The Doctrine of Discovery

Do you know, dearies, about the Doctrine of Discovery? In 1823, the US Supreme Court passed this lovely ruling, which declared how the US inherited all of its land from Great Britain, and could therefore do what they pleased with any part of it, despite protestations from indigenous peoples. (The original colonies didn’t extend too far past the Atlantic seaboard, but apparently that’s a technicality.) Courts have used this doctrine in land disputes with Native Americans as late as 2005.

(Originally posted September 29, 2016)

How I Reached My Decision to Support Clinton Over Sanders

Once when I was a delegate at my church’s national convention, I was randomly picked to sit on a committee that would recommend a resolution on the major topic of the year. This topic had to do with church representation at the national offices, and the issue’s champions believed that people of color were not receiving as much voice as everyone else. My church is very sensitive to inequality; this was a serious concern. What complicated matters, in part, was that addressing the issue in the way the champions called for would cause major restructuring of our representational process. Still, I did research; I was ready to upset the apple cart. But then, as the convention rolled on, people of color would approach me, and they would say, “Please don’t vote to change the process. Please understand that this issue is raised by a vocal minority among a larger minority. Please do what the majority of us wants, and find another way.”

I was amazed. But what could I do? My conscience told me to vote according to what was best for people of color—and that meant I had to listen to the majority of those folks. Who was I to say I knew more than they, about an issue that most impacted them? Who was I to override their wishes? I voted to put down the minority’s resolution. And with the help of many other people, my side of the vote won the day. In reaction to the election results, the minority disrupted the rest of the convention with songs and chants. Nobody felt very good about anything. But I still feel that I did the right—if not perfect— thing. 

Ten years later, when most of our country’s minority voters caucused for Clinton, I drew on this same experience. I listened to the majority of my brethren who receive the most damage from institutional racism. I figured they knew best, and I backed their candidate. It was all I could do.

(Originally posted July 27, 2016)


So the top story today is that an ex-CIA operative is releasing a book that claims how Obama could have stopped ISIS in 2012 by allowing the CIA to train more rebels to oust Assad. I don’t know much about covert ops, covert coups, or the ancient landscape that is the Middle East. Nor will I claim that Obama has maintained a perfect foreign policy. But in terms of this book, I will say that hindsight and discontent are old partners. And I will also say that back when this chance arose, ISIS hadn’t even emerged from a-Quaeda. And I’ll say furthermore that if you want to play the game of who started what, we should talk about how al-Quaeda itself came about from our supporting the rebels in the Afghan war against the Soviets. And speaking of removal of dictators, let’s not forget how well things turned out after we toppled Hussein. 

I just heard that the Silver Age Superman arose in the fifties as a champion of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. He’s become edgier since. He’s given Batman some kryptonite so Batman can stop Superman if Superman ever loses his way. Since WWII, we’ve been a superpower, but we’ve never been a superhero. We don’t have that wisdom. We don’t have it about the future or the present, or even the past. It borders on imperialism to say that the American way is best for anyone else. And it borders on hubris, of the old Greek blend, to think we can look at a mire of ancient enmity and know which spots to drain. Did Obama do the right thing about ISIS? I don’t know. Do we ever do the right thing about the Middle East? Our record is poor. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that caution frequently saves the day–even if it doesn’t always win it.

(Posted on April 2, 2016)


My father frequently hosts a medicine-at-sea program, where he goes on cruises with physicians, teaches a class, and enjoys the sights. This past week, he had work on a short cruise through the Gulf of Mexico. In the middle of the voyage, the ship encountered a raft of twenty-seven Cuban refugees, who had been at sea for twenty-two days. The ship took them on board, to find that seven of the people had already died. The doctors helped the rest the best they could, while my father–a psychologist–debriefed some of the folks who helped with the worst trauma. Two more refugees died a few days later. The cruise ship took the survivors to Cozumel, where each would face return to Cuba, and almost certainly a prison sentence. 

Think of what you’d have to flee to risk your life at sea. That impulse doesn’t come from some desire to steal an agricultural job. It certainly doesn’t come from laziness. It comes from a desperation that leads to heroism.

(Originally posted March 24, 2016)


This would make a good story.

Back in 2015, the RNC approaches a mercenary businessman who’s got wealth and arrogance to spare. They say, “We’ll make you a deal. We’ll get you lots of fame and money, if all you do is a little posing for us. We want you to be as neo-fascist as you possibly can. We want you to be egregious. Say things that would make David Duke smile. Say things that aren’t so much hawkish as worthy of a velociraptor. “ 

And the businessman says, “Hey, sure. You want a show? I’ll give you a show. I’m good at shows.”

“Great!” says the RNC. “We need you to be scary, see? Make our best guys look centered. Rubio, Cruz. Let’s paint them moderate, right? Can you twirl your hair, maybe? Like a mustache?”

And the businessman chuckles, and he goes to work. And the media starts to notice what he says, and they start to fly around him. Every day, they buzz and buzz. And other people start to notice too, people who have nursed a grudge for decades, people who have been waiting for this guy, who see him as an angel of vengeance in a hamster-colored halo. And the RNC says, “Whoa! This is great!” And the businessman is like, “I know!” 

But then more and more people start to get behind this guy. And more media flies around him, buzz buzz. And pretty soon, this businessman isn’t scaring people toward Rubio and Cruz, but actually attracting voters away from them. And he’s like, “Would you look at that?” And the RNC is all, “No no no. This wasn’t the plan.” And they tell the businessman to get stranger, to insult dignitaries, to boycott debates. And he does. And he talks about torture and his penis, and in fact, he does make David Duke smile. And he’s like, “What? That’s what you told me to do.” And his numbers go up, and his opponents fall down, and more people come from God knows where, and they’ve already got their arms half-raised, and this guy, he’s like, “I wonder if I could make them take an oath?” And they take it! And in fact, they want more. And the RNC says, “Holy God, we have to stop this guy.” But the businessman? What does he do? He smiles. 

Now here’s the most interesting part: Why is he smiling? Did he see this coming? Did he know that if you treated an election like a reality show, you could become the Apprentice? Is he smiling for himself? Or is he smiling for his supporters, with whom he has long secretly agreed? Is he smiling from the front of what truly is a neo-fascist cause, which he bided his time to bring until the Republican Party teetered to the point where it needed only a shrewdly-placed hair to tip the scales? Or is he smiling, because in show business, that’s what you do when you’re terrified? That like the RNC, he’s agog at what they’ve summoned, that he wanted to be the Apprentice, yes, but never anticipated the power of the Master?

So let’s say the thing–the Master– is suddenly real. And it’s shadowy and big. And it’s suddenly in the room. And for whatever reason, the businessman–the bargainer–he says, “Okay. I’ll take the power. I have it. I’ll be fine.” And the RNC, in the corner, they don’t know what to do. Some of them speak out. They know a bad deal when they see it. Others just run. But some–enough–decide that they’re safest with the Apprentice and his Master. Maybe they even like this new power. And they come forward, one by one, and they kneel for a blessing.

(Originally posted March 23, 2016)