Clearing Ferguson out of my brain

There have been so many words spilled about the past two weeks’ disaster in Ferguson, Missouri that the only reason for me to write this is simply to get my thoughts out of my head before I start focusing on algebra-based physics on Monday. Thanks for reading my efforts to have a clear head and do right by my students.

I’m teaching physics at a new place, and so I had to go through human resources this month. Human resources is always concerned with documentation, always concerned with process, always concerned with the rules. The rules exist for good reasons. The rules ensure that the institution has made its best efforts to create a good work environment – or, at the very least, they ensure that the institution can document that they have made their best efforts.

Our state and federal governments, in their infinite wisdom (insert sarcasm where appropriate), have laws about equitable treatment of all students, and part of an HR process is going through the training on those laws. Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972 deals with discrimination on the basis of sex in educational opportunities. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act deals with availability of programs funded by the federal government to people of every race, color, and national origin. There are good reasons for these laws to exist. As far as it concerns me, the goal is ensuring that every person who comes through the doors of an educational institution, both students and employees, is treated fairly, so that the mission of the institution can be accomplished.

Now, as anybody who has been through a human resources office can attest, the training that you have to go through so that the HR office can check off that you have been trained (and therefore be legally free and clear should anybody file a lawsuit) is dull and only intermittently enlightening in the best of times, and random and intelligence-insulting in the worst. You survive it by reminding yourself, repeatedly, that the most important thing that comes out of this process is legal cover for the institution. The HR staff probably wants you to understand the Higher Education Amendments of 1972 and the Civil Rights Act, and probably puts the process in place with the absolute best of intentions – but their good intentions aren’t going to be what keeps them employed. What their bosses want is nothing more and nothing less than the documentation that says all of their faculty have been trained and therefore understand all of their obligations under the law. The game must be played, and if the game is played successfully, the institution keeps lawyers at bay.

It’s all well and good until actual violations of the Civil Rights Act play out on your Twitter stream, and it becomes abundantly clear just how many people don’t understand that the Civil Rights Act is actually standing law.

For me, it’s not about the law, and it never has been. I figured out at a very early age that white people lived in one place, and black people lived in another, and there was a dance that people engaged in to keep the white people and black people apart, and that dance looked stupid. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back, or to claim enlightenment. I just have never wanted to live apart from the people who don’t look like me. They’re different. They have interesting things to say. I enjoy listening to them. They make life fun. To be brutally honest, I’m kind of selfish for diversity in that way.

What has become maddening as the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death has played out is the number of people who want to shut their ears to the voices of people who don’t look like them. They make statements and quote sources and cocoon themselves in the voices of people who look like them, act like them, and think like them.

Those attitudes are devastating to me. Maybe there was a time in my life when I could be casual about such things. But I’m a white dude teaching physics. I recognize the issues of representation across the STEM disciplines, but especially in the physical sciences, where African-Americans even applying for faculty jobs is something to be celebrated. At the point in time when an African-American student comes into my classroom, the color of my skin does create a barrier between us, and I want that barrier torn down so I can not merely satisfy the letter of the laws assuring equal educational opportunities for all, but the spirit of those laws as well.

The climate that I find in August of 2014 isn’t conducive to equality. It’s conducive to more people making more judgmental statements; sowing more fear, uncertainty, and doubt; erecting more barriers. It’s reaching a point where the reflexive venom can’t be ignored among people of faith, on both sides of the issue. (If you haven’t read this comment from no greater an arch-conservative than Erick Erickson, you should. It made me rethink a couple of things.) As if there weren’t enough things for me to be stressed out over (70 students in a single lecture section of PHYS 2010, hello), I’m fearful as being seen as just another white dude who doesn’t know how good he has it and doesn’t care about those who don’t.

The only thing I want right now is help. And by “help”, I mean fewer words that make statements of good guys and bad guys, fewer words that dehumanize, fewer words that hurt. I want more people to simply listen to people who don’t look like them and consider that they might not have all the answers to a problem that predates Michael Brown, that predates Barack Obama, that predates Rodney King, that predates Martin Luther King, that predates the founding of this nation – a problem that the word “problem” doesn’t even do justice.

That’s enough. Come Monday, it will be time to get to work.

A quick blast from the past

From the Moveable Type blog, January 20, 2009.

Newt Gingrich, as cited by Washington Post op-ed type David Ignatius, circa September 2005:

Gingrich argues that the values debate that has divided America so sharply during the past decade is over. There’s a broad consensus about most issues, and anyway people realize that the country’s big problems aren’t about morality but performance. “We’re not in a values fight now but over whether the system is working,” Gingrich told me. “The issue is delivery.” And that’s true at every level — city, state and federal. Gingrich’s critique of the federal response is as devastating as that of any Democrat. “For the last week the federal government and its state and local counterparts have consistently been behind the curve,” he wrote fellow Republicans this week. “The American people overwhelmingly know that the current situation is totally unacceptable,” and for that reason, “it is a mistake to get trapped into defending the systems and processes which clearly failed.” He observes in another memo, “While the destruction was unprecedented, it was entirely predictable…”

This is the moment for the Party of Performance to take center stage. The breakdown in public life was obvious before Katrina. We have a government that can’t control its borders, can’t find a viable strategy for its war in Iraq, can’t organize the key agencies to address the terrorism problems it has been trumpeting. The yearning in the country for something different has been palpable this year.

America faces an “extreme disaster,” says Gingrich, one that will have more lasting and complex effects than any domestic event since World War II. The politicians who rise to that challenge will surge in the 2006 and 2008 elections. The ones who remain stuck in their ruts will suffer. Who’s ready to sign up for the Party of Performance?

Barack Obama’s inaugural address, 20 January 2009:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use.

…and now we know who signed on for the Party of Performance.

Congratulations, President Obama.


(From my Israel journal, started on 12 March, completed on 14 March.)

I get separated from my group at Banias, past the plausible site of Caesarea Phillipi, walking out towards the waterfalls.

The agents of separation are high school kids.

School kids in Israel appear to travel a lot – and appear to travel well, since tour buses here are so readily available. (Top industry in Israel? Tourism. I don’t think there’s a close second.) At any of the national parks, it’s not uncommon to find several school groups wandering around. On this day, it’s groups of early teenagers – girls preening and posing for digital pictures as if they’re supermodels, boys playfighting with each other as if they’re WWE wrestlers, exasperated teachers and parents trying to maintain a semblance of order.

In other words, not that much different from American school kids.

Except for this – every group we saw, we saw one or two – not appearing much older than school age, if they’re older at all – carrying rifles, slung over their shoulders, very visible.

A couple of remarks between us American travelers, when we first saw them, were about how much these guys looked like kids playing soldier. Honestly, I hope you’d forgive me for that. There was no way either of those guys was a day over 19, not even with the beard that one of them was sporting.

But now I’m separated from my guys, and I find myself behind this group of high school kids, and I wind up walking aside these two rifle guys, and we exchange pleasantries. The bearded guy asks, “Where are you from?” “Northern Georgia, in the United States. Do you know where Atlanta is?” He does, but he’s never heard of Rome. We get some doses of each others’ geography.

I find out that the bearded guy, the guy who’s most eager to talk to the Georgia redneck, is named Odi. His job is to provide security for the school kids. Every school group has to have security provided for them when they’re out. It really doesn’t take much imagination to see why.

Now, I do a lousy job of putting on airs. I don’t know if it was politic or not to tell Odi what we thought he was when we first saw him – just a school kid that’s too eager to join the military. But when I say this to Odi, it’s clear that he doesn’t think I was out of line at all. He just laughs. “I am eager to join the military!”

“Well, doesn’t everybody have to serve in the military in Israel?”

“Yes, but that does not matter. Everybody wants to serve. See, America is a wonderful country. Everybody wants to serve in the American military, no?”

Oh, wow, that line of questioning blindsided me. I stammer something like “well, you might think so, but these are strange times.” All I can think in my head is this: Now is probably not the time to bring up Iraq..

Odi looks at me strangely. “I don’t understand. American military pays well, no?”

“Well, yes, but…” but I suddenly realize that Odi’s not listening to me. “The Israeli military pays only 700 sheqels a month. But that does not matter. Israel is a wonderful country – but we cannot know what might happen tomorrow. We have to be ready. I want to be ready.”

Odi is stiffening, standing straighter, as he talks. He is talking passionately. When he looks at me, I see only one thing in his eyes:

I love Israel, and no one will take Israel away from me.

I say a few things about how admirable his passion is, and how sometimes I wish we felt as strongly about America as he feels about Israel. But at this point his group is stopping, and I have no clue how much farther my group is ahead, and I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t want to get lost in a strange land, so I say my goodbyes.

As the week has gone on, and as we’ve seen the military gather this place or that, the one thing that stuns me is how often the soldiers are having fun, how often there are smiles on the soldier’s faces. There are sometimes serious looks, in the stressful places, but never weary or fatigued looks, and only rarely is there a flash of anger. It seems this is a military that genuinely enjoys serving and longs to serve. I may not know much about war, but I do expect it’s much harder to defeat an army that wants to serve than an army that doesn’t.

Something for me to remember as I vote

From the Moveable Type blog, January 19, 2008; edited to fix linkrot, although I can’t find the original Josh Marshall link.

Via Josh Marshall, I came across video for this Bill Moyers commentary on Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson – which you might find interesting in the aftermath of all this Clinton/Obama flap you may have heard about:

LBJ worried that the mounting demonstrations were hardening white resistance. He had been the master of the Senate, the Great Persuader, the man who could twist your arm with such flair and flattery you thought he was actually doing you a favor by wrenching it from its socket. He reckoned that, with a little time, he could twist enough arms to end or at least neutralize the power of die-hard racists, all of them – including some of his mentors – white supremacists, who threatened to bring the government, if not the country, to its knees before they would see blacks eat at the same restaurants, go to the same schools, drink from the same fountains, or live in the same neighborhoods as whites.

As the pressure intensified on each side, Johnson wanted King to wait a little longer and give him a chance to bring Congress around by hook or crook. But Martin Luther King said his people had already waited too long. He talked about the murders and the lynchings, the churches set on fire, children brutalized, the law defied, men and women humiliated, their lives exhausted, their hearts broken. LBJ listened – as intently as I ever saw him listen, he listened. And then he put his hand on Martin Luther King’s shoulder, and said, in effect, “Okay. You go out there, Dr. King, and keep doing what you’re doing, and make it possible for me to do the right thing.”

Lyndon Johnson was no racist, but he had not been a civil rights hero, either. Now, as president, he came down on the side of civil disobedience, believing it might quicken America’s conscience until the cry for justice became irresistible, enabling him to turn Congress. So King marched, and Johnson maneuvered and Congress folded.

Listen to the whole thing. I never realized Lyndon Johnson dropped “we shall overcome” in front of the combined session of Congress, for that matter.

The Moyers piece fascinated me because I couldn’t help but feel like I’d heard this story before. And, upon a quick review, I found that I had – on a much lower level.

What we hear from Jesus in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is radical demands, uncompromising standards, no accommodations to our preferences, or our opinions whatsoever. What we are hearing is from God, not from the latest public opinion poll. We are hearing the voice that doesn’t sound like any other voice – the voice of God telling the people of his kingdom what he expects of them.

Let me tell you a story. I got this story from a Christian law professor at Yale Law School named Stephen Carter. He wrote a great book on religion and politics called God’s Name In Vain. There was a hero of the Civil Rights Movement that many of you may not have ever heard of. Her name was Fannie Lou Hamer. Fannie Lou Hamer was the founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In the summer of 1964 the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the credentials of the lily-white Mississippi slate of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party offered an integrated slate of delegates, many of whom, like Mrs. Hamer, tried to register to vote in Mississippi, but were punished for it. In fact, Fannie Lou Hamer was jailed on a number of occasions and tortured in jail for doing such outrageous things as trying to register to vote.

Well, this conflict between the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the white slate of delegates selected by the Mississippi Democratic Party was threatening the Democratic National Convention. President Johnson didn’t want the controversy so he sent his Vice President in waiting, Hubert Humphrey, to visit Mrs. Hamer and to try to get her to back off.

Humphrey went with his typical happy style thinking he would be talking to a normal human being. He asked Fannie Lou Hamer what she wanted. But Fannie Lou Hamer was a woman who had been taken hold of by Jesus Christ. And Fannie Lou Hamer responded by saying, “What I want is the beginning of a New Kingdom right here on earth.”

Humphrey didn’t know how to deal with that statement. So he tried to explain things in political terms. He wanted Fannie Lou Hamer to understand that if he and Johnson were nominated, that they would work hard for Civil Rights. So she should compromise now and not push her slate of delegates.

Here’s Fannie Lou Hamer’s response:

Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs for trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County. Now, if you lose this job of Vice President because you do what is right, because you help MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take the nomination this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for Civil Rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk all the time about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.

See, the scribes and the Pharisees spoke the language of Hubert Humphrey, reasonable, practical, in-touch with current political realities. Jesus always speaks the language of Fannie Lou Hamer – radical, uncompromising, prophetic – a voice unlike any other voice. Have you heard the radical voice of Jesus lately?

There are many claims in American politics to what God’s politics actually looks like. I’m not going to tell you whose are right or wrong (although, I will confess, the implication that I can’t vote my ideals of what I believe this country should look like because this candidate has one kind of experience or and that candidate has another and this guy doesn’t have at all, frankly is hacking me off). I will tell you that Jesus’ voice is not practical. It is prophetic. It demands a light that shines for the whole world to see, not a light buried under the basket of expedience or economics.

“Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse, he tells America how it’s gonna be”

From the Moveable Type blog, January 4, 2008; I lost an original news story from Iowa, sadly, so I had to replace it with a generic Fox News story from the time.

As of right now, I don’t support anybody in the presidential campaign, and even if I did, I don’t think I’d publicly post on the blog. There is a whole lot that intrigues me about this campaign, though, and I think we’re seeing a generational divide in this nation far more complete than we ever have, even during the Vietnam era.

But enough of all that. There’s only one question I have coming out of last night, and that is: HOLY CRAP WAS THAT CHUCK NORRIS STANDING BEHIND MIKE HUCKABEE?

And the answer is: HOLY CRAP IT WAS

How in God’s name did I miss this? Yes, it’s a wonderful thing to be a credible Evangelical candidate in rural Iowa, but it’s ANOTHER THING ENTIRELY to have Chuck Norris on your side. I’m scared now.

Of Huckabee, not of Norris.

Actually, truth be told, of both of them.

(YouTube permalinks: Huckabee’s victory speech – complete with Chuck over his left shoulder – and HuckChuckFacts.)

On Kennedy Jr, golf, and media overkill

(From a mailing list post on July 19, 1999; reposted to the Moveable Type blog on July 16, 2007.  I was in the midst of flipping through old mailing list archives and picking up snapshots of how I thought and wrote long-time ago, and for instant response to an overhyped media event as tragic death of a public figure, I think it holds up pretty well. I also think this is about the point I gave up on television news having any relevance in my life ever again.

Warning: I was also in the midst of finishing my dissertation in fits and starts at this time, and I was frustrated already; hence, my language was a bit saltier then. This is actually pretty mild for me at that time, honestly…)

I got royally pissed off Saturday morning when the news came down that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Junior, had disappeared in an apparent plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard.

Of course, the crash is a tragedy, and one offers condolences to the involved families and all that. But what pissed me off was how the major television networks responded to the tragedy.

They started news coverage. And they didn’t stop until 6 PM that night.

Meanwhile, I’m wanting to watch a golf tournament.

Was that selfish of me? That I should place my own entertainment desires over the responsibility of the networks to interrupt their normal broadcast schedule with breaking news?

Maybe I would have been more understanding if news had actually been breaking. As far as I could tell, though, there were exactly two news points during the day:

  1. The plane is reported missing early Saturday morning;
  2. Debris from the plane is found on the shores of Martha’s Vineyard around 2:00 PM Saturday afternoon.

To report these two pieces of news, NBC, ABC, and CBS each gave us TEN HOURS of coverage during the day on Saturday.

The nature of this coverage was comical at times. At the height of my personal frustration, around 10:30 AM on Saturday morning, as the leaders of the Open were preparing to tee off, ABC was showing a Barbara Walters interview with Kennedy from a year previous. They were showing this interview for the THIRD TIME in an HOUR.

It was tantamount to admitting “Look, we don’t have anything new to say on this issue, but this is important to us and to hell with your golf tournament.”

I’m listening to NPR right now, 6:20 AM on Monday morning after, and Bob Edwards and Cokie Roberts are talking about the Kennedys being “America’s Family”. Which raises the question: why? What ever did the Kennedys do to become America’s family?

Well, one of them was President. And another was Attorney General. Big freaking whoop. George Bush was President and he’s got two kids who are governors of their respective states, one of which is the favorite to win the Presidency in 2000. The Bush clan isn’t America’s family. It’s not political power that makes America’s family.

It was something more. Kennedy Senior, the young leader of Camelot, was embraced by the baby-boom generation because of his youthfulness and vigor. His death – tragedy on the historic scale – was Camelot laid in bloody ruin. [1] From that point forward, there was some sort of emotional connection between that generation and the Kennedy clan. And I don’t know if any of us – the Kennedy family, the baby boomers, all of America for that matter – ever recovered.

And so the kids of the baby boomers – me, for instance – were born into a world where what happened to the Kennedys was considered important. We were taught in school about the wonder of the land in which we lived, the freest of all lands, without the trappings of the monarchy we fought so hard to free ourselves from way back when. And yet there was this family recieving all the benefits accorded to royalty.

The Kennedys, obviously, have always been a mystery to me. Even though my politics lie to the left of my parents’, I still don’t understand why Ted Kennedy is such a respected senator, even without mentioning that little occurrence called Chappaquiddick. To say nothing of my lack of understanding on why any of the other Kennedys are in public office. And John Kennedy Jr (despite being, by all accounts, a far more decent and respectable human being than the rest of his kin) has never been anything than a second-rate lawyer and a second-rate magazine publisher.

Whereas, to my parents’ generation, all these people are links to a man of so much promise as a leader whose time was tragically cut short.

In the end, then, I suppose I understand the fascination. The passing of John Kennedy Jr might not be a historical occurence, but indeed it is a cultural one.

It still remains bitterly disappointing that there has been an almost total lack of criticism and analysis of the knee-jerk love fest that the media on the whole engaged in on Saturday. To date, I’ve seen one article addressing the issue – from the Daily Telegraph, in London. England, not Ohio.

And even then, that piece was written with some disdain for the younger generation. Mark Steyn wrote about the “perfunctory” delivery of the US network affiliates’ local coverage of the Kennedy crash: “rich man from New York social scene dies; up next, sports. There was none of the tasteful accessorising of the national coverage – the sombre music, shots of the eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery…Why the difference?” Well, because the local journos are young and have no connection to the Kennedy mystique, as opposed to the old farts running network news.

To Steyn’s credit, though, he recognizes this, and also the far more disturbing reason for the network media’s obsession with this story, as far as it implicates the journalists’ impartiality (which has always been little more than a rumor anyway): “Dan Rather went to the same restaurants as JFK Jnr, the same parties, the same summer resorts.”

Still, what does it say about me – or the world around me – that the quote from the press that I identified with most came from the sports talk radio station? Where Ryan Miller, whose lone claim to fame was as a starting role player on one of those Ohio State gridiron teams to nearly (but never quite) win a championship, saw the same Barbara Walters interview with the apparently deceased for the tenth time that morning instead of Craig Parry’s stunning charge up the Open leaderboard and burst out, “Who cares about JFK Junior?” I found myself saying “Amen” to the radio, in front of my daughters no less, in spite of myself.

[1] After the fact, I think I recognize that I ripped off the “Camelot in bloody ruin” analogy from Lewis Grizzard. I was not as careful about citation in 1999 as I am now. Which is weird, since after all, I was writing a dissertation at the time…

One Virginia Tech question

From the Moveable Type blog, April 18, 2007. Edited to fix linkrot; thank God for Google’s cache.

There’s one thing that stands out in all of the profiles of Cho Seung Hui – the fact that this was a student who was miserable, disturbed, and within himself. His writings for classes were clear hints of the damage he could do, and how little he would care about those he hurt. The faculty who taught him were quite aware that something was deeply wrong, but those who were able to muster up the sense/courage to talk to him and offer help were systematically shunned.

What the heck do you do if you’re Nikki Giovanni?

Cho (whose full name is pronounced joh sung-wee) appears first to have alarmed the noted Virginia Tech poet Nikki Giovanni in a creative writing class in fall 2005, Giovanni said.

Cho took pictures of fellow students during class and wrote about death, she said in an interview. “Kids write about murder and suicide all the time. But there was something that made all of us pay attention closely. None of us were comfortable with that,” she said.

The students once recited their poems in class. “It was like, ‘What are you trying to say here?’ It was more sinister,” she said.

Days later, seven of Giovanni’s 70 or so students showed up for a class. She asked them why the others didn’t show up and was told that they were afraid of Cho.

“Once I realized my class was scared, I knew I had to do something,” she said.

She approached Cho and told him that he needed to change the type of poems he was writing or drop her class. Giovanni said Cho declined to leave and said, “You can’t make me.”

What do you do if you’re Lucinda Roy?

Giovanni said she appealed to Roy, who then taught Cho one-on-one. Roy, 51, said in a telephone interview that she also urged Cho to seek counseling and told him that she would walk to the counseling center with him. He said he would think about it.

Roy said she warned school officials. “I was determined that people were going to take notice,” Roy said. “I felt I’d said to so many people, ‘Please, will you look at this young man?’ ”

Roy, now the alumni distinguished professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, said university officials were responsive and sympathetic to her warnings but indicated that because Cho had made no direct threats, there was little they could do.

“I don’t want to be accusatory or blaming other people,” Roy said. “I do just want to say, though, it’s such a shame if people don’t listen very carefully and if the law constricts them so that they can’t do what is best for the student.”

What do you do if you’re a professor, you genuinely care, you want to see your student get to a healthy place in life, and you’re shut off at every turn?

Of course, it’s still early days, and there’s still a lot of journalism yet to be done and a lot of story yet to be told. But I can’t help but feel like Virginia Tech comes off looking very good here. Giovanni and Roy come off as caring, compassionate professors that you wouldn’t expect to find at a larger school. There are others who have been written about who don’t come off quite so well in the stories, but only under the influence of Cho’s strange (and, in most cases, belligerent) behavior.

He simply didn’t want to be helped. What do you do? What can you do?

This is going to be the reason another generation of kids are watched and forced into counseling or suspended from school simply for WRITING about killing or about suicide. I’m not saying that’s right. I’m saying that good people who are at wit’s end over this – and about the epidemic of senseless violence we’ve fallen into – are going to be desperate to do something.

I have no answers, only the rant.

(It occurs me that I’ve just taken a nice swath of time that was otherwise going to be used for not sounding like an idiot in class and spent it pounding out notes on the keyboard – and that has been happening more than a bit lately, first harvesting old stuff I’ve written, and now writing new stuff. I’m afraid something significant has been going on here, and – monkeys who own me aside – the theme of the writing on the front page of this blog speaks to what I’ve seen going on around me lately, and how much it concerns me.)

(UPDATE: Heh. Eric Burns was thinking a lot of the same things last night.)

Katrina (D-New Orleans)

From the Moveable Type blog; horribly reasoned, overemotional, wretched writing, and I haven’t voted for a Republican since.

Sadly, there’s linkrot all over the place; I’ve updated this and that where it’s appropriate, but there are plenty of places where there were links where the writing simply no longer exists.

This week may have been a watershed in my personal politics.

I’ve never been a traditional conservative anyway. There are many things about conservatism – particularly the blind faith in the private sector as the solution for everything under the sun – that have never sat well with me. I have never voted for George W Bush, but I’ve never been ready to wholeheartedly support the Democratic Party either, mostly because the overwhelming sense I’ve gotten from the Democrats is that they are a group of bumbling incompetents who couldn’t be trusted to organize a drinking game in a brewery.

And I have always had a measure of sympathy – and, at times in my life, out and out support – for the Christian Coalition and its politics. I am anti-abortion (I won’t even dress that up in its “pro-life” jargon). I am a believer in faith-based charities (I might even plug one somewhere else on this site). I am, in many senses, a religious traditionalist, and so many of my friends and family fall into the general camp of “if Christianity was good enough for the Founding Fathers, it is good enough for me.”

Which I can get behind. I mean, I would be able to get behind it more if it hadn’t been deism that was good enough for the Founding Fathers, but that’s another debate for another day.

But, if I’m going to be able to take this “compassionate conservative” president that we have and claim him as my own, then I need to have evidence of his compassionate conservatism.

And he’s had his chance.

And he has blown it in the most tragically spectacular fashion possible.

The flooding of New Orleans, when the post-mortem comes down, is a disaster that every single branch of government dedicated to protect and provide for its citizens will bear blame for, from the parish and city governments to the federal government itself. So this may be about the incompetence of a Republican federal government.

But raw incompetence is one thing. It might even be forgivable.

Bald-faced lying in the face of death and destruction, for the sake of protecting political position, is something else ENTIRELY.

And what has not only affected me, but shaken much of my belief to its core, has been the shameless attempts by this administration to deny that anybody foresaw an event like this happening – when it has been predicted for YEARS. Any of us who watched the hurricane coverage when Ivan came crashing through in 2004 heard the horror stories of what would happen if that storm keyed on New Orleans, and breathed a sigh of relief when the storm passed that city by and sure disaster was averted. Do these people take me for an idiot?

It has been the persistent failure of Federal authorities to recognize even the most basic facts on the ground, even as anybody who could turn on CNN or Fox News (or even the Weather Channel, for crying out loud!) could see the desparation and the tragedy unfolding. Do these people have no conscience?

And I have had to observe both of these things in the face of the argument I have been patiently buying into for the past four years that FEMA had to be folded into the Department of Homeland Security for the cause of streamlining our response to every kind of possible calamity – terrorist or otherwise – and now all of those plans have been shown to be folly.

If you are familiar with Andrew Sullivan at all, you have your opinions of him. Many of those opinions might not be exactly polite. Many of those opinions might even be right. But I have a hard time reading this and not nodding and saying to myself “that sounds about right”.

Especially after hearing the juxtaposition of Washington pols patting one another on the back and saying “job well done” while the local leaders on the ground can’t get through an interview without breaking down completely.

Look, I could keep linking for DAYS here. I’ve been reading enough to link for days. But I have to make a point here.

I preached in church this morning. The text I preached off of, in putting the Great Commission into the context of church growth, was 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. I concentrated on the idea that Paul was willing to be selfless in how he shared the Gospel – to give up his own rights to make sure those who received the Word from him would have as many freedoms of their own as possible. “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

Which is how my read of the Christian faith gets, the more I try to live it. We are supposed to be – literally – public servants. We are supposed to so order our lives so that our own priorities are placed as far down the order as possible, so that Christ can be glorified.

And in this hour, when the needs of humanity are placed in front of us so starkly, I see the leadership of our federal government – a leadership that has appealed to the very faith in Christ I claim as a means to get elected – continuing persistently to preserve their self-interests in the face of death and destruction.

How can I possibly be honest in my own faith and ever support them again?

UPDATE: Here’s a far better roundup on the lies and/or incompetence from the likes of Chertoff and Brown than I could ever come up with, from the blogosphere’s appointed king of hurricane-blogging. Warning: don’t read if you can’t take repeated cussing by the righteously indignant.