politics

NAACAP calls for an end to the War On Drugs

I'm not sure how this slipped by my radar, because it is big news for anyone concerned with drug policy: on Tuesday, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for an end to the War On Drugs.

This is hugely important because the NAACP is such a mainstream, conservative (in the "not radical", not the "in favor of preserving privilege for the wealthy" sense) organization. As Leonard Pitts puts it, "there has always been something determinedly middle class and cautious about the NAACP. This is the group whose then-leader, Roy Wilkins, famously detested Martin Luther King for his street theatrics."

But after 40 years, the failure of Prohibition to curb drug abuse has finally become so clear that even this cautious organization's President and CEO, Benjamin Todd Jealous, has to say that "These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidenced-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America."

And so they have issued "A Call to End the War on Drugs, Allocate Funding to Investigate Substance Abuse Treatment, Education, and Opportunities in Communities of Color for A Better Tomorrow". Once ratified by their Board of Directors, the resolution will encourage more than 1,200 active NAACP units across the country to organize advocacy for drug policy reform.

Glenn Beck says Norway victims "a little like...the Hitler youth"

I thought this had to be something from The Onion, but nope, it's real: commenting on the massacre at Utoya, Glenn Beck said that "There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing."

Beck is apparently unaware that not only have the the Young Republicans had camps for teens, but the Tea Party followers who briefly catapulted him to stardom have done camps for kids -- modeled, not surprisingly, on vacation Bible schools, and full of the usual teabagger delusions about history and economics.

And so, having compared his own core consistency to the Nazis (accurately or not...), methinks that about wraps it up for Mr. Beck. Thanks for playing and we have some lovely parting gifts.

"don't know" versus belief

According to some teachers, the most fundamental statement in Zen is "I don't know". For example, Zen Master Wu Kwang (Richard Shrobe) tells this tale:

Poep An came to a particular monastery and greeted Master Ji Jang, who was to become his final teacher. Ji Jang asked Peop An, "You're travelling all around China; what's the meaning of your pilgrimage?" Initially, Peop An felt stuck and momentarily all thinking stopped. Then he said, "don't know". Ji Jang responded, "Not knowing is most intimate". Sometimes you'll see this translated as: "Not knowing is closest to it." ...This one sentence, "don't know" or "Not knowing is most intimate", is very much at the heart of our practice.

This idea goes all the way back to the semi-mythical founder of Zen, Bodhidharma, and an interview he supposedly had with the Emperor of China. The Emperor, who had sponsored all sorts of temple-building and sutra-copying, was not pleased with this smart-assed barbarian telling him that this wasn't going to get him reborn in the Pure Land or whatever, and so challenged him by saying, "Who are you?" (I've always read the subtext of that as "Who are you to give me lip, monk?") Bodhidharma's amazing answer was, "I don't know."

Another way of expressing this idea comes from Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

There's a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Data expresses a similar idea: "Captain, the most elementary and valuable statement in science, the beginning of wisdom, is I do not know. I do not know what that is, sir."

The beginning of wisdom is, "I don't know." What an amazing idea.

Have you ever tried to teach someone something, only to be told, "I know, I know!" I've been on both sides of that one! If I know, then I'm closed off to learning, but if I'm not attached to "knowing," the possibilities are endless.

Let's juxtapose that with a Twitter post from the man behind the recent massacre in Norway. Anders Behring Breivik, the lunatic who killed at least 92 people in what seems to be a politically motivated attack, recent posted this: "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests."

If we didn't know the context, we might look at that and think it a positive statement about the value of strong belief and determination. But in order to go off and shoot scores of people, Breivik had to "know" that what he was doing was right.

Just a bit of "I don't know" could save a lot of lives.

Yeats's poem "The Second Coming" has the famous lines, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." While perhaps a situation where the best lack all conviction tilts too far, it will always be the case that the wise have doubts, while those who perpetrate violence lack them. You've got to be pretty damn sure of your ideas -- pretty damn attached to them -- to kill people over them.

where does the TSA find these people?

If you need conclusive proof that the Transportation Security Administration carefully picks the most ignorant and incompetent applicants, consider the words of Sabrina Birge, an airport security officer at at Nashville International Airport. When Andrea Fornella Abbott refused to have her daughter subjected to molestation or to radiation, Birge informed her that the scanner was not an X-ray but "uses the same type of radio waves as a sonogram."

That's right. She claimed they use the the same sort of radio waves as a sonogram.

The new backscatter scanners do, in fact, use X-rays, and the evidence is clear that the TSA has lied about the evidence for their safety.

The Stanford Prison Experiement, 40 years later

Stanford Magazine looks at Philip Zimbardo's famous "prison experiment", forty years later. The Prison Experiment ranks with the Milgram experiment as a classic study of how authority corrodes ethics, demonstrating how otherwise normal and decent human beings can become abusive monsters when handed power.

Here are some choice quotes from participants in the experiment:

"The prison study has given me a new understanding of what 'heroism' means. It's not some egocentric, I'm-going-to-rush-into-that-burning-building thing—it's about seeing something that needs to be addressed and saying, I need to help and do something to make it better." -- Christina Maslach, who stepped in to insist that the experiment be stopped

"When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, my first reaction was, this is so familiar to me. I knew exactly what was going on. I could picture myself in the middle of that and watching it spin out of control. When you have little or no supervision as to what you're doing, and no one steps in and says, 'Hey, you can't do this'—things just keep escalating. You think, how can we top what we did yesterday? How do we do something even more outrageous? I felt a deep sense of familiarity with that whole situation." -- Dave Eshelman, described as the prison's most abusive guard

"It really was a unique experience to watch human behavior transform in front of your eyes. And I can honestly say that I try never to forget it. I spend a lot of time with real prisoners and real guards, and having seen what I saw then, while a graduate student, gave me respect for the power of institutional environments to transform good people into something else." -- Craig Haney, a graduate student researcher

"One thing that I thought was interesting about the experiment was whether, if you believe society has assigned you a role, do you then assume the characteristics of that role? I teach at an inner city high school in Oakland. These kids don't have to go through experiments to witness horrible things. But what frustrates my colleagues and me is that we are creating great opportunities for these kids, we offer great support for them, why are they not taking advantage of it? Why are they dropping out of school? Why are they coming to school unprepared? I think a big reason is what the prison study shows—they fall into the role their society has made for them." -- Richard Yacco, one of the prisoners

You can read more about the Prison Experiment at Wikipedia and at the Prison Experiment website.

You also ought to check out Zimbardo's "Heroic Imagination" project, which seeks to "provide the knowledge, tools, strategies, and exercises to help individuals overcome the inertia which keeps them from taking positive action at crucial moments in their lives...[to] train individuals to transform their innate desire to do the right thing, into the ability to actually do it."

with Huckabee out, bet on Romney to take the GOP nomination (and lose to Obama)

Mike Huckabee has decided not to run for President in 2012. If the GOP holds true to form, this means that Mitt Romney will most likely be their 2012 Presidental candidate.

There's an interesting pattern to Republican primaries: if there is a serious second-place contender for the nomination, that runner-up is very likely to take the nomination next time there is not a sitting GOP president.

Let's look at the history of the nomination, back to 1960:

civil liberties and the Westboro Baptist Church

Being a civil libertarian often means sticking up for the rights of assholes. People espousing popular opinions don't need protection, and even those expressing unpopular views can sometimes do so without harassment if they've got a bit of charisma. It's the people whose ideas and personalities both nauseate us, who test our commitment to freedom.

Thus it is that, despite the fact that it makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit to find myself taking their side, I have to speak out against the violence, false arrest, and harassment directed at members of the Westboro Baptist Church -- Fred Phelps's gang of "God Hates Fags" idiots -- in Brandon, Mississippi.

According to the linked report, one member of this group was assaulted, and despite a number of witnesses, "no one seemed to remember anything about what had happened." Vehicles with Kansas license plates were barricaded in a hotel parking lot, and the police delayed towing the blocking pickup trucks; and members of the church were detained for several hours for questioning without probable cause.

There is no doubt that Phelps and company are sad excuses for human beings. Their tiny hearts are full of ignorance and fear and hate. But one cannot beat ignorance or fear out of a man. The cowards (and yes, these were cowardly acts) who assaulted the WBC demonstrator, who allowed that assault to happen without consequence, and who used police power to harass them, almost certainly only strengthened the convictions of these asshats. I'll bet you five dollars that, in the days since this incident, at least one of them has quoted the bit from the Bible about "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan supposedly died to protect freedom. (We'll leave aside for now the question of the real cause for which they were sent over, and the actual effects of their presence.) To then deny freedom of speech to Americans is no way to honor their legacy. Yes, Phelps's message is odious, offensive, disgusting, and hateful. But the funerals of agents of the U.S. government who were killed in carrying out that government's foreign policy are occasions calling for the greatest First Amendment protection.

There is no patriotism in assault, censorship, or false arrest, and I ask those of my friends who seem to be delighted with this incident to pause and seriously consider the nature of freedom.

Republican legislator busted for cannabis possession after anti-pot remakrs

Ah, hypocrisy, the sport of politicians. Back in February, Robert Watson, GOP minority leader of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, said that his state's legislature's priorities were only correct "if you're a gay man from Guatemala who gambles and smokes pot."

While the perfect irony would have been if he was then caught in a love nest smoking weed and shooting craps with a Guatemalan gay lover, one out of four ain't bad: on Friday, Watson was stopped at a checkpoint when cops smelled alcohol and marijuana. He failed a field sobriety test and cops found a bag of "suspected marijuana" and a bowl in his pocket.

His court date is May 11. Bet he wishes his colleagues in Connecticut had made drug law reform a higher priority...

Stripping protester sues TSA

Aaron Tobey was pissed at the TSA's "gate rape" search procedure. He did everything he could to avoid taking a flight, but when his grandfather died late last year, he had no other option to get to the funeral but to fly. "So," he says, "I decided that the next time I would go through one of those screenings that I would make a statement somehow."

Last December, he wrote a portion of the Fourth Amendment on his chest, and headed to the security line at Richmond International Airport. "Upon being directed there I took off my t-shirt and my sweat pants and stood there in my running shorts waiting for them to proceed with the screening." (Note that some versions of this story going around the internet have him stripping to his underwear, but that's apparently not correct.)

But instead of being searched, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. (He was released in time to make his flight.) The charges were dropped -- according to This morning in Henrico County Commonweath's Attorney Wade Kizer, Tobey's conduct did not rise "to what is covered by the disorderly conduct standard".

Tobey is now suing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the head of the TSA, the Richmond airport authority, and several security officers, for $250,000 in damages and reimbursement for legal fees. The lawsuit states that it "seeks vindication of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Aaron Tobey, who ... was arrested without probable cause, falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted"; it was filed on his behalf by the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group.

leadership and William Donald Schaefer

There have been many articles about William Donald Schaefer in the past few days, but I found this piece by Ray Jenkins particularly interesting. This is because Jenkins, a distinguished journalist who was a special assistant for press affairs to President Jimmy Carter and the editorial page editor of The Evening Sun during Schaefer's tenure as mayor, lays out a general theory of what it takes to make a leader:

...[T]he elements of political leadership are not really all that complicated. Three things are required: vision, courage, and tenacity — the capacity to see solutions to the problems that afflict mankind everywhere; the courage to stand before one's fellow citizens and say, "Let me lead you"; and an unflinching determination to see the job through. Once elected, a politician's constituents do not expect perfection, but they do expect two additional qualities: competence and honesty — sound judgment in performance, and a reasonable confidence that the leader always acts in the public interest and not out of some secret private gain.

This is a model I'm going to try to keep in mind as my on-the-job training in small-scale political leadership continues.

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