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Uber and Self-Driving Cars

Posted by on Mar 19, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Travel | 0 comments



We need to embrace an impartial and unemotional risk assessment as the ways we allow technology to manage our lives.  The question we should be asking is this:  Are self-driven cars more safe or less safe than human-driven vehicles? 


You’ve probably heard by now about the self-driving Uber vehicle that killed someone.

READ:  Uber self-driving car kills pedestrian in first fatal autonomous crash

This is a double tragedy.  First, someone needlessly died.  Second, the accident is likely to dampen public enthusiasm for a new technology that could ultimately save many lives.

Self-driving vehicles are long overdue given astounding advances in telecommunications, automation, and robotics.  If we can operate sophisticated military weapons (drones) and drop deadly explosives on people on the opposite side of the world with nothing more than signals beamed from remote locations using satellites, it seems we should be able to harness a similar technology for something more humane.

Just as distressing is the widespread public misconception about safety and risk which often clouds good judgment.  We don’t always think logically.  In fact, we often overreact when we perceive danger (recall the infamous overreaches of the Patriot Act).  In the wake of this traffic death, expect a new wave of opposition to self-driving cars and trucks.  People are afraid.

What’s your first thought if you see a driverless car?  Most of us are likely to gawk at the sight.  We’re not accustomed yet to seeing an empty driver’s seat.  It’s even a bit scary.  High-tech stuff intimidates lots of people.  We’re afraid — usually of things we can’t control and don’t understand.

Instead, let’s try and be reasonable.  Let’s allow science to work for us.  What we need is an impartial and unemotional approach to the ways we allow technology to manage our lives.  The question we should be asking is this:  Are self-driven cars more safe or less safe than human-driven vehicles?  This is the only answer that matters.

Yes, a pedestrian killed by a self-driven car is a terrible incident.  Joint public-private inquiry and oversight absolutely must be implemented that will improve if, not guarantee, safeguards.  But let’s not get carried away here.  How many pedestrians would have been killed by all the self-driven vehicles currently engaged in a trial phase throughout the United States had they been driven by humans, instead?

Let’s acknowledge that accidents do happen.  To err is human.  Every time we get into a car, we risk the chance of dying.  Moreover, walking on the street even entails some risk.  It’s quite possible — even likely — that human drivers would have been responsible for more accidents had no self-driving cars been on the road.  Certainly, once this technology improves to an acceptable level, automated vehicles will be much safer than those with human drivers.

Why do I believe this?

Admittedly, my knowledge of self-driving vehicles and the associated technologies is almost zero.  Still, I’m willing to go on record with a few suppositions — that no self-driving vehicle is ever drunk, stoned on drugs, or will fall asleep at the wheel.  No self-driving vehicle will ever be distracted by a text message or a passenger.  No self-driving vehicle will ever instigate a case of road rage.  Furthermore, no self-driving vehicle will speed, run a red light, or break traffic laws.  In short, once this emerging technology improves, we will all be much safer.

There’s a valid comparison which supports the argument.  Air travel is far safer now than years ago.  This is mainly due to advances in technology similar to self-driving cars.  Flying is safer now, even though there are far more planes in the air today than at any time in history; yet airline disasters have become exceedingly rare.  This is especially true in the United States.  It’s never been safer to fly on a commercial airline.

Boeing is currently testing airplanes that fly on their own.  Unlike self-driving cars, which is a relatively new concept in the public consciousness, most commercial flying is already heavily automated.  We aren’t being chauffeured from take-off to a landing point by a pilot.  Most of the journey from gate to gate is planned and controlled by a computerized auto-pilot.

READ:  Would You Fly on an Airliner Without a Pilot?

Of course, a human pilot is always in the cockpit for at least two reasons.  First, human pilots instill confidence with fliers.  This is why crew members for major airlines continue wearing outdated military-style uniforms, even though such antiquated customs serve no purpose.  Second, a human pilot can always intervene just in case there’s an emergency.  Passengers aren’t worried their lives are tinker-toyed to a tiny microchip making all the necessary in-flight adjustments. We’re comforted by the confidence a real pilot can seize the flight controls if something goes terribly wrong.

The implications of inevitable advances in high-tech, including self-driving cars, trucks, trains, and planes is a debate worth having.  Millions of jobs will be at stake.  Taxi drivers, truckers, train engineers, and pilots could soon become about as relevant as blacksmiths.  Automation will continue to displace workers.  That’s a big concern that will require an adult conversation.

However, let’s not hide our heads in the sand and pretend technologies that change our lives will go away — because they won’t.  They’re here to stay.  When tragedy occurs and technologies fail, as will happen, that’s not the time to retreat.  It’s the time to work harder to make things better.

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What’s the Best Night of the Year to Play Poker?

Posted by on Mar 18, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Travel | 0 comments



St. Patricks Day and March Madness weekend combine to create the perfect storm for skilled low- to mid-stakes poker players.  It’s become the best calendar date of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.


I was astounded by all the craziness last night.  Call it March Poker Madness.

Las Vegas poker rooms were packed.  Every seat was taken.  Waiting lists were long.  More drinking and talking went on than usual.  Almost no headphones were seen.  Players looked to be having fun.  The pots seemed bigger.  Many games were great.

I got my ass kicked.

No, not really.  Let’s just say it was a good night.

This was my overall impression after playing at four different cardrooms over an 11-hour stretch on a long Saturday night-early Sunday morning, which just so happened to overlap into a perfect storm of citywide poker action.  My conclusion is this:

St. Patrick’s Day and the opening weekend of March Madness appear to create the best calendar date of the year to play poker, at least here in Las Vegas.

Surprisingly, I never realized this phenomenon before.  Las Vegas has been my home for 16 years.  One would think I’d have discovered this already.  But I don’t recall going out to play poker during this specific weekend.  In the past, for more than a decade I traveled frequently with the World Series of Poker Circuit, which meant I was off working, someplace else.  If I was in Las Vegas during mid-March, it’s most likely that I avoided what amounts to “amateur night” for partiers and drinkers.  Don’t misunderstand.  I love drinking.  But I don’t like drinking with drunken amateurs.  Besides, the service sucks everywhere.  It’s way too crowded.

Now, I realize the objective isn’t drinking with drunken amateurs.  It’s to play poker with them.

Aside from the financial upside, the games last night reminded me of the way poker used to be.  Players cracking jokes and laughing.  Everyone talking about the ball game on TV.  Gamblers discussing the next day’s pointspreads, while ordering another Miller Lite.  You know, having fun.

If this all sounds manipulative, even exploitive, well — it is.  In a game with tougher players and diminishing edges, every conceivable advantage must be hunted.  That’s assuming you play for money.  The formula for increasing one’s chance of winning is simple:  You have to go where games are good and play at the ideal time.  Oh, and you must play well.

Saturday nights are almost always the best nights of the year to play poker.  This is true just about anywhere, especially in Las Vegas.  Friday nights can be pretty good, too.  However, on Friday nights many less-skilled players realize there’s still a long weekend ahead of them.  They tend to remain in control of themselves and make table decisions that aren’t catastrophic.  Not yet, anyway.

By Saturday night, the emotional bolts of self-constraint have rusted away and are about to snap.  At least a few dozen beers into the weekend with a pocket full of losing sports tickets, the poker table becomes the last chance to get even.  Sometimes maxed out on ATM visits and down to their last hundred, players will simply give up out of frustration.  I saw this happen last night when an out-of-town visitor on a bad run got fed up with playing normally.  He decided to blind shove his last $120.  He lost.

Free money.

Those kinds of bizarre situations happen a lot on Saturday nights, especially in the “touristy” poker rooms on The Strip filled with frat boys.  But that’s merely the foundation for more craziness.

Combine Saturday night with the opening weekend of March Madness, which is four exhaustive days and nights of betting and watching television and cheering, then subtract the hours of much-needed rest, and low-to mid-stakes poker games all over town become even wilder.  Then, to top things off, add in the party factor — St. Patrick’s Day.  This is one of the most popular days of the year for casual alcohol consumption, perhaps second only to New Year’s Eve.  All the scrumptious ingredients are in place:

Las Vegas + Saturday Night + March Madness + St. Patrick’s Day = Great poker games.

Admittedly, this was just one night.  Perhaps, my experience was atypical.  Maybe I’m exaggerating.  Let’s open this up to other opinions.

Eager to know if my personal experience and hypothesis about St. Patrick’s Day/March Madness is shared by other poker players, I posted a poll on Twitter.  Although the results are unscientific, these percentages show that a majority of poker players believe this is/was the best night (and weekend) of the year to play poker in Las Vegas.

Here are the results, so far (Note:  It’s now 12 hours into the 24-hour poll — so the results are incomplete).  The results do appear to be conclusive:

I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow night — or the next, or the next.  But I sure do know what I’ll be doing next March 16, 2019.  I’ll definitely be playing poker.


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12 Rules for Driving in Las Vegas

Posted by on Mar 15, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Travel | 5 comments



Every big city in America has its own peculiar set of rules for driving a car:

In Los Angeles — make sure each drive begins with a full tank of gas.  You might need it.  Sitting in traffic for hours with the engine idling away is a part of daily life.

In Philadephia — always keep one hand on the steering wheel, while maintaining the other hand in a locked position with the middle finger extended, fully prepared to engage any violators.

In Chicago — get bulletproof windows.

In Dallas — make sure your collision insurance is up-to-date.

In Miami-Ft. Lauderdale — prepare for a constant game of dodgeball, since half the population is over 85 and the rest are nuts.

In New York — don’t drive.

Las Vegas can be a really strange place, especially when it comes to driving.

Our auto insurance rates are among the highest in the nation.  Driving on freeways here can be like racing in the Daytona 500.  Everything is a competition.  Cutting off someone is traffic is personal and demands revenge.  Other cities with heavy traffic slow down when it’s bumper to bumper.  In Las Vegas, we hit the gas.  Flashing neon lights up and down the casino strip is a particularly bad influence on drivers; turn signals are used merely for ornamentation.  When it rains, which is almost never, forget about it.  You might as well pack up and leave town.  When the roads are slick, everyone drives faster.  It’s madness.

We do love to gamble.  Especially behind the wheel.

For tourists who rent a car, local residents, or god forbid pedestrians and cyclists (how are you not in a coma?), what follows are some helpful hints enabling you to survive the unique Las Vegas driving experience.


A Dozen Rules for Driving in Las Vegas:


Rule #1:  There are no rules. 

That’s right.  There are no rules for driving in Las Vegas.  Well at least, no one pays attention to them.   So, neither should you.  Ignore traffic laws relating to speed limits, school zones, and areas under constructions (which basically applies to every expressway in the city).  Do whatever you want.

Rule#2:  Keep up with the flow of traffic.

If there’s a speed limit posted, add 20 mph to it.  That’s the real speed limit.  The 20 mph “over” rule especially applies to delivery trucks and city buses, which all drive batshit crazy.  If you don’t drive at the common speed limit, you might get run off the road.  So, keep up with the flow of traffic.  Note:  In Sun City Summerlin, which is a sprawling “over 55” community, reverse everything written above.  Subtract 20 mph from the posted speed limits.  Better yet, buy a golf cart.

Rule #3:  It’s always rush hour.

In Las Vegas, there are no clocks in casinos.  Moreover, there are no clocks on the roadways.  Normal times of day don’t apply here.  9 to 5 isn’t the workday.  It’s the odds on a craps table.  This is a 24-hour city where anyone can order a steak, smoke a bowl, shoot up, or down half a dozen martinis — day and night.  You might think it’s safe to drive the streets at 10 am.  Not true.  The morning drive means the graveyard shift got off work and already had three hours to party.  Las Vegas’ rush hour is midnight until 11:59 at night.

Rule  #4:  Never brake on yellow.

Yellow traffic lights aren’t what they mean in other cities.  Yellow does not mean — caution or slow down.  In Las Vegas, yellow means — pound the gas pedal.  Braking on yellow in this city can get you rear-ended, assaulted, or perhaps even shot.

Rule #5:  A green light does not mean “go.”

Green lights at traffic intersections do not mean “go.”  In Las Vegas, a green light means “proceed with extreme caution.”  When stopped at a traffic light, upon seeing evidence of a green light, wait at least five full seconds before accelerating.  Allow several vehicles caught in cross traffic to race through the intersection as the light changes from yellow to red.  Otherwise, you’ll probably get sideswiped by an uninsured driver with expired out-of-state plates.

Rule #6:  Handicapped parking spaces are for handicappers.

All the casinos have plenty of handicapped parking spaces.  Most of them are empty.  This is most convenient for sports gamblers caught in a time crunch.  Why risk missing the tip-off when a handicapped parking space is just a few steps away from the race and sportsbook betting window, and the game starts in 3 minutes?  The chances of a disabled person needing the space are small, anyway.  In Las Vegas, handicapped parking applies to both “the handicapped” and “handicappers.”

Rule #7:  What to do if your car breaks down.  

If your vehicle breaks down for any reason, remove it from the roadway, immediately.  Otherwise, a car thief will come along and remove it for you.  Also — don’t even think of changing a flat tire on your own.  You will be run over and end up in a coma.

Rule #8:  Learn the local language.

In Las Vegas, the three most common ways to communicate are as follows — [1] English, [2] Spanish, and [3] Texting While Driving.  If exceeding 80 mph, the ten-second rule on replying to phone text messages does not apply.  Do not text while driving more than 25 mph above the speed limit.  That’s what school zones are for.

Rule #9:  Learn how to properly use the horn.

Sometimes, honking the car horn may be necessary when driving in Las Vegas traffic.  However, one must also practice the proper discretion.  So, it’s best to follow the local customs.  Your car horn has a clear purpose and it is to be used — as a weapon.

Rule #10:  Always be prepared for the danger of a traffic stop.

Take extra special care when being pulled over by the police during a traffic stop.  Making a mistake can be very costly.  Here’s some advice:  A personal flask is much easier to hide under the front seat than either a beer can or a beer bottle, especially if the beverage is full.  No one wants to spill good liquor just because a tail light is out and you get pulled over.  So, prepare accordingly.

Rule #11:  Weaponize your car stereo sound speakers.

Young people in Las Vegas enjoy blasting their shitty music.  Worse, they make sure everyone else can hear it.  At busy intersections with extra-long red lights, be prepared for rap lyrics loud enough to sound like you’re chained next to the speakers at a DMX concert.  The optimal countermeasure to this auditory pollution is establishing a good defense, a.k.a. “amping up,” sort of like how nations stockpile nukes.  When confronted with booming rap music at a traffic light, put on your favorite music, roll down the car windows, crank up the volume, and blast the fuck away.

Rule #12:  Learn what the road signs really mean. 

In Las Vegas, traffic signs are meant as suggestions.  Sort of like your waiter reciting the nightly dinner specials.  No one pays attention.  Everyone will do their own thing.  Here’s the real road sign menu, with descriptions:

STOP = Slow down.

YIELD = Accelerate to beat other cars into the traffic circle.

DO NOT ENTER = Be sure no one is approaching, then proceed.

NO PARKING = Free parking.

DUCK CROSSING = 1 duck – 1 point; 2 ducks – 2 points; 3 ducks – 3 points; 4 ducks – we don’t believe it….post video on YouTube.

ROAD WORK AHEAD = Speed up now to make up for lost time.

MERGING TRAFFIC = Ride the tail of the car in front so no one can cut in.

SCHOOL ZONE = Check your text messages.


Finally, thinking of renting a car?  Here’s a one-word suggestion, instead:  Uber.

Hope you enjoyed the list.

Now, drive safe!


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Stephen Hawking (1942 — 2018)

Posted by on Mar 14, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 1 comment



Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

— Stephen Hawking


Death gives us an opportunity to reflect and put things in perspective.

While he was alive for 76 earth years, astrophysicist-cosmologist-mathematician-author-teacher-husband-father Stephen Hawking gave everyone a much broader perspective.  More important, his thoughts and theories will usher in a greater understanding of the universe long after his death and we are long gone.

I’ve never been good at science.  Or, math.  Those subjects were always difficult for me in school.  That’s why I admire those gifted individuals who excel in the sciences and in math.  People who work in those fields sometimes come up with amazing ideas that I could never imagine, let alone understand.  Science and math may claim its findings are based solely on fact.  However, the greatest discoveries begin with a combination of curiosity and rebelliousness.

I wish there was sufficient time and opportunity to devote to a better understanding of science.  Like most ordinary people, I don’t have what it takes to be someone like Hawking — or Einstein or Newton.  Thankfully, Hawking understood this lapse better than most and did his part to bridge the abyss.  That’s one reason he wrote his landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which was the first widely-popular book on science I ever read.  Hawking expressed his complex ideas about the universe, astronomy, and physics in non-technical, easy-to-understand language.  Well, easier to understand, for some.  Translated into more than 40 languages, his vast concepts and emerging rock star status inspired a whole new generation of young people all over the world to begin asking their own questions about the origins of the universe and the nature of our modern world.

Hawking didn’t just teach us about science.  He taught us things about humanity and being human, too.  It’s easy to forget Hawking was a man.  He was a man with flaws and failings and frailties — much like everyone else.  He had kids.  He had affairs.  He went through divorces.  He could be tempestuous.  He was an imperfect man, which was no big surprise because all men — indeed all people — are imperfect.

There was such a defiant incongruity to Hawking, with the mind of a giant encased in the feeble frame of a fragile body scarcely able to carry the burden of his weight, nor the greater calling of innate responsibility that goes with such a rare gift of insight.  It was as though the secret key to understanding the mysteries of the universe were sewn inside his jacket pocket and no one could reach it.

The contradiction between mind and body was a cruel irony.  Contemplating fully the human struggle of making it through a day, interminably uncomfortable, often distracted by aches and pains, unable to communicate without the assistance of electronics, the constant reliance on others for sustenance, is almost too much to contemplate.  Complete paralysis from ALS since the mid-1960’s during most of his adult life made his tireless work ethic and ultimate discoveries all the more astounding.

Even his personal tastes were paradoxical.  He loved and often listened to the classics of Richard Wagner while he worked, presumably absorbed in the imaginative role of a operatic superhero vanquishing the forces of calamity.  In both fantasy and reality, he sought to create order out of chaos.

Indeed, death does allow for reflection gives greater perspective.  While the world continues to spin and species will evolve, we should freeze a brief moment in time in our lives to honor Hawking and think about how amazing he truly was.  When we look for heroes, we shouldn’t be thinking about sports stars and celebrities.  Instead, we should be revere the late Stephen Hawking who told us adapting to change was the highest virtue.

His story and struggle showed, Hawking didn’t just say those words.  He lived them.


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Why Did Forbes Take Down an Article Critical of White Christian Evangelicals?

Posted by on Mar 13, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments



Two days ago, the online website for Forbes (magazine) took down an article that was critical of White Christian evangelicals.

Why?  I’ll address that in a moment.

I read Forbes on occasion.  It’s not part of in my standard political wheelhouse.  The magazine’s ceaseless cheerleading for American capitalism is repetitive and often cringe-worthy.  Most investment geniuses who make the coveted Forbes cover have crashed and burned when luck runs and market expertise returns to the statistical mean.

However, Forbes is to be credited as a legitimate source for news, information, and opinion.  Forbes adheres to journalistic standards and practices and speaks with an independent voice — at least as independent a voice as a media giant can be headed by someone named Steve Forbes.

I tried to read the article initially posted on Sunday, written by Chris Ladd, who appears to have published an impressive body of credible work in the past.  But when I clicked the Forbes website, I received an “Error 404” message.  That’s the standard code that a webpage is no longer available.  It had been removed.

Of course, that just made me want to read the article all the more.

It was easy to track down the feature article, which raises some legitimate questions about the grotesquely hypocritical evangelical Christian movement.  Since evangelicals constitute a significant percentage of Trump supporters, this strange cult of super believers is a timely topic of discussion.  Certainly, President Trump’s mind-boggling number of moral lapses makes us wonder what evangelicals must be thinking when they seem to ignore all the teachings of their holy book.

Allow me to offer the following theory as to why a well-written, fact-based article with many irrefutable historical references was taken down.  Forbes is a publication and website mostly frequented by conservatives.  Many subscribers aren’t comfortable with having their faith questioned or moral and ethical beliefs put to the test.  Criticism of White Christian evangelicals is taboo in some Right-leaning political circles.  So much for conservatives being the champions of ideas and free expression.  They’re just as hypocritical as everyone else, and on the matter of religion, even more so.

For those interested, here’s the original article which has been cut and pasted for another rogue source.  It’s well worth reading:



Why White Evangelicalism is So Cruel

[by Chris Ladd]

Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star.  Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”

Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness.  However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities, Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense.  Religion is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history.  Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and religion in the slave states.  What today we call “evangelical Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy.  The calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over centuries.

Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many African-American denominations.  However, evangelicalism today has been co-opted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist.  A quick glance at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South.  And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.

There is still today a Southern Baptist Church.  More than a century and a half after the Civil War and decades after the Methodists and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.

Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death sentence.  Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North.  Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley, who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at a local store to be played with by children.  Whiteness offered protection from many of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of race.  No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery, or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.

Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state.  Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation.  Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves.  If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in the protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices.  None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.

What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible.  A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted.  Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit.  Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers.  In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.

Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message.  What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men.  In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest.  Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex.  For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women.  Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race.  There was no higher moral demand.

Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect white racial superiority.  Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow.  By the time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy.  As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while the violence escalated.  What happened to ministers who resisted slavery happened again to those who resisted segregation.  White Episcopal Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests.  After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury.  Dozens of white activists joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.

White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail.  Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades.  Graham never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never marched with King.  When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,” Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology, “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.”  For white Southern evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.

Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart defenders of segregation by accident.  Like the wider white evangelical movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage.  There is no changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale reconsideration of their theology.  No sign of such a reckoning is apparent.

Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have little source of optimism.  Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars.  When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:

Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of the Bible.  In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.

For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might help to point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:

Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.

What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress and the rest of the evangelical movement?  Nothing.   What does the Bible say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization?  Nothing.  Not one word.  The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no matter.  White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be constrained by something as pliable as scripture.

Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man has ever been denied an abortion.  Few if any white men are affected by the deportation of migrants.  White men are not kept from attending college by laws persecuting Dreamers.  White evangelical Christianity has a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense.  The cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident.  It is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow, and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.

Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in increments, much like Billy Graham before him.  His statements on subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations.  He’s still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white, non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion remains unconsidered and unchallenged.

While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it will perpetuate its heritage.  What this religious heritage produced in the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.

You will know a tree by its fruit.


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