Review of Derrida (film, 2002)

Jacques Derrida is one of my favorite philosophers. Although his writings are dense, complex, and seemingly indecipherable at times, he has significantly impacted both philosophy and popular culture through his idea of deconstruction. Continue reading Review of Derrida (film, 2002)

Warren Buffet wants to do his part too

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice,” – Warren Buffet Continue reading Warren Buffet wants to do his part too

Bearing the Cross by David Garrow

Bearing the Cross deepened and enriched my understanding of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement of his era. David Garrow’s aim is clear: to demystify King and the civil rights movement by a simple telling of the facts. Continue reading Bearing the Cross by David Garrow

The California Prison Hunger Strike

“On the first day of this month, inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, joined by inmates in other prisons around the state, began a hunger strike to protest “inhumane and torturous conditions” in the Security Housing Unit, which holds inmates in solitary confinement for decades at a time. They’re still at it; the state has admitted that as many as 6,600 inmates around the state have participated in the strike….”

I return a vegetarian

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” Continue reading I return a vegetarian

Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary

Like many of you, my fellow Americans, my knowledge of the Islamic worldview and the history of the Middle East is shameful, at least in comparison with my knowledge of Western civilization. There is as much intrigue in the Middle East as there has ever been: protests, violence, and calls for democracy; continued conflict between Israel and her neighbors; a history of European and U.S. exploitation to grapple with; terrorist organizations and political protection for them; and a good deal of oil still to be sucked up and distributed around the globe. The West vs. East question continues to define our times, with consequences that will outlive us. Continue reading Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary

Poverty and the Choices We Make

“Now, we may need to grapple with a new possibility: that poverty doesn’t simply reduce freedom by constraining an individual’s choices, but that it may actually alter the nature of freedom by reducing an individual’s willpower.”

My friend Sam sent me a link for this article on poverty: “Why Can’t the Poor Escape Poverty?” It deals with the will power of the poor. The gist of the article is that if you are a poor person, then you have to exert a good deal of energy on making difficult financial decisions regarding some basic decisions: “whether to pay rent or buy food; to buy medicine or winter clothes; to pay for school materials or loan money to a relative. These choices are weighty, and just thinking about them seems to exact a mental cost.”

Experimentation is showing that if you have to exert mental energy making a difficult decision, then you will be more likely to make a poor decision in the near future because you will not have the mental stamina to keep making good, wise decisions. By contrast, if you are middle or upper class, then you can make basic decisions in your life based simply on what you want: do I want to buy a cup of coffee or not? It’s a simple matter of personal preference at a given moment. This allows you to invest your mental energy into important life decisions, whatever they may be.

Why Can’t the Poor Escape Poverty?


Prison Reform?

I just read an excellent article by Michelle Alexander in The New York Times, “In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Reform.” Alexander is an associate Professor of Law at Ohio State, and she has researched and written extensively about the connection between “the war on drugs,” the massive increase in prison populations, and racism. In short, the war on drugs and the increase in prison populations have disproportionately targeted the black population, even though, as she says in this article, “they are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites. ”

The increase in prisoners and prisons cannot be explained or understood entirely in racial terms. I believe there are also important economic factors, as Alexander points out in this article.

The main premise of this article is that the calls for prison reform by white politicians is economically motivated in these days of financial strain. In California, for example, they spend more on prisons than on education.

Here are some quotes from the article (sorry for posting so many!):

African-Americans are far more likely to get prison sentences for drug offenses than white offenders, even though studies have consistently shown that they are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites.

In 1963, in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” he chastised white ministers for their indifference to black suffering: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ ”

He continued: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

If our nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, we would have to release 4 out of 5 people behind bars. A million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs. Private prison companies would see their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our social, political and economic structures that it is not going to fade away without a major shift in public consciousness.

Yes, some prison downsizing is likely to occur in the months and years to come. But we ought not fool ourselves: we will not end mass incarceration without a recommitment to the movement-building work that was begun in the 1950s and 1960s and left unfinished. A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch. If we fail to rise to the challenge, and push past the politics of momentary interest convergence, future generations will judge us harshly.

Thomas Jefferson – Tyrants and Patriots

When Thomas Jefferson was in France, he heard news of poor Massachusetts farmers who took up arms in rebellion against their creditors. He sided with the rebels, or as he calls them, “patriots”:

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

I appreciate the suspicion of centralized governmental power coming from many of my friends on the right, but Jefferson’s critique of power was more well-rounded. He was suspicious of those who had the money and used their power to hold people down. The inequality in today’s America would certainly astonish him.

Aeyn’s Obituary

From the Arizona Daily Star:

EDWARDS-WHEAT, Aeyn, Aeyn’s lungs gave out on January 3, 2011 just four days shy of his 31st birthday. His last four and a half years contained more pain that anyone should suffer in a lifetime—the death of his father, William Wheat, the tragic and sudden death of his life partner, Timothy Morris and his own three and half year battle with leukemia and graft versus host disease. He lived a brief but full and happy life, right up until the end. Even at his sickest, he continued to bring laughter and joy to his many friends. He enjoyed travel, music, intellectual pursuits, but especially the company of his many friends. He was so grateful to have his life extended by the donation of stem cells from his beloved sister, Rebekah Smith and the wonderful care from the doctors and nurses at the Cancer Center. Aeyn was born in Colorado Springs January 7, 1980 and lived and travelled many places. He studied and worked at The University of Texas and later at The University of Arizona where he majored in Philosophy and Spanish reflecting two of his loves. His friends will miss his intense philosophical discussions and his vast knowledge of Latin America. Aeyn was a brilliant conversationalist who could talk to anyone about any topic and always provided the best informed and most interesting analyses. Anyone who met him knew immediately what a very special mind and very special person he was. He took pride in living a simple life, and especially loved the outdoors, his garden, and his bicycle. He met his challenges with grace and humor as reflected in an essay he posted on his Facebook page: “Today, I biked up to the “Cancer-Be-Gone”® Arizona Cancer Center for my now again twice-a-week visits, wherein I give 6 tubes of “Super-Aeyn-Blood” and chat it up with the nurses (I keep asking this one nurse out, but she says she can’t date patients – bummer indeed!).…about a year ago, a nurse started biking sometimes too. So, every now and then, her bike and my bike would hang together at the bike racks. Lord only knows what kind of mischief they’ve gotten into while she and I have been inside doing our stuff.… for the first time that I’ve biked there, I arrived to find three (yes, THREE) other bikes at the bike racks! Boy, was Danny (my bike) excited, as now she could get to hang with some other cool bikes.…While chatting with my gang of nurses, I mentioned the new bikes. I was told that a woman, in her mid-30s, who had been diagnosed with lymphoma (another blood cancer like mine) a couple of months ago, had heard about me and how I always bike to the “Cancer-Be-Gone”® Center, even for chemos and bone-marrow biopsies, and she was inspired by that and decided to do it too..…So, Blessed Be, to the Robins of the world, struggling with the sadness of the new disease and finding a little something that she can do to keep on kicking ass! And, I must say, I am proud of myself. Some days I bike up there and am tired and discouraged. But, her encouragement today was really nice to hear, and gave me another little extra “umph” to keep going.” Aeyn leaves behind his mother, Mary Welch and his stepfather, Gerald Welch; his two sisters, Rebekah Smith and Deborah Wheat and his grandmother, Billie Wheat whom he visited frequently in Nashville, always eager to help her, even as his own struggles grew insurmountable. He was a kind and gentle soul who deeply touched everyone he met. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to any organization that Aeyn would have supported. We will celebrate his short but very special life Sunday, January 9, 2011 from 2:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. at the home of Terry and Dianne Horgan, 940 N. Bentley, Tucson. We hope to see his many friends there. Breathe easy at last, Aeyn, we love you. Arrangements by ANGEL VALLEY FUNERAL HOME.