Category Archives: politics

Alternatives to the BSA

There are countless examples of this all over social networking.

In elementary school, I wanted to join Cub Scouts.  I think Mom and Dad just wanted me to be sure it’s something I wanted to do, as I had to press them on this for a few years before they relented in 4th grade.  I started in Cub Scouts, transitioned into Boy Scouts, and ultimately completed my Eagle Scout Award in high school, the Boy Scouts’ top rank.

To say “I learned a lot” from Scouting would be an understatement.  Aside from merit badges and outdoor survival skills, I learned team work, social skills and leadership skills from my experience in Scouting that was indispensable as I continued through life.  I have held multiple leadership roles in church, in concert/marching band, and in academic organizations since that time, but the roots of these experiences are drawn directly to Boy Scouts.  I continue to enjoy the outdoors, though I don’t spend as much time there as I used to.  It’s something I hope I can foster in Meg and in our future children as our society moves increasingly forward in this “Digital Age.”

About a month ago, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed their position against openly homosexual boys and leaders within their ranks.  It’s a position they’ve held for over a decade, openly, and one where I fully believe they’re on the wrong side of history.  It’s telling when both our Presidential candidates support the organization’s right to hold this view, yet still disagree with it.  As shown in the image above, more than a few Eagle Scouts agree with Obama and Romney and have returned their awards to the Boy Scouts of America to express their disappointment with the organization.

When this news was in the media more prominently, Brooke asked what I thought about the decision.  To be honest, I haven’t completely made up my mind.  I guess I’d like to think that the Scout Leaders I had in Troop 701 wouldn’t have turned anyone away that wanted to be there.  They were quick to provide support to those who wanted to participate, but couldn’t afford the dues or equipment to go on weekend camping trips.  They were supportive of Scouts that needed to focus on their school work rather than meeting obligations for the Troop.  In ways I imagine some pastors disagree with their denomination’s stance on this particular issue, I expect that the Leaders of my troop would have tried to simply “ignore” the issue, rather than actively seek out the homosexuals within their ranks.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but that’s what I’d like to think.

At the same time, I disagree with Chick-Fil-A’s stance on this issue as well, contributing their corporate funds in favor of “traditional marriage.”  To me, it’s bad enough when a corporate CEO makes comments I disagree with, but when the profits of an organization as a whole are used as a tool in a larger fight, it’s a bridge too far.

This all comes back to Meg (plus her sister(s)/brother(s)), though.  Brooke and I both want her to have access to experiences like we had:  Brooke had 4-H, I had the BSA.  Depending on where we live (e.g. the City of St. Louis), 4-H may not be a viable option.  We aren’t aware of many clubs in this area, so we’d possibly have to drive to another county to attend one.  There are Boy Scout troops all over, but their numbers have been in decline in recent years, possibly because of their silly political stances, but mostly, I’d argue, because our world has changed quite a bit since it was founded.

St. Louis On The Air had a show in late-July looking at an organization I’d never even heard of called the Baden-Powell Service Association.  Any of you that are familiar with Scouting will likely recognize the name, as Lord Baden-Powell is responsible for starting the Scouting movement in 1907.  It came to the United States in 1910 after William D. Boyce encountered “The Unknown Scout” while visiting London.

The BPSA is similar to the BSA, but has a few key differences.  One of these is that it accepts all people into its ranks.  Thus, it is a co-ed organization, open to the whole family, straight or gay, etc.  They also focus heavily on skills (in the form of “proficiency badges”), the outdoors, and service, similar to the BSA.  They even have a similar “Scout Promise” and “Scout Law” to the BSA equivalent.  It appears to place more of an emphasis on “service” than I remember from BSA.  We definitely participated in service outings, but I think the overall “family approach” to BPSA sounds like it may lend itself to family-oriented service opportunities than BSA did (when I was there, at least).

While the BPSA is part of a larger international organization, it’s decidedly smaller than the BSA.  So far as I can tell, the only “Group” in our area is in Washington, MO, which isn’t particularly close.  According to the NPR story, there’s interest in expanding to other locations here in St. Louis, but it doesn’t appear that there are many of these groups around the USA just yet.

Still, it’s nice to know there’s still interest in groups like this, and there are groups that are accepting of all people, regardless of their color or creed.  Hopefully, by the time Meg’s old enough, there will be more groups like this around the City (BPSA/BSA, 4-H, or otherwise) that can expose her and her friends to the same kinds of things Brooke and I got to experience growing up.

On Foisting Morality

I should note that Brooke doesn’t agree with various aspects of this post.  My opinion and mine alone!

Brooke and I have had more than a few conversations about the “birth control mandate” controversy from the last few weeks, where the Obama Administration required under the Affordable Health Care Law that all employers, including Catholic Hospitals and Universities, are required to provide birth control as part of their health care coverage to employees.  Various Catholic organizations, and others, protested this requirement, so the Administration compromised in allowing these organizations to avoid paying for the coverage as part of their contracts with health insurance companies, however, the insurance companies themselves would need to provide the coverage to the employees of these organizations.

While some felt this compromise was an example of the Administration deftly maneuvering around a touchy issue in an election year, others felt it still went against the rights of the employer to deny coverage they deem to be immoral.

It was this “immorality” part that yesterday’s On Point Radio show on NPR took on, interviewing a Pro-Life representative, a Pro-Choice representative, and a Bioethicist about the issue, from a moral, non-religious standpoint.

One of the callers caught my attention as making my point better than I could ever hope to make it.  Sadly, there’s no transcript, so I can’t put it on here verbatim, but it transpired late in the podcast.  An employer called in with a hypothetical situation, based on one of his employees’ experiences.  He was quick to point out this was a “Devil’s Advocate” kind of position, but it illustrates what concerned him about legislation currently moving through the House and Senate that would allow employers to “get around” what the Obama Administration had put in place and deny coverage under a “conscience amendment.”

Suppose that an employee is under their employer’s insurance.  That employee finds out that they are pregnant, and further finds out that they are having a child with Down’s Syndrome.  The employee decides to go ahead with the pregnancy and delivers the baby.  As this actually happened, the employer (the caller) had access to the bill, or at least, what the insurance company ended up paying: right around $300,000.

So, on a moral ground, the employer could say “You know, I think it’s immoral to make other people in this company’s insurance network fork over the $300,000 to pay for this hospital visit.  It’s okay if you, the employee, want to give birth, but it’s immoral for that cost to get shifted over to the insurance company.  You, the employee, should have to pay that $300,000.  That’s your right to pay for it, but it isn’t your right to make your insurer pay for it.  On moral grounds, I don’t think you should have had the baby.”

Again, this particular employer wasn’t advocating this position, but it’s illustrative of what a law like this would allow: employers could deny any coverage they thought was immoral.  That means a company run by Jehovah’s Witnesses could disallow blood transfusions to its employees.  That means a bigoted employer could deny AIDS treatments because you’re a homosexual.  That means an employer (or insurance company), like in the hypothetical above, could say an abortion was more moral than the delivery of a disabled child.  And that means a Catholic organization could deny birth control to women with ovarian cysts, likely dooming them to infertility.

That’s why this mandate exists and that’s why it’s necessary: not to force companies to do something, but to ensure that the morals and/or religious ideology of companies and employers aren’t foisted upon you, the employee.  It’s freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  Even Protestants recognize that favoring one religious community will affect another.

People, as a group, have a right to health services.  It isn’t up to the employer which services you are allowed to get: it’s between you and your doctor.

Let’s keep it that way.

Internet Bi-Partisanship

By now, surely you have read and/or heard plenty about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). These two bills were heading through the U.S. House and Senate (respectively) and seemed destined for passage as recently as last week, with the first votes coming up next week.

Also, as you probably know, a shutdown of Wikipedia, Reddit, and other popular websites (as well as a host of other “In Solidarity” messages on homepages across the web) managed to galvanize support against the bills that has never been seen before.  In a single day, Google.com collected over 7 million signatures on an online petition.  Rather than the English-version of the website, Wikipedia redirected you to a list of your Congressional representatives and senators so you could either phone or e-mail them (I sent e-mails to all of mine; heard back from two of them, so far).

I don’t want to belabor how bad the bills are (or now were).  They were pretty bad.  They were so vague as to allow for entire websites to be brought down, or at least to make it so cost-ineffective to host any interaction with users and consumers (for fear of copyrighted material being posted) that an entire industry of user-generated content would die.  I highly suggest you watch the video above if you want to understand the issue fully.  If you’re an internet user in any capacity, it’s an important 13 minutes for you to spend.

Mostly, I wanted to address how ridiculously cool it was to see the entire internet united, even if for only one day.  For that 24 hr period, this is all anyone was talking about across social networking.  For that 24 hr period, people were engaged in the politics of what was going on with an issue that applied to them directly.  For that 24 hr period, it didn’t matter if you were a Democrat or a Republican posting on some message board: both political parties supported the bills, and both party’s voters were against it.

For that 24 hr period, the internet and its users had more political power than the lobbyists from the motion picture industry and the music industry.  And that’s saying something.

We’ve seen something like this before, in the form of the Arab Spring nearly a year ago, where social networking and the internet helped spawn a revolution across the Arab world, in multiple countries, casting down dictators long thought to be invincible by their people.  Their citizens got organized, coalesced behind a belief that they could make a difference in their lives, and decided to take action.  And in some small way, the internet did the same thing for the people of the United States this week.

And I just think that’s kinda cool.

Another Reason to Buy American

A few months ago, I started listening to This American Life, a weekly Public Radio International show typically broadcast on NPR (Sundays around here, I think). Back in late July, they broadcast an episode about “patent trolls” that was particularly engaging, so I’ve been hooked ever since.

Last week’s episode, which I highly suggest you listen to, focuses on manufacturing in China, specifically, of products in Shenzhen.  Products from Samsung, Dell, HP, and more specifically, Apple.  Mike Daisey is something of a story-teller, so he gets up on stage in front of live audiences and talks in one-man shows.  As an Apple lover, he expounds upon his history with their products and how he always sought to understand how his iPad, iPhone, MacBook Pro, etc. worked, even going so far as to take his laptop(s) apart, clean them, and put them back together.  Through various circumstances, it occurred to him that he knew very little about how these products were actually made, however, so he took a trip to Shenzhen to visit the Foxconn plant where practically all Apple products are manufactured.  As others have reported in the past, he found harsh working conditions, that unions were illegal, and that underage girls were employed in the factory.

More to the point of what I’m getting at, Daisey says that Apple is actually doing relatively well with their manufacturing practices, holding yearly audits, requiring that their manufacturers follow strict guidelines, and so on.  Others in China and Southeast Asia, as a whole, aren’t as careful.  Some have even suggested that, while these practices are obviously unfortunate, in many ways, it still provides a better living than these individuals had prior to industrialization.  And furthermore, in many ways, these countries are currently ascending much as the United States did in the Industrial Revolution.  It’s something of a “growing pain” that countries must go through before they can decide what work practices will be most efficient for the company, and most beneficial to the worker.

This issue is something I’ve never associated with the idea behind “Buy American,” or at least, “Buy From Companies You Know Are Providing Some Level Of Non-Exploitative Treatment To Their Workers.”  Many (most?) manufacturing plants in North America are pretty good about treating their workers fairly, with some limit on hours worked, over-time pay, a minimum wage, and so on (depending on unionization and other factors, of course).   There are a variety of European companies that do as well or better in the treatment of their workers, and I’m sure there are even some in Asia that do right by their employees.  While I’m suggesting a focus on looking into the manufacturing processes of companies we tend to buy from, I just see the whole endeavor as another reason to just Buy (North) American.

Up until now, I always thought of it as an economic issue, to keep our money here rather than sending it overseas.  Increasingly, this is difficult as manufacturing jobs have all but left the U.S.  Even when we “Buy American” in things like cars, they’re only assembled here: all the individual parts are built/assembled overseas.  But after listening to this particular story, it makes me consider other reasons to try buying American-made/grown products, where feasible.  Unfortunately, it’s probably impossible to buy a TV, an MP3 player, a computer, or a phone that was assembled, let alone built, in the U.S.  I guess I’d like to see the “Buy American” ideal extended so it not only encompasses the economic need to keep our money here, but also the need to extend the rights of workers and the belief that each individual has value to the countries that make all the “stuff” we keep buying.  Perhaps something like the “Fair Trade” label used on food products from around the world: a certification process companies can apply for to provide some degree of protections for the people they employ.

I dunno.  I just never really thought about the concept of “Buy American” as a way to reward companies that treat their workers well.  Perhaps we all should.

Edit: In mid-March, This American Life had to retract their initial report, listed above, saying that Daisey had fabricated enough portions of his monologue that they deemed it unfit for their journalistic standards.  Generally speaking, things like chronology, specific interviews, and certain details were fact-checked with his translator, Cathy, who told This American Life that it didn’t all happen in that order or in that way.  They interviewed Daisey again in the podcast from that week, who felt badly for the ordeal, but wanted to make sure people realized that the things he said are “true” in that they happened at Apple plants: just not necessarily on his particular visit.

Don’t Hate The Band, Hate The Fans

I don't think these guys get it...

I’ve heard this argument before: “I don’t hate Dave Matthews Band, but their fans are so annoying!”  As in, the music isn’t beyond the realm of their enjoyment, but the people they have to enjoy it with are so terrible that it detracts from the intended experience.  The same could be said for a variety of other acts, I’m sure.

Except in the case of Coldplay.  Both their fans, and the band, are terrible.  But this should go without saying.

Increasingly, I find myself seeing a connection between this feeling toward music and toward religion, especially in the case of Christianity.  All too often in today’s culture, I feel ashamed by what seems to be the impression that Christianity sometimes portrays to the world at large.  Folks like those above, admittedly from the fringe group, the Westboro Baptist Church.  Do all Christians feel this way?  Absolutely not.  Yet any time they get attention, there are folks out there that think this is what Christianity is all about.  Much of the same can be said of Islam, where a few bad apples end up making the rest of the world fear a largely peaceful and just faith tradition.

There are examples like this guy, too:

...neither does he...

Again, I’m sure he’s in the minority, but when pictures and videos of this nature hit the internet or television, the message being spread isn’t “Love” and “Acceptance:” it’s “Retribution” and “Intolerance.”

I think I’m most sensitive to this issue when it comes to homosexuality and the Church.  I know a few folks who are gay, and they’re really good people.  Personally, I’d love for them to be able to go to church.  And I know some of them would like to.  But, their impression, based on images like those above, and from conversations they’ve had with other Christians, means they’ll probably never go.  These are people that want to learn more and want to get the same experiences that I’ve had throughout my life, but feel like they can’t, because they’ll either be turned away, or at least told that their lifestyle is going to send them to Hell.

Since when are the Christians the ones doing the persecuting, eh?

I’m tired of these folks above representing me.  Of having some bearing on how my faith and traditions are perceived by the world at large.  These people do not represent the whole of Christianity.  Nor does the feeling that homosexuals are evil.  Nor does the feeling that women who have an abortion are going directly to Hell.  These feelings are indicative of unacceptance, of intolerance, and of hate.  In my opinion, they are inherently unchristian beliefs.

To those people that want to quote Old Testament scripture or the Letters of Paul (neither of which are words of Jesus, for the record…), I give you this:

12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.     — Matthew 7:12; NIV

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  – Matthew 22: 36-40; NIV 

That is the Christian message, as I see it, straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  These are the important aspects of Christianity, and if you follow these tenets, then you are not only a good Christian, but you’re also a good human being.  Unsurprisingly, the Golden Rule transcends Christianity and applies to other world religions, as well.  It’s just one of those things you should do.  Christians included!

These feelings always get stirred up around election season, when I see self-righteous “family candidates” like Rick Santorum up on a stage, talking about “family values” while denouncing pro-choice women and homosexuality, among other things, all the while representing Christianity on the world scene.  I’m appalled by the things this guy says, in the name of Jesus Christ and in the name of the Christian faith, as a whole.  I just hope that people around the world don’t think he, and others like him, are representative of all Christianity.

They’re not.

To anyone reading this that has been wronged by people in the name of Christianity, then I sincerely apologize.  I just hope anyone that knows me, or Brooke, knows that we’re Christians and we don’t feel the same way as those that seem to represent us.

And we aren’t alone.