers or not, but hopefully it will be a fruitful exercise for me, at least.