Friday, February 27, 2015

The Sometimes Maligned DNR--Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Some of my friends and I often lament the content and tone of our Harrisonburg paper's editorials, but in all fairness I have to express appreciation today for editorial page editor Cort Kirkwood's cooperation in posting my piece "Brethren Resisted Resistance".

First of all, he was willing to do this in record time--knowing I that I preferred that it be in for Black History Month--even though I didn't get it in until Monday. Second, the story was published even though it could be read as putting some of the Byrd family (the publishers of the newspaper) in an unfavorable light.

So I commend the DNR for its willingness to post opinion pieces with which it may not always fully agree. An open press helps promote a healthy community conversation.

If you aren't an online or regular subscriber, here's the link to a November12, 2014, blog with essentially the same story.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Couple Of Questions For The CCJB

Nearly fifty observers attended the meeting of the 18-member Community Criminal Justice Board yesterday, hoping to hear some spirited discussion on the part of the 14 members of this advisory group present. We were especially interested in knowing what their various perspectives were regarding a proposed $21.5 million deal with nearby Middle River Jail, one  that could eventually give us 250 additional jail beds.

We heard little from the members, but there were two actual actions taken: 1) The minutes of the December 8 meeting were approved, and 2) the work of a committee designated to develop alternatives to incarceration was officially authorized (one led by Judge John Paul that had been approved by consensus rather than by an actual voice vote at the December meeting).

Scott Kizner, Harrisonburg Schools superintendent, did make a strong case for the CCJB to promote better ways to prevent young people from getting into negative behaviors that lead to crime, and suggested that Judge Paul's committee include some educators, but no action was taken. Don Driver, head of Social Services, also expressed the concern that the Board take seriously the interest of increased numbers of citizens who are currently speaking out on criminal justice issues.

Two attendees made a motion to request that public input be allowed. When this was denied, a dozen observers associated with a local group called "Moving Beyond Jails" walked out, leaving signs on their empty chairs with the words, "My name is _______, and I have no voice in the Community Criminal Justice Board."

The chair explained that there would likely be opportunity for such comments at a later date, and Judge John Paul, not an actual member of the CCJB, went out of his way to meet with them in the hall to hear their concerns.

The rest of us heard brief reports about the state of negotiations with the Middle River Jail Authority, the goals of Judge John Paul's study group on alternatives to incarceration, and the need for citizens to be understanding and patient regarding the CCJB's work.

Here are some of my questions for the group:

-  How often will you meet, and what mission or purpose statement might you adopt for yourselves?

- As an advisory body, exactly who, or what agencies, do you see yourselves advising, and what might be some examples of the kinds of future recommendations you might be in a position to make?

- How will you conduct your meetings in order to get the optimal benefit of the considerable wisdom and experience represented by members of the group (mostly well educated professionals in local government, law enforcement, education and social services)?

- How might you create a mix of members that more accurately reflects the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of our community?

- In light of your expressed willingness to receive citizen input and feedback, would it be reasonble to allow for 15-20 minutes of public comment at the beginning of future meetings?

I was glad for the opportunity to be present, and especially appreciated the willingness of CCJB members like Pablo Cuevas, Joe Paxton, and Kai Degner (as well as John Paul) to talk with some of us some after the meeting was adjourned.

I believe everyone will benefit by working together to help make ours a safer and more just community.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

(Satire Alert) Invitation To Join My New Church

I'm hoping this building will hold everyone!
Splitting off and creating new churches seems to be very popular these days. In my denomination alone we've gone from having one united conference for Mennonites in Rockingham County to having over a dozen different varieties to choose from--all in just the past century.

But since there's always room for one more spin-off, I figured I should come up with my own brand of church, one I might call the "United Harvyterian Church Of The Completely Pure And Altogether Right", or UHCCPAR for short.

I used to think there were just two kinds of Christians, the liberal ones and the conservative ones, two kinds of folks who, like oil and water, must regularly separate from each other in order to stay pure and right. But I've since realized that members are at many different places along a progressive/traditionalist continuum, and depending on the issue, each individual may be at different points between these two poles. This means that at any time there are nearly an infinite number of interesting possibilities for forming pure and separate coalitions of like-minded and right thinking people, not just two.

In the interest of maintaining absolute truth and utmost purity in my new church I'm considering coming up with a written application everyone who wants to join. Here are some sample items, each to be ranked on a scale of 0-10.

Choose a number between 0 (totally left) and 10 (altogether right) for each of the following:

___ 1. The earth as we know it, created in six 24-hour days, came into being in the year 6004 BC.

___ 2. Since every word in the King James Bible is directly inspired by God, each text is to be interpreted literally (which means exactly the way I, the founder of UHCCPAR, interpret it).

___ 3. Since there are scriptural examples of Gentiles, women and slaves being considered inferior and unequal to others, we maintain the right and duty to continue such discrimination.

___ 4. Churches should divide whenever differences and disagreements occur, the exception being the UHCCPAR, which will finally have gotten it right.

This is just the start of a list that would include many more. In order to qualify for membership (and to create true purity), applicants would need to have a score indicating at least a 95% agreement with my views (or on second thought, maybe 100%).

Let me know if you want to apply for charter membership. Otherwise, without the indisputable truths of Harvyterianism, you may need to start some new churches of your own to accommodate your own changing views over time.

Here's a link to some non-satirical posts on church unity.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Knowing When To Give Up Hope


When I first ran across the "I feel much better now..." statement in the graphic (on a bumper sticker) I dismissed it as just another funny one-line absurdity.

But sometimes we are better off selectively "giving up hope" for things we are powerless to do anything about. Another term for this is acceptance, as in the well known Serenity Prayer, where one asks for the grace to "accept the things I cannot change".

Or as in this piece by author Amy Carmichael:

He said, "I will forget the dying faces;
The empty places,
They shall be filed again.
O voices moaning deep within me, cease,"
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in forgetting lieth peace. 

He said, "I will crowd action upon action,
The strife of faction shall stir me and sustain;
O tears that drown the fire of manhood, cease."
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in endeavor lieth peace.

He said, "I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life's riot?
Shut be my door to pain.
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease."
Not in aloofness lieth peace.

He said, "I will submit; I am defeated.
God hath depleted My life of its rich gain.
O futile murmurings, why will ye not cease?"
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in submission lieth peace.

He said, "I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God tomorrow will to His Son explain."
Then did the turmoil deep within him cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in Acceptance lieth peace.
 -Amy Carmichael

I feel so much better now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Songmaker Son Helps Students Compose Some Cool Songs


For the past two years our singer-songwriter son Brad Yoder has been asked to spend a week as  a musician-in-residence at one of Pittsburgh's public elementary schools. This year he led extensive brainstorming sessions with each of six classes at Kerr Elementary and came up with the following entertaining results. 

Here are the lyrics:


CH:  We love treats, they’re so yummy,
Awesome sweetness in my tummy!
VS 1:  Ice cream is delicious, you can lick it on a cone,
or eat it in a bowl with a spoon,
chocolate or vanilla, cherry or banana, (or mango!)
different flavors taste super-good! (like sherbet!)
VS 2: Candy is spectacular, lollipops and gummi bears
licorice and marshmallows,
chocolate bars and chewing gum, jelly beans, “can I have some?”
Cotton candy's soft like pillows!
VS 3: cookies are for everyone, gingerbread and M&M,
oatmeal, chocolate chip and Oreos,
some are round and some are square, everybody likes to share,
we even like to eat cookie dough!

1st GRADE:  "Summer Vacation"

CH:  It’s summer vacation, I’m so excited that school’s out,
the sun is bright and we get to play all day,
it’s summer vacation, we drink lemonade in the hot sun,
we swim and ride bikes and have fun, we say “hurray!”..
VS1: would like to climb a tree? we can see the bright green leaves,
would you like to find a snail and put it in a pail? (567176)  ½CH:
VS2: We can jump into the pool, and the water’s very cool,
ride our bikes to the zoo and see the kangaroos…  ½CH:
VS3:  We can go to Kennywood, the games and rides and food are good, we can visit family and friends in New Jersey!  ½CH:
VS4:  Read a book in bed all day, sleep in late or celebrate,
paint a heart or draw a bird, or bake a chocolate cake!  CH:

2nd GRADE:  "Playing in the Snow"

VS1: wake up, look out the window, let’s go play in the snow,
school is closed, it’s Winter Break, everybody knows,
it’s time to put on snow clothes, coats and gloves and boots,
scarves, earmuffs, mittens and hats, warm socks and snow suits..
CH: let’s go hop outside, let’s jump in a pile of snow, (brr)
it’s cold and wet, but really fun, catching snowflakes on our tongues,
then we’ll go inside, take off our boots, and have some hot cocoa..
VS2:  Let’s go and build a snowman, let’s find a carrot nose,
a scarf, 2 sticks, and rocks as eyes, he can wear old clothes,
a snowball fight’s exciting, we’ll build a big snow fort,
We’ll stay outside, we’ll play all day, and then we’ll play some more,
BRIDGE:  Sledding, tubing, ice skating, what shall we do first,
I think we should make snow angels (before the weather turns),
the next day I slept in, and then we played again!

3rd GRADE:  "Gym Class"

VS 1: up and down the climbing wall, kick a home run in kickball,
running, jumping, it’s so fun, we can play with everyone
CH: in gym class, in gym class, when the thinking work is done,
in gym class, in gym class, we have tons of fun..
VS 2:  it is not a big surprise we get lots of exercise,
Mr. S. and Mrs. A., please let us play Ricochet, in gym class (CH2)
VS 3:  we ride scooters all around, the scooters make a squeaky sound,
we like playing castle ball, when the balls make castles fall, (CH3)
BR:  We’ll have a blast, c’mon let’s play, while it lasts, we yell “hurray!”
VS4:  bowling, hockey, soccer, tag, we can play “capture the flag”
Hula hoops and basketball, we try not to trip and fall.. (CH4)

4th GRADE:  "Sleep"

VS 1: After a long day, I go upstairs and hit the hay,
brush my teeth and jump in bed, counting sheep over my head,
I start to close my eyes, stars twinkle in the night,
floating on a cozy cloud, Mama please don’t wake me now,
CH:  tired people all around are sleeping in a sleepy town,
tired people go to sleep while children’s dreams are at their peak!
VS 2:  My Dad’s tucking me in, and I say goodnight to him,
dreaming of a different land, and cake with sprinkles in my hand,
Warm under my sheets, stuffed animals are guarding me
from monsters underneath my bed, I grab for my stuffed bear instead
CH:  tired people all around are sleeping in a sleepy town,
tired people go to sleep while children’s dreams are at their peak!
BR:  What time is it?  How much more sleep can I get?
VS 1 TAG: After a long day, I go upstairs and hit the hay,
brush my teeth and jump in bed, counting sheep over my head…

5th GRADE:  "Road Trip Song"
CH:  a long way to go, and a long time to get there,
why won’t the road move faster,
vacation is here, our destination is clear,
adventure is what we’re after!
VS1:  everywhere you go there’s a sunset,
and everywhere you go there’s a moon,
every day we ask, “are we there yet?”
and every time mom says, “pretty soon”  (CH)
VS2: Speeding down the road while I’m gazing,
trying to write the words for this song,
driving through the plains, cows are grazing,
I think I’ll see those cows all day long! (CH)
BR:  Gift shops, fast food, rest stops, toll booths,
traffic, turnpikes, crossing state lines!..

All rights reserved

Monday, February 16, 2015

Which God? Whose Country?

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyonefor emperors and all who are in high positions, so that we (all) may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  

"This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  

"For there is one God;
there is also one mediator 
between God and (all) humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human, 

who gave himself a ransom for all."

 - Paul, to believers under Nero (I Timothy 2:1-5, NRSV, emphases mine)

Throughout time, individual nations have claimed that God is on their side, fighting their battles, defending their principles and elevating their importance.

I dearly love the country of my birth, regularly pray for its well being (and well doing) and appreciate its many benefits, much as I hope people in other nations feel about their own native land.

I also want to be aware of my country's flaws and will always urge it to live up to its own best ideals.

Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said, "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side." Whether or not that is an actual quote, we all need to be humble about claiming any special favor with the Almighty, and avoid the idolatries of exceptionalism and hyper-nationalism.

From a Biblical perspective, nations are a temporary necessity, a "drop in a bucket" of minor importance. God's ultimate goal is one of having the whole earth become one great kingdom of justice and peace, where warring nations will beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more.

Until then, we do well to heed the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the following in the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1977, enacted into law in January 16, 1786:

"That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time."

(2nd paragraph, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom)

Here's a link to more posts on God and government.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Night Of Infamy In Dresden, February 13-14, 1945

Dresden, Germany, after four Allied bombing raids, February 13-15
On this night 70 years ago one of the most intense Allied air strikes ever waged against a German city was launched.

According to the website, the target, Dresden, was known as "the Florence of the Elbe" one the world's most beautiful cities. Less industrialized than most, it had contributed only marginally to the war effort compared to many other German cities, and since it was also less well defended, it would not have been able to put up much resistance to advancing Russian forces from the east at this stage of World War II.

Here is a section of the article:

On the night of February 13, hundreds of RAF bombers descended on Dresden in two waves, dropping their lethal cargo indiscriminately over the city. The city's air defenses were so weak that only six Lancaster bombers were shot down. By the morning, some 800 British bombers had dropped 1,478 tons of high-explosive bombs and 1,182 tons of incendiaries on Dresden, creating a great firestorm that destroyed most of the city and killed numerous civilians. Later that day, as survivors made their way out of the smoldering city, over 300 U.S. bombers began bombing Dresden's railways, bridges, and transportation facilities, killing thousands more. On February 15, another 200 U.S. bombers continued their assault on the city's infrastructure. All told, the bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force dropped 954 tons of high-explosive bombs and 294 tons of incendiaries on Dresden. Later, the Eighth Air Force would drop 2,800 more tons of bombs on Dresden in three other attacks before the war's end.

The fires that resulted were so intense that they literally sucked the oxygen from the air, causing horrible deaths by asphyxiation and the superheated air as well as from burning men, women and children alive.

Here is a link to a graphic Youtube depiction of that terrible event, and this one to some other blogs on aerial bombings as a modern form of holocaust.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Church Splits Will Never Resolve The Traditionalist/Progresssive Divide

Conrad Kanagy, Elizabethtown College
"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit.
...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God..."
-Paul (from Ephesians 4)

At the Virginia Mennonite Conference Delegate session held Saturday at Waynesboro, sociologist and pastor Conrad Kanagy raised sobering questions about whether the Mennonite church will be able to reconcile its differences and stay together. He noted that we are becoming two distinctly different groups, one made up of upwardly mobile professionals who tend to be more liberal and "progressive" in their views and another that remains more rural in their way of life and more "traditionalist" in their  beliefs.

"What if the Holy Spirit were dismantling the church?" he asked. "How can we work with rather than against God's Spirit, recognizing that the church is God's, not ours?"

We were shown plenty of evidence in Kanagy's recent study of the views of credentialed pastors of the Mennonite Church USA (and those of Virginia Conference church leaders) of what he described as a "Progressive Narrative" and a "Traditionalist Narrative". His prayer is that these two can find a way to remain in vital connection.

A part of me wanted to ask whether this was really a new phenomenon. Hasn't the church always had at least two narratives of this kind? And what if some of this tension could be seen as a good thing, recognizing that traditionalists need progressives to help keep them from stagnating, and that progressives need traditionalists to keep them from going off in unwise directions?

Years ago I heard Mennonite missionary and church planter Donald Jacobs present a version of the following diagram in a seminar he led at Eastern Mennonite University (then EMC).

Here are the main players in his model:

Preservers: Jacobs stressed that all groups, and certainly churches, need a stable group of members committed to preserving its core values. Around some issues, he said, any of us may find ourselves resisting change and working to preserve the “old order” of things. When conservative minded folks begin to feel their concerns are no longer heard or respected, they may feel strongly enough to leave as a group to form their own separate community.

Pioneers: Healthy groups also need innovators who advocate for change, lest a group become ingrown and stagnant. These folks tend to operate on the outer fringe of the community and are often viewed with suspicion and fear. When these innovators no longer feel heard or respected they may likewise form another group or simply drift off one by one.

Note: In either case, when new groups form, they form alignments similar to the groups they have left, except now some of the more liberal 'pioneers' may find themselves labeled as conservative 'preservers' in the context of the new group.

Settlers: These folks are the more or less silent majority in the group in a given conflict, and are not as strongly aligned with either the pioneers or preservers on a particular issue, but may have varying degrees of sympathy for one or the other--or both.

Note: In a healthy group, individuals are able to change roles depending on the issue. Let me speak personally. On some issues, like advocating for more house churches instead of investing in ever more church real estate, I may be seen as a pioneer, whereas on other issues, like preserving our Mennonite peace stance, I way be seen as a strong preserver. On certain other issues, like what style of church music to use, I’m often in the middle, open to those of either camp. In the case of these examples, in some settings or in some periods of history, house churches would be seen as a decidedly conservative idea, whereas the advocacy of non-violence would be seen as a very radical one. And depending on the issue and on the makeup of the group, we will find ourselves at different places--and therefore aligned with different persons--which is as it should be. This kind of dynamic reshuffling has the effect of bonding us to a variety of different people and tends to have an interlacing quality that makes a group stronger and more division proof.

Mediators: Each of us, whenever possible, needs to serve in intermediary roles within the group. Sometimes we may serve in the role of interpreter for the preservers, promoting good conversation between them and the pioneers and between them and the rank and file middle. At other times we may advocate for the innovators, to help make sure they are clearly understood and their ideas are being respectfully considered.

Final Note: When we see differences as normal, and as actually having potential for making the group healthier and stronger, and when each member feels valued and needed, everyone is better off, and the health and growth of the group is enhanced.

Conclusion: Maybe we need to embrace the fact that whenever human beings associate together, differences and disagreements are inevitable, and can even prove to be a blessing.

Here's a link to some more posts on church unity.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Middle River Jail Deal: Good News And Bad News

Middle River Regional Jail, Verona, Virginia
Our local politicians are negotiating a $21.5 million deal with the Middle River Regional Jail for 150 of their inmate beds as an alternative to our building a second $63 million jail near the County landfill. As a part of the deal, within a ten year period that number could increase to 250 beds.

The Good News

This does save a fair amount of taxpayer money (though less than that reported in Friday's DNR editorial), and could free more local resources for programs that better prevent problems associated with a 500% increase in our jail numbers over the pat two decades (in spite of our having only a 25% increase in population). There may also be some opportunity to work with MRRJ for better mental health and rehabilitation services there than we have been able to come up with in our local facility, along with the possibility of an active work release program we haven't seemed to be able to offer.

The Bad News

This plan assumes an ever increasing need for more incarceration space. If we were to rigorously pursue proven programs (actually outlined in the Moseley report), like Drug and Mental Health Courts, Day Reporting, a bail bond release rate that is more consistent with national numbers, and/or the use of ankle bracelet technology for home incarcerations, our numbers could and should drop, as they have in Arlington County, for example, rather than inevitably increase.

My fear is that our community will now declare any need for more jail bed space to be resolved and that our pattern of over-incarceration will remain unchanged. To me, that would be a lamentable outcome indeed.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Guilty Of Mental Illness--Justice Watch #1

Rockingham Court House
"Justice Watch" is the first of what will be an occasional account of justice gone awry. I have posted frequent examples previously, but not with this label. Feel free to let me know of any cases you would like aired, with good documentation for accuracy, of course.

Janice (not her real name), is being held at our local jail for a probation violation, having been intoxicated and in possession of a firearm (not her own). Single and in her mid-thirties, she appeared in court yesterday to ask to be released on bond to live with her grandmother while awaiting trial and to get some much needed treatment for her mental illness.

"My mind is all messed up," she had told me at a recent jail visit, "and I've got to get some help. And being here in jail is terribly stressful for me. All most of the other women in my cell talk about is getting high or getting drunk. I don't need that. And I can't sleep."

Janice, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. is on a cocktail of medications she's not sure are really right for her. "Sometime I think my meds are making me worse," she said.

Janice was initially found guilty of using illegal drugs and for being intoxicated in public. She has never committed any crime that make her a danger to anyone but herself, has never sold or given drugs to anyone else. She is in jail primarily because she has an addiction and is mentally ill.

Her recent use of a firearm was in an attempted suicide. She felt an extreme sense of despair, she told me, although she has only a vague memory of what actually happened on the day she tried to kill herself.

She appeared in court in handcuffs and shackles, wearing the obligatory and unsightly red and white striped jump suit. Aside from a condescending remark about her being "highly emotional" and engaging in "pressured speech", the judge treated her with respect and dignity.

Everyone, including the judge, agreed at yesterday's hearing that she was not a flight risk and would show up at her court hearing set for a month from now. But the attorney from the Commonwealth's Attorney's office insisted that more should be known about whether her aging grandmother, living in a one bedroom apartment, could provide the kind of supervision Janice needed, in spite of her attorney's assurance that another aunt was also willing to help and that her pastor and others from her church would do all they could to provide the support she needed until she was able to get into Arbor House, a local treatment center where she could get some much needed psychiatric care.

Yesterday's verdict puts her back into the most stressful environment imaginable, confined to a jail cell with other inmates who are likewise getting no treatment for their addictions or their emotional problems.

Our local jail is clearly not a therapeutic place for anyone, especially not someone who needs psychiatric help.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

ICARE: An Innovative Educational Program For Virginia Inmates

The following, in his own words, is the brainchild of Charles Zellers, Sr., one of the inmates with whom I correspond at the Buckingham Correctional Center at Dillwyn, Virginia: 

I urge the Virginia Department of Corrections, technology companies and others to adopt and implement a computerized education program for prison inmates I have provisionally dubbed "ICARE" (Inmate Computer Assisted Rehabilitation through Education).

ICARE is based on the use of tablet computers with educational software and Access, Excel, Outlook, Paint, Powerpoint, Publisher and Word, which would be downloaded for a reasonable fee from JPay kiosks or similar systems.

VDOC would start this program by making the following core subjects mandatory for all inmates: Basic English, Basic Math, Basic Finance, and skill training for specific jobs. Once inmates master these core subjects, they could choose to continue their education and earn a GED certification and then take advanced college level courses.

In addition, ICARE would offer opportunities to inmates to expand their horizions and keep their brains active by purchasing or renting a variety of approved e-books, e-periodicals, educational videos, movie and music videos and approved video games, and to channel their artistic and literary creativity through the use of graphic art, word processing and other applications.

By giving inmates such opportunities to educate themselves and each other in their cells, day rooms and dormitories, ICARE would help them use their time more constructively and encourage them to become more self reliant and better prepared to return to our technology saturated society, thereby helping to close the revolving door in our criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, make our communities safer and ease the burden on taxpayers.

Here are my proposed ICARE tablet specifications:

1. Affordable for all inmates
2. Clear, durable case (to prevent contraband from being hidden inside)
3. Security screws to prevent tampering
4. Screen size of 10.1 inches or larger
5. Minimal memory of 32 GB (expandable)
6. Sufficient storage (cloud based?)
7. Preloaded operating system, Microsoft Windows 8.1 or newer
8. Touch screen
9. Power cord to operate unit and recharge batteries (no external adapter)
10. Mini USB port for Firewire cord
11. Firewire cord to connect with J-Pay kiosk
12. Standard USB for optional thumb drive
13. Headphone jacks for multiple users
14. Earbuds
15. Rechargeable battery
16. Instructional manual
17. Parts and labor warranty (one year)
18. Detachable lighted keyboard (optional)
19. Wireless mouse/scanner combo (optional)
20. Thumb drive

Excluded items would be cameras or web cams, card readers, internal speakers, microphones or recording devices, or any network ports (no Wi-Fi or Internet capability).

Other fee-based services would include e-mail access and printing services through a printer located in the mail room and controlled by their staff. Inmates would be charged per page, as they are currently for copying services.

I pray that God will allow me to be paroled so I can help implement this and other ideas I have to help inmates.

Charles Zellers, Sr.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Latest Marriage/Divorce Score: 972 to 427

Rockingham County Court House
Every January since 1996 the clerk of the local Circuit Court kindly provides me with statistics of marriage licenses issued and divorces granted in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County in the previous year.

Since our population has increased significantly in the past two decades one would expect a steady rise in marriage numbers, but that isn't the case. Those numbers have been flat even though our population has increased by some 25% over the past two decades.

That hardly means fewer couples are pairing up, but simply that we have ever more people hooking up and breaking up in undocumented (common law) relationships. Unfortunately, we have no record of how many of cohabiting couples go through their own "divorces", with consequences just as distressing as those experienced by their legally married counterparts.

With fewer registered marriages we should also be able to expect fewer registered divorces. But that isn't true, either, as you will see below:

Year           Marriages     Divorces

1996            873                 387
1997            950                 405
1998            964                 396
1999            932                 405
2000           947                 365
2001         1003                438     (most annual marriages
2002           976                 421
2003           961                 399
2004           959                 437
2005           889                 381
2006           929                 389
2007           925                 434
2008           950                 405
2009           903                 347     (fewest annual divorces)
2010           879                 358     (fewest annual marriages since 1996)
2011            933                 433
2012            995                 445
2013            924                 484     (most annual divorces)
2014            972                 427
Given the fact that every divorce, documented or otherwise, profoundly impacts not only the couple involved, but the lives of parents, siblings, friends and especially any children involved, the number of our neighbors scarred by dysfunctional marriages and destructive divorces each year is incalculable.

I'm not prepared to make a cause and effect case here, but I can't help but note that as the percentage of adults who marry has steadily decreased relative to our population, the number of inmates in our jail has increased by over 500%! Of course that is much more likely a result of a criminal justice system gone awry than anything else, but neither mass incarceration nor more and more family breakups are signs of a truly healthy community.

Click here for additional posts on divorce.

Here's the graph to the year 2012:
Here's our population growth:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Imagine, Twice The Number Of Worshippers At This Evening's Service As At The Morning Ones

I know I risk of offending the 70% of American adults who will be celebrating  the "Stupor Bowl" this evening, but I can't help but see this annual event as a marriage of some of the worst of our national idolatries.

Just as in the case of the Roman gladiatorial games, where images of the gods were always paraded into the arena, in this ritualistic ceremony we pay homage to our own favorite deities, those devoted to nationalism, self-indulgence and the glorification of violence.

Chief among these is the money god Mammon. With a projected number 112 million viewers worldwide, and with Superbowl parties everywhere--celebrated with multiple cases of beer and the consumption of more food than on any US holiday except Thanksgiving--it represents an orgy of American consumerism. And for those obsessed enough to actually attend the game, the current average price for this year’s tickets is nearly $6,500, the highest ever. According to Allen St. John, author of the best seller “The Billion Dollar Game: Behind the Scenes at the Biggest Day in American Sport, Super Bowl Sunday,” somewhere between 250 and 400 million dollars is pumped into the local economy, and “in total, the big game’s economic footprint is estimated to be larger than the GDP of 25 nations.”

The game itself is designed to provide for an optimal number of commercials, some 45 minutes worth in all, and for which sponsors will dole out over $130,000 per second of of air time. Yes, that’s per second, with each half-minute spot going for a cool $4 million.

Then there are the ever present gods and goddesses like Eros, Aphrodite and Venus. Our national obsession with sex blends seamlessly with our addiction to highly competitive and aggressive sports. Not surprisingly, this year’s half-time entertainment features Katy Perry, not exactly the role model you would choose for your daughters and granddaughters. But even more troubling, according to Jerome Elam, in a January 17, 2012 , Washington Times piece, the annual Super Bowl weekend is considered to be the largest sex trafficking event in the United States, if not in the world. In dimly lit rooms, he says, pimps and johns will buy and sell child and teen prostitutes as part of this reprehensible crime. According to some reports, the 2010 Super Bowl brought an estimated 10,000 prostitutes to Miami, and in 2011, there were 133 prostitution-related arrests in Dallas.

Not only is there this kind of potential for harm, but this massive investment of energy, time and resources seems like such an exorbitant waste. And for what?

Football, which should be just a game engaged in for fun, has evolved into an organized way of having grown men brutalize each other in front of large crowds for the sake of obscene profits. In the process, far too many of these overpaid but under protected players, not totally unlike gladiators of old, end up paying a terrible toll in brain injuries and other health related costs, and even in premature deaths.

Not that play is a bad thing, and spending some time watching skilled athletes perform can be legitimate entertainment. But this is far too grim an exercise to be considered recreational, and we’d be far better off actually participating in some athletic activities ourselves rather than being glued to commercialized entertainment while munching on chips and guacamole.

Having aired my complaints, I must confess that I have enough obsessions and vices of my own that should keep me from pointing even one self-righteous finger in anyone else's direction, but I do sometimes just feel the need to just get this off my chest.

There, I feel better already.

Here's last year's post on the subject: Annual Celebration Promoting 'Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy'

As always, your feedback is welcome.