Science or Superstition—Ebola and Crowdsourcing Wisdom

I don’t pay much attention to the chatter on the news—I don’t watch the talking heads and don’t follow the conversations and popular topics.

With that said, I see now that there is a enormous number of people who are being convinced that Ebola is some ginormous threat to The American Way of Life, and that hysteria is called for, and that the end is near.

I’m sorry, but are you guys all nuts?

Ebola is a deadly disease, yes. It spreads through human contact and exchange of bodily fluids. It kills about 90% of the people who are infected. It’s bad news.

But it is not a monster of unknown shape.

You get Ebola in limited ways: you must be in contact with a person with Ebola, or in contact with the emissions of a person with Ebola, such as blood or mucus.

You can contain Ebola through some difficult measures—you must be suited up, and your clothing must be carefully and rigorously sanitized, and all infected areas must be sprayed with bleach to kill the virus.

Some extraordinary methods are needed in order to isolate Ebola victims, and some extensive means are required to deal with the clean-up, but it is not a mystery.

It appears that tens of millions of people in America today are being stamped into fear by a pack of talking heads who want you to listen to them so they can be “popular.” The right-wing media is helping with this nonsense, but there are also shouting heads in the middle as well.

Ebola is something we have to deal with. It’s taking its toll in West Africa. We should offer aid and assistance in tamping it down in order that the countries there do not collapse through exhaustion and hysteria, and also in order that we do not see a mutation in the virus that might make it more deadly.

But the craziness being espoused, mostly by the right-wing media and shared by those who are gullible to the fact-free assertions of the right-wing media, needs to stop.


Take a breath.

Relax. Slow down. Think about the actual circumstances.

An infected man came to America and died. A nurse treating him in the early chaotic days has been infected.

That’s it.

We’ll treat this and figure out how it all happened.

Stop seeing this as something that has no meaning, or, even more stupidly, seeing this as something plotted by the Evil Government in order to put you in prison camps.

I don’t know whether everyone who’s repeating these stories is insane and truly believes this nonsense they’re spouting, or if they’re just trying to stir up trouble.

But it’s nowhere near as bad as the right-wing media thinks it is.

And then ask yourself this: why is the right wing all fired up about this disease which is manageable through public safety and health measures, when the right wing has been doing its best to destroy the public health system? The right wing won’t allow the Surgeon General to be voted on in the Senate. The right wing cuts funding for public health and safety. The right wing fights against a public health system and public health access.

And now you are listening to the right wing about how to fight Ebola?

Who is crazier, the one who speaks crazy things or the one who believes the crazy things that are spoken?

Why Voting Restrictions Matter

This is for you who keep telling me that there is no difficulty in getting registered because “everyone has ID” and “everyone can get easily register.” You are talking nonsense when you say that. You should educate yourself.

Here’s an example of what the Wisconsin Voter ID restrictions meant in real life. Thank God these restrictions were struck down by the Supreme Court. But tell me, what is accomplished by restricting voting in this way, other than making sure that a large part of the undesirable population can’t vote?

From a friend in Wisconsin:

[Bob] got his WI license after the voter ID law passed (and by the by, DMV hours were cut AT THE SAME TIME as the new voter ID laws were being put in place). So now the DMV hours are 8:30-4:45 M-F, but you can’t get a new DL after 4 pm. So 8:30-4, effectively. Obviously lines are a lot longer because the hours have been dramatically reduced. [Bob] had to go 3 times before he got his DL. Because his birth certificate isn’t good enough for the Wisconsin DMV. The one he’s used to for every job. The one he’s used to get a US passport. The one he used to get federal security clearance. The one that is a pretty standard issue MN birth certificate from the 1980s. That’s not good enough for a Wisconsin drivers license and so not good enough to vote in WI. And he’s a well-educated white dude with involved parents who could confirm that his birth certificate is the only one he’s ever had and not some weird novelty birth certificate. And he has a flexible job. And he’s great at advocating for himself. But it still took him around 12 hours to get all of it straightened out. So even if I were to accept the rhetoric of voter ID requirements, I’m awfully suspicious of the goals of a system that simultaneously starts requiring an ID to vote AND makes getting that ID difficult.

Tell me, what would you do if you worked an ordinary 8-5 job and you tried to register to vote? Or you worked a job that kept you from getting to the DMV three times in order to get registered?

You take it for granted that you’re registered to vote, and that you will never be deprived of your vote, because you, of course, are favored.

But there are millions of people out there who aren’t like you, who don’t look like you, and don’t have the power that you do, who are otherwise ordinary American citizens who are being stripped of their civil rights by the actions of mean-spirited legislators, nearly 100% white Republican men.

Why is that? Why are Republicans doing this, over and over and over? They do it because it keeps them in power, but it keeps them in power because you don’t protest, and you keep voting for them.

If you’re not going to do anything with your own voice, if you’re not going to protest this loss of liberty of your fellow American citizens, if you’re going to hide behid legalisms and prevarications and passive-aggressive beliefs, at least have the integrity to stop rewarding these people with your votes. Stop supporting these people who are stripping Americans of their rights.

It doesn’t matter to me whether you consider yourself a liberal or conservative, a progressive or a libertarian–when you reward this behavior by voting for these people, you are participating in the loss of liberty of your fellow American citizens.

A Review of “A Chorus Line”

We’ve seen “A Chorus Line” a few dozen times, it seems. We’ve helped stage numbers from the show for students for a touring company of kids, and for kids in school. I think I know the show.

So I was pleasantly surprised at the Fifth Avenue’s version of “A Chorus Line” last night (21-Sep-14).

We were pleased because we know a significant number of people in the show, some of them since they were kids in various productions our kids were in. We were pleased by the openness and freshness of the staging and acting. We were pleased by the more overt change in the characters from their first somewhat stumbling attempts to learn the steps to the end where they are a smoothly running troup.

I wanted to highlight someone as well, the character of “Cassie”: Chryssie Whitehead. She was the best “Cassie” I’ve seen. Understated, underplayed, and yet just astonishingly explosive in her number.

Go see it if you can. Cheapest seats are $29.

Image of God, Image of Man

I want a God who is small and careful and deliberate. Who sees the secret places and comes into them. Who sees the unchecked injustices of the world and comes to set them right, one broken life at a time. Who is loving and careful, patient and kind, faithful and truthful and giving.

I want a God who can rescue the people I love and care for but who have no advocate of their own. I want a God who will walk beside them and bear them up, offering them hope and support and love, giving them all his attention and compassion.

I want a God who is wise and good and kind, who rushes in where needed and stays alongside to watch, to supervise, waiting to intervene if things go kablooey, but trusting that they really will work out.

I want a God big enough to make the world, the stars, the universe. I want a God who is there and who was there and will be there. I want a God who rages against evil and pain and harm and death, who stamps out injustice and puts an end to the evil of humanity by putting an end to the evil in humanity.

I want a God angrier than I am at what we are doing in our world, at what we do in so many small, careless, selfish ways that come together to form big, raw, dripping scars upon our own lives, our families, and our nations. I want a Go who is adamantly opposed to evil, who will fight it and stop it and restore the things broken and lost.

I want a God so big that he can be trusted to do what he says because he’s strong enough as well as good enough.

I want a God who can stop pain and suffering, cancer and murder, evil and evil works. Who can be at the bedside to heal a sick child or in a market to feed a hungry one. Who can be alongside the lonely and with the fatigued. Who can be all the things I wish a God could be, in all circumstances.

That is what I want.

Michael Brown and Ferguson—and Us

Every day people are born and people die. People marry, divorce, change jobs, have kids, watch those same kids move on to college and careers and family. These are all the ordinary things we expect are ours because we are good people, and fair, and play by the rules.

Some people who have similar aspirations and hopes and dreams and us, however, are taught time and again that they must have no expectation of success and freedom and safety. They are considered, as a class, inferior, suspects in crime, complicit in social decay, willing agents of destruction and chaos and evil. They excluded from normal society, from jobs and housing and education in great numbers disproportionate to their population. They are fair game for derision and shame, fair targets for hate and anger and violence.

Which is simply weird, because there is nothing different about them, not one thing, when compared to any other human being we think as being part of the “good” people, the “right” people, the “We the People” who, by virtue of existing, possess their inalienable natural and human rights.

They are excluded because we have made up something to exclude them—the way they look. And because we’ve made up this thing, we then use it to magnify every flaw and hide every virtue. Someone of this group stole? Just like them. They’re all thieves and cheats and welfare fraudsters. Someone of this group became a super athlete, super model, highly paid executive or politician? How utterly extraordinary—shows that if they just try hard enough they can succeed as extraordinary humans (but as ordinary humans they aren’t successful or visible at all).

So imagine that you’re part of the excluded group, and unable to break out of that group because of your life history. Your education was substandard. Your home was substandard. Your parents’ jobs were substandard. You’ve had to endure far worse conditions, day after day, month after month, year by year, for no reason that makes sense to you. Even to be told it is because of how you look makes no sense—your appearance is as critical to your personhood as your height—that is, it is a fact, but it is not a defining fact.

Through native wit and effort you manage to break out a bit. You are going to go to college. Do something with the brains and life God gave you. You’re walking down the street, thinking your thoughts, and you are stopped by the police.

This happens all the time to those around you. All. The. Time. Randomly stopped and questioned as if you are all just one act away from a felony.

You don’t know it, but you have fifteen minutes left to live. You think that if you stand up for yourself you’ll be OK. Not standing up for yourself leads to marginalization, and besides, Things Have Changed.

But you’re wrong. You will be dead in ten minutes.

You have more verbal altercations, unjustified, because you were doing nothing but walking down the street. The altercation escalates.

You turn away to leave the scene—you are not being arrested, after all—and then you are shot, multiple times.

And now you are dead. You lie in the street for four hours.

You started out thinking you had a rather ordinary day ahead of you, and you were wrong.


That is what happens in America, day after day, to a class of people who have no other reason to be in that class except for appearance. That is it. Nothing done. No action. Just a genetic result, a thin layer of molecules that darken the skin more than others without the molecules.

There is nothing that they can do to escape their classification, because while it is inherited, it is a meaningless reason for classification. Yet it is used to exclude.

What would you, yourself, do?

I don’t know what I’d do, honestly. I don’t think there’s a single thing that limits me. I can go nearly wherever I want, shop where I want, drive where I want, eat where I want. I can confidently apply for any job I want where I feel I’m qualified and expect to receive a fair evaluation.

I don’t have a solution for this. It seems large and complex and unyielding.

But I do believe this—that as it is not a random natural event but a series of human choices, that I, as a human, can do something to reverse the situation and restore it to humaneness. I don’t know what choices to make all the time, but I know that I can choose to act and think and believe differently than how I’m expected.

Giveaway of my latest book

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Mountains of the Moon by Stephen J. Matlock

Mountains of the Moon

by Stephen J. Matlock

Giveaway ends August 22, 2014.

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New book released–The Mountains of the Moon

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Mountains of the Moon is a compendium of thoughts and writings from my five years as a contributing and then managing editor of the weekly church newsletter, “The Journey This Week.” The newsletter served as a way to keep people in touch with what happened on a Sunday, and generally included an article based on the weekly sermon, which then became a point of departure for a meditation or essay, and along with scripture, quotes of wisdom, and a set of questions, it became a communication tool to remind members and interested readers what Snoqualmie Valley Alliance was doing from week to week.


Coming Soon—“Mountains of the Moon”

From the Preface

Mountains of the Moon is a compendium of thoughts and writings from my five years as a contributing and then managing editor of the weekly church newsletter, “The Journey This Week.” The newsletter served as a way to keep people in touch with what happened on a Sunday, and we generally included an article based on the weekly sermon. The article wasn’t to be a rehash of the sermon—it was a point of departure for a meditation or essay, and along with scripture, quotes of wisdom, and a set of questions, it became a communication tool to remind members and interested readers what Snoqualmie Valley Alliance (SVA) was doing from week to week.

In 2009 I was approached by Tanya Hodel to contribute to the newsletter. Tanya was a founding member of our writing group, The Writers’ Bloc, and in spite of what she saw me write, she included me as contributor. It was a bit scary to write something with the official stamp of approval for the church—it’s a great responsibility to be honest, truthful, respectful, and obedient, and not simply write what I wanted.

It was like the journey itself, where we have the words from God: we listen to them; we attempt to figure them out and apply them to our lives; we carefully build upon our knowledge with new knowledge; we work hard to acquire wisdom along with knowledge; and we compare over time what we say we believe with how we act.

I tried to be as honest as I could in writing with the caveat of being respectful, orderly, and obedient to the church’s mission. This doesn’t mean anything more than I tried to be both personal and neutral, forthright and well-behaved, an individual writing about my own journey and someone who knew that the journey was universal and everyone has their own road to walk.

I was not, and am not, an official voice of the church, and I do not claim to speak any great truths or be an expert in any belief. This is simply 100 or so essays of what I was thinking as I responded to the words spoken from the pulpit. There is nothing here beyond that: this is not a book of Christian theology or even of what I think we should be doing as good and proper Christians.

I hoped—and still hope—that what I wrote served merely as a starting point for a discussion of your own journey. You won’t reach the same conclusions I did, and you won’t have the same method of relationship with God, with others, and with yourself as I did. The whole point is that you would have your own journey with God, whether you are not quite ready to start and need some advice and assurance, you are well on the way, or you are tying things up in preparation for the end.

It’s just a witness of my thoughts and musings. If you find it useful, then great. If you find it boring and repetitive and useless—well, chuck this aside. There are better books and better writers, and ultimately, of course, there is someone ultimately better to listen to and to follow.

The best advice I can give is what Jesus said to Peter:

Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You—follow me.” John 21:20-21

The title of the book comes from two things: first, I live in the Snoqualmie Valley in Washington State. “Snoqualmie” is a transliterated Coastal Salish word that means “moon”; the early residents here (before the arrival of Europeans) were known as the “People of the Moon.” The second meaning is an allusion to the moon-ness of a believer’s journey: the moon at best reflects the light of the sun, and of course the mountains are a nod to one of my favorite author’s description of the deeper journey into life: to ascend further up and farther in.