Hypocrisy Lobby

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This recent Hobby Lobby decision by the SCOTUS has me infuriated. It pushes us a little further down the road to theocracy. I won’t get into all of my disagreements with this horrendous decision, but just wanted to point out the ridiculous hypocrisy involved in Hobby Lobby’s position/case.

Corporations don’t have “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Why did the founders/owners of Hobby Lobby incorporate? To separate their personal wealth, assets, and liability from that of their business. A corporation is a legal entity that is separate and distinct from the owners of the corporation. Hobby Lobby can’t have this both ways. They can’t form a corporation in order to avoid personal liability for anything that happens within the corporation AND then expect to extend their personal religious beliefs to the corporation. It’s either separate or it isn’t. If you want to make the case that your personal religious beliefs are being trampled upon, you should do so in a sole proprietorship.

Contraception was fine when it was an investment. For years, Hobby Lobby has had their 401k plans investing in companies that manufacture the very things they now claim to have such a “sincerely held religious objection” to. Here a few companies Hobby Lobby was invested in for years that were ok as long as the investments were paying off:

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries – makers of Plan B and ParaGard (a copper IUD).

Actavis – makers of a generic Plan B and distributors of Ella (another emergency contraception).

Pfizer – makers of Cytotec and Prostin E2, drugs used to induce abortions.

Bayer – manufacturers of Skyla and Mirena (hormonal IUDs).

AstraZeneca – owners of a subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin (all drugs commonly used in abortions).

Forest Laboratories – makers of Cervidil (drug used to induce abortions).

Aetna – insurance company that covers surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of their policies.

Humana – insurance company that covers surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of their policies.

It isn’t a difficult thing to see what your 401k invests in. As a matter of fact, it’s a required report that is made to these people who supposedly held these devout objections to what all these companies did. Why was there never an effort to remove Hobby Lobby investments from these companies if the religious belief was so sincere?

China not only allows abortion, they mandate it. If Hobby Lobby ownership can’t bear the thought of their money being spent on something they view as abortion, why is the vast majority of the crap on their shelves manufactured in China? China has a population problem and actively uses abortion to help solve it. If this religious belief is so sincerely held, why aren’t the Hobby Lobby owners buying American-made products?

Hobby Lobby doesn’t get to say what every dollar they’ve ever touched gets spent on. I so tire of this idea that the employer gets a say in the insurance plan because the employer pays for it. No. The plan is part of the overall compensation package given to the employee. It is the employee’s plan in exactly the same way that it is the employee’s paycheck. Hobby Lobby has no right to interfere in the employee’s usage of their healthcare plan anymore than they have the right to dictate how an employee spends their paycheck.

Their “science” is wrong. The Hobby Lobby owners claim they object to any form of contraception that involves preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. You know, because that would be interfering with God’s will. The problem is that many of the menstrual cycles of women involve fertilized eggs leaving the body after not being implanted in the uterus. God seems ok with that. They don’t understand contraception, the many things it is used for, how it works, etc. Leave these things to doctors, not glitter salesmen.

They only object to women’s reproductive health issues. When it comes to Viagra and vasectomies – game on! If God wanted Larry Limpdick to procreate, wouldn’t he have allowed Larry the ability to obtain an erection? Why should Hobby Lobby interfere with God’s will when it comes to men? And why is Gerry Gigolo allowed to have insurance coverage for his vasectomy (so he has no parenting worries), but his female co-workers can’t get an IUD?

Look folks, this clearly isn’t about any “sincerely held religious objection.” If it were, they wouldn’t be buying from China, investing their money in contraception manufacturers via their 401k plans, or allowing men to do whatever they want. This is about the need to control women. It’s what religions do.

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All the credit. Zero blame.

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I recently was on a business trip to Denver when my phone started blowing up. My aunt was calling and leaving messages continuously. I was in a conference, so I couldn’t answer or check the messages. But about the time the fourth time my phone vibrated, I knew I needed to excuse myself and figure out what was going on.

Before I let you in on what happened, let me give you a bit of background on my aunt. She is in fact my aunt, as she is my mother’s sister. But she is only 13 years older than me and it really seemed a small 13 year spread growing up. We always had more of an older sister/younger brother relationship (which is my favorite sibling relationship thanks to some spectacular older sisters in my life). I’ve always been very close to my aunt which is saying a lot. I really am not close to many relatives (sure that is my fault), but for those that I am close to, I am very close and fiercely loyal. And she is one of my favorites which means we are very close and I would do absolutely anything for her.

She always treated me as a peer when I was growing up which meant the world to me. Here she was, this young, cool, great-looking girl who went out of her way to include me as a friend, not as a kid she was related to. That always made me feel good about myself. She took me to my first concert, she took me along on some of her dates (and I willingly gave feedback on how suitable I thought these guys were), I was with her when I drank my first beer in a bar, she bought me my first Rush album, she made me dance the first time (this was the song) in public, and we had countless great times on my grandparents’ boat.

As we grew older, that 13 year age difference continued to shrink. I married and had kids first. She married and had kids later. I’m not sure when it happened, but eventually that age difference was completely gone. We counted each other as friends. She sought my advice on difficult issues she faced. She asked Susanne and I to take care of the kids should something happen to her. She trusted me and I her.

So my aunt has always been one of a handful of people who are very important to me. I’ve always appreciated our relationship and I’ve always loved her a lot.

Back in Denver, I stepped outside and called her back. I immediately knew something was very wrong. She was struggling to speak and fighting the tears. Eventually the word came out. CANCER. It struck me so hard. The weight of it crushed me. But as I am prone to do, I hid my reaction. I wanted to be strong for her, to reassure her, to encourage her, and to let her know that I loved her. I didn’t want her to sense any negativity, worry, despair, or dread from me.

I tried to take an analytical approach to the conversation. I wanted to know the facts, what WE were up against, and how WE were going to beat it. What type of cancer? Is it contained? What is the prognosis? She didn’t have a lot of answers then, but of course, she had a plan. That’s the kind of person she is. Her plan involved the assemblage of a team. Each team member would have certain responsibilities for oversight within a specific area of her treatment or life. She wanted me to be a team member and tasked me with assisting with her finances. I of course agreed. I was encouraged that she had a similar analytical approach and that she was already planning for her success. I think she may have done more to pick me up during that conversation than the other way around.

Another team member was charged with team organization and communication. The communication has been primarily through e-mail amongst all the team members and some additional family and close friends. And apparently everyone on the e-mail distribution list is very Christian. Well, save one.

So she began her fight, the team members began their assignments, and the e-mails started flowing.

Of course there was a bunch of the “we’re praying for you” stuff early. It irritated me. I mean seriously – what the hell does prayer do? Do you really have to ask your god nicely to save my aunt? Why can’t he just do it because it’s the right thing to do? Is he such a horrible being that he won’t intercede unless you bow down, kiss his ass, and beg? My aunt has been a believer and fan of the guy her entire life – shouldn’t that be enough for him? Why does he require prayer? But I let it all go and made no comment. There were actual, real issues to be dealt with and I didn’t want to distract anyone from their task.

Her doctor said she needed to immediately remove all stressors from her life. The kids would have to move in with their dad. The dog was going to need to go with them. Everything she was working on from that proverbial front burner would not only have to be removed from the front burner, it would have to be taken completely off the stove and forgotten about for now. And someone was going to have to take in my grandma who was living with her.

Initially, my uncle was going to take in Grandma, but then he had his own family situation that prevented that. So, out went the e-mail requests. And so began the prayers to their deity to find someone to take Grandma. Lo and behold, their prayers were answered. My grandmother’s sister would take her in until my uncle could do it. Apparently this was viewed as a miracle by these people. Seriously. A miracle. A woman’s sister agrees to let her stay for a few weeks and that was proof to them that their imaginary friend was on the case. How ridiculous is that?

Here are a few comments that appeared in the team e-mails regarding Grandma’s sister agreeing to put her up a few weeks:

“Praise God – that is one less thing to worry about!”

“This is a beautiful invitation. What a blessing!”

“Keep those prayers going that Grandma views this as an opportunity to visit with her sister.”

“Per Romans 8:28, God could bring several good things from this!”

“God is so good.”

God is so good. Really? Can anyone explain that to me? Go ahead and explain to me as if I’m a complete moron with zero understanding of this God character.

This is one thing about religious people that irks the hell out of me. All this praise was heaped on their god for apparently interceding and working his magic. Sans supernatural-being magical intervention, I guess her sister wouldn’t have taken Grandma in for a few weeks. So everyone thanks the Lord and credits him with this miraculous event.

Well, I hate to urinate in everyone’s Wheaties, but fuck your non-existent god and the bullshit, Bronze-age text he rode in on. How can you as a decent human being thank him for something that clearly would have happened regardless and completely ignore the fact that he has allowed my aunt to be stricken with this horrible disease? She has to undergo multiple surgeries, months of painful chemo and radiation treatment, deal with her entire life being turned upside down – all with no guarantee of any return to normalcy. Isn’t anyone going to address the fact that their god is a real asshole for doing that to my aunt?

You can’t have it both ways Christians. If your god deserves praise for finding Grandma a place to crash for a few weeks, he deserves all the blame for putting my aunt, his loyal follower, through this horrible ordeal.

Underway. Shift Colors.

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Ok, I know. We didn’t exactly get out of port on schedule. My apologies for leaving you guys at your sea and anchor stations so long. I just haven’t found any spare time to dedicate to writing over the last several months. But let’s do this – take in all lines, sound one prolonged blast, shift colors. We’re underway.

So, what I promised all those months ago was to start off with a discussion of race and religion. And here’s the unanswered question that has long baffled me – how in the hell can any black American be a Christian?

Let’s start by considering one of the key reasons that leads me to conclude that all religion is crap – the importance of geography to religion. Isn’t it remarkable that the vast majority of adherents to each religion happen to follow the religion most prevalent in the place they grow up? If a person is born and raised in Saudi Arabia, what religion are they going to be? We all know they will be a Muslim. Why? Because that’s how religion works – it indoctrinates kids into the religion of those who surround them, particularly their parents. Virtually all of these religions claim to be the one true path to a one true god. They can’t all be right, only one could be right. So if one of them actually is the one true path to the one true god, why are only certain segments of the world’s population going to be exposed to that one universal truth? If the one true religion is Christianity, why does everyone born and raised in Saudi Arabia basically get an eternal death sentence thanks to the geography of their parents? If the one true religion is Islam, why won’t anyone in South America get a chance to go to paradise for eternity? In short, if there is an all-knowing, all-powerful god, why does he suck so badly at getting his all-important message out to everyone?

In the beginning, what religion were the ancestors of today’s black Americans? Although there had been some missionary work in western Africa, they most likely weren’t Christian. Islam was the only one of today’s major religions which had spread to Africa in any significant level at the time, but it was mostly in eastern Africa. Based on their geography in western Africa, they held a multitude of varied religious views. Most believed in a single, supreme deity who was responsible for all of creation, but some practiced polytheism. Perhaps the most common religious view amongst those western Africans who would be enslaved and brought to America was the pursuit of a harmonious balance between nature and a chosen deity not unlike what we typically associate with Native Americans. So the first question that I can’t get beyond is if these western Africans held a sincere religious belief that had been passed on to them through generations of their ancestors, why would they discard it in order to adopt that of their captors? Why toss aside what your parents and grandparents had taught you was that one universal truth in order to side with the one universal truth of the people who had enslaved you, brutalized you, and destroyed your family? A large part of that answer is that it was a long process that didn’t happen overnight. Early generations held firmly to their customs, language, religion, etc. But it still happened. Perhaps another part of the answer is that the god of the master must surely be perceived as more powerful than the god of the slave. I don’t know.

One might think that part of the answer could be that the captors forced or encouraged the slaves to convert, and that did happen eventually. But initially, the Christian slave owners were not big on the idea of sharing the story of Jesus with their slaves. It seems they didn’t think sharing any ideas of spiritual equality with the slaves was a good idea. I’m not sure why they were so hesitant because I do know there were plenty of lessons in the bible that could have been taught to slaves that had nothing to do with equality. A small sampling of passages:

  • However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.  (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)
  • If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years.  Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom.  If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year.  But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him.  If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master.  But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children.  I would rather not go free.’  If he does this, his master must present him before God.  Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl.  After that, the slave will belong to his master forever.  (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)
  • When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.  If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.  But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her.  And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter.  If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife.  If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.  (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)
  • When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.  (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)
  • Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.  (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)
  • Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed.  If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful.  You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts.  Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.  (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)
  • The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it.  “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly.  Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.”  (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)

And yes, if your religion’s official guidebook details the rules for people freaking owning other people, please don’t hold it up as any source of moral authority. Thanks.

Now to be fair and honest, I understand that this was not an overnight conversion by the masses. I get that there were a lot of factors that contributed to the eventual conversion to Christianity by black Americans and that the conversion happened over the course of many years. So I understand that it can be explained away through a multitude of rationalities. My point on abandoning the African religions in favor of Christianity is just that I personally don’t think I could have ever taken on the religion of my captors and I don’t understand anyone else genuinely doing it either.

And beyond the fact that regardless of how long it took to occur, black Christians have denied the religious views of their ancestors in favor of those who initially enslaved their ancestors, let’s look at how Christianity has been used against black Americans throughout their struggle for equality in this country.

As I mentioned earlier, Christian slave owners were initially reluctant to share their religion with their slaves. But, eventually they used their religion as a tool to further control their slaves. They figured out a way to avoid the message of spiritual equality and instead convince the slaves that they were slaves because God had cursed them to be slaves. African-American theologian James Cone notes that “In the old slavery days, the Church preached that slavery was a divine decree, and it used the Bible as the basis of its authority.” In E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie, he makes the point that, “Not only did Christianity fail to offer the … [Black] hope of freedom in the world, but the manner in which Christianity was communicated to him tended to degrade him. The … [Black] was taught that his enslavement was due to the fact that he had been cursed by God. … Parts of the Bible were carefully selected to prove that God had intended that the…[Black] should be the servant of the white man.”

The greatest crime against black Americans was carried out by using the Bible and Christianity as a justification. Let that sink in for a second. Slavery was said to have a Christian Biblical justification and yet black Americans today are Christian. WTF?

Following the end of slavery, things weren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows for black Americans. Jim Crow and segregation made things extremely difficult and really kept blacks in a position closer to the slavery they had just escaped than to true equal membership in our society. And where did Christianity stand on these issues? Of course, it was once again used as a justification for the supposed racial superiority of whites and the need to maintain “separate but equal.”

Following the Civil War, a new organization named the Ku Klux Klan was formed. It waged war against against black Americans. The Klan was formed as a Christian organization. Go to their website today and the first message you read is from Pastor Thomas Robb which urges potential members to follow the “Christian way.” That “Christian Way” has always been the Klan way as they brutalized black families across this country, carrying out a campaign of terror and murder all in the name of Christianity.

Now you might view the Klan as a fringe element, a minority group with warped views of the religion that operates outside mainstream society. Fair enough, one doesn’t need search long to find mainstream elements of society who use Christianity to justify segregation and white superiority. Take the case of Theodore Bilbo, a two-time Governor of Mississippi and former US Senator.  During his successful reelection campaign of 1946 Bilbo made a call to action, “I call on every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the n—–s away from the polls.” Bilbo was a proud member of the Ku Klux Klan, telling Meet the Press that same year that “no man can leave the Klan. He takes an oath not to do that. Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux.” During a filibister of an anti-lynching bill (yes – Christian conservatives supported lynching), Bilbo claimed that the bill “will open the floodgates of hell in the South. Raping, mobbing, lynching, race riots, and crime will be increased a thousandfold; and upon your garments and the garments of those who are responsible for the passage of the measure will be the blood of the raped and outraged daughters of Dixie, as well as the blood of the perpetrators of these crimes that the red-blooded Anglo-Saxon White Southern men will not tolerate.”

I obviously could provide innumerable examples of Christians using their religion not only to prove their racial superiority, but also to oppress races they found inferior, but I hope you agree that’s not necessary. The fact of the matter is that Christianity was once again used as a justification to segregate, discriminate against, disenfranchise, lynch, terrorize, and oppress black Americans.

Recently it seems some people (especially white, religious people in my experience) have started to believe that there are no more racial issues in this country. They make the case that racism was a dark chapter in our collective history that we have overcome. One need look no further than the Supreme Court of the United States to see just how prevalent and mainstream this opinion has become. I disagree. It is a current problem.

Please understand that I am not black and to make any statement that I understand the black experience in this country would be pretentious and disingenuous. But, that said, I do have some personal experience with racism visiting my front door. My oldest daughter is a brilliant, beautiful, and accomplished young woman of whom I could not be more proud. She lives in Orlando with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend is everything a parent could hope for in a partner for their child – he is an intelligent, accomplished, caring, good person who aspires to greatness. He happens to be black. My neighbors apparently don’t approve of that fact and have taken to voicing their disapproval amongst each other. Of course none of them addresses it to me. But it struck me that all of these Christian neighbors of mine still find nothing incompatible between their racist views of my future son-in-law and their religious beliefs. To me, that really goes to the point that while we may have made progress, we aren’t there by any stretch. And religion continues to hold us back in getting there.

Take slavery for example. People like to pretend that it happened hundreds of years ago. No. It didn’t. It was 150 years ago. I have known people who knew people who were slaves. That’s insane. My great-grandparents lived in a world with people who were once owned by other people. That isn’t some hundreds of years ago experience, it is real. And think about just how recently it was illegal for an interracial couple like my daughter and her boyfriend to marry. It wasn’t until 1967 (my dad was 24 years old) that the Supreme Court struck down all anti-miscegenation (no interracial marriage) laws. That decision in Loving v. Virginia, impacted 17 states. 17 states in 1967 had made it illegal for blacks and whites to marry. Those 17 states also happened to be the most religious/Christian states in the union. Hmmm. And it wasn’t until 1998 in South Carolina and 2000 in Alabama that official bans against interracial marriages were removed from all state constitutions.

And don’t kid yourself in thinking those bans had nothing to do with Christianity. Christians supported those bans and did so with more Biblical justification. Consider this quote from Judge Leon M. Bazile, the trial judge in the Loving case. “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As I look at the word counter below and see that I have exceeded 2500 words, I recognize it’s probably beyond time to wrap this up. So, to wrap up, I again ask, how in the hell can any black American consider himself to be a Christian? It was not the religion of your ancestors, it was the religion of the people who enslaved and brutalized your ancestors, it is the religion that was used to justify the enslavement of your ancestors, it is the religion that was used to justify segregation, it is the religion that was used as justification for discrimination, and it is the religion that is at the heart of the root cause of every struggle Black America has faced. Again, I recognize that I can’t say I get the black experience, but I can take a guess as to how I would have reacted to these issues had I been a black man. And my guess if that I would have been much more Malcolm X than MLK, much more Black Panther than NAACP, and any god-damned thing ever but a Christian.

Thoughts?

Single Up All Lines

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Last night as I began making all preparations for getting this blog underway in my mind, I gave some thought to where I wanted to begin. I figured that since I am neither black nor religious, that might be a great place to start – black Christianity. Makes perfect sense, right? But before I get into that issue too deeply, I’d like to offer a little personal background. So, let’s single up all lines while we await word from the bridge to take them in and get underway.

I grew up similar to most people I think which is to say that the people in my neighborhoods and at my schools sort of looked like me and had similar backgrounds to me. I never really had much interaction with black people. My grandparents once managed a hotel in Jackson, Mississippi and most of the staff there were black. I really enjoyed spending a couple weeks there one summer because the staff let me hang out with them while they worked, whether it was the maintenance crew, the housekeeping group, or the lobby personnel. And the best part – they barbequed every day at lunch and fed me well. Those barbeques were the highlight of the trip to me. That was pretty much my only exposure to the black community growing up. Sure, there were a few black students at school, but I never seemed to be friends with them. Not a conscious effort, it just didn’t seem to work out that way.

At home, I shared what I imagine is a similar experience to most of those in my neighborhoods. I heard a lot of racial jokes coupled with a pretty liberal usage of that horrible word we all know. (And wasn’t it peculiar how those jokes and that word were uttered so soon after church or in such close proximity to remarks about God?) I remember being analytical about it. It struck me that what these people intended I learn from these jokes was that blacks were inferior. Thanks to a couple of really smart people who taught me HOW to think, I always hated being told WHAT to think. I rebelled against it in my mind and preferred to make my own decisions. So for me, until I had enough evidence and had acquired some personal experience, the jury would remain out despite what I was being conditioned to learn.

And isn’t that what is at the heart of racism? Isn’t it a learned behavior? Aren’t children conditioned into feeling racism in a manner similar to John B. Watson’s Little Albert? (Boats – who the hell is Little Albert?) Aren’t those jokes, that anecdotal ‘evidence,’ and that word all meant to saddle black people with inferior traits, intellect, motivation, abilities, and worth in the minds of children? I think so.

The guys I hung out with in high school were all a year ahead of me in school. None of us had much interaction with black people and the subject never really came up. I can remember when my next door neighbor and great friend Rayce (always baffled me how many girls loved that name – you’ve got to be more on your game as a Jim for sure) told us that he had started playing tennis with a black guy he had met at the courts. We were all a little curious and I think Rayce knew that. I remember him telling us that the guy was a really cool guy and not unlike us at all. Interesting that the notion that he must be so different from us as a person was in play. More conditioning I suppose.

After I graduated high school, I took the summer off and then joined the Navy. I went to boot camp on 21 Sep 87. That was the day I began to be exposed to black people on a personal level. Our company was a group of 80 young men that demographically probably looked a lot like America. Mostly white, quite a few black and hispanic guys, a couple Asian guys. And the guy on the rack next to me was a black guy (from somewhere up north I think) named Lamont. Lamont and I talked a lot. He was a cool guy. We helped each other out on the things that you need to get done in boot camp. And when we got out of boot camp, we hung out together while waiting on our A-school classes to convene. Lamont came over to the house regularly, we went out regularly. He was just a regular guy like any of the rest of us. And there certainly was nothing inferior or lacking in his work ethic, motivation, intellect, or worth.

Eventually, those classes convened, we completed (or in my case, were asked to leave) them and we went our separate ways. I soon thereafter scored the biggest win of my life when I got married to the most talented, amazing, and beautiful woman ever. Susanne and I packed up both our belongings in my Yugo and moved to Norfolk, VA. Once there, I immediately ended up flying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to meet my first ship, the USS Spartanburg County (LST-1192).

The Sparkle C, Super T as we called her, was another pretty accurate representation of America demographically (with the obvious exception of it being an all-male crew). We had Sailors from virtually every part of the country, socioeconomic background, race, religion, etc. And the thing about having 200-250 Sailors (often with 350-400 Marines) in an area that small for extended lengths of time is that you just have to get along. It’s really not going to work if you don’t get along. We have a collective mission to accomplish and each of us has a specific job that will help us all reach that mission accomplishment. Everyone has to contribute and everyone’s contribution is valued. There’s really just not any time for much else but doing your job and contributing to the mission. There certainly isn’t time for divisive behavior that takes away from the unit’s efficiency, proficiency, and ability to complete the mission. In the Navy, the team is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts and that teamwork and unit cohesion is of critical importance to getting the job done.

So that’s what I did. I got along. And it was very easy to do. It’s what everyone else was doing. We all got along. We were all on the same team. We all valued each others contributions. That’s not to say that it was a bunch of guys sitting around the camp fire singing Kumbaya. We were far from that. In fact, we gave each other hell. The busting of balls was of monumental proportions. And it crossed every line of decency known. There were many times I had my guys over to the house and Susanne left us alone because she was uncomfortable with how we talked to each other. But to us, it was fun, it wasn’t mean-spirited, and it was all always in-house. We were brothers and we knew where our own lines of demarcation lay. We didn’t cross those. And we never allowed someone from outside of our brotherhood to cross those lines with one of our brothers.

And as I progressed through my Navy career, the experience was largely the same at each command. I came to notice that the diversity we had was a strength. Having Sailors from every walk of life meant that each individual had unique skills, experiences, and knowledge that could be brought to bear on whatever issue presented itself. I found that diversity makes any organization stronger. I came to appreciate and value diversity. I came to actively seek it out and to promote it. It just made sense.

I love the Navy. A lot. I often tell people it’s the fairest organization around. Everyone starts exactly the same on day one and is only limited by their own talents and desires. The Navy has been great to my family and me and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to help the Navy and my shipmates. I learned so much not only about my trade, but also about life from some truly amazing people. I tried to pay that forward and I departed active service proud of those I left behind and supremely confident in their abilities. Civilians often don’t understand the bond we brothers and sisters in arms share and I don’t think they have an appreciation for the quality of the people we have in our nation’s military. I’m not sure I have the words to express either that bond or that quality. And I suppose it’s really not important that civilians do understand either, but I sometimes wish they did.

None of that is intended to paint the Navy as an idyllic paragon of race relations, because it isn’t that at all. The Navy has historically struggled through all of the same battles still being waged in our society today. And there are still remnants of the good ‘ol boy network present even today. I happened upon one such relic aboard the USS Portland (LSD-37) and my refusal to bend to his will cost me a few years in making Chief. I’d do it all exactly the same again though (well, except for that incident with the computer) because I know my sacrifice saved several of my brothers from having to make sacrifices in their careers.

So, why was I telling this story to begin with? It wasn’t so you can pat me on the back in the comments and tell me how enlightened I am. It was just to explain to you how I arrived at where I am and to develop what I hope becomes a central theme here – the use of logic, reason, and free inquiry. It was my refusal to accept being told WHAT to believe that led me to where I am. It was the gathering of data and the use of reason that led me to determine what I was being fed by many was complete bullshit. Racism isn’t natural. No one is born with it. It is a learned behavior. So how is something so wrong learned so often? Because people don’t employ logic, reason, and free inquiry often enough.

So exactly where am I now on the issue of race? I am not one of these “I don’t even see color” people. I find that comment ridiculous and disingenuous. Of course you see color. You literally have to be blind not to see color. The point isn’t to avoid seeing the distinction between the races at all. The point is to embrace that distinction. That’s where I am. I absolutely see color. And I appreciate the differences of diversity.

Bridge, Boats. All lines singled up.

Setting the Sea and Anchor Detail

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I’ve recently had quite a few friends and acquaintances suggest that I start a blog. Seems there are actually a few people out there who like reading my thoughts despite the record number of defriending events that happen to me when I express those thoughts on Facebook! So, here we go.

“Now go to your stations all special sea and anchor detail” was the word passed on the 1MC, the ship’s general announcing system, every time I got underway during my 20-year Navy career. And as those who know me best will agree, I still haven’t really been able to let go of the vernacular (and some other things) despite that retirement ceremony back in 2007. So, as I start this blogging venture, it reminded me of setting the sea and anchor detail. I’m getting the gear together, preparing for a new journey, and wondering what will happen along the way.

As was the case with many of those underway periods, I really don’t have a solid idea of what this journey will be about. I have strong opinions on a lot of issues particularly politics, religion, and sports, I imagine there will be plenty of that here. And I really like discussing those opinions with intelligent people that hold opposing views. So please – offer me your thoughts, especially if you disagree with me! Tone is fairly difficult to convey in a forum like this, and my tone is often interpreted as antagonistic, confrontational, and condescending. I’m not going to say it is never intended to be those things, because it absolutely is sometimes intended to be those things. I’ll just say that if it is, you’ll know.

I won’t be making any commitment to a set periodicity for posts here. I’ll just write something when the mood strikes. I think it will sort of be up to the readership to drive posts. If the demand is there, I’m more likely to post regularly.

Enough for now. Going to play around with the page and see what bells and whistles are available.

-Boats