Friday, August 28, 2009


Here's what I've written about New Orleans before on this blog.

I mention that because one never takes a city in all at once, but instead develops a relationship with the place, which is transformed and changed by time. I've spent the better part of two years here, and my feelings are very different than where I started out.

Initially, I came to Tulane because I found the premise of a college committed to rebuilding a city after a natural disaster to be both exciting and refreshing. I have long been eager to be thrown into good works. That hasn't happened as much as I would have liked yet; it is easy to forget the the key component of good works is works. But I've done some, and I've joined a church here. I've also moved into my first apartment, near the campus and still paid for by folk not me, but an actual residence with implied duration. It's small steps, signs of more permanent action.

I've evacuated this city once. Last year, Gustav looked ominous and deadly. It wasn't; the storm got weaker, and they city, having already had it's difficult evacuation, came back together much more smoothly. It was an odd moment, to be a refugee within the US and leaving a city I was only slowly growing into. For me, it was novel. For my co-congregants, it was very close to traumatic. They'd fled Katrina. They had seen the worst that could happen to a city, lived through it, returned, and spent a week anxious that the very worst would happen again. I've no idea how one gets used to that, but apparently it is possible.

There's a lot to say about Katrina, four years later. I've gone from viewing it as a natural disaster to a human one. Sobering, but it means that it was preventable, and the next one is preventable too. There's more to say than that, but I'll leave it to the (hopeful) next First Couple of New Orleans, Melissa Harris-Lacewell and James Perry:

While these grassroots efforts are extraordinary, they have proved insufficient for the herculean task of restoring New Orleans. Despite the spirit and commitment of its people, the city's levee protection is inadequate, its violent crime is soaring, its school system is failing, its local economy is overly dependent on tourism, and its neighborhoods are ravaged by blight. For example, millions of volunteer hours over four years have put more than 2,000 units of housing back into commerce. While noteworthy, the success pales when one considers that more than 80,000 units of housing were damaged.

New Orleans teaches us that individuals and families bear an important responsibility in restoring the city and our nation. New Orleans shows the innovative capacity of civil society and local entrepreneurship. But New Orleans also reveals that recovery is limited without effective, transparent, responsible government action.

There's a lot more here, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include their excellent conclusion:

The lesson from New Orleans is clear: racial injustice and racialized politics too often stand in the way of doing what is best for the whole community. We need both local and national leadership that will stand for fairness for all people while also refusing to misuse historical racial antagonisms for their own purposes.

The survival of New Orleans is no longer just about restoring America's most distinctive city. We are all living in Katrina Nation now. Learning the lessons of New Orleans may just have the power to save all of us.

Four years ago, negligence nearly killed this city. I'd like very much for it's suffering to have not been a death, and for the lessons here to be well learned.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why UUs Are Political at Church

Editor's Note: This piece is a rough draft or part of the rough draft of a sermon, intended to be given at either First Unitarian Universalist in New Orleans or First Unitarian in Albuquerque. It is written with that kind of audience in mind, and is also in part a response to Rev. Davidson Loehr's piece on "Why Unitarian Universalism is Dying"

We are a people always on the verge. For many years, it was at the forefront of religious liberalism, that jargon-filled term which we so often use to say we are theologically diverse, and are comfortable being theologically diverse. And for many years, we have prided ourselves on being at the front of many social movements on the political left. For many Unitarian Universalists, there is a tacit agreement that political liberality and religious liberality go hand in hand. After all, if everyone is free to have their innermost religious beliefs, why won't they think just like us?

It is an easy trap to fall into. There is an ever-present vocal minority in our congregations that reminds us of our hypocrisy, constantly chiding us for being overtly political, and being so consistently political one-sided. Remember, we set out to embrace a diversity of beliefs. Politics is filled with division. Why is it that, for so many of us, church has become the place where we are comfortable politically?

A good political scientist would tell you that the last 50 years, and especially the last 25, have seen a rise in the use of religious language in politics, and the explicit use of religious sentiment for political gain. I am not going to say that. Well, I'm not going to say that any more than I already have. We do not need such a cynical perspective for why religion has been involved in politics.

What I will say is this: people care about politics in a religious way. We say that we have faith in our candidates. When we vote, we say we vote our values, and religion does nothing if not help us reaffirm our values. And when our candidates' lose an election, we become apocalyptic. Politics can shape our external world in ways that often seems remote and all-powerful. And this effects us, as religious people.

When we see a piece of discriminatory legislation get passed, that hits us. We take it as a challenge to the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and that is as much a political position as it is a theological one. We feel for it religiously. Environmental legislation affects us because we care so deeply for the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part. And for many UUs, it is hard to see how military action can possible help us be part of a world community with peace and justice for all. These things are not just politically upsetting, they are spiritually disturbing. We are a political people precisely because we are a religious people.

We are not excused for being so one-sided politically. My vision of inherent worth and dignity may include universal healthcare, but another vision may just as easily see the first principle only meaning the equal right to choose to buy insurance. The principles leave a lot unsaid, and that is for the best. For me, and I suspect for at least a few of you, they form a core around which we have built our own beliefs, and while we may share the same core, we are not in any way obliged to share the same body.

That doesn't mean some political action won't shake us all to the core. And it doesn't mean we cannot share in our profound distress just because our bodies of belief are so different. What it means, for me at least, is that rather than replacing religion with politics, we are more honest than most in how closely the two are fused.


Coming in part II: Why our Universalist heritage in particular lends theological weight to a closer religious relationship to politics.

Bonus thought-provoking statement I wish I could write more about: How does the political/religious relationship in Black Liberation Theology serve as a counterpoint to the desire of many for UUism to be apolitical?


Edit # 2: There's been some discussion in the internets! Lots of back-and-forth here, and then some responses here and here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Mayoral Race in Albuquerque

As is my custom, here's a post about an election for an office I care about. Normally, I'd do a separate post for each candidate, but there are only three, so I figured I'd just run them down in one entry. As is also the norm, my commentary is based primarily on the issues page of each candidate.

Starting from the Left:

Richard Romero

  1. Public Safety
    1. It's bare-bones, with a focus on more boots on the street. There is nothing here to object to, but a special mention should be made of Romero's desire to fire the current APD police chief. The current chief is decent, and there is no need to turn the mayor's office into a spoils system. If he thinks the problem is the current approach to policing (which he does, by promising specific change there), then the problem is programmatic and not rooted in leadership.
  2. Education
    1. (Side note: I'm waiting for a detailed analysis of the mayoral candidate's education plans from Scot Key over at Burque Babble; until then, I'm just going to poke the summary)
    2. When he says "cut waste", he does not specify any waste to be cut. Far as I'm concerned, that makes those words empty.
    3. He has generally good ideas - make school more involved in the community, let city resources be more broadly shared.
    4. Attending school for 7 years of No Child Left Behind, I am exceedingly hesitant to see an executive with other duties get involved in education. Romero does not seem to be overstepping - he wants better city/APS integration more than he wants to dictate school policy, but my hesitancy stands.
  3. Ethics and Honest Government
    1. It's a bare-bones section
    2. Yay for ending pay-to-play, yay for being upset about Suncal TIDDS
    3. Ethics and Honest Government requires more than just an audit. If he wants to create ethical government, he should propose some more lasting changes, and create some better, independent policing organs.
  4. Building a Clean and Green Economy. Supporting Small Business
    1. He understand how the internet leads to efficiency! Praise Xenu! But no, seriously, internet-driven efficiency in more of what the city does (provided they keep a well staffed and well paid web team) is a great idea.
    2. The rest of this, about sustainable development and reasonable development fees, is better than I was expecting.
    3. But we really don't need the petty sniping at Marty that fills the discussion of how things are currently done.
  5. Renewable Energy
    1. Interesting plan to start turning over 1/10th of city buildings to exclusively alternative energy, as an inducement for those wanting a market to already exist when developing alt. energy for the city
    2. Beyond that, nothing
Our Once-and-Future Mayor Marty Chavez
(a special note: Marty does not have actually have an issues page; instead, his views are culled from the "Achievements" section of his website. Yeah.)
  1. Public Safety
    1. More cops, and better police coverage. Not inherently bad things
    2. "Through numerous town halls the Mayor, APD, and the FBI have created state of the art software to help fight cyber-stalkers." is an absolutely meaningless line. maybe the city has helped with the development of software, but until we see some data about how the city was a test lab/funded/encouraged/lobbied for the development of this technology, you can know as fact that town hall meetings did not create software.
    3. Genuine "Yay!", though, for the family advocacy center.
    4. These two lines:
      1. The Safe City Strike Force continues to clean up crime-ridden parts of Albuquerque, especially many parts of historic Route 66.
      1. Albuquerque is virtually graffiti and litter free due to Mayor Chavez' strict zero tolerance policies.
    5. Taken together, they read to me as a policy of "we will intimidate and crack down on the homeless, the destitute, and the young", rather than address the problems that these things are symptoms of. Not to say that I endorse the crime along Route 66, graffiti, or litter. I just think that Route 66 is already excessively patrolled (downtown, at least), I think he's using coded language.
    6. I mainly think that problems are more complex than the "more police, faster crackdowns" approach he's advocating.
    7. (And, as disclaimer, my bias is that I don't assume Marty understands youth and instead have felt, as a youth growing up in his Albuquerque, that he sees them as a problem.)
  2. Economic Development
    1. Recession should limit expectations but
    2. Albuquerque sure is on a lot of good lists!
    3. Let's quietly gloss over the fact that some of why we are doing so well now is that we didn't have a real estate boom that could collapse on us. Some lists mention this, and while that is not *bad*, it does mean that Marty deserves perhaps less credit here than he claims.
  3. Transportation
    1. We have buses!
    2. Some of them are pretty fast!
    3. Also, yay for other modes of transportation, like the bike avenue that was the work of many, many advocates. Oh, right, them...
      1. It's not bad for the city or even the Mayor to claim credit on this one. It'd be more powerful to me, as an undecided voter, to see acknowledgment of government working with community activists.
  4. Sustainability
    1. It's a great big list of conferences/ranking/initiatives which all show that either we're really good at green, or we're good at lip service to green. Very hard to figure out which is which, though.
    2. The genuine point worth mentioning is the methane capture system, which seems like a modest step, but one in the right direction.
  5. Amenities
    1. Landscaping! We have it! (And, okay, it is pretty).
    2. Skate parks, and the BMX facility are evidence that Marty doesn't hate all youth. Also, they're pretty great.
    3. The biopark and Isotopes stadiums are all finished now and great!
      1. Qualifier: many of these things were started under mayor Jim Baca, and so it's like Nixon stealing credit from Kennedy for the Apollo missions.
  6. Seniors
    1. Albuquerque does have some pretty functioning senior centers
    2. A lowered age of eligibility for access is a genuinely good thing
    3. Expanded "Meals on Wheels" program shows that this isn't just a middle class thing
    4. I can't find flaws here besides brevity.
  7. Animals
    1. Marty has animals up for adoption at every press conference, which seems oddly genuine for the guy
    2. This is also pretty great when it means an APD officer has to handle Kittens
    3. But what about the big pitbull controversies we've had? Something seems iffy and missing.
    4. On the other hand, this isn't a section he has to have, so that's forgiven.
  8. Education
    1. Marty created a small charter high school that somehow managed to send all it's seniors to college.
    2. There isn't policy here, just vague talk of coordinating local public resources.
    3. If you're going to be involved in local education, say more. If not, say less. This is just awkward right now.
Richard J. Berry
Again, I'm using the issues as defined by the candidate
  1. Immediate and Long-term Job Growth
    1. Initial Shock Moment: the GOP candidate is advocating for a rapid use of funds on hand to help fix our recession
    2. An appropriate economic policy of having the city buy local first, or help create local suppliers instead of relying on out-of-state ones. Isolationist/populisty, but I like the city and am all for it standing on it's own, so those fears are put aside.
    3. More local workforce training, which is always a good idea, but I think it's also parts of most every candidate's plan
    4. New Business Round Table
      1. Pro: "that brings leaders in business, labor,
        education, and the environmental and civic communities together" ; yay inclusivity of all community factors! (and minor yay for not feeling a need to specifically mention religion here)
      2. Con: "knock down barriers that are
        preventing businesses from starting, growing or relocating to
        Albuquerque"; while regulations are not always an inherent good to citizens, "knocking down barriers" could undermine efforts to go green, which paradoxically could also hurt Albuquerque tech-heavy business
      3. Verdict: probably a good idea, and probably not anti-green, esp. given the nature of City Council as a check on the Mayor
  2. Public Safety "Sanctuary City" Policy
    1. Berry wants to end this
    2. "This" is a policy that makes life in Albuquerque easier for illegal immigrants
    3. It will instead merge APD policy with current Bernalillo county policy, which makes illegal immigrant status relevant upon arrest, instead of waiting to see if illegal immigrant status matters specifically to the case at hand
    4. Also: he wants to end the practice of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants
    5. He sees the drivers license policy an enabling crime, and is careful to mention that he voted in favor of anti-profiling laws
    6. I can't figure this one out
      1. I don't know the data on how Marty's policy is specifically intrusive.
      2. I am not sure I like the Bernalillo policy of "immigrant status only on arrest" better than the ABQ policy of "immigrant status only if explicitly necessary", but I like them both better than most things most states do about illegal immigrants in the name of crime prevention
      3. I'm a very big fan of the drivers license program for illegal immigrants - it allows them to report crimes without a fear of themselves being arrested, and that is great, and an anti-crime measure. I do not see where it increases crime (besides, of course, the crime of being here illegally).
      4. I think coherence between Bernalillo and Albuquerque police departments would be good, but I'm not sure they both shouldn't adopt Marty's policy instead.
      5. Despite evidence to the contrary, I don't think this is actually racist. Berry wouldn't have voted for an anti-profiling law if he was, and he'd also be opposed to Bernalillo policy if this was racially motivated, or just about not liking illegal immigrants
      6. Then: I don't know how this benefits safety, and I don't have racism as an easy excuse for a police policy that isn't about safety.
      7. I would really like to see the data that made Berry support this position, because I feel as though something vital is omitted here that would give it all coherence.
  3. Public Safety: Property Crime
    1. My prior biases on this section:
      1. Property crime is inherently a class-biased concern
      2. I'm generally more for saving the lives of people than I am for saving their stuff; if I have to prioritize, that is how I am doing it.
      3. That said, protection of property is what allows for stability, investment, and western civilization.
    2. Proposes actual budget reallocation: away from beautification projects like Tingley and the Trolleys, and permanently to Youth Gang Prevention, Substance Abuse Programs and Neighborhood Deterioration
    3. Acknowledge the economics of the issue by making the selling of stolen property, and the ensuing profits, much more difficult
    4. The plan to cut down on resale of stolen property mainly involves carrying through with persecutions
    5. None of this is inherently bad. Some of it is actually quite good.
    6. Very little of this gets in the way of saving lives when lives need to be saved; in fact, that he sees Substance Abuse programs as linked to property crimes is really, really smart. I think he gets this.
  4. Government transparency
    1. Oooo, online searchable trackable spending of tax dollars. Accountability-lovers dream.
    2. Also, public, online access to "The City’s “Checkbook” and General Ledger Accounts
      Contract Amounts and Vendors; Government Salaries; and Study/Program Data." is in no way a bad idea.
    3. There isn't much more, but none of this is bad, and much of it is quite good.

I'm not going to endorse anyone in this race.

I like what Richard Romero has to say about Green Energy and Sustainable Development. I think he has great ideas for education but I worry about involving the mayoral office in education. I also think he feels the need to improve policing and transparency, but I am not convinced he knows a way to do that.

I think that Mayor Marty has done less than he credits himself with, but more than his critics think. I'm genuinely skeptical about his approach to public safety, and what that means for youth in this city. But he's not all bad, and many of his non-development initiatives are things that have improved Albuquerque. I can't really deny that. I don't like that he has been mayor of my city for 3/5s of my life, but he's not incompetent enough to outright disqualify.

I knew nothing about Richard Berry before this post, and I have been genuinely surprised to find a pro-active-government member of the GOP. Perhaps the past decade of neocons and the past years sparking of libertarian activism have thrown off my understanding of what republicans can be, but it's kind of pleasant to discover a sane, pro-business centrist. That said, I'm still not sure I like him. His proposes policy changes concerning illegal immigrants are savvy, and I do not think they are done with malice/hatred/xenophobia or any other excuse that would interfere with his logic. I still can't see what that logic is, however, unless it's a simple belief in the rule of law, and the includes immigration law. To me, immigration law is secondary to the lives of the people residing in Albuquerque, but such a legalistic perspective is at least something I can disagree with reasonably, instead of vehemently oppose. His section on property crime (and, actually, his plan on immediate and long term growth) seems to include a smart reading of behavioral economics (or at least a partial one, to which I say: yay!), and his transparency plans are, simply put, great. My hesitancy on him unrelated to illegal immigrants is that I'm don't see any focus on Albuquerque green and even better for tech. "Green" is never mentioned, and the tech is just assumed. These are not bad things, but they are not great things. I want, in 2009, to have a mayor that is about renewable energy, and about long-lasting renewable energy growth in my desert city. Much as I like his other policies, he doesn't have that little crucial bit.

What does this mean to you, the voter?

Albuquerque has three comprable candidates, none of them bad, none of them stellar. Whoever wins the election, I will disagree with/be skeptical of their Public Safety initiatives. But otherwise, there's some real choice - Romero is aiming Burque green and sustainable, and that's good. Marty is all about making Albuquerque a city that is thriving, and he's done that repeatedly through odd ways (curiously, most of the development that in my mind defines Marty was left out of his list of achievements). And Richard Berry has some good economic policy, and perhaps the transparency plan the Duke City needs. These are not bad choices. They all come with downsides (Romero's education intrusiveness, the person of Marty Chavez, Berry's skepticism about illegal immigrants), so it's a choice to weigh carefully.

Last Word

I mention all of this as a gigantic aside to a future discussion about the Mayoral Race in my second city of New Orleans, where my biases are clear and I'm outright supporting a candidate. Next to the range of possibilities afforded New Orleans, the ABQ race is dull. Be grateful - that dull means it is very, very, very hard for a wrong choice to fuck up and destroy the city.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

How to Lose Students and Alienate Community

In the Albuquerque Journal this morning, there was an article discussing the new smoking bans on the university of New Mexico campus. Here's a map of the designated smoking areas with perhaps the best one-sentence summary of the issue. Initially, it is easy to sympathize with the college - in an ideal world, no one ever dies of lung cancer from second hand smoke, and that's a noble aim. But noble aims go pear shaped all the time.

When I was a high schooler, I helped engineer and pass a ban on smoking at UU youth conferences in my district. I'd lost a grandparent to lung cancer not long before. I was no fan of smoking, and high school conferences had previously had a problem of an exclusive community of smokers existing. That in turn led to people who wanted to spend time with their friends either breathing a lot of second hand smoke or starting smoking themselves, both of which are far from ideal for a religious youth conference. On top of it all, UUs tend to have a high ratio of asthmatics/those with breathing problems, and smoke itself was a hazard for them. So many of us moved to pass a ban by majority vote. We succeeded.

What happened, then, was a lot of destruction. Con-goers who smoked would come with their addiction, but being high schoolers, without the income to have nicotine gum or patches instead of cigarettes. Or they would sneak off to try and calm their addiction so they could be present for community, and we'd ban them from coming back. A few youth, in the middle of high school, just stopped coming to cons outright, feeling unwelcome and hated by their peers. It was against the spirit of the community, and the values of the religion, and the ban remains to this day. It is by far the most lasting decision I had made as part of that community, and it causes harm. What it doesn't do is get people to stop smoking. Our noble aim failed utterly.

The ban didn't actually address any real problems. It was a prohibition, and it attempted to excise a behavior. Had we been concerned about the health of the asthmatics, we would have kept smoking outside and away from entryways. Had we been concerned about the health of smokers, we could have provided nicotine patches for them, and let them still be part of our community. And had we cared for the whole of the community, we would have enacted a policy by a system of consensus, not a majority vote, and certainly not by a handed-down ruling. We did none of this, and instead shifted problems around. We lost people, we made others feel uncomfortable, and we violated our own principles.

The UNM smoking ban is well-intentioned. But it is a frustrating prohibition forced upon legal adults, and it goes beyond necessary restriction (like 30 feet from entryways) to become an obsessive nanny state policy. And it might ultimately have the desired effect, but I still feel that it shows a disregard for the capacity of adults to make personally responsible choices. Part of giving people freedom, and giving people responsibility, is giving room for mistakes. Here, I think, it'd do well to quote Lux Alptraum:
And this is, perhaps, the crux of a progressive discourse: to be able to recognize the reality and rationale of bad decisions, while still pushing forward with an idea of what we all should be doing, of what our best decisions look like. Because it’s only with the knowledge of what we should be doing, and why, that we have the ability to stray safely — to make those mistakes and live to regret them (or not regret them, as the case may be).
In order to be rational people, we have to have that range of decision making. Forcing people's decisions simply doesn't work.