Running for ALS

als-55a4d357dc4252016 Goal #1: Run a Marathon (or Two)

I started running last year for my own health and this year I want to make it count. If I can run for my own sanity and well-being, I figure that I can also put part of that for the benefit of someone else.

I was never much of an athlete in high school. One year I went out for wrestling, but after a few weeks of feeling sore and beat up; and after a simply terrible outing at the first meet, I dropped it. People around me told me that I should stick it out, but I never had the motivation to push through. It was part of a litany of experiences where I felt that I did not fit for whatever reason. So I dropped the athlete idea. The team went 10-0 that year and won the state title.

Fast forward 25 years. After a couple of injury setbacks in July and October as a novice runner, I trained hard for three weeks in November and ran the Nittany Valley Half-Marathon. Despite the setbacks I ran 6 minutes faster than my target time. The old me would experience a minor setback and start the litany of self-pity and self-loathing. This would quickly convince me that eating potato chips and binge-watching hours of whatever-I-could-find-that-was-the-most-depressing was the best choice to make. Not this time.

What I have learned is that stopping a behavior is a choice and setting an achievable goal is motivation to push through setbacks. Moving my body changes my brain. This means a plan that includes numerous smaller goals in order to attain the big one.

Large goals that are decomposed this way work out better – which is probably why big New Year’s Resolutions like “lose 30 pounds” or “write a book” fail. Goals that are too lofty come with rewards that are too far delayed and motivation comes in short supply. You have to break the big goal up in order to experience the value of the changes in behavior that you will need to accomplish in order to get there. (By the way, if you haven’t made progress on your Resolutions, do something towards it right now, or you will wake up tomorrow that much closer to a Facebook meme declaring all the shit you planned to do last year but didn’t.)

I am training again, but this time for the PittsburghPitt2015Logo Marathon. And more than that I am running for the ALSA of Western Pennsylvania. I am doing it in memory of my grandmother who died from ALS in 1999.

My grandmother Rita was pistol. When I was a kid, I remember her fire-red Firebird parked in her Paoli, PA garage. The color matched her rosy cheeks after a few nips of scotch. She was a neat freak, loved lime green and yellow, and cooked amazing food.

After my grandfather died, she spent much of her time with her best friend. They were active and had fun in both Italy and on the Mississippi river. Like a blue-haired Thelma & Louise. But then Rita started to lose control of her body even though her mind was running full throttle. In just two years she stopped driving, then lost her house, then her independence, then her life in 1999. We watched as that same full-of-life mind and spirit became imprisoned in her body that just stopped communicating with her brain. Awful.

Her very last words to me are burned in my brain. “Whatever you do with your life, have fun.”

So I am doing that this year. I am Running for Rita. She is going to be with me in memory and spirit. Why not invite others to join us in the race and join others as the work to stop ALS continues.

Follow through to my fundraising page and donate if you can. My target is $500.00. I know I can reach it with your help. Run with me in spirit, even if all you are planning to do May 1, 2016 is binge watch Buffy again and eat Doublemeat Medleys!

Running Into Change

I wasn’t feeling that well. During the unseasonably cool and wet month of June and then into July I managed to binge watch my way through Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and finally Sense8 (oh my God what a great show). I accomplished almost the entire Whedonverse right into Buffy Season 8 in the comics (I almost hit up Firefly, again). My consumption of old TV at the expense of using my mind for constructive things like reading and experiencing sunshine was not out of some healthy compulsion, but in order to fill time. Depression works that way. Depression is persistent giving up. It is a condition of gravity and feels inescapable.

In July I decided I needed to change some things. I needed to change my thinking. But the way the brain reacts to the environment can’t just be wished away. I accepted that wishful thinking was the easy path for people, like me, who didn’t really want to work all that hard. But being different and thinking and behaving differently is not easy. It is hard work. It takes a lot of force to push against instincts that pull you down in self-destructive ways.

I love you Buffy, but our relationship was more dysfunctional than you and Angel. Maybe not as bad as what happened between you and Spike. That was messed up. I knew I could do better than that.

When my brain started in on those depressive thoughts – “It’s pointless,” “You kind of suck,” “There you go failing again” – rather than dwell on the messed up world that my brain lived in, I decided to push back. I started to tell all those thoughts to “Shut the fuck up.” That was a liberating start. But there was this energy left over from the fight and I needed to put it somewhere.

Two different running routes

On July 20, 2015 I was eating horribly (I partially blame the deliciousness of the Chinese buffet across the street), gaining weight, in a deteriorating physical condition, tired all day, not sleeping well, and persistently bored. So I took the next step. I put on running shoes and went out to kill myself – metaphorically, of course.

Within a minute of “running” I was out of breath, my legs hurt, and I needed to walk. In that silence, those thoughts began to dig their way out of my brain again (“You idiot,” “What the hell is wrong with you,” “This is stupid,” “Give up already”). I told them where to go and picked up the pace – for another minute. Running for 90 seconds straight that night was an accomplishment and I made it through the entire route. It took me over 40 minutes to make it through just over 3.5 miles. It’s like a fast walk or thereabouts. It was my first victory. I liked the feeling.

Since that night I hurt my knees, I have been sore more often than not, blistered up my feet and came close to losing a toenail, fell pretty hard once, and found myself completely dehydrated one hot afternoon. But every time those voices came into my head, I finished the run and pummeled them into non-existence. With every run it is like a layer of that depressive self gets ripped off and a bit more of who I really am gets to emerge. And I like the running me.

Last Sunday I ran over 12 miles and signed up for a half marathon. I am 20 pounds lighter, sleep like a champ, and have learned that I don’t need to run from depression by bingeing on hours of TV and pounds of popcorn and burritos. I can run right into it and beat it down with each footstep. That’s better medicine than any pharmaceutical can manufacture.

The only way I can change is by sometimes forcing myself to do the things that seem difficult and that I don’t really want to do. I don’t love running. In fact, I hate running during that first mile or two. But that’s when running does its best work. It is during those hard miles that the voices start to speak and I get to attack them. They lose power because I take my power back. My pace always picks up at that point. I don’t think its just because I get warmed up. At that moment I decide who I want to be and the demons of depression lose their grip once again. Right then, I am free.

Trump is Not Real

Trump has one policy and that is immigration

Trump’s lone policy

So many people are taking Trump seriously that I went to his site to review his policies. I wanted to see how he worked out policy such as how to deal with the complex relationships between the Sunni and Shia Muslim groups at odds in the Iran/Syria/Turkey/Iraq cluster. Perhaps something on the Islamic State, business with China given its recent shift in economic policy, or how to handle the volatility of the EU economy and its currency issues with Greece. Or maybe even how he will work out infrastructure issues, student debt, or corporate taxes. No. The image you see is it. His sole policy is a sparse idea with how to deal with people coming over the US/Mexico border. The damn wall is all he’s got.

Trump is what cultural philosophers might call a simulacrum. He is a symbol, but he is not a representation of anything real. Trump points to nothing.

He talks about loving the bible, blowing up IS and stealing their oil, and persists in his drumbeat of America’s lost greatness. But he never grounds any of what he says in reality. He has no ideas for how to fix these issues or strategies to work through the enormous complexities of the world. He does not even have bad policy ideas. In fact, he has no policy at all. If this “Great America” is something that Trump will bring us to, what is he really talking about? Nothing.

As philosopher Jean Baudrillard defines simulacrum, “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real.” Trump is a brand, but has no product.

The only reality that Trump represents is emotion. He’s dyspeptic and ornery and he is touching the emotional nerves of people who are likewise dyspeptic and ornery. But a bad attitude is not a core competency for public office. He made his riches through calculated risk and large safety nets in wealth he had already inherited and the government bankruptcy system. His deals were just too big for banks to let fail. It was better for him to be bailed out than fail because he would be pulling a lot of capital away from his lenders. He is the spitting image of “too big to fail.” Perhaps that should be his campaign slogan.

The Trump we see visibly repulsed at state fairs, eating fried chicken, and having to mix with all of the people of the world that are beneath his social magnitude is a brand without a product. He is like the hundreds of “dot com” businesses of the late 20th century that sucked up venture capital on an idea only to fail as quickly as they absorbed cash. They failed because they had no product. They had a brand and an emotion but little else. In the tech industry products like these are called “vaporware.” They are sketches with slick sales pitches that will never come to fruition. In Trump’s words they are miserable failures probably run by losers with not really a whole lot of talent.

Here is the danger with Trump. He has fooled enough people into believing he has a real product that they will follow him to the edge of a cliff. If he can stick around for the next 7 months or so, he will gather people like the Blob and they will feel great tucked in by the bedtime stories of his ill-fitting baseball cap brandishing America’s lost greatness. The question is whether they will be willing to jump for him while he flies away in his helicopter having finally fooled everyone.

Religion Needs the Poor

A new study by the Pew Research Center predicts that the global percentage of those who are religiously unaffiliated will decline in the next coming decades. It is a prediction that seems on face value to go against trends of an increase in those who are ostensibly less religious than in previous decades – especially in Western nations.

One theory is that existential security is inversely proportional to religious commitment. Put simply, “existential security” is the level at which I feel my life is at risk. It’s a good measure of happiness as well.

So if I live in a society where healthcare is universal, for example, and quality of life is stronger and more secure, my religious commitment will likely decline. I will also have more access to birth control and engage in less risky behaviors. These are the pockets where religion has less a hold on the community. When we take away those social securities, behaviors are more risky, people are less healthy, poorer, and more desperate. Existential crises are petri dishes for religious experimentation, for religion to be a social carrier, and the psychological desire or assumed need for a God or salvation. A less economically advantaged nation will naturally have a higher probability of existential insecurity.

(S)ocial vulnerability and lack of human development drive both religiosity and population growth. This means that the total number of religious people continues to expand around the globe, even while secularization is also taking place in the more affluent nations (Norris & Inglehart, 2006, p. 64).

The happiest nations are by far not the most religious. These trends are deep in the sociology of religion literature. However, one variable to bear in mind is the way that different religions carry societies. In previous centuries, Christianity carried both wealth and social mobility in the West. It is not an effective carrier in these societies as it once was. Islam and its network of banks and other social mechanisms designed to institute and maintain existential security are creating different patterns of religious behavior and may actually aid in its expansion.

Some social theorists have suggested that as countries develop economically, more of their residents will move away from religious affiliation, as has been seen in Europe. But there is little evidence of such a phenomenon in Muslim-majority countries. Moreover, in Hindu-majority India, religious affiliation is still nearly universal despite rapid economic and social change.

It will be interesting to see if Islam follows a similar pattern. As it carries people into a more existentially secure state of mind, will it continue to have the same sway over belief?

Even with this variable accounted for, the relationship between having one’s life at risk and becoming more religious seems to be continually supported in what we are finding out about patterns in religion worldwide.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, indeed.

It’s About Personhood Not Sexuality, Indiana

The fundamental problem behind the “religious freedom” laws of Indiana and Arkansas isn’t sex. The problem is that non-heteronormative people are simply not full persons. They are not given the same rights and are not afforded the same protections as other classes of human beings under the law.

The root is buried deep in the theologically informed notion that non-heteronormative people are defective. They are impure and unclean. Allowing something that is unclean or impure in your presence is something that puts your own purity in danger. This is old school Jewish purity law which the Christian right just loves to cite ad nauseum (and likely incorrectly). As being gay is fundamentally a defect in what constitutes a full human being, it is not in the state’s interest to protect that part of the person. And so, this “religious freedom” law is not actually discrimination, but civil rights for those persons who do not accept any behaviors that are “defective.”

This reasoning includes a specific reading of the bible that colors what “America” means and who its citizens are. America has rather high, although often arbitrary purity codes about what makes someone a full person.

This is where the state needs to step in and protect all classes of citizens. Right now the state has no compelling interest in any non-heteronormative person. None. Equality in marriage fixes a symptom but not does not get at the root of the problem: the religious force of these laws from the religious mission of these lawmakers is telling them that a homosexual is not a full person. It is a religious mission as such a discriminating set of criteria of what makes someone a full person otherwise would not fall under the umbrella of a specific kind of religious protection.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not give any direct help to a non-heteronormative person, “Title VII doesn’t forbid discrimination or harassment because of sexual orientation.” It explicitly protects religious affiliation and belief. The current action is to protect a group that is already a protected class under federal law making it even easier to discriminate against a non-protected group under that same law. That sounds really messed up.

Indiana is now trying to clarify the law by saying that the law is not discriminatory. However the fundamental nature of the law is to protect people in their discriminatory behaviors if those behaviors are motivated by religious need. It is a law that opens the door to other sorts of religiously based discrimination just as long as the state does not have a compelling interest in those that the law discriminates against. It will devolve into absurd proportions and it should. When lawmakers are this near-nearsighted, the laws need to be tested by those who carefully walk on its very edge so we can all see where it goes. Case-in-point: The First Church of Cannabis, Inc.

The church’s founder Bill Levin said he filed paperwork in direct response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last Thursday. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”

Where they will test the law is if they light up a joint or get baked in church. On face value, this would get them arrested under the ruling of Employment Division v. Smith where it was ruled smoking peyote for sacramental purposes was not protected and Smith was not entitled to his unemployment. Indiana has not legalized pot for medicinal or recreational purposes. So we’ll wait and see.

We need to question our values. Is it right, under any circumstances, or under any set of observable behaviors, to classify any human being as less than a full person and so not recognized as such by the state?We did this with women by denying them the vote as well as to African-Americans by denying them any basic civil rights which for a long time was legal because they had no personhood. We also do this with criminals.

Discrimination is the actual force of the law for non-heteronormative people, as a minority group of citizens that is not a protected legal class. The politicians can talk about “intent” all day long, but when they back-pedal on the actual effect of the law as written, they not only must think we are stupid; but they are lying to us.

Put the Breaks on Anti-Semitism

If we were to listen to Bibi Netanyahu, Hillel, or the US Republicans, one would think that at any moment Israel would be bombed off the planet with millions of Americans cheering alongside of militant Islamists with their covert Islamist leader Barack Hussein Obama.

Except that this sort of narrative is false and uses only fear to conserve its kinetic pulse.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses in three of the last four years is actually the lowest it’s been since the ADL started keeping track in 1999.

via The Anti-Semitism Surge That Isn’t – Forward.com.

If the trend is going down, there are some positive causes somewhere out there. In fact, this might be the result of efforts at campuses to ramp up racial and ethnic dialogue in order to reduce tensions at the boundaries of differences between people. We may very well be more aware of differences that bother us and create tension and that awareness may even make a problem seem larger than it actually is. But while reality seems this way, it is important not to focus as much on the uneasiness in feeling, but on the positive outcomes and measurable behavior changes towards tolerance over time.

While appropriately muscular responses from campus authorities are welcome, our hunch is that much of this perceived anti-Semitism fits into a broader pattern of incivility with regards to race, gender and ethnicity, and should be addressed in that context.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/217167/the-anti-semitism-surge-that-isnt/#ixzz3VKSHWN1O

Despite the fact that Netanyahu and many, many others insist that protests against Israel’s political machine and its handling of Palestinians are fundamentally anti-Semitic, I expect that what we will continue to see is evidence that this connection is a fiction driven by people who use distorted experiences to control agendas that have one goal in mind: grasping and maintaining power.

Believe It. Alcoholics Anonymous is Rational

Alcoholics Anonymous is often referred to as a “cult,” “sexist,” “faith-based,” “false,” or any other combination of terms that serve it up as a method people use to get and stay sober that is ineffective and even destructive. The first step “We admitted we were powerless…” is where the snag happens and after that it is all downhill. At that point there are too many mentions of God and too few licensed professionals leading meetings for it to have any scientific muster. If that isn’t enough, the statistics will then come out suggesting a less than 10% success rate and not going to any meetings and getting sober on one’s own are just as effective. Finally the real kicker: AA will say that it is your fault rather than the program’s if you go out and get drunk again. Talk about a punch to the ego.

The Atlantic offers up another addition to this narrative with Gabrielle Glaser’s article, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.” In this she asserts that AA is essentially anachronistic and its ideas of powerlessness and a higher power perpetuate an outdated and ineffective method for treating addiction. The simple idea that healing from alcohol addiction can happen with an abstinence only approach as AA is complicated by some who argue that “going cold turkey only intensifies cravings” or “likely deters people with mild or moderate alcohol-use disorder from seeking help.” If you talk to any alcoholic newly separated from booze, the idea of abstinence sucks. However, if you talk with anyone with long-term sobriety, it was the best decision they ever made.

Glaser does point out that addiction treatment in the US does not get the attention it needs to be more effective and that too many rehabs and treatment centers rely on AA to do the work for them. I do agree with her here, but for different reasons. AA and rehab were never supposed to be married this way. Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, had an idea of setting up hospitals to take in alcoholics, but that idea was quashed before the first edition Alcoholics Anonymous was ever published. It was always understood as something dangerous that would pull people away from the mission of the group itself. As Bill Wilson writes regarding the non-professional nature of AA in Tradition Eight: “Every time we have tried to professionalize our Twelfth Step, the result has been exactly the same: Our single purpose has been defeated.” It’s a relationship that does not produce the best results and has skewed the core of what AA is to those who have recovered from alcoholism in its steps. People in AA know this already.

Glaser’s “AA” is Straw

The AA program was intended to work only among those who has a desire to stop drinking and then to move forward with the entire program. The program itself starts with cessation of drinking. That’s just Step 1. Every step after that has to do with achieving and maintaining a “spiritual experience” which is also called a “psychic change.” Glaser talks about one small piece of AA and ignores the rest of it which would conveniently address her subsequent criticisms. Her solution is that there are ways to help addicts to drink moderately with the use of drugs among other solutions that are available. She’s right, and no literature in AA disputes this. There are other methods and AA is not for everyone.

Moreover, AA’s program teaches that drinking itself is a symptom of a deeper psychological problem. But in good straw-man building fashion, she does not take us there in the article.

Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions. (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64)

Glaser talks about alternatives. Among them, “motivational enhancement, a form of counseling that aims to help people see the need to change.” Or, that AA is not equipped to address issues of other mental health issues. This is where she shows that she has done some extraordinarily shoddy research into AA itself. The literature in AA is very clear about how to work with physicians and the importance of working with the medical community.

We recognize that alcoholics are not immune to other diseases. Some of us have had to cope with depressions that can be suicidal; schizophrenia that sometimes requires hospitalization; bipolar disorder, and other mental and biological illnesses. Also among us are diabetics, epileptics, members with heart trouble, cancer, allergies, hypertension, and many other serious physical conditions. Because of the difficulties that many alcoholics have with drugs, some members have taken the position that no one in A.A. should take any medication. While this position has undoubtedly prevented relapses for some, it has meant disaster for others.

She also describes the AA program consisting of “attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol.” In fact, if you present this to anyone in AA who has long-term recovery under his or her belt they will laugh at you and tell you that AA approached this way is a recipe for relapse! The examples she gives are simply examples of people who may have had bad experiences in AA. But to someone with long-term sobriety, these examples are of people who did not do the work to change their lives in a way where the cravings desisted. Glaser fails to talk about all of the stuff in the steps that restructure life and redirect behaviors in ways that are exactly the opposite of the self-seeking behaviors of the active addict.

“J.G.” in Glaser’s article, who rationalizes his way into “a cycle of bingeing and abstinence,” is not a new character in AA lore. Again, the person sober for a while will tell him that he might not be done researching his own drinking and is probably not ready for AA just yet. That guy doesn’t want to get sober, he wants to drink. But no one in AA is stopping him. Abstinence is not the cause of his bingeing, his alcoholism is.

Trading One Dependency for Another?

Words such as “retention” and “success” are frequently thrown out in articles such as Glaser’s without any description of what they the measure of them is. Is someone who gets sober in AA for a decade, then goes out for a night of binge drinking a failure? What does it mean to “get better?” Perhaps to Glaser dependence on pills in order to resist cravings is the way to go.

She plans to keep taking naltrexone indefinitely, and has become an advocate for Sinclair’s method: she set up a nonprofit organization for people seeking information about it and made a documentary called One Little Pill.

That might work for some people, but without working through all the other shit that alcoholism brings with it, you are just slowing down the physical cravings. Alcoholics destroy the lives of those around them, not only their own. Unless you can clean up that mess, nothing will really change. If you just want to slow down your drinking, AA is just not the place for you. But if your drinking has been the primary cause in what you perceive to be a majorly fucked up life, a pill is not going to resolve that – even if it takes away your physical cravings to get lit.

The core problem with Glaser’s article is that it focuses on the physical problem of alcoholism which the Big Book talks about, but then ignores the majority AA program which is primarily a pragmatic method to radically change one’s thinking not just to stay abstinent from alcohol, but then to become a more honest and helpful person than what one was before hand. It is primarily a program about solutions rather than problems. It is about replacing one set of behaviors and environmental conditions with another in order to produce different behavior outcomes after recognizing the root causes for one’s drinking – causes that are discovered in steps 4-9.

Seen in its fullness, AA is about as rational as any program of recovery can get. When you see the rational work done between a sponsor and a sponsee you can see how rational it is and how striking it is compared to many of the modern programs of behavior and cognitive therapies used in other addiction treatment theories.

As one of Glaser’s critics says, “What keeps me in the AA rooms despite this is, first and always, the people–a community whose impact is hard to grasp unless you are part of it (which the self-proclaimed non-alcoholic Glaser most definitely is not).”

Gordon College’s Tightrope Between Theology and Diversity

Every religiously-affiliated college and university is discriminatory. The question is the degree to which the institution discriminates and how close those policies come to breaking policy with accrediting agencies and civil authorities. Right now Gordon College is navigating their niche in between these entities.

It is very difficult for a college to maintain its theological integrity when it places values on specific identities and behaviors while at the same time it seeks to expand it programs and ranking as an institution that is advancing potential careers of its students. It is easier for an institution to maintain its boundaries and grow when the social environment in which it sits is more conducive to its given worldview. Institutions like Liberty University or BYU are physically located in environments that are good matches with their policies and honor codes. Both are in very religious areas where the sponsoring denomination of the institution is in the majority of the religious adherents for the region. Internal policies will often have a much better match with civic policies.

Institutions like Gordon College have a different path to carve given that their own religious values may not be as well matched to the environment. This is where internal policy and external pressure find friction. Gordon College finds itself in an area that is less religious and politically liberal creating a disconnect between its worldview and that of the outlying communities. This is no more true than in Gordon College’s policy regarding homosexual behavior.

It is perfectly justified for the institution to have clear religious view on homosexual behavior as it is with many other institutions across the country. There is nothing inherently illegal in such policies as long as it is clear in all of the admission and enrollment literature. As with many evangelical institutions, especially those within the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Gordon requires students and faculty to profess their Christian faith commitment. This commitment assumes behavioral standards which are binding. The very first of these includes sexual conduct and homosexuality.

A. Practices Governed by Scripture—The following behavioral expectations are binding on all members of the Gordon community.

Those words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.

With this in mind, Gordon College is doing something different to address the needs of those in the LGBT community to feel safe at the college, even if the college does not affirm the lifestyles of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender students. The core of the college policy has to do with behavior itself. So the issue for Gordon College is how to be both affirming of its students and clear about its conduct policy in a way that does not outright reject students who may not feel they fit its understanding of what a committed Christian looks like.

(President Michael) Lindsay said in his email that the college has spent the last nine months discussing the issue of human sexuality. On Monday the college announced a series of initiatives, including more training for staff, surveys to address the well-being of students as it relates to sexuality and sexual identity, stronger anti-bullying policies, and the formation of a task force of students, faculty and staff.

Opening up the conversation like this is a new direction for an evangelical college. It might not look like much from an outsider especially from a secular or liberal perspective. However, with the mishandling of sexual abuse that is at the forefront of higher education and the fallout of Bob Jones University’s egregious coverup, this has the potential to be a positive direction for how to handle a religious community that will only be more diverse in its sexuality if Gordon College does not become more prohibitive of the students it accepts.

US Higher Education Gets Islam

In a historic first for the United States, an American Muslim college has now joined the nation’s community of accredited institutions of higher education.

On Wednesday, March 4, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) granted Zaytuna College accreditation.

The school was founded in 2008, “rooting itself firmly in the American liberal arts tradition” and welcomed its first freshman class in 2010 making this is a very fast track top accreditation. Now accredited, the school can apply for federal and private grants as well as student visas. In most ways, this is a school that has now begun as most small, liberal arts colleges began – small, religiously affiliated, and liberal arts. Moreover, the legacy in American higher education of its religiously affiliated institutions is that they have always been rather selective.

Co-founder Hamza Yusuf is an advisor to the Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and “outspoken critic of extremism.” However, no founding of an Islamic institution of any sort will go without criticism and condemnation. This is falling to Zaytuna’s other co-founder, Hatem Bazian,

Contributor to Al-Jazeera,

Hatem Bazian is coeditor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at Berkeley University.

Bazian is targeted as an anti-Semite with a decidedly anti-Israel agenda. Naturally, the right will put forth the fear that he will use the institution to further his political agenda.

“He’s an anti-Israel activist and he uses academia to further his agenda,” Nonie Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel and a human rights advocate, told FoxNews.com.

The right-wing media that generates fear over Muslims gathering just about anywhere often conflates Islamism with any view that does not actively engage American exceptionalism much less any Muslim that dares critique the US policies and attitudes towards Muslims. Bazian is vulnerable to feel the fire from the right.

He is outspoken in his criticism of the US policies towards Israel, domestic policies with respect to hate crimes towards Muslims, and an activist working to prevent Islamophobia worldwide.

As we witness recurring attacks on Gaza and the continued unconditional support of administrations in the US, England, France, Germany, Canada and Australia for Israel, one must ask the question as to why Arabs and Muslims should buy products from these countries. How can one stand for justice while purchasing products that provide economic power that is transformed into financial, political and military support for Israel?

Naturally, for some, this translates into: Israel must die, America is the infidel, and capitalism is at war with Allah. For those of us who value reason and educated opinions, Bazian has never said anything of the sort.

Christian institutions such as Patrick Henry College are decidedly religious and political in their mission but will rarely get the same criticism from the right because they forward the agenda of their media megaphones. However, the left has never been that friendly towards an institution like Patrick Henry College which asserts that when government:

1) commands disobedience to God, 2) enjoins the right and duty of human beings to worship God, 3) denies other God-ordained rights by extreme oppression and tyranny, or 4) “when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object (tyranny), evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism” it is the right and duty of godly men and women “to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

As a representative of the minority Muslim population, Zaytuna will have an uphill battle to gain public currency of its degree offerings. These offerings are slim at the moment, but will need to expand as the institution grows and will eventually seek re-accreditation.

Congratulations, Zaytuna.

Jets for Jesus! (Or How Not to Help the Poor)

I have to hand it to Creflo Dollar. There are cases upon cases of preachers and televangelists who have manipulated desperate people by promised physical healing, debt relief, safety from the devil, and so on only to pocket the money for big houses and prostitutes. But Creflo Dollar is an honest preacher.

He just flat-out asked for $60 million for a new jet. Plus his name is Dollar.

He calls it “our” jet so that he can spread his gospel of wealth to unfortunate and desperate people all over the world only as a representative of Jesus and his own flock of the deluded. But I’ll give him that pronoun because his audacity is just awesome.

His current plane is 30 years old. Some flights were not as smooth as planned.

Dollar said that after those incidents, he “knew that it was time to begin to believe God for a new airplane.”

Hallelujah! The Lord spake thusly indeed. Glad you landed safely, minister Dollar.

I want to know when he hits that $60 million dollar mark. He could do a lot with that money instead of the G650. $60 million could:

That’s right, Creflo could literally transform huge segments of the population with that money in ways his preaching will never even come close to doing.

All he has to do is fly coach.

So rather than give your $300 to this guy, why not click on a link and give it to one of those groups. I’m sure they would be grateful for your contribution.

Then we can just let Floyd Mayweather keep the private jet.