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Conflating Shakespeare

High drama of worthy of Shakespeare is taking place in the presence of the Senate Intelligence Committee today.

Shakespeare would definitely have written a play about this.

It ultimately breaks down to this:

TRUMP:  Will no one rid me of this meddlesome FBI Director?

SESSIONS and ROSENSTEIN: (mount up and ride toward Canterbury)

TRUMP: He’s dead! We killed him!

ROSENSTEIN: WTF? Jeff and I just went to Rochester to tour the castle and have some pub food. We didn’t kill anyone. Although we did kind of tag somebody’s bumper in the parking lot. Sorry.

COMEY’S GHOST: I am the campaign’s spirit, doomed for a certain term to walk the night and for the day confined to fast in fires till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid to tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combinèd locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

…But this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood.

SENATE: That’s fine. We’ll be glad to hear what you have to say in closed session.

Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Also, That Rapert Person.

The U.S. Constitution needs amendment. Outdated and imperfect, it lacks relevance to today’s culture and technology. More than once recently I’ve seen or heard it said that calling a national constitutional convention would be a good idea.

Brought to you by the Founding Fathers. The Founding Mothers were busy doing all the rest of the work and not getting paid for it.

There are Things To Be Fixed! We could abolish the Electoral College and dispose of icky gay marriage and slow the flow of corporate money into political arenas and require Congress to have the same health care and retirement as everybody else. Some of these proposals are mean-spirited. Others have merit. Some are just batshit clueless.

Jason Rapert’s Role

Arkansans from Eureka Springs to Little Rock to Smackover gratefully appreciate the voters of the 35th District who elected Jason Rapert to the state senate. We know Rapert as that Baptist preacher whose demonstrations of Christian love are yuger than the unpresidentedly yuge crowds at the most recent inauguration. Civil rights lawyers love him because Rapert has never encountered an unconstitutional bill he wouldn’t sponsor. Die-hard fans of schadenfreude remember his dedicated finesse as a  Wikipedia editor. We all delight in Rapert’s vigilant attention to our ethical decrepitude; he knows his fellow Arkansans aren’t moral enough to be moral all by themselves. Bless his tiny little paternalistic heart for sticking by us.

Rapert actually floated the constitutional convention idea this spring to the Arkansas legislature. He wanted, among other things, to ban abortion completely and to redefine marriage as one man and his silently servile brood mare. We expect he would have also wanted a brand new constitution to ban gay people from getting together in any way, especially on Sundays. Thankfully, the legislature shot down the idea with all those guns they decided to allow on college campuses since that always ends well.

Just, No

From a progressive and libertarian point of view, a constitutional convention is a spectacularly bad idea. Given the current number of Republican-controlled state legislatures and governors, and given that the Tea Party and Religious Right control most of those, we would not recognize the new nation that emerged on the other side of that process.  Unless, of course, we had read or watched the Handmaid’s Tale.

Unless Congress or a supermajority of states call a national constitutional convention, the only other way to amend the US Constitution is by a 2/3 majority of both the House and the Senate to approve language, followed by ratification by 2/3 of the states.

Amendment of the Constitution doesn’t come easy. Six proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been languishing for years – centuries, in several cases – unloved and unratified by states despite the best efforts to pass them. Let’s take a look.

The Congressional Apportionment Amendment

This amendment was proposed along with the rest of the Bill of Rights in 1791 and is still pending before the states, believe it or not. It provided that there would be one U.S. Representative for every 40,000 people. Given the current US population of 324,118,787 people, the 8,103-member House of Representatives would resemble the Galactic Senate in Star Wars.

U.S. House of Representatives after the passage of the Apportionment Amendment

(May the Fourth be with you. )Those are all seats for multiple people, and this image was not created with a fisheye lens.

 

The Titles of Nobility Amendment

Proposed in 1810 and still pending before the states. It strips citizenship from anyone accepting titles of nobility or honors from foreign heads of state, including gifts, emoluments, offices, and pensions. We would have lost Grace Kelley and Queen Noor. The Donald would have been rendered ineligible for the presidency by operations of law, what with him accepting emoluments and thereby no longer being a US citizen. Sacrificing Princess Grace and Queen Noor would have been worth it. Losing Prince, on the other hand, not so much.

 

The Slavery Amendment, aka the Corwin Amendment

This proposed amendment says we can’t amend the constitution to abolish slavery or indentured servitude. Kentucky, Ohio, Rhode Island, Maryland, Illinois, and Virginia actually ratified this one, although Maryland and Ohio rescinded ratification and the validity of the ratification is questionable in Virginia and Illinois. Those ratifying states all acted in an effort to avoid the Civil War. Texas, on the other hand, made a go at ratifying it in 1963, nearly a hundred years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. So, in case we really need one, there’s another reason to hate Texas. And Texas could do what it did because, yes, this one is still pending before the states. For real.

Some assholes in Texas think this is a good idea.

The Child Labor Amendment

This would give Congress the power to say when, if, and how little children can power the engines of the industrial revolution and muck out coal mines. Only 28 states have agreed to this one so far, but Congress decided what the hell, even without the approval of the states it would go ahead and pass child labor laws anyhow. Now Baby needs new shoes and can’t get them because Baby can’t get that sweet sweatshop job Baby really wants. Damn congressional overreach!

“Breaker boys. Smallest is Angelo Ross. Hughestown Borough Coal Co. Pittston, Pa.” 1911. From RG: 102 National Child Labor Committee Photographs taken by Lewis Hine National Archives Identifier: 523384

The Equal Rights Amendment

Fuck Phyllis Schlafly. Her histrionics claimed that it shouldn’t pass because the military could draft (gasp!) women. The three remaining states needed to pass it might actually do so in today’s political climate. Nevada voted to ratify it just last month. Seriously. The brochure below is worth a read. It’s from 1941, and warns women that being independent, fully responsible adults might make them independent, fully responsible adults. Like that’s a bad thing.

Click to read full size, and click here to read the other side. It’s worth the time. Source

The DC Voting Rights Amendment

Essentially, this amendment would give the District of Columbia two US Senators, proportional representation in the House of Representatives, and participation in the electoral college. It still would not have been enough for Hillary to have won in November. However, her margin of victory in the popular vote would have been considerably higher. It makes sense to ratify this, but apparently nobody really wants a city-state. Can you imagine the “Tonight we dine in Hell!” and the “THIS is D.C.!” rallying cries on K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue? Although, having a Spartan mind-set so close to the White House might actually be kind of interesting.

My future DC Uber driver

Ugly Food Waste

Miguel de Cervantes

We celebrated the holiday season with an abundance of food. Roasted turkeys, sweet potatoes, greens, pumpkins, cranberries, pecans, wine – it would be unthinkable to omit the wine!

Some traditional holiday foods are those we don’t eat. For instance, some great-grandmother on one side of our family passed down a recipe for fruitcake-like cookies that have a half-life of a Hostess Twinkie. Everyone nibbles on one to be polite and insists that I really don’t need to bother with them next year. We toss the bulk of these cookies into the trash come January.

Of course, nearly all of the food we ate this holiday season came from a grocery store. It was beautiful food. Kroger heaps its bins high with out-of-season and exotic produce, not to mention the seasonal fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Food no longer has a season.

We pick out only the best to take home. Marred, oddly shaped, or irregularly colored produce stays behind. We study those “sell by” dates as though they are an oracle. Every once in a while, we purge our pantries and fridges, laughing about the discovery of new life forms while sheepishly wishing we hadn’t wasted the money or that we had planned our meals a little better.

Food waste Is No Laughing Matter

One-third of all food grown for human consumption either spoils or is thrown out. Here in the United States, we waste more than that – a full forty percent of the food we grow. Half of that waste never even leaves the farm because it isn’t considered attractive enough: misshapen carrots, undersized pears, crystallized honey, apples with dimples, scarred squash, mutant strawberries, off-color tomatoes. These fruits and vegetables have nothing at all wrong with them except that we humans have assigned them a ridiculously high standard of beauty.

Conservative estimates are that people throw away 20% or more of the food they actually buy. Imagine walking out of the grocery store with four or five bags, dropping one in the parking lot, and not bothering to pick it up. That’s essentially what we do.

Ugly Food Waste is Thirsty Business

Wasting food wastes the resources that create that food. Agriculture sucks up 80% of our nation’s freshwater supply, so when food goes to waste we waste all that water too. And in some places right here in the United States, fresh drinking water is disappearing.

Consider California’s Central Valley. More than 230 different crops grow there, amounting to nearly half of America’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The Central Valley accounts for one-sixth of the nation’s irrigated farmland. Four trillion gallons of water a year disappear from underground aquifers and its river basins.

Desert irrigation in the Central Valley

Practically no snow has fallen in the Sierra Nevada mountains for several years, so snow melt has not replenished the Central Valley’s water supply. Groundwater levels currently sit 100 feet below average. There is no water to flow through irrigation canals. In some parts of the Central Valley, the desiccated land subsides by more than two inches every month due to a lack of water. Crops deplete not just groundwater, but deep water wells, and a third of these crops never even leave the fields because they aren’t pretty enough for grocers to stock. Meanwhile people in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles, who depend on that same source for water to drink and to bathe in, ration it and pay steep penalties for use deemed “excessive.”

Waste from food animal production also impacts our environment. We have all probably heard that the Buffalo River watershed is threatened by a farm that needs to dispose of 7 million gallons of hog manure a year. That project involves a single large farm. Because of the pollution from this one pig farm, the Buffalo River has experienced unusual algae blooms this year. Now imagine that sort of effect on every stream in America from hundreds of thousands of animal farms.

The Environmental Impact of Food Waste

Growing and transporting all that wasted food spews out a staggering amount of carbon emissions. Wasted food is the single-largest contributor to U.S. landfills, and correspondingly to the methane emissions that result from them.

Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers from these wasted crops have polluted the streams of the Missouri-Mississippi River systems. The second largest marine “dead zone” in the world is at the mouth of the Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. Fertilizers in the runoff from farms become more and more concentrated as they move downstream and collect still more fertilizers from more farms. By the time the Mississippi reaches the Gulf coast, this soupy brew causes recurrent algae blooms. Decomposing algae consume the oxygen needed to support aquatic life. Fishing boats and shrimpers have to travel farther from shore to harvest anything. The ecosystem of the polluted shores no longer sustains the wildlife it once did. The Gulf dead zone has now grown to the size of the combined states of Connecticut and Rhode Island. It is easily visible in satellite images because the toxic, hypoxic waters appear murky and brown.

Food Waste Can Beget or Resolve Food Waste

Vegetable crops are not the only wasted food. Meat raised for human consumption is wasted at an alarming rate. Twenty percent, or about twelve billion chickens, pigs, and cattle, are raised, fed, watered, and slaughtered for food but never eaten. Raising an animal from birth to table is incredibly expensive in terms of the food it eats, the water it drinks, the labor to care for it, the space it requires, the time it takes to grow, and the drugs used to keep it healthy.

We grow enormous amounts of grain to feed the animals we eat. Imagine the savings in resources, water, and pollutants if the animals we eat were fed on the food we waste. Two food consumers are doing just that: Rutgers University in New Jersey donates dining hall food scraps to a local cattle and hog farm, and MGM Resorts in Las Vegas donates food scraps from its casinos and restaurants to a local hog farm. Imagine if more businesses and farms cooperated like this.

The Cost of Food Waste

Worldwide, nearly a trillion dollars worth of food is wasted every year. In 2015 the UN’s task force on global food insecurity reported that nearly 800 million people – one-eighth of the planet’s population – are chronically undernourished. The food that currently feeds landfills could feed the 800 million hungry people in the world twice over. And we are throwing away forty percent of our perfectly edible meat, vegetables, and fruits. Poverty and logistics create food insecurity, not scarcity.

When we think of starving families, we think of places like war-torn countries and times of famine. We think of Syria, where humanitarian aid is prevented from reaching bombed-out cities. We think of Yemen, where families have to choose which children to feed and which to allow to die. We think of that Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a starving Sudanese toddler, crouched in hunger and despair as a vulture stalks her.

We don’t think of developed nations. We do not think of the fertile American South and we certainly don’t think of our own neighborhoods.

But one in every eight American families struggles to put enough food on the table. During the school year, the only meals the children in some of these families get are the ones served at school. As much as a fifth of Mississippi’s population has trouble finding affordable, nutritious food. Arkansas’s numbers are slightly better, but before we say “Thank God for Mississippi,” we should recognize that one in four Arkansas children cannot grow and develop normally because they don’t get enough to eat. Single parent families, the working poor, and senior citizens tend to not have enough food, while Pulaski County discards more than 100,000 pounds of food daily.

Reclaiming Ugly Food for the Hungry

We must put this wasted but perfectly edible food into the mouths and bellies of the people who need it. The United Nations has recognized that the right to food and water is a basic human right, and its member nations are slowly taking action.

In November Slovenia made the right to clean drinking water a constitutional right and Scotland’s Independent Working Group on Food Poverty recommended that its government make the right to food a matter of law. Such legislation will not end food insecurity or water scarcity. It would, however, mandate that the governments of these countries ensure that everyone has access to adequate and affordable food and water. Earlier this year, France passed a law banning supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, requiring them to donate that food to charities and food banks. Italy did the same. It also created tax incentives for businesses based on the amount of food donated and passed legislation to permit food slightly past its sell-by date to be donated without risk to the donor.

Non-government organizations also try to make a difference. In its first year of existence, a single company in the San Francisco Bay area rescued 350 tons of produce that had been rejected for sale in grocery stores solely for cosmetic reasons. The company donated the produce to homeless shelters and food banks and sold what it could to individual consumers.

To help address the hunger issue locally, the Junior League of Little Rock started a nonprofit organization called Potluck. Potluck collects food waste from hundreds of area food donors such as hospitals, food distributors, event centers, grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels. It redistributes its collections to food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. It serves several Arkansas communities, and with more help could serve more.

History’s Lessons

None of us has to waste as much food as we do. When my grandmother died more than 15 years ago, I rescued several tattered, fragile books from the shelf in her kitchen. Two of these hand-written books of recipes were over 100 years old and had belonged to her own mother and grandmother. These women who lived in Scott, Arkansas more than a century ago did not waste anything that could be eaten. They had recipes that specifically called for sour milk, bruised plums, and leftovers.

If we are foolish enough to believe that our society’s current careless attitude toward our excess food production cannot be a serious problem, let us remember that a drought between 1931-1941 desiccated the mid-section of the U.S. In the 1930s more than three and a half million people abandoned farms in the Plains states. Following Route 66, many of them ended up in California’s Central Valley. Their descendants still produce half of our domestically-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

The ghosts of Joad family, the Okie protagonists of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, are watching us. After five years of desperate drought in Oklahoma, they moved to California’s Central Valley. California’s Central Valley, which has been in a state of desperate drought for five years.

Agri-business, commercial consumers, governments, and ordinary people must work together to increase the efficiency of our food supply system. Ugly food is wasted, but the impact of current levels of food waste is even uglier.

Enlightened Ancestor: Dr. Benjamin West

I can thank my migraines for Dr. Benjamin West.

When I am anxious or don’t feel well, I often do genealogy research to take my mind off things. I have always enjoyed learning about family history, but really got bitten hard by the bug the first time I had cancer, in 1994. I was at home recuperating, on painkillers and other drugs that made concentrating difficult, and I found message boards on AOL that were all about genealogy. And my ancestors were there! I connected with some very distant cousins and compared notes. I started learning more and more about my origins.

It occurs to me that we are all the products of our parents, who are the products of their parents, who were the products of theirs, and so on. Our parents don’t just pass genetics on to us. Even when we disagree about things like politics or religion or how to raise our children, the values of our parents are distilled into us, just like the values of their parents were distilled into them. We find that professions tend to run in families -a  certain branch of the family may tend to be lawyers, writers, preachers, doctors, architects, artists, military, etc.

An obituary notice in a newspaper from 1822 led me to him. He was named as the father of one of my 5th great-grandmothers, a woman whose origins were completely unknown to me before that moment.  The man was phenomenal, and I don’t understand why every generation after him hasn’t continued to hold him up as the pinnacle of the Enlightenment. This guy’s brain was so huge and active I don’t know how it managed to stay confined in his skull.

benj-west

Benjamin West, from the Brown University Portrait Collection

Benjamin West was born in Bristol, Massachusetts in March 1730. I think of him as the Stephen Hawking of his day. His accomplishments in math and science are truly remarkable because he was an autodidact – his formal schooling lasted a whopping three months of his childhood. He was poor and had to borrow every book he read until about 1758, when he managed to find some backers to open a dry goods store. A couple of years later, he opened the first bookstore ever to grace the commercial avenues of Providence, Rhode Island. He managed to pay for the books he so desperately wanted by selling them to other people.

He married Elizabeth Smith, daughter of Benjamin Smith, in 1753 when he was 23.  They were married for 53 years and had eight children, only three of whom survived Benjamin. The 1822 death notice for his daughter, Mary Smith West (wife of Oliver Pearce), in a Providence newspaper, alerted me to him. The death notice that mentioned her father was “Dr. Benjamin West of Providence.” Mary West Pearce died in Fayetteville, NC. Her daughter, Eliza West Pearce, married Dr. Benjamin Robinson, that guy from Vermont who tested out that newfangled smallpox vaccine on his little brother and his brother’s friends and basically got run out of Bennington for his efforts. The science is strong in my family!

Benjamin West was a brilliant mathematician and astronomer. His buddies were the founders of Rhode Island College, which later became Brown University. He loved mathematics and astronomy, and conferred with some truly fantastic minds of his day. He published annual almanacs for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Providence, Rhode Island for nearly 40 years. He didn’t have the formal schooling necessary for good academic chops, though, and before he opened that dry goods and book store, he failed at operating a school. He tutored students privately for all of his adult life.

Astronomical Genius

In 1766, something would happen that ultimately would reverse his fortunes and open some gilded doors for him. A comet appeared in the constellation of Taurus on the evening of April 9. Being a good astronomer, Benjamin took careful measurements. The next day wrote a letter to an astronomer named John Winthrop who was at Cambridge College (now known as Harvard University). He had never met or corresponded with Winthrop, but was so excited about his observation he simply had to share it.

Providence, April 10, 1766

Dear Sir:

For the improvement of science, I now acquaint you, that the last evening, I saw in the West, a comet, which I judged to be about the middle of the sign of Taurus; with about 7 degrees North latitude. It set half after 8 o’clock by my watch; and its amplitude was about 29 or 30 degrees. Nothing, Sir, could have induced me to this freedom of writing to you, but the love I have for the sciences; and I flatter myself that you will, on that account, the more readily overlook it.

I am, Sir, yours,

Benjamin West

He and Winthrop became great friends and continued to write each other. For the rest of their lives they would share observations about the night sky.

1769 Transit of the Planets

Johannes Kepler and Edmund Halley figured out how to apply the theory of parallax to determine the distances between astronomical bodies.  With both Mercury and Vanus predicted to pass between the Earth and the Sun in 1769, astronomers world-wide were anxious to test the theory . Since this was the first really good opportunity to view the transits of both inner planets since Kepler’s original accurate prediction in 1627 of the 1631 transit, everyone in the field of astronomy was excited. Captain Cook would famously observe the 1769 transit of Venus from Tahiti while on his ill-fated circumnavigation and while bringing European diseases and disharmony to the South Pacific. At the time of the last transit of Venus in 1761, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who had just finished their survey of the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, had traveled to the Cape of Good Hope to observe it. All of these men used astronomy as an important part of their lives – navigating the oceans and surveying the land required precise measurements, and measurements started with the stars.

benjamin-wests-1769-telescope

Telescope used by Benjamin West, at Providence, Rhode Island, to observe the 1769 transit of Venus. Ladd Observatory, Brown University

There was no telescope in Providence in 1769. Benjamin West, Stephen Hopkins (the signer of the Declaration and great-grandson of the Mayflower passenger) and the Brown brothers – founders of Rhode Island College, later known as Brown University – were determined to see the phenomenon, though, so they managed to import a telescope from England at the incredible expense of 500 pounds.  They set up on the outskirts of Providence. Transit Street in Providence is named after the spot where they viewed the transit on June 3, 1769. There are photos of the telescope on the Brown University website – the school still has it.

benjamin-wests-diagram-of-the-1769-transit-of-venus

Benjamin West’s diagram of the transit of Venus, 1769, from the Ladd Observatory, Brown University

As was his habit, Benjamin West made careful measurements of the transit. He published a tract (and dedicated it to his friend Stephen Hopkins) about the event. A copy of the tract made its way to John Winthrop at Harvard, and on July 18, 1770, Benjamin West – the man with only three months of formal education – was awarded an honorary Master of Arts from Harvard. Here’s the text of the notification letter from John Winthrop:

Cambridge, July 19, 1770

Sir —

I have the pleasure to acquaint you that the government of this college were pleased, yesterday, to confer upon you the Honorary degree of Master of Arts; upon which I sincerely congratulate you. I acknowledge the receipt of your favour, and shall be glad to compare any observations of the satellites.

Yours, &c.

John Winthrop

 

American Academy of Arts and Sciences: the American Philosophical Society

That same year, Benjamin West was unanimously elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia – the American colonial version of Great Britain’s Royal Society. He would meet another author and publisher of almanacs there: a fellow named Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin West was still primarily a merchant at this time, and the Revolution was on its way. When full-blown war finally arrived, commerce dried up. He went to work manufacturing clothing for the American troops. He continued his studies and his correspondence with the other great minds, though.

Mathematics was Benjamin’s first love. In 1773 he wrote to a friend in Boston of a theorem he had developed to extract “the roots of odd powers” that was probably his greatest contribution to the field of mathematics. That’s right – he discovered a math formula that I can’t even begin to hope to understand, but other really smart people who could math really well understood it and lauded him for it. When he finally explained his theorem to other math geniuses in 1781, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences not only published it in one of their earliest journals, but unanimously elected him to membership and awarded him a diploma. It was his second honorary academic degree, and he still supported by only three months of formal education. The theorem caught the attention of the European mathematical geniuses, who, giddy with discovery, also published it. Benjamin West, already pretty cool, became seriously hot stuff.

He didn’t stop at math and astronomical observations, though. One of the biographies I found explained a physics problem he cogitated upon for more than two years in conjunction with John Winthrop and a Mr. Oliver. It had to do with the properties of air in a copper tube that was then put into an otherwise airless container. The qualities of invisible gases – basically, the scientific understanding of the very concept of the physical nature and properties of “air” – was in its infancy. Our ancestor speculated about the attractive and repulsive nature of the tiny particles that made up the matter of air – what we now call its molecules – and how they would behave under different conditions. Gravity, matter, magnetism, and ultimately the behavior of the tails of comets played into his understanding of the question. This is stuff my brain simply isn’t big enough to handle.

Benjamin West’s mind was at the peak of its illuminating brilliance as the world around him heaved. His most important discoveries and writings happened as the American Revolution was about to explode.  By the end of the Revolution he had returned to academic pursuits. He tutored students in math and astronomy. He still wasn’t rich; despite his prominence in academics he never became particularly wealthy. The well-endowed founders of what would become Brown University had not forgotten their friend, though. In 1786, he was elected to a full professorship there.

For some reason he did not begin teaching at Brown for a couple of years. Probably because of his honors and his friendship with Ben Franklin and the rest of the gang at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Benjamin West was invited to teach at the illustrious Protestant Episcopal Academy there. The name of that school is familiar to members of my father’s family.  Although Benjamin West was the direct ancestor of my Arkansas-born mother, my dad, an Irish-Italian kid who grew up in the Philly suburb of Gladwyne, went to school at Philadelphia’s Episcopal Academy while his dad coached its sports teams. (Insert refrain from “Circle of Life” here.)

Brown University awarded Dr. West his first non-honorary degree, his Doctor of Laws, in 1792. He taught mathematics and astronomy there from 1788 until 1799. Then he opened a school of navigation and taught astronomy to seafaring men. Like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, this man loved to teach other people the wonders of the universe.

I’m proud of him for another reason, too: Benjamin West was a member of an active abolitionist group in Providence.

I’ve found several contemporary biographical accounts for Benjamin West. They are typical of their time: purple prose and flowery metaphors abound. They all reach one conclusion: Benjamin West was a genius. He was a determinedly self-educated man who contributed considerably to the arts of science and mathematics during his lifetime. He was truly a product of the Age of Enlightenment: a self-educated, self-made man whose gifts and prominence considerably exceeded his bank account.

This discovery of my ancestor Benjamin West is exactly why genealogy research is so rewarding. And given the anxiety-provoking events of November 8, I expect to be doing a lot more of it – in between my stepped-up schedule of political activities, that is.

______

Bibliography:

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Book of Members  (2016 edition), p. 252. Entry for Benjamin West, elected 1781, Fellow. Residence and Affiliation at election: Providence, RI. Career description: Astronomer, Educator, Businessperson, Book of Members; American Academy of Arts & Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Leonard Bliss, The History of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts:  Comprising a History of the Present Towns of Rehoboth, Seekonk, and Pawtucket, From Their Settlement to the Present Time (Boston:  Otis, Broaders, and Company, 1836). Google Books

Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, Entry for Benjamin West (1730-1813), pp. 1096-1097. https://books.google.com/books?id=qZ2yBwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA1096&dq

Louise Hall, “Family Records: Newby Bible”, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 122 (Apr 1968):  125-128, 125.

Martha Mitchell, “Benjamin West”, Encyclopedia Brunoniana (1993). https://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/Databases/Encyclopedia/search.php?serial=W0170

John Chauncey Pease, John Milton Niles, A Gazetteer of the States of Connecticut and Rhode-Island:   (Hartford:  William S. Marsh, 1819), 331-333. Biographical entry for Dr. Benjamin West.  Google Books.

Unattributed, “Biography of Benjamin West, L.L.D.  A.A.S.:  Professor of Mathematicks, Astronomy and Natural Philosophy, in Rhode Island College – and Fellow of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, &c.”, The Rhode Island Literary Repository Vol I, No. 7 (October 1814):  137-160 (337-360), http://books.google.com/books?id=HLQRAAAAYAAJ.  Google Books.

Benjamin West Papers; Rhode Island Historical Society Library, 121 Hope Street
Providence, RI 02906. http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/Mss794.htm.

It’s Her Gender

Image Source: NBC News

Image Source: NBC News

When they say it’s not her gender, well, it might be her gender.

Americans love to hate Hillary Clinton, but she has been consistently rated the most admired woman in America for two decades. Why the hate in spite of all that apparent love? Is it because she has dared to shatter every glass ceiling put in her way?

They claim it’s her honesty.

It’s not. Check Politifact if you don’t believe me.

They claim it’s her conflicts of interest.

It isn’t. She can give speeches to whoever asks her to speak, including the KKK, including Wall Street, including kindergarten classes. Her family’s charitable foundation can accept donations from anyone, anywhere. Bill Clinton established the Clinton Foundation to improve the lives of people internationally.  It does good work and it has considerable bipartisan support.

They claim it’s her judgment.

Seriously? Internationally and at home, Hillary Clinton consistently ranks as the most admired woman alive.  For twenty  of the last twenty-three years, she’s been the single most admired woman in the United States. I do not suggest everyone should agree with every decision she has ever made, but come on. She’s done something right to be that popular, hasn’t she?

Her email scandal fits in this “lack of judgment” category. The press has pilloried her for doing exactly the same thing her Republican predecessors did. In fact, former Secretary of State Colin Powell  told Clinton that using a private email server was preferable to the government server in most instances.

Oh, and about Benghazi? The GOP has investigated that situation ad nauseam and still can’t find sufficient fault with her conduct, policies, or decisions. As hard as her political enemies have tried, they cannot accuse her personally of any wrongdoing.

They claim it’s her war-mongering.

Her detractors characterize Hillary Clinton as hawkish, eager to use military force. She cannot refute this point. She counseled President Obama to use military force when the country was not subject to imminent attack by any foreign entity.

Clinton voted to go to war in Iraq. She has explained her vote ad nauseam.  She cast her vote – one of a hundred Senate votes – based on the information she had at the time. That information was flawed at best and fabricated at worst. Bush lied to America and the world. Cheney manipulated for personal gain. Powell lied to the UN on their behalf. Rumsfield had no plan and didn’t listen to advisors.  None of that is Hillary Clinton’s fault, and none of it came about due to her actions. Even had she cast her vote the other way, nothing – absolutely nothing – would have changed.

That includes the use of drones. The National Security Council made the decision to use drones. As Secretary of State, Clinton was only one of the five members of that council. She could not unilaterally decide war policy. While she may have argued in favor of specific actions – the Lybian revolution during the Arab Spring, most problematically –  she did not have the final say on any of them.

Despite all of that, our international allies consider her the hands-down favorite in this race. Whether or not our citizens do, our allies understand the importance of a responsible, experienced person leading the U.S.

They claim that electing her will be politics as usual.

Maybe. Not many candidates have been more qualified for the office, and there have been none so qualified in our lifetime.

They claim that it’s time for a change.

I couldn’t agree more. Personally, I’d like to see the two-party system disbanded and a different method of electing leaders that means we won’t ever have to choose between the lesser of two evils. But in this election cycle, no other candidate but Donald Trump has a realistic shot at the office. Without getting into the reasons why – that would be another blog post entirely – it is an incontrovertible fact that we must choose between two candidates.

Perhaps the nation would be better off with a man in power who rises to the bait of a tweet. Maybe the world will be safer if a loose cannon has the nuclear codes. Perhaps someone without one iota of a clue as to how to govern should have the most powerful position in the entire world.

But I seriously doubt it.

They’ll never claim it’s her gender.

Just like they never claimed it was Obama’s race.

On Orlando’s LGBTQ Victims

LGBTQ club Pulse's Facebook profile picture

LGBTQ people were massacred in Orlando.

Everywhere we look we seem to see the question, “Why?”

If we can’t see the answer to that question, we must not be awake.

The terrorist attacked a particular set of people in their safe place. For some of the victims, Pulse may have been the only place where they could be themselves. It may have been the only place they could hold hands in public with someone they loved.  It may have been the only place they could gather with others who truly “got” them, the only place they could celebrate themselves with full acknowledgment of a deeply important, integral, indivisible aspect of themselves. Some of the victims were outed as gay to their families because of where they were when they died so senselessly.

Don’t deny the obvious: this was an attack against LGBTQ people.

First and foremost, they were people. They faced and overcame challenges, they gave joy to other people, they loved and were loved by their families and friends. But their sexual orientation was the reason they went to Pulse Saturday night. Anderson Cooper, himself a gay man, was exactly the right person to tell us about the victims.  I watched Cooper’s choked-up tribute to the dead through my own tears.  The Orlando Sentinel has extended features on each and every one of the dead victims.

To say that this attack wasn’t an attack directed at LGBTQ people is to deny the obvious.

It was a deliberate attack on LGBTQ people in an LGBTQ venue. The attacker’s father said he may have been motivated because he saw men kissing.

To say “we are all victims” of this massacre minimizes the effect that hate speech, rigid religionists of various stripes, and homophobic political rhetoric has on a sizable portion of our population. This was a terroristic hate crime, plain and simple.

It was done by an American on American soil, with an automatic assault weapon legally obtained in America.

Politicians and news organizations have a responsibility to call this incident what it was. Not all of them have done so. Sky News did such a poor job of accepting this responsibility that the gay journalist being interviewed walked off the set in disgust.  Donald Trump used the massacre in Orlando to grandstand and to inflame his base’s bigotry toward Muslims in general.

A friend of mine, a gay man who has dealt with being demonized and insulted by American society and the uber-Christian elements of the Southern culture we live in, said it beautifully:

Things that piss me off: Folks saying “Oh, don’t politicize this tragedy. We shouldn’t be calling them LGBTQ Americans; they’re just Americans like everyone else.”

How motherfucking magnanimous of you.

For the past few years (and much longer than that) you’ve treated us as second-class citizens and politicized the everloving shit out of us when we wanted to take a piss or buy a cake for our weddings (that you rallied against and weren’t even invited to). You’ve put our kids under microscopes and our jobs on the line. You’ve called us every disgusting thing in the book to rally up your hateful little fan clubs from your bully pulpits and in the process, you have blamed us for every goddamn natural disaster known to man.

You’ve told us to our faces and on the airwaves and Internet that we deserve to be murdered, or to be raped, or to die of horrific diseases, or to just kill ourselves and above else that we needed to just get the hell out of YOUR country. In the past year you’ve filed over two HUNDRED bills into the laws of our land to tell us that we’re NOT like you and that we need to “know our place”.

And NOW we’re “just” Americans – now that some window-licking dipshit took your words seriously and the whole world sees exactly what you’ve advocated all this time?

Where the fuck was this solidarity before now? Did you just now find some goddamn backbone? Is it this tragedy that finally caused you to drop a set? Little remorse for realizing that WE reap what YOU sow?

I doubt it. You just don’t like that it’s, for five minutes, not all about your cushy little faux-victimized existence.

You can be as offended as you want by my existence, but let me be perfectly clear: you don’t get to make us visible only when you need a convenient bogeyman and pretend we don’t exist when we’re dead.

We’re real. We exist. We don’t go away the instant you turn your attention elsewhere. We don’t sit on the shelf until you’re ready to play with us. We have lives of our own that don’t revolve around what’s convenient for you. And if you don’t like it, that’s tough shit.

We’ve been on this planet a lot longer than you, and we’ll still be around long after you’re dust and forgotten, so if you don’t want to see us in the news, then how about you quit putting us in the motherfucking news to begin with.

OK. I feel better. Proceed with your day. Sparkles and sunshine and shit.

We cannot act surprised that this massacre happened. We cannot ignore our homegrown homophobia or our lack of responsible action to prevent these attacks from happening. Politicians – officials we elected – have publicly engaged in actions that hurt LGBTQ people as a class. (I’m looking hard at you, North Carolina.) Our religious leaders – Christian and Muslim alike – excoriate them and relegate them to a category of subhumans not entitled to the same rights as straight people. Our culture marginalizes the needs and dignity of LGBTQ people. The number of anti-LGBTQ hate groups is on the rise in this country.  Hate is hate regardless of faith.

The massacre at Pulse was not an Islamist attack on America. It was a calculated attack on LGBTQ people, perhaps by someone whose brain was polluted with anti-gay bigotry as a result of his religion but also perhaps by the American culture that surrounded him his entire life. He didn’t have to be Muslim. There are Christians in our society who say the same things, feel the same way as did this perpetrator.

This was not an attack on America.

This was an attack by an American on particular people in a particular venue.

It was an attack that came from a place of hate.

This was an attack directed at LGBTQ people. Don’t deny the obvious.

Voting Right

In honor of today’s primaries, here’s a an old argument about voting rights. It hasn’t yet died.

Even though Arkansas’s Supreme Court struck down the voter ID law on the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, many other states still have burdensome voter ID laws. These laws effectively prevent legally eligible people from voting. There’s another problem, as well: too many young people think their votes don’t matter. (Spoiler: they DO!)

President Jimmy Carter, that stalwart champion of international democracy, supports voter ID requirements, at least to an extent. He has cautioned that voter IDs must be free and people living in remote locations must have some way of getting them. Proponents of Voter ID laws heard the first part of Carter’s statement, but not the last.

Republicans seem to promote these laws, while Democrats oppose them. Why? Because these laws target the young, minority, and elderly voters. These voters are the least likely to have an official government ID that is accepted at the polls.

Why are all those silly liberals so upset about this? The Founding Fathers didn’t let poor people or minorities vote either. They even had the good sense not to let women vote!

According to the Brennan Center, which conducted a notable investigation into the issue, as many as 11 percent of the voting population does not have one of these state-issued IDs. That’s a lot.

Seriously, many Republicans touted these laws as a way to ensure voter fraud doesn’t happen. The only type of voter fraud these laws address, though, is in-person voter impersonation. The ID laws are an undue burden intended to address a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

voter fraud stats

Source: voterfraudfacts.com. Check out the site for more info about the frequency and types of voter fraud in the United States.

 

To prevent 13 fraudulent votes from being cast, we should prevent 65 million votes from being cast. That certainly ensures a good representative democracy, now doesn’t it?

Republicans knew this. They still promoted passage of these laws, claiming that floods of illegal aliens inundated the polls and entire cemeteries emptied as their zombie residents tried to vote progressive politicians into office. A zombie without an ID could be turned away only if this law was in place.

Haha! Gotcha, Democrats! If your zombie base can’t vote, you don’t get elected! Those cocky Republicans just couldn’t resist tweaking the noses of their Democratic counterparts once the laws were passed. They brazenly admitted on multiple occasions that these laws were intended to prevent Democrats from being elected-not by keeping down the hoards of immigrants and stopping the zombie apocalypse, but by preventing the poor, young, old, and minorities from voting.

In one hotly-contested 2014 election in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, the Democrat lost to the Republican by less than 2500 votes. There were 386,434 registered voters in the 23rd District, and only 115,429 actually voted. A research team from the University of Houston and Rice University conducted a poll of a representative sample of the 271,005 registered voters who did not vote in the midterm election. They found that 12% of those polled believed they did not have the type of ID required to cast a ballot. Upon further questioning, the survey established that only 2.7% of those polled actually lacked proper identification. Still, that accounted for more than enough votes to have changed the outcome of the election.

Voter fraud is anything that tampers with a fair voting process. Inciting fear of non-existent fraud to pass laws that effectively disenfranchise a tenth of the population ought itself to count as voter fraud on a massive scale. It sure worked in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District in 2014.

Arkansas Republicans were not above inciting this kind of baseless fear. In 2012, when these laws were being promoted all over the country, our Republican Secretary of State’s spokesperson publicly claimed that there was rampant voter fraud being committed in all 75 Arkansas counties, mainly by Democratic county clerks who let illegal immigrants register to vote. According to Alex Reed, who used to handle press relations for Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, it was absolutely essential to get rid of all county clerks who ran for office on the Democratic ticket because of this.

They might even illegally register on their illegal voter registration forms in Spanish that the Secretary of State’s office resented supplying. (All illegal aliens are Hispanic, and all Hispanics are illegal aliens. That’s a Venn Diagram with only one circle. Really.)

Almost the moment he was elected, Martin made it clear that here in ‘Murica English ought to be the official language. As if the Arkansas Secretary of State has any power over such things. (Source)

In August 2012 Reed spoke to the Union County Republican Party while on the state’s clock. He was there because he worked for the Secretary of State, who is the state’s chief election officer. In response to a question from the audience about how illegal immigrants get on voter registration rolls to begin with, Reed said:

Under federal law, we are required to print Hispanic voter registration applications and send those out. Then they send them back to us. The Secretary of State, they’re not the main registrar of voters. It’s the county clerks. That’s why I preach around to the county officials that it’s so important to have a Republican county clerk in every county. Because that’s the main person there and that’s who we work with the most. Either through error, or, they register and have the wrong address and it’s, ‘Oh well, they’re registered voters.’ … I don’t know what to say about it, other than it’s kind of a disgrace.

“It’s kind of a disgrace,” he said.

We suspect we know where the disgrace lies, and it isn’t with phantom illegal alien voters or county clerks.

Understandably, the county clerks in Arkansas were somewhat bemused by these irresponsible remarks. The Association of Arkansas Counties checked into Reed’s allegations and released a statement. The Association found no evidence in any of the 75 counties that Reed’s claim was accurate. Stung by the accusation of rampant misfeasance, Crystal Gaddy, the Republican secretary of the Association and a county clerk herself, rebuked Reed:

“I’m a proud Republican, but what’s important to me is to serve the people of Arkansas and my county regardless of political views. I am disappointed by the comments and the ensuing false perception of county clerks. I think it is vital to represent your office in a nonpartisan manner.”

Association president Rhonda Cole, a county clerk of the Democratic persuasion, agreed. “We’re here to serve the taxpayers regardless of political affiliations…. To describe county clerks or their actions as ‘disgraceful’ is unjust, unwarranted, and uninformed.”

If only all elected officials remembered that they represent all taxpayers, and not just those who share their party affiliation! Why, there might be less nasty rhetoric among politicians. We might even get some governing accomplished.

Might anyone in Washington be listening? No? I thought as much. Certainly local partisan hacks like Jason Rapert aren’t. If a constituent doesn’t support him 100%, that constituent gets blocked from Rapert’s social media, and maybe even gets threatened.

This man has a future in politics. (Source)

 

What the flap with these voter ID laws around the country underscores is not that there’s fraud-there’s precious little of that-but that partisan politics have sunk to a new low.

Then again, maybe it’s the same old low that Jim Crow enjoyed.

A voter denied his voting rights and an eligible voter whose ballot isn’t counted have both been disenfranchised. Disenfranchise enough people and the outcome of an election changes.

I keep hearing that Millennials feel their votes won’t count, so they don’t bother going to the polls. Guys guys guys guys guys! If your vote didn’t count, the people you’d vote against wouldn’t be so dead set on preventing your peers from voting. Your vote counts, and if you vote in large enough numbers, your votes rule.

 

Americans have long made a big deal of sending high-profile politicians to other countries to observe voting as fledgling democracies get off the ground. President Carter has gone on these poll-watching romps regularly. Why do we make a big deal out of observing the democratic process in new democracies? Because the validity of the election, and therefore the validity and authority of the elected government, depend upon those elections being conducted openly and honestly.

The validity of the election depends on the validity of the voting process.

Supporters of the voter ID laws claim that illegal voters will swarm the polls and elect the crazy “liberals” if swift, certain measures are not immediately taken.

Proponents of Democracy counter that the more people who vote, the better the people’s chance of being represented by someone they can tolerate.

VOTE. It matters.

Vote for the best solution

A number of my friends have said they will not vote for the Democrat if their preferred candidate isn’t the nominee for president.

Vote for Bernie or Hillary

copyrighted image: Nigel Parry for CNN

I think that’s short-sighted. There is an awful lot at stake in the 2016 election, not the least of which is the Supreme Court.

Sometimes our vote can’t be for the change we really want to see. Sometimes our vote has to be for the person who we think will do the least damage to the world, who will do the least to wreck the world as we want it to be.

No, it’s not a perfect solution. But because we have a two-party system, it’s the best option we have.

I’ve held my nose in the voting booth a lot over the years, mostly because the lesser of two evils really was significantly less evil. I’ll be doing it in one of the judicial races for the Arkansas Supreme Court. I don’t like either candidate, but one is likely to do less harm than the other, so he will get my vote.

I despair for our country if any of the Republican candidates win the presidency. I have read and heard nothing to indicate that any of them want to make the country a better place for all citizens. I am smothered by their bully attitudes, their regressive policies, bigotry, and anti-intellectualism. I see them pander to fears whipped up by Fox News. I see a theocracy in the making.

Neither Hillary nor Bernie is perfect. I have an opinion as to which would be better for the country, but if he doesn’t win the nomination I will vote for her. She’s the most moderate of all the Republicans running and the one who is likely to do the least amount of damage. She calls herself a Democrat. If it comes down to it, then she will have my vote, because I won’t be responsible for allowing one of those bombastic fools on the Republican side get elected. The blowhards, the bigots, the theocrats, the loose cannons – I cannot help them into office by abdicating my vote for their Democratic opponent. And, yes, if I end up voting for Hillary it will twist my guts knowing that yet another corporate sycophant is being elected. But that’s what happens when we choose who is the least of the evils – they’re all evil. We have to determine where the harm is likely to be done, and vote accordingly.

If the Republicans get into office, we can say goodbye to all the progress made in the last 45 years on women’s rights. We can expect that the Supreme Court will be stacked with intellectually dishonest conservatives like Thomas and Scalia. We can expect that the line between church and state will be blurred even further. We can expect people to lose insurance coverage, we can expect families to be ripped apart as half of their members are deported, and we can expect that children will go hungry.

I just can’t live with myself if I help that happen.

I like the way Allen Clifton put it in his post on Forward Progressives:

If you don’t plan to “vote blue, no matter who” this November because your candidate didn’t win and you didn’t get your way, before you cast your “symbolic vote,” I would encourage you to:

    • Find a Mexican family (or any immigrant family for that matter) that has lived here for years and has been praying for immigration reform to get passed so they can become American citizens. Tell them that it doesn’t really bother you that they’ll likely be deported if a Republican becomes president.
    • Find someone who’s living in poverty, who obtained health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Tell them you don’t care that a Republican president will take their health care away from them.
    • Find a Muslim and tell them you’re okay with a Republican president spending the next four to eight years vilifying their religion, potentially setting up registries where they would be tracked like criminals.
    • Tell every woman you meet that you’re okay with a Republican president potentially appointing 3-4 Supreme Court Justices who will almost certainly deem abortions illegal, thus taking away her right to have control over her own body and putting millions of women’s lives at risk as they seek out desperate measures to end unwanted pregnancies.
    • Find a homosexual couple and let them know that you’re not concerned with a Republican president potentially appointing 3-4 Supreme Court Justices that will almost certainly deem bans on same-sex marriage legal and strip away gay rights any chance they get.
    • Find non-Christians and atheists and let them know that it doesn’t bother you that a Republican president will undoubtedly try to force Christianity on Americans, thus violating their First Amendment rights. Rights that will also be under attack if that same president stacks the Supreme Court with 3-4 ultra conservative Justices.
    • Find someone with a pre-existing condition. Tell them that you don’t have a problem going back to the “old system” of health care where individuals born with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage and discriminated against by the health insurance industry, because a Republican president will damn sure repeal the Affordable Care Act.
    • Find climate scientists and everyone you can who cares about combating climate change. Tell them that it doesn’t really bother you that a Republican president would undo all the progress we’ve made to try to save our planet.

Please do all of that before you vote. Because when you don’t support either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, everything I just listed is exactly what you’re saying.

To those who have said they’ll vote for a third party candidate or decline to vote at all, please reconsider. Your vote, and the votes of people who feel the same way you do, really matter. It’s important.

Religion of Peace

Ten French humor writers and cartoonists and other magazine staffers were murdered in their offices, along with two police officers, by a trio of adherents to Islam, the “religion of peace.” The victims’ crime? They had dared to make and publish a cartoon of Mohammed. According to the BBC, at least seven others were wounded.

French Mohammed

Killing the people who criticize religion is probably as old as religion itself. Yesterday’s massacre was nothing new. The murderers themselves are nothing special. They are nothing but yet another face of religious extremism.

They are not the mainstream of their religion. In fact, the Arab League and Al-Azhar mosque, Egypt’s top Islamic institution, condemned the attack. I can almost hear the protests by these leaders of Islam: “Islam is a religion of peace,” I imagine they gently protested – just like they did after 9/11.

There is no such thing as a “religion of peace.”

In the name of religion human beings have forcibly removed entire populations from their homelands and taken their livelihoods. Religion has slaughtered entire towns from the youngest child to the oldest woman. It has pitted people against hungry predators in public arenas. Because of religion, people have gone on crusades, gone on jihads, and attacked their neighboring countries. Religion has prompted governments to burn people at the stake and hang innocents. Religion was at the basis for Hitler’s final solution, when he tried to cleanse the world of a certain people. Because of religion we humans have bombed ourselves, bombed others, hijacked planes to fly into buildings, beheaded people, and executed apostates. We have done all of these atrocities all to appease or defend some “higher” power that is apparently, despite its magnificent omnipotence, incapable of defending itself.

The Catholic Church actively protects priests who persistently rape children. Scientology officials stalk and smear anyone who dares to disagree. Anders Breivik murdered 77 Norwegians in the name of right-wing political beliefs and Christianity. Charismatic psychopath  Jim Jones convinced 900 people to kill themselves and their children in Jonestown. Preachers claiming the Rapture is imminent persuade their gullible followers to give up their jobs, their homes, and their possessions in preparation for an apocalypse that never happens. Doctors are murdered in their clinics for offering legal health services to pregnant women contrary to the religious beliefs of people who aren’t patients of the clinic. Westboro Baptist Church – need I say more? It’s such a lovely thing that Christianity is a religion of peace.

Jewish people in the US sponsor political parties in Israel, which in the name of its “God-given authority” then breaks international laws with its settlements and holds a million people in a gigantic cage. Is Judaism a “religion of peace”?

Hinduism and Buddhism have their share of religious atrocities, too. When a pig wandering into a public place causes riots, there’s a problem. When little girls are forced into marriage and virtual sexual slavery, the religion commits war against half of its own adherents. When history is revised to support a narrative of exclusion and religious fervor, no one wins. It’s child abuse to send young boys and girls to camps and schools to radicalize their religious beliefs and to instill in them a commitment to die for their religion. Nationalism based on adherence to a religion – whether Hindu or Jewish – makes no room for dissenters, which will always appear in the population, just because some people in every population will question authority.

In the name of their religions, people have sacrificed perfectly healthy young members of their society, tortured and killed suspected witches, rounded up dissenters and executed them, justified enslaving an entire race, and sacked entire cities.

Even today – in this “enlightened” era – people pass laws forcing others to bow to the religious sensibilities to which those others do not ascribe.  They reject and ostracize their own LGBT children. Governments expatriate religious dissenters like Sanal Edamaruku. Religious leaders put out hits on authors like Salman Rushdie. Because of the baseless assertions of priests and shamans, people burn suspected witches alive – including “witches” who are still infants. Religious rigor demands that parents deny education to their female children. Religion instigates the torture and murder of gay college students. Uneducated religious leaders encourage their followers to reject proven science. Because of religion, parents genitally mutilate their children (both boys and girls). Religion permits men to disfigure women by throwing acid in their faces and shoot little girls who want to go to school. Religious people deny life-saving medical treatment to their family members. Citing their religion and that of their constituents, legislators pass national and state laws to allow horrific treatment  of and discrimination against LGBT people. Religion insists that its adherents ignore decades of psychiatric progress. Nauseatingly, the list or atrocities and injustices due to religion just never seems to end.

There is no “religion of peace.” There is just religion. It is utterly disgusting what someone can get desperate or gullible people full of fear and anger to do in religion’s name.

Duggars Accidentally Raise Money for LGBT Kids

A funny thing happens when someone broadcasts hate. Sometimes – just sometimes – love proves itself to be stronger.

I’m sure Jim and Michelle Duggar never intended to give money to any young LGBT people, especially not LGBT youth made homeless when they came out to their parents.

The Duggars (of TLC’s 19 and Counting reality show fame) live near Fayetteville, Arkansas. In August, Fayetteville’s city council passed an historic civil rights ordinance  that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people with respect to employment, housing, and other accommodations. On the eve of the vote, the pre-recorded voice of Michelle Duggar, mother of 19 good and self-righteous Christian children, made robocalls around town. She was panicked that if transgender women used the “wrong” restroom, some of her brood might be subjected to the discomfort of not knowing whether the woman in the next stall maybe had a penis.

Since the ordinance passed, the Duggars have spent $10,000 in an effort to get it repealed.

Last week, their eldest son, Josh Duggar, who works for the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, hosted a rally of hate at the Arkansas State Capitol against same sex marriage the day before the Arkansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the pending lawsuit.

Poor Josh. He never dreamed he’d be giving a helping hand to those same homeless LGBT kids he and his family, along with their sanctimonious ideological minions, like to bully.

But it’s happened. And as a board member of Lucie’s Place, I’m not thanking the Duggars. I’m thanking an outfit called Memeographs.

See, Memeographs got busy and made a graphic and started tweeting the heck out of it.

Lucie’s Place is a relatively new nonprofit in Arkansas with sights set high to help the local homeless population, many of which are LGBT youth who have ended up on the streets because their parents kicked them out for the dubious sin of homosexuality or being transgender. The graphic got good attention, so later in the day, Memeographs ramped up the campaign with this tweet:

Memeographs tweeted the graphic to various groups and it got picked up and retweeted hundreds of times. In just a little over eight hours, Lucie’s Place was flooded with lots of small donations.  Among many others, Dan Savage retweeted it.

Penelope Poppers, the Executive Director of Lucie’s Place, alerted the board members once she realized what was happening. By mid-afternoon, 54 different people in 28 different states and Canada had donated. The campaign was even mentioned on Sirius XM satellite radio by Mike Signorile, the editor of the Gay Voices section of Huffington Post.

Penelope is not a full-time executive director – Lucie’s Place just doesn’t have the budget for that yet. She said, “I was sitting at work and had to turn off my phone because notifications of new emails were coming in quicker than I could check my email.”

And when she checked the Lucie’s Place bank account?

Lucie’s Place had received about $1,000 in the space of about 8 hours.

Right now, Lucie’s Place offers counseling services, toiletries, clothing, bus passes, and phone minutes to as many clients as possible. Lucie’s Place wants to open an actual shelter for homeless LGBT youth in Central Arkansas, and maybe a mentoring program to help give these homeless young people, most of whom are 18-25, a decent chance at a successfully independent life.

If only about 15% of the entire population is gay, but 40% of homeless youth are, it points to a societal problem.

family rejection

Only one shelter in the area will accept openly gay or transgender people, and it is always full. On the shoestring budget it has, Lucie’s Place does what it can. It is raising money and saving toward a facility, which may be years in the future unless something amazing can happen. The organization is still hundreds of thousands of dollars away from its goal.

Can you help make that amazing thing happen? Please donate.

Help Lucie’s Place realize the dream of a real shelter for real kids adversely affected by the hateful bigotry that so often results from the twisted Duggaresque interpretation of religion.

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