Ferguson Queries

As I was coming home from work the other night, a song came up on my headphones: “The Suburbs,” by Arcade Fire. I have always thought of that particular piece as a “prophecy song,” in large part because of the music video, which can be found here. It’s about six minutes long, and I encourage all to watch it.

For those who are unable to watch, the video centers on five friends, in their early teens, enjoying their life among wealthy suburbs, riding bikes, playing with BB guns, roughhousing, and in general becoming fast companions. But they live in a slightly different America, a dystopia, set against the background of, as the song lyrics say, “a suburban war—your part of town against mine.” Armed soldiers patrol the streets. Occasionally people are dragged from their homes in the depths of night. Military helicopters fly overhead, trucks and tanks are common sights. And gradually this background seeps into the foreground, as the twisted world the kids live in begins to destroy their friendship, culminating in an act of brutal violence.

As I listened to the song on my headphones, I thought of the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri—the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed, unarmed, prompting protests and riots. I thought of the militarized police that has been so aggressive and so criticized in Ferguson. And it finally hit me, years too late: Continue reading

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Today, campers, we’re going to talk about global warming. If you already believe in that, you can go play outside―or stay and watch the show, if you like, but this is specifically aimed at those who don’t think the planet is changing temperature. In fact I’m going to break my normal practice and refer directly to my skeptical audience as “you.”

Before we get started, a few definitions. What I mean by global warming―more properly termed climate change or climate chaos―is the average temperature of our planet climbing, generally because of an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The “greenhouse effect” has been pretty well proved by the example of Venus, which is in fact warmer than Mercury due to carbon dioxide.

Note that I say nothing of what’s causing this increase in CO2. That’s because the effects of the increase are much the same regardless of whether it’s a natural process or man-made. Many people have pointed out that the recent increases in CO2 levels and average temperature are well within the extremes that Earth has experienced, according to the geologic record. This is true… but irrelevant, here. Continue reading

Enough

For a long time now we have faced our problems from a certain standpoint. Confronted by grave difficulties, we redouble our efforts. Our resilience of mind is remarkable: we seem to persist in our course no matter what occurs. Our answer is almost always the same: if we are not succeeding, it is because we are not doing enough.

I’m told that one in six (or even one in four) women is sexually abused sometime in her life, as one in ten men is abused in his. Most of these assaults happen early in life. To counteract them we put more efforts into teaching children to beware strangers, to stay in at night, to not drink so much or to not wear “provocative” clothing. If our children are just careful enough and safe enough, we reason, rape will end and we will be safe.

It helps to catch rapists, of course, as with all other criminals, and crime is certainly a major issue in this country. Drug crimes in particular, but violent offenses as well. We have traditionally dealt with crime through adding more police, handing down harsher sentences, imprisoning more people and for longer, in bigger jails. We give our police and law enforcement agents more power, more resources, more weapons, more latitude. If we just lock away enough criminals, we reason, crime will end and we will be safe. Continue reading