The Midterm Mandate: Stand for something.

I recently got a trial subscription to HBO. I would never have asked for it, and I can’t imagine making enough money to ever have added it to my cable subscription; a suscription that I keep mainly because you cannot get decent reception locally, and I really love BBC America. HBO is an incredibly low priority in my life. Since I have it, though, I have been binge watching “The Newsroom”.

I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing. I loved his movies and I have loved his Tv shows since my exwife introduced me to her Sports Night DVDs back in 2001. I found copies of the West Wing up to that point and I watched every episode until it was canceled. As a person who grew up Republican and wasn’t ashamed to call myself one until the 2000 nomination (and I say that as a Texan), I love that the main character of  “The Newsroom” is a Republican with fairly moderate views.

In an episode in the second season, he is asked about his party affiliation. He then asks why no one ever asks the question, “Why are you a Democrat?”

I can answer that. The Republican Party stands for things and against things. They have a platform that is full of value statements, if very little policy. The fact that almost no one agrees with all of those statements isn’t actually a flaw. It means that people choose to be Republican because they agree with more of them than not, or, in too many cases, they have a small group of issues that matters so much to them that they are willing to vote against their interest on everything else to support those positions. That is exactly why, as happened in “The West Wing” before, people are asked why they are Republicans.

http://youtu.be/QNoauwt0NE0?t=4m57sThe Republican Party stands for things, and even when Republicans disagree with some, many, or most of those positions, it matters to them to stand for the rest and for it to be known that they would rather stand on that ground and accept the consequences than to move.

Let me say that I have come to understand how dangerous that thinking is. I also know full well how powerful and seductive it is.

The reason that few people are ever asked why they are Democrats is then threefold:

  1. The opponents tend to think in terms of issues and ask about specifics rather than the party; “How can you support more government intrusion?” “Why don’t you just say it is wrong to kill unborn babies?”
  2. They know that the average Democratic voter isn’t loyal to the Democratic party anymore; there isn’t much leadership or vision capable of inspiring loyalty.
  3. Democratic voters aren’t really loyal to the party for the above reason, and so they don’t tend to own the label strongly in the first place.

As the right has moved the conversation further and further to the right, the center has been taken in by the Democrats. More people are calling themselves Independent with each election cycle, fleeing the GOP ranks without committing to the Democrats. They have gladly tried to cater to this ground swell, such that there is no longer a real platform under the party. If every seat is thought of as building material for their platform, every candidate adding either thickness or width to a plank, then they have, to use a phrase, spread themselves thin at the expense of depth and stability. And this, I think, has finally cost them more than it has earned them in an election.

When the Democrats failed to show up with strong opinions and a defense of their leadership, both in the White House and the Senate, people realized that the platform was about to give out. Nothing more could get done, in part because the Democrats had given up on doing them. They weren’t trying to convince people that they could lead, and so the people took away their leadership. It wasn’t that the Republicans made such a better claim, but at least it seemed like giving them a chance might result in something getting done. At the very least, it reminds the Democrats that they owe the public more than platitudes. At least, I hope that it does, because what we need is progressive leadership, and the Tea Party backed GOP isn’t capable of that.

Ignorance Is Not A Sin, Pride Is: Climate Science and Congress

I am not a Mexican. I have ever even been to Mexico. If you were to ask me about the authenticity of a particular restaurant, I couldn’t help you. What if, on the other hand, you asked 20 Mexicans, and 10 of them said “Absolutely authentic,” and 5 said “Pretty close,” and 4 said “Well, not from my part of the country,” and one said “No”? I would trust that it is authentic, wouldn’t you?

I am not a coder. All code looks a little random to me. If you asked me if a bit of code were efficient or well done, I could not answer you. I would ask a few friends. If I asked 50 friends to evaluate it, and 25 of them said it looked great, 15 of them said “I think it looks good, but that’s not a language I am really skilled at, so maybe it could have been done better,” 7 of them said “It will defintely get the job done, but it could be more efficient,” and the last three said, more or less “No”. I will still use that code with confidence.

Like so many members of Congress, I am not a scientist. Like members of congress, I have not really studied the issue of climate change and I could not hope to make reasonable predictions about the effects of greenhouse gasses and global temperature shifts. Like Congress, I am not ashamed to say that I don’t have the expertise to make predictions or reasonable hypotheses  about the effects of energy or economic policy on the atmosphere and how that will change the habitability of the planet. That isn’t my job.

Honestly, that is what should be great about having career politicians; we should elect people who know about policy and law and economics to handle those things for us because we can’t all be experts in all things. Like us, politicians call for plumbers when they have a leak or doctors when they are ill because, like us, their job focuses on a different skill set and knowledge base. Like us, they shouldn’t all be scientists, because they need to know the legal system, the financial system, how our highways are built and repaired, and many other aspects of creating policy to make the country run better.

The problem is that many of these politicians are looking at the science, reading the conclusions of scientists, and, not understanding it for themselves, they are ignoring what the professionals are trying to tell them because the truth is comfortable.

The federal government has several divisions that are paid to do research and make predictions. Those divisions have helped us prepare for tornadoes and hurricanes. They have helped us target missiles and fly aircraft into dangerous situations. They have taken us to the moon and landed a robot the size of a small SUV on Mars. They have proven that they are good at science, and they warn us that climate change is real, and that humans are impacting it in a substantial way. That means that we could change our actions and have an impact on the course and rate at which this change is happening, and that certain actions will improve the stability of the countries and infrastructures currently in place.

When it comes to war, the Republicans are on the record saying that the government, and especially the current president, should trust the generals. They believe that the people who have fought in and risen to lead our military are trustworthy on issues of national security. The Pentagon has had military scientists looking at this, and the US military has concluded that Climate Change is a threat and that renewable energy needs to be a priority in national security. Why aren’t we listening?

When it comes to atmospheric science and the ability to look at the big picture here on Earth, few human institutions come close to the resources of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They put most of our satellites in orbit, and they track weather patterns and changed to geography. We pay them to do it, because we need that information. Their mission is the advancement of science with the intent to “benefit all humankind“. They have been tasked with the non-partisan job of making the world a better place for people. They warn that climate change is a real threat to human civilization as we know it.

Over 97% of the papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agreed that humans are causing it.

97% of scholarly papers from scientists working on the issue take the position that humans are driving climate change.

More importantly, as with the examples I opened with, we can trust that the people who know what they are talking about agree that human activities, especially the release of carbon that had previously been trapped underground in fossil fuels like oil and coal, back into the atmosphere, are making the problem much worse. Scientists who are working in the field of climate change overwhelmingly agree that it is a problem, and that we can make changes that will lessen its impact.

Now, of course there are some who look at the same facts and come to different conclusions. That happens in every field. Literary scholars argue about author intent. Music scholars may argue about the historical value of certain composers. Biblical scholars are the reason that there are over 40,000 different denominations of Christianity. And, this is a really good thing in science, as the point of peer review is to be skeptical and make sure that the facts point to the conclusion reached. We need curmudgeons and malcontents to keep everyone on their toes and honest. Sometimes, the facts available require a change to the conclusions that science has been working from. That is how we discovered climate change to begin with.

What we see here, though, isn’t scientists arguing about methodology or conclusions. What we see here is an overwhelming consensus of professionals who are being ignored anyway because what they have to say is inconvenient. We have lawmakers admitting that they are not scientists, in the same way that the President of the United States is not a general, and instead of listening to the experts and taking the advice of the majority, they are choosing to do nothing on an issue that threatens us all.

“I am not a scientist” should be a bold statement of ignorance and willingness to listen to professionals. Instead, it is being used as a smoke screen to dishonestly claim that no one knows what the facts are. The folks doing so should be ashamed of their hubris.

The Word Responsible Has a Meaning

Below is a sourced version of a letter I wrote to the editors or the Denton Record Chronicle. Not knowing if it will be published, and knowing that the facts will be questioned, I invite you to share this with anyone who still has questions about the drilling ban. We can always revoke the ban if the slogan of “Responsible Drilling” is ever more than a campaign promise. We cannot undo some of the damage that will be done if we allow things to continue as they are. Additionally, I feel that I must point out the foolishness of shouting about “energy independence” while stumping for fossil fuels that are rapidly running out rather than backing the development of renewable and, preferably, non-centralized sources of energy like residential solar and wind power. We need better than status quo if we are going to prepare for a bright and healthy future for Denton.


The “Vote No” campaign against the ban of hydraulic fracture gas mining in the City of Denton uses the word “Responsible” without any context or meaning.

How can “responsible drilling” not include new regulations, oversight, or accountability? They say they want support for “Responsible Drilling”, but that is not what they offer as the alternative to the ban. If it were, the ban might not be needed.

Rachael Rawlins, of UT’s School of Architecture, as published in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal, shows that state and federal regulatory programs fail to effectively address emissions, the risk of malfunctions, encroaching land uses, or the potential interactive effects of fracking chemicals. Her studies show that “rates of childhood leukemia and lymphoma in Flower Mound are significantly higher than expected”,  tying these findings to the exploitation of the Barnett Shale.

If health risks aren’t enough of a concern, there is considerable risk to the local economy. Fracking sites provide lower tax revenue than most other land use; their equipment taxes our roads, our water supply, and other resources. Worse than that, fracking presents an imminent risk to Americans’ most important financial investment: their home. Scientists across the country collaborated on a geological study, finding “fluid migration from high-rate disposal wells in Oklahoma is potentially responsible for the largest swarm” of otherwise unexplained earthquakes 3 hours north of us. Add the fact that pollution fears are driving home prices down already, according to Forbes, and oil companies seem like very irresponsible neighbors to have.

Obligations and calling: decision point

I have had a strange life, so far. In most respects, I have been very lucky. I admit that, and I honor the people who have helped me get to where I am. Part of how I honor them is to keep trying to be my best, and to give my best to the world. The I Am UU ministry is part of me trying hard to give back to the world in a way that promotes the best in humanity.

Another way is that I try to return what favors I can. I give back to those who have given to me with glee and fervor, because I want to encourage the doing of good and reward those who do it.

I was adopted. I was days old when my parents claimed me, and I have only ever known one family, and it has always been a part of my life. It was not a perfect family. It isn’t one that I am now particularly proud of. I am sure that a lot of liberals raised in Texas have those feelings some times. Family still matters, as a part of who I am and how I got here, and family is an obligation that I cannot ignore.

To that end, I took on the care of my mother several years ago. She has cancer that she doesn’t wish to treat, and she has dementia at a very young age. At 67, she has the body and mind that her doctors compare to patients in their 80s. Being her caretaker has been hard, and at times rewarding. More over, her income being part of the household has allowed me to create the I Am UU project, staying at home to handle her appointments and help her with daily tasks as well as those of my kids.

My ability to care for her is now stretched to the breaking point. I will not be able to keep it up another full year, and we may not make it to the end of this one.

This is hard to admit, because I know that we cannot afford to put her in a facility that will be anywhere near as nice as the home we’ve worked to provide. I want her to have a quality of life, but it has come the point where I cannot provide that here, either.

That part is internal. It is something I will have to deal with. It is hard, but I need to admit that the time will come, soon, that I cannot do what she needs here at home, and I will have to trust skilled professionals to help her in her daily life. I want what every American wants for their family: one more Christmas (or relevant winter-time holiday). I don’t know if that is realistic.

Another serious hurdle is the financial burden that we will face when her income is removed from our household. We moved into the house and the neighborhood that we did because we needed room for my Mom. We love it here, now, and more over, moving would be a huge expense all at once. In order to pay the rent, I need an income to replace what we are loosing. More than just making up that income, finding a regular job will mean paying for daycare, as well as a few other expenses we have been able to avoid thanks to me being home, like not absolutely needing a second car so far.

I am facing a serious dilemma: I cannot continue to grow the I Am UU project that I have come to love, and will likely have to scale it back quite a bit if I have to find a regular job.  I will not be able to continue to give what I have come to think of as the best of me. I fight my demons now by knowing that what I am doing matters to a lot of people, and matters a great deal to some.

So, this is me, begging. Help me save my family AND the one accomplishment outside my family that I am truly proud of. Help me do the right thing for my mother without doing the wrong thing for myself. Help me find a way to support my ministry, or to find a paying gig with similar benefit to the world. I put this out there to the universe, because I need all the help I can get.

Faitify, an all UU crowd funding site, has launched, and I am hopeful that it will change the way that Unitarian Universalist think about funding, because the 1st report on GA from UU World clearly shows that we need to. Sadly, Faitify is set up for goal-oriented projects needing one large push to get started or to move to the next level.

I would love to have the relative security of people pledging small monthly gifts via Patreon, but will gladly accept gifts through Square Cash (sign up now and they’ll give you a dollar!). As the only designer on the I Am UU team so far, I also get some money from the purchases on Cafe Press, though it is a very small percentage (on purpose; I want people to have these things to wear). I want to keep this ministry going. I want to honor the trust that these thousands of people have given me by choosing to read, comment on, and share this content. I want to keep reaching people, because I know that I have helped people find Unitarian Universalism through this work, both as new visitors and as UUs who needed a push to deepen their connection. I need something like that to be proud of in my life.

I am not a feminist, but you can call me that if you want to.

That’s right: I rarely refer to myself as a feminist. I don’t like the term. I don’t think it applies to me. This frustrates my significant other at times, and so I thought I might share my thoughts, because others might find them equally maddening, and that is good for page hits. Let me explain further with a comparison:

I am not gay, transgendered, or otherwise “Queer”. I don’t cal myself a part of the LGBT community, though I fully support their right to be heard and included and their civil rights. I do not have their experiences, and I cannot rightly claim to be one of them. I mess up all the time when talking about the issues of homosexuals, including the fact that many of them now dislike the term “homosexual”. I certainly mess up when speaking about and with transgendered persons and it is nearly impossible to speak about the gender-nonbinary without an introductory lesson in each person’s preferred lexicon.

I am, likewise, uncomfortable calling myself a feminist. I support equality and representation and empowerment, but I do not have the personal experience with discrimination to draw from. I do not have a connection with “feminism” that runs any deeper than my connection with the LGBTQ community: I love these people, and I support them, but it feels wrong to claim to be a part of their struggle. I am an ally for equality and justice, but that is the only label I am comfortable with. It is not that I am against feminism, or even just the word; it just doesn’t speak to who I am or what I am for.

I am an ally for all those people who need to be heard and who need to be treated better. I am strongly against gender bias, and actually against the concept of binary gender even as I am very happy and comfortable as a man. I want my penis to matter less in other people’s valuation of me than what I give back to the world. I want that for everyone no matter what their biology, how they dress, or how they identify. If you think that makes me a feminist, then so be it. I don’t call myself by that term except when it must be defended against people who use it as a slur.

To the School Board (any of them)

This post is an open letter to all school boards and administrators, but it was written in repsonceto this post about Strasburg, Colorado by author John Green over on his Tumblr.

I have read that there are some members of your community who have registered complaints that certain books currently being used to educate your teenaged students are “profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, vile, and will result in the irreparable erosion of my students’ moral character.” I am familiar with most of these books, and with the broader world. I counter their claims by saying that the world is profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, and vile, and that we need young adults who are prepared for that. We need them to learn empathy and problem solving. We need them to be aware of the struggles of others and to be able to imagine the thoughts of people who have lead very different lives. That is what fiction can do for us.

We can only protect children for so long. That time is better spent preparing them to be adults. We can give them books full of bad words and bad decisions, and offer a safe place to talk about how those choices effect the outcomes. We can show them young people involved in adult situations, and if those situations are written well, as in “Go Ask Alice” and “The Fault in Our Stars”, our children can learn to make better choices while at the same time learning empathy for those to whom life has been less kind.

There are bad books written for young adults. There are good books which were not written for young adults. Don’t let the content be the primary thing on which you judge them. Look at the language, the style, the overall theme, and determine if there is something in them that your students can learn from. We don’t learn unless we are exposed to new ideas. We aren’t even able to judge our values if they are never questioned. If you want your students to be able to defend the values you hope to instill, then you have to train them in that defense, and this can only be done by challenging those values in safe, structured environments, like the classroom of a dedicated teacher.

Please consider the value that comes from bringing the big, crude, profane world to your children on your own terms before they are let loose into it. We don’t teach kindergartners about witches and wolves anymore. We shelter our kids far too long. As a member of Generation X, I can tell you that the tendency to sterilize fair tales and choose impotent novels has set up a lot of young adults for failure. They don’t know how to make the tough choices. No one taught them how to have emotionally healthy relationships or to defend their ideas and values in a world where you have to stand for something.

Children need fiction. They need stories that challenge them and ask them to look at the world very differently. They need to learn from the mistakes of others, or they will have to go out and make those mistakes themselves.

Thank you for your time.
Thomas Earthman

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