Poetry – ADHD / grief / and LIFE!

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Provisional Conclusions is a collection of my poetry over the years. It includes thoughts about ADHD, losing Amy, travelling, and thinking about life ina general. Please check it out!

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Mueller, Muslims, and trying to get a balanced view of the world

I have a friend on Facebook who I can count on to forward me links to pro-Trump resources. Even though I have yet to read anything that changes any of my ideas about the man and his antics, I appreciate it. It’s helpful to hear opinions other than your own. Go figure1.

The latest thing I received was a link to an article with the provocative title “BREAKING: Mueller Busted with Muslim Radicals In White House – Could Be Removed From Investigating Trump” on officialnewstoday.com2. As someone who is interested in how our religious lives interact with our political and social lives, I thought it was worth looking into.

I poked around the Internet and found other articles like “Russia Special Counsel Mueller Worked with Radical Islamist Groups to Purge Anti-Terrorism Training Material Offensive to Muslims”3 and “Gohmert Claims Mueller Compromised National Security as FBI Director”4 with very strong language like “[Mueller] purged the training materials for the FBI of anything that offended the radical Islamists.”

The idea that then-Director Mueller ‘caved into Islamic radicals’ kept showing up in these articles. But nothing I’ve read about Robert Mueller makes me think he’s a guy who caves in easily. Plus, this story is being told by people who would certainly like to see Mueller go away and leave Trump alone so he can get on with his program of … (nope, not gonna go there. Not what this one’s about).

So I thought I’d look into it a bit. Here’s what I found:

Back in 2008, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller met with representatives of Muslim and Sikh groups and the Interfaith Alliance. The meeting was requested to discuss information in the FBI anti-terrorism training material that was either factually incorrect or blatantly Islamophobic. As a result of that and subsequent meetings, over 700 pages of documentation were purged5 by the FBI based on four criteria:

  • factual errors
  • “poor taste”
  • employment of stereotypes about Arabs or Muslims
  • presenting information that “lacked precision

Some examples: that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult” leader, that “mainstream” Muslims sympathized with terrorists, and that the more “devout” a Muslim was, the more likely he would be to commit a violent act.

It’s hard for me to see how removing such blatantly offensive material constitutes caving in to the demands of radical Islamists. It seems like an attempt to make the training material more useful by not perpetuating stereotypes that would 1) make FBI agents less likely to talk with Muslims who might provide helpful information and 2) make Muslims less likely to engage with FBI agents when approached.

In the Wired article, Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, points to exactly this point as a reason for the review: “They’re producing these kind of documents that inhibit our counterterrorism efforts. We need our communities engaged, and these have done nothing but alienate us.”

So, what do we have?

An attempt by some of our fellow citizens to not have FBI agents automatically associate their religion with terrorism? Or an attempt by Muslims to hide the fact that they are all just sitting home waiting for the right moment to attack?

What if I say “I don’t know”?

What if I say I don’t know the answer to that question any more than I know the answer to whether the Ultra-Rich of all nations are in cahoots and are enjoying playing 1984/Hunger Games with the rest of us or if they are really just hard-working, incredibly brilliant people who earned and deserve everything they’ve got and are working for the common good?

Or if I don’t know the answer to whether or not I think white guys should be allowed to buy guns, since statistics show that 51% of all mass shootings between 1982 and 2017 were done by white guys?

What I’m getting at is this: each of us interprets data through our own filters, we see the world through our own lenses. It’s just the way humans are built.

So, how do I try and get to a more balanced view?

I think the challenge for all of us is to recognize our assumptions and try to adjust for them. When I first read the article about Mueller, I thought “wow, seems unlikely, but I know I want to believe that, so let’s go look for some evidence.”I didn’t find any.

The facts are: there was a meeting, people developed criteria and reviewed documents, and some pages were found offensive and removed. Whether this is sensitivity to a non-majority community or a government plot to collude with Muslim terrorists is nowhere in the data.

The interpretation is my choice.

I believe that the FBI has a job to identify and counter terrorism, whether it’s from Muslims, North Koreans, white men (who are responsible for 51% of the mass shootings between 1982 and 20176 – “domestic terrorism” anyone?), or Hobbits.

I don’t believe that labeling adherents of a particular religion as “likely terrorists” helps them do that job.


Footnotes
1. or go read Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill’s arguments for free speech.

2 The website that hosted the report, officialsnewstoday.com, looks to be an outlet for someone named Katherine Rodriguez. I couldn’t find articles by any other writers on the site. Ms. Rodriguez’s work can be found on Breitbart, Muck Rack, and other sites, so I am making the assumption that’s where she gets her data. No other sources are cited.

3 https://www.judicialwatch.org/blog/2017/05/russia-special-counsel-mueller-conspired-radical-islamic-groups-fbi-chief/

4 https://www.rollcall.com/news/politics/gohmert-claims-mueller-compromised-national-security-fbi-director

5 the latest numbers I could find, tho this was from the 2012 article
6 https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/


ENDNOTE:

Just to try and stave off comments like: “but the Islamic groups he met with are known terrorists” – they are not. The closest to true is that Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) were unindicted co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case, according to the same article on Judicialwatch – a site that tends to see all Muslims as terrorists anyway.

One Way “Fake News” Comes to Be

This is a very small example of how information on the Internet gets skewed. I’m posting it because I just had one of those crazy phone calls during which a young whipper-snapper corrected me about their employers’ hours of business.

I want to be clear, in case their employer reads this, that this is not about the person. They were very nice. It was about me saying “those aren’t the hours that are posted” and them saying “yes they are, I’m looking at them right now.”

We were both right.

I looked at the results of the Google Search and got one set of hours. I clicked on one of the results and got a different set. Then, I went directly to their website and got a 3rd set. (There was actually a 4th set, but that was for their Service Department, so it doesn’t count.)

What happened?

I want to point out here that none of this is the company’s fault – there are too many ways data gets distributed on the Internet for a small or medium sized business to keep on top of all of them.

So, how does it happen?

Pages get cached (stored away) on the internet as a way of speeding up response time in the browsers. Sometimes they get stored locally on our own machines. Pass-through sites store information and don’t update it. There are other ways data gets “frozen”, but it all leads to the same problem: I have my answer (“You close at 5:30 on Wednesdays. I’m looking at your website.”) and you have yours (“No, sir, we close at 8:30. I’m looking at our website.”) and we’re both right. We have the data to prove it.

Keep that in mind when you’re quoting numbers and percentages and, really, just about anything else you find on the Internet.

Snapshots below:

Google Search Results sidebar:

Google Search 1

from: http://www.crippenmazda.com/dealership/about.htm

Dealer Website

Results from Google Search on my cell phone:

IMG_4607

Nazis in Charlottesville, Howard Thurman, and Steven Universe

Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman


This blog entry was motivated by a post I read from a friend on Facebook. Savannah is part of the band The Shake Ups in Ponyville – a fun and talented band that plays pop and rock songs written around themes found in the “My Little Pony” TV series. Lisa and I have been fans of theirs for a long time and have logged a lot of miles driving to Indianapolis to hear them.

This summer, the band – in their current configuration as The Shake Ups in Beach City – played at Ann Arbor’s Top of the Park. Before the show, we had a chance to sit down over a meal and chat. At one point, someone asked why they used shows like Steven Universe and My Little Pony to inspire their music. Her husband P.J., who writes most of the band’s material, deferred the question to Savannah. She said that they were a pretty stable couple with a pretty happy life and that to really write, you had to have conflict and pain to write from. That really stuck with me.

Earlier today, Savannah posted this about what happened in Charlottesville this week:

Am I actually still in high school reading a piece of dystopian fiction or is this life? Nazis and the KKK are big bads again? The people in charge of our government are ok with this? What happened to the world while I was on a magical pony adventure?!

I re-read the last sentence then re-read it again. It brought a lot of things to mind because I’ve had similar thoughts over the last several years. How could I be trying to write a show about ADHD while Ferguson was happening? How could I be in the park playing with my kids while someone else’s kids were being killed in Columbine?

More recently, how can I be teaching improv classes while the Flint water crisis is going on and we have a man in the White House who’s intent on taking away millions of families’ health care (including mine), who ignores the overwhelming consensus on climate change, and who handles international diplomacy like a second grade bully on the school playground?

What helped me with these questions was thinking about Howard Thurman.

Thurman (along with Albert Fisk) was the founder of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. One thing I learned while I was working in the office there was that Thurman enjoyed painting (specificially, penguins).

ThurmanPenguinFirstDate

Another thing I learned was that he had been challenged by some activists in the 60s for not being engaged enough, for not being visible enough. He might have wondered “what happened to the world while I was busy painting my pictures?”

I think the answer is this: there are people who are visible and active and out there in the world, bringing things to people’s attention that need to be that need to be exposed, and there are the people who maintain the conceptual and spiritual world in which those people grow, in which they grow and are energized.

Another thing I learned about Howard Thurman was that he was an inspiration and a spiritual grounding point for many of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement.

Dr. Thurman was a teacher of teachers, a leader of leaders, a preacher of preachers. No small wonder, then, that Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, Samuel Proctor, Vernon Jordan, Otis Moss, and I sat at his feet. – Rev. Jesse Jackson

Kim Lawton, in a piece about Thurman in Religion and Ethics Weekly, points out that Thurman was working at a different level than these others: “Thurman believed social change would only come through personal transformation and spiritual disciplines such as meditation.”

Thurman made his contribution by promoting and supporting that transformation, by keeping the world of Meaning alive, by outlining (in his writing and sermons) ways to be in the world that transcend our individual and group differences and promote what is best in all of us.

Shows like Steven Universe and My Little Pony – and a lot of others in both the fantasy and sci-fi genres – consciously try to model a world in which the connections and relationships between people are what’s important, not what they look like or where they came from. What they have in common is that their characters each have their own strengths and quirks and work together to bring out the best in each other. Nobody is showing off, nobody is trying to “one-up” (unless it’s part of the plot…) – they each bring their best to whatever situation they are facing and work together to resolve it. In my day, this was part of Gene Roddenberry’s dream with his Star Trek series, and it’s still going strong.

The writers and producers of those shows, the animators and voice-over talent, and bands like the Shake-Ups in Ponyville, Harry and the Potters, Five Year Mission, and others bring that world to their fans in a different way, inviting them into this bigger vision of what the world could be. They are maintaining and cultivating that same space of Meaning for the next generation.

Later in that same Facebook thread, Savannah posted:

I am much more afraid of people who almost burned down the world once than those we have only just met and may yet live at peace with.

This is the hope that lives on in the fantasy worlds of Gene Roddenberry, Rebecca Sugar, J.K. Rowling, and the others who try to model a world where we come together despite our differences in the face of larger challenges (climate change, anyone?).

This is the hope that musicians, artists, and other performers can create for their audience through their art. I’m not sure how effective it is, but even Pete Seeger wasn’t sure and he’s got a lot more experience at this than most of us.

So – “What happened to the world while I was on a magical pony adventure?!”

A lot.

A lot of kids hung out with new kids they might not have otherwise met.

A lot of parents who brought those kids to a Shake Ups show saw them surrounded by love and enthusiasm, regardless of who they were standing next to.

A lot of adults who walked by the Rackham Stage on June 18th saw Savvy Shy come offstage and dance with a group of kids, and some of them even joined in, maybe rekindling something inside of them.

A lot happened. And it happened with joy and love.

Each of us has our own part in this mosaic. Not all of us are called to be on the front lines, directly confronting the various problems we all face. Some of us are in the background, hopefully modeling a better world and hopefully offering a place for our more visible peers to refresh and recharge, hopefully keeping joy and love alive. And hope.

To come full circle to Dr. Thurman’s quote at the top of this entry: I think Savannah and P.J. and others like them have found what makes them come alive.

And that’s what we need the most.


SOME REFERENCES

The Shake Ups

Kim Lawton’s Article about the Legacy of Howard Thurman

A good biography of Howard Thurman

The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Pete Seeger Full Quote by Harry Chapin:

You know Harry, my involvement in any cause, benefit, march or demonstration, I’m not sure it’s made a difference (and here’s a guy who’s being very modest cuz for forty years he’s stood up for every major issue of our times, he was fighting fascism in the early 40s, late 30s) but he says I can tell you one thing, that involvement with these issues means you’re involved with the good people, the people with alive hearts, alive eyes, alive heads.

Well, who are the people who are your best friends? who are the people you keep coming back to? who are the people that make your life worthwhile? Usually, people who are committed to something.

So, in the final analysis, commitment, in and of itself, irrespective or whether you win or not, is something that truly makes your life more worthwhile.

Texting and Driving – part 3 of 3 (other cool stuff)

There were a couple more interesting things I came across while reading about Texting and Driving.

  1. ReportTexting.Org: Whether or not you want to call the police on a driver who is texting, it might be interesting to post their information to this website: reporttexting.org/. Now I have to admit, I’m not positive they’re active. The site started in 2011 and the last  update was 2015, but I’m poking around to see if I can get in touch with the people who put it up.
    Nevertheless, their initial information was interesting. Do keep in mind, though, that any kind of voluntary reporting of this kind means the data will be skewed. It will not only reflect how often this occurs, but whether or not people in a given state are willing to report it.
  2. Rate Driver.com: This is another voluntary reporting site, so remember that the data might be more interesting than accurate. You can look at any licence plate number in any state and see if there are any comments about how well or poorly they drive.
    The home page at rate-driver.com has a dropdown from which you can choose a state, they key in a license place number. You can also click on “Comments” for recently reported incidents or on “Driver’s Rankings” to see the best and worst drivers across the nation, month by month. (I wonder how often people report considerate drivers?)

You might or might not find this information interesting. One thing that fascinates me, though, is that sites like this exist. It does show the power of the Internet to allow people to communicate with one another about topics that interest or concern them.

I don’t know if it’ll lead to changes in the behavior of any of the drivers who show up here, but I can say one thing: I’m kind of proud to say that I didn’t show up on either site.

Texting and Driving – part 2 of 3

While I was tumbling down the rabbit hole in my reading about Texting and Driving,  I ran across a really interesting article from Sacramento. A tech startup has an app called “Text to Ticket” that allows you to report drivers who are texting while driving.

You capture the footage of the driver texting, get a shot of their license plate, and notify the company. They turn the infomation over to law enforcement and – if the person is ticketed – you get $5.00 for reporting it.

As of Feb, 2017, when the article was written, the company had received over 600 submissions and paid out over $2000.00.  Here’s a link to the article.

They have one very important rule: the video must be taken by a passenger, or a pedestrian.

The driver cannot take the video.

The driver should be watching the road.

Texting and Driving – part 1 of 3

I’m feeling a little conflicted between encouraging people to turn into “snitches” and being frustrated driving past people who are looking at their cellphones and texting to their heart’s delight. Maybe because we lost Amy in a traffic ‘situation’ (“accident” is not the right word), I’m more aware of the potential damage of distracted driving.

A few weeks ago, I was on I-94 and found myself next to a guy who had his phone propped up against the steering wheel while he thumbed away at the screen. I hoped he was dialing a phone number or maybe scrolling through a playlist, but this went on and on. I looked over a few times, trying to catch a glimpse of what he was doing without turning myself into a Distracted Driver. He looked up from his screen every now and then to check that he was still…what? On the road? Hadn’t rear-ended someone? That there were no cops on the horizon?

He went on like that for a long time – 30 or 40 seconds. Thirty or forty seconds doesn’t seem like a lot, but any of us who have been around car accidents know that it only takes a second or two of inattention for something to happen.

I wondered what to do. My first instinct was to call the police, but what to tell them? And how effective is it if it’s my word against his? On top of that, I assume the police have better things to do.

I thought about pulling in front of him and slowing down to, say, 10 miles an hour but … well, let’s say I tried something similar once and it didn’t go well. (Yes, I admit it. It was stupid and dangerous, but lying to you about it doesn’t make it go away.)

So, I did nothing.

Which led to me poking around the Internet today. I found some interesting things and I’m going to share them.

Three things, three posts.

The first one is that the police in many states (I didn’t look at all 50) do encourage calling 911 if you see a “reckless driver”. I guess that’s a judgment call. An article from Consumer Reports quoted a Connecticut State Poiiceman who put it this way: “911 should not be used for simple motor vehicle violations. The driving behavior must be a danger to the public and place people in harm’s way,” [source: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2013/05/should-i-call-911-to-report-a-dangerous-driver/index.htm]

Here’s a Michigan reference: http://www.michiganautolaw.com/blog/2016/11/14/report-reckless-driving/ . Michigan State Police also suggest calling 911 instead of the State Police. They will just tell you to call 911.

Will I do it next time? I don’t know.

I once called 911 about a guy who was a clear case of “reckless” driving, weaving all over the lanes and cutting in and out of traffic at high speed. I saw two cars slam on their brakes on I-94 to avoid hitting him. I called 911 but they asked me “what city are you in?” I did my best to guess (I was somewhere between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor) but when I told them the name of the street I saw on an overpass, they said they’d have to connect me to a different police department. By then, we came to the intersection of US-23 and the car exited heading north. I told them that and hung up.

So, no, I’m not sure if I’ll call it in next time, but I wanted to share at least the bit of information I found on this so you can make your own decision.

 

 

 

 

The REAL Ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The thing that drives me crazy is when… [wait!] There are two things that drive me crazy, no, three There are three things that [oh, shut up!] Amongst the many things that drive me crazy are…

(Five points if you get the reference, if not , click here .)

I burned a fair amount of time today on YouTube, watching videos like Kids React to the Beatles and Do Kids Know Beatles Songs?.  Now, as you might or might not know, George Harrison was friends with Eric Idle of Monty Python, so link led to link and I eventually ended up watching some clips from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And that’s when I found it! The original ending I’d been looking for! The one you’ve likely been denied unless you were lucky enough to see the movie back in the 70s when it first came around. The one that reflects the same kind of brilliance you need to conceive a 3 sided record (“Matching Tie and Handkerchief“).

Let me tell you about it.

My younger brothers and I and some friends saw the Python’s “And Now for Something Completely Different” at a seedy little theatre on 8 Mile in Detroit, somewhere west of Telegraph Road. We loved it, it was exactly our kind of humor.

This was our first exposure to the Pythons as the movie was released before the television series was run on PBS. We were laughing so hard we were crying, stumbling over our feet. We barely made it to the car and repeated our favorite sketches over and over all the way home. (We did this with a lot of our favorite comedies, including, notoriously, Smoky and the Bandit.)

So, when “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was released in 1975, we were right there at the front of the line. If memory serves, we saw it at the same theatre. The film was great but what really stuck out to me was the ending.

You’ve seen most of it, I’m sure. King Arthur’s knights are charging downhill toward the beach, intent on attaching the French castle and capturing the Grail. They’re interrupted at the last moment by a police car that screeches to a halt and blocks their path. Arthur and Bedevere are arrested and thrown into a van as one of the policemen raises his hand and blocks the camera.

“All right, sonny, that’s enough” is the last thing we hear as we see some bits of undeveloped film, then the screen goes to full white. The curtains close and the audience gets up and starts making its way out of the theatre.

At least, that’s how it happens now. But that’s not how it happened the first time I saw it.

After the policeman pushed the cameraman back and the screen went to white, the curtains stayed open. And the music from the Intermission came back on. And it kept running. And everyone just sat there, waiting to see what would happen next.

My brothers and I were among the first to get it. We started laughing, then we quieted down and sat there for a long time, waiting for the rest of the audience to get it.

It was sheer brilliance.

Terry Gillliam and Terry Jones had devised a way to keep the entire audience staring at a blank screen, listening to looped organ music, waiting for…nothing. Each audience had to make up its own mind when to get up and leave. I don’t remember how long we stayed there, but it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in a theatre.

If you want to get some idea of what it was like, watch these two YouTube videos back to back: the police scene and then the closing music. It isn’t the same experience, but at least you’ll know what I’m talking about. (There’s even a 10 hour version, in case you’re interested.)

The movie comes around periodically to theatres and I used to sometimes ask the manager: “are you going to play the whole ending? You know, the way it was the first time?” They always say “yes” but they never do.

I’ve stopped asking. But I never stop hoping.