Tuesday, April 10, 2012

“As seen on TV” voter ID laws.

If you spend a lot of time watching late night TV, you likely see a lot of info-mercials trying to sell anything from juicers to button makers.  To effectively market an unnecessary product to a potential buyer, a seller must effectively create a need for their product in the mind of the potentisl buyer.   Last night I saw one commercial trying to sell a device that would punch holes in belts—because we all know how often our waistline fluctuates! So, for example, I put on a pair up pants but because I’m so darn fat I can no longer tighten my belt—here comes the belt hole puncher to the rescue! No longer must I worry about having to buy bigger belts or get frustrated when I can’t tighten my current belts, I can just punch another hole.  Heck, as a “pleased customer” says on the commercial, “it’s something we all need.” Riiiiiggggghhhttt.

Late night TV commercials trying to sell their random and unnecessary goods and wares got me thinking about the many Voter ID laws being passed in various states around the country, Wisconsin being a notable example.  Wisconsin’s law was recently ruled unconstitutional and Governor Scott Walker thinks that’s a shame.  Funny thing though, when he was asked on Fox News about proof regarding voter fraud, Walker simply dodged the question and suggested that the law will be worthwhile if it prevented even just one case of voter fraud.  Walker and others like him are trying to sell unneeded crap to the American people, their trying to sell you a “punch and snap” or a “pocket chair” (because who doesn’t need a chair they can fit in their pocket?!).  Basically, Walker and other folks endorsing these laws are just inventing problems (like any good marketer trying to sell you their random piece of crap that you don’t really need and will be a waste of your money).

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and current Fox News  TV host suggests, like many others, that since we need an ID to cash a check or fly on a plane, requiring an ID to be shown before voting makes perfect sense but here’s  the problem—cashing a check or flying on a plane are not constitutionally protected rights!  It’s disingenuous to on one hand cry the that constitution is being ignored and disrespected by liberals yet then on the other hand compare constitutionally protected rights to checking out a library book. It’s NOT the same thing!

Republicans are quick to say this isn’t a discriminatory practice, but I’m sure those who enacted “poll taxes” in the early years of America and those who constantly created ridiculous obstacles for African-Americans in the south didn’t consider their practices discriminatory either.  Heck, Scott Walker gleefully relayed a story about a teenager who described anyone who was unable to get a state ID as “incompetent.”  Really?  That kid has no freakin’ idea, and Walker is showing his foolishness even restating those words.

Shortly after the interview with Scott Walker, Fox News, the bastion of fair and balanced reporting, brought on “historian” Mark Steyn to critique a recent Obama speech.  Steyn was able to find several “historical inaccuracies” Obama had said yet was somehow unable to add to the voter ID topic any relevant historical information—such as poll taxes or discriminatory practices in the south (and why Fox News can only find a Canadian to be an “expert” on American history should tell you something). 

Who is most likely to be effected by these laws? Minorities and lower-income Americans, people who coincidentally tend to vote Democratic.  So, here’s the skinny, conservatives are weeding out competition while at the same time denigrating the opposition. Yet again, it’s the majority speaking for the minorities—hardly a new occurrence, yet one we should have caught on to by now.  Just because I white person says it’s not discriminatory doesn’t mean it isn’t.  It’s time to get rid of these ridiculous “As seen on TV” voter ID laws.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ressurection...for the rest of us

Positive thinking gets a lot of play these days—and for good reason—having a positive attitude in life can be very helpful. There is a lot to be said for finding the positives in life, but for all the benefits of positive thinking, in some ways I find it shallow and lacking.  Most, if not all humans will at some time, if not multiple times in their life find themselves blindsided, punched in the gut, and knocked off their feet by a one or many life events.  Sometimes it’s something big like the death of a loved one or a broken relationship. Sometimes it’s just the accumulation of many “small” things— the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

All of a sudden we can find ourselves down on the mat, face down in the mud, and down for the count. It’s in these moments when positive thinking just doesn’t cut it; we know we should get back up, brush ourselves off, and get back on the horse—we know groveling in the mud isn’t going to help our situation and that the longer we stay down the harder it is to get up. But we don’t get up, whether it be that we feel we don’t have the energy—physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually—or whether it be we just realize staying down is just easier; easier than expending the energy to get up when we might get knocked down again, easier than cleaning ourselves up when we might get dirtied again, and easier than putting ourselves out there when we might get burned again.  It’s at these times all the positive thinking in the world won’t do us any good—we are in a sense beyond our human ability. For all intents and purposes we are not so much living but dying—for this “life” more resembles that of “death.”

I bet Jesus’ disciples could relate to this feeling. After the exuberant experiences of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem—the person they had followed and worshipped and for whom they had given up their lives was now dead.  Though themselves physically alive, emotionally and spiritually they were anything but that;  lurking in the shadows  desperately trying to avoid recognition and holed up in a safe location—they, along with their leader, were dead and their movement no more. 

It was at this moment—when all seemed hopeless and when all seemed lost—that the miraculous occurred; Resurrection. 

Whether it was physical, spiritual, mystical—whatever—something happened, something unexplainable, something beyond mere positive thinking. The leader they thought dead of the movement they thought over came to them and said, “hey, it isn’t over yet, this is just the beginning.” Beyond rising himself, Jesus called the disciples also to rise above the doubt and discouragement, above defeat and self-pity, and above uncertainty and fear.  They did just that.  Numerous stories exist which tell of amazing acts by these men (and women).  Far beyond positive thinking—these folks were living resurrected lives.

Resurrection is ultimately a choice[i]—Jesus calls us, reaches out to us—in our deepest, darkest, and most deathly state and says “arise.” Beyond “what you can attain… lift your weary head… take my hand and we will rise above.”[ii]  This is true resurrection—this is the resurrected life—from our depths of despair, in our weakest moments and in our darkest hour Jesus calls to us and says “arise.” When I see someone who has been “to hell and back,” what I see is far more than any positive thinking. This resurrection is nothing short of miraculous.

“Rise—he’s calling you to come—just leave it all behind—and rise above.”[iii]

[i] Thanks to friend and classmate Melanie Van Weelden for the new perspectives on resurrection which inspired this blog.
[ii] From the song “Rise” on Michael W. Smith’s album Wonder.
[iii] From the song “Rise” on Michael W. Smith’s album Wonder.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lessons to be learned from The Hunger Games

I didn’t really understand what all the excitement was around The Hunger Games, but I decided to go with my wife and see it on the opening weekend of the movie, then I saw it again, then I read the trilogy—all within a week.  Needless to say, I caught The Hunger Games fever.

The first time I saw the movie, I walked out of the theater just blown away, amazed at what I had just seen—not because of the acting or the cinematography—no, it was a stirring within me, a feeling of uneasiness at the thought—or better, the realization that I was, along with all the other movie goers, a citizen of the Capital.   Yes, that Capital—as described in The Hunger Games, where the residents live in luxury, sheltered from the realities of the world, never to feel the pangs of hunger within their stomachs. 

The second time I saw the movie, as walked out of the theater, two in front of me were talking about their first impressions of the film; “I was hoping for more blood and gore” one said.   I was appalled—yet hardly surprised; we are a culture that celebrates violence—sort of like the citizens of the Capital.  Commiserating with the classmate I had seen the movie with, there was a common refrain—“we’re screwed,” one can’t help but wonder how long the rest of the world, a la the Districts, will continue to take the oppression we as residents of the Capital dish up.  There is so much to learn from The Hunger Games, yet I’m convinced few will ever give it a second thought; where shall I begin…

Poverty – The Seam vs. the Capital, polar opposites and worlds apart—if only it was just in the movies.  In reality there are millions (and likely billions) of people living in abject poverty, starving to death, while we in the Capital have food and goods in excess.  Worse, just like the Capital did to the Districts, we exploit the rest of the world so that we may maintain our high class of living and ignore the suffering that goes on.

Violence—Violence is part of our culture, it dominates our entertainment (from sports to movies), de-sensitizing us from the horrors it causes.  We are like the Capital, entertained by the murderous slaughter of other’s children.  Whether it be the self-medicating, drunken stupor of Haymitch by which he shielded himself from his violent memories or the constant nightmares of Katniss, The Hunger Games demonstrates that violence is hardly a (video) game—it has real life consequences.  Yet that is exactly what we, as the Capital, have turned it into; The Hunger Games shakes it’s head at violence, as Haymitch can only do when he sees a parent give his son a sword as a toy, and as the movie portrays the initial “bloodbath” as jarring, disorienting, and disturbing—because such violence is that and worse. 

Hope—I’m reminded of the conversation between President Snow and the Gamemaker Crane.  Snow, uncomfortable with the direction the Games were headed in with Katniss and Peeta’s love story, tells Crane that a little hope is a good thing, but a lot of hope can be dangerous.   A little hope—that’s all our society is willing to give, because too much is dangerous, and we know it.  The cultural myth of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is a little hope, exemplifying the one who was able to ascend from the depths of poverty is a little hope—any more hope, like Snow said, would be dangerous.  So rather than address the severe socio-economic inequalities that exist in this nation and offer real hope to the less fortunate—we instead offer them something like The Games itself, one will survive yet most will not. Why? Because we know that allowing real hope is dangerous—to us, and leads to the kind of change that comes at the end of the trilogy. 

The Military—I couldn’t help but notice the vocabulary used in The Hunger Games to describe the tributes, words like courageous, brave, and daring.  In the story, citizens of the Capital praise the tributes before they enter the arena, celebrating the sacrifice they are making for their country—all the while ignoring the fact that these tributes are children who have been turned into trained killers and will likely not come back alive. 

I mean no disrespect whatsoever to those who serve within the Armed Forces. Rather I wish to point out to those who celebrate the valor and bravery of these young men and women yet are far too eager to send them into harm’s way, to remind them that we spend far more resources training these young men and women to be killers than to bring peace, and to acknowledge that we send them away knowing that many will not return.  Just like the citizens of the Capital, our young women and men must sacrifice their lives so we can continue our bloated, excessive lifestyle and maintain the status quo.  Shame on us for being so willing to disrespect young lives.

I could go on, for there are many more themes to explore—yet I hope that if you have seen or read The Hunger Games you will take a closer look at the story. Image if you truly were a resident of District 12, or your child was reaped for The Games—how would you feel about the the Capital, the powers that be, if such a thing happened to you?