Saturday, June 18, 2022

80 Macca Years, 80 Favorite Macca Songs

Today, Sir Paul McCartney turns 80 years old. A few publications and websites, in honor of this milestone, are listing, or asking other artists to list, 80 out of the hundreds (thousands?) of songs Macca has written over the past 65 years or so that they particularly like. Well, I figured I'm a Beatles fan, and I spent a year listening to everything McCartney has ever recorded post-Beatles, so why can't I do the same? So here is my work of an evening: 80 songs written by Paul McCartney, in alphabetical order, that I think everyone should know (though it just so happens that the list ends with my single all-time favorite McCartney composition and Beatles song). Enjoy or criticize or ignore, as you feel inclined.

"All My Loving" (1963)
"Another Day" (1970)
"Band on the Run" (1973)
"Beware My Love" (1976)
"Biker Like an Icon" (1993)
"Blackbird" (1968)
"Call Me Back Again" (1975)
"Calico Skies" (1997)
"Can't Buy Me Love" (1964)
"Come On to Me" (2018)
"Coming Up" (1980)
"Dominoes" (2018)
"Drive My Car" (1965)
"Ebony and Ivory" (1982)
"The End of the End" (2007)
"Eleanor Rigby" (1966)
"English Tea" (2005)
"Figure of Eight" (1989)
"Fool on the Hill" (1967)
"For No One" (1966)
"Get on the Right Thing" (1973)
"Get Back" (1970)
"Getting Better" (1967)
"Goodnight Tonight" (1979)
"Got to Get You into My Life" (1966)
"Happy With You" (2018)
"Helter Skelter" (1968)
"Here Today" (1982)
"Here There Everywhere" (1966)
"Hey Hey" (1983)
"Hey Jude" (1968)
"House of Wax" (2007)
"I Can Bet" (2013)
"I Don't Know" (2018)
"I'm Looking Through You" (1965)
"I'll Follow the Sun" (1964)
"I Saw Her Standing There" (1963)
"I've Just Seen a Face" (1965)
"Jet" (1973)
"Junior's Farm" (1974)
"Lady Madonna" (1968)
"Let 'Em In" (1976)
"Let It Be" (1970)
"Let Me Roll It" (1973)
"Listen to What the Man Said" (1975)
"Long and Winding Road" (1970)
"Lovely Rita" (1967)
"Live and Let Die" (1973)
"Magneto and Titanium Man" (1975)
"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" (1969)
"Maybe I'm Amazed" (1970)
"Michelle" (1965)
"Mother Nature's Sun" (1968)
"Mull of Kintyre" (1977)
"My Brave Face" (1989)
"Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" (1973)
"No More Lonely Nights" (1984)
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" (1968)
"Oh! Darling" (1969)
"Paperback Writer" (1966)
"Peace in the Neighborhood" (1993)
"Penny Lane" (1967)
"Pretty Boys" (2020)
"Queenie Eye" (2013)
"Riding to Vanity Fair" (2005)
"Rocky Raccoon" (1968)
"She's Leaving Home" (1967)
"Sing the Changes" (2008)
"Smile Away" (1971)
"Sun is Shining" (2008)
"Take It Away" (1982)
"Too Many People" (1971)
"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (1971)
"Wanderlust" (1982)
"We Got Married" (1989)
"What's That You're Doing?" (1982)
"When I'm Sixty-Four" (1967)
"With a Little Luck" (1978)
"Yesterday" (1965)
"You Won't See Me" (1965)

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Diversity, Race, and Radical Hospitality in a Bible-based Community

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]  

A month ago, on May 16, just two days after a racist lunatic murdered 10 black Americans in Buffalo, NY, perhaps 100 academics and educators, mostly from other Christian universities (including my own school of Friends University in Wichita), gathered at Sterling College in Kansas to learn about and discuss "Fostering Community and Hospitality on a Diverse Campus," which turned out to be overwhelmingly focused on the problems of race. This is the second time the tiny Christian college of Sterling had hosted a conference which struggled with big ideas, and like the last time, I came away filled with challenging thoughts. Let me share a couple of them here.

The first impression I had as the conference got underway was surprise. Sterling is a small, conservative, racially homogeneous Kansas town (over 90% of the 2600 people who live there identify as white), and that surely shaped my expectations. That this residential college organized a conference which presented, as its very first event, a powerful plenary address by Richard Hughes, scholar-in-residence at Lipscomb University, titled "Escaping the Grip of White Supremacy: A Mandate for Christian Higher Education," meant that I and the other participants were going to be made part of something much more theologically and politically challenging than discussions of diversity efforts in athletic recruitment (though that took place as well). Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised; the student population of Sterling College itself is over 25% non-white, and in that rural environment, it might be sensible to make responding to racial inequities, animosities, and misunderstandings, real or perceived, an absolute priority. 

Still, the conference's unapologetic focus on racism and aggressively attacking the obstacles which prevent the full inclusion of those of a different race by the white majority which generally characterizes small Christian colleges in the United States, from the opening address to the concluding Q&A, was striking. While there was some discussion of interfaith dialogue and religious diversity on a thoroughly Protestant Christian campus like Sterling, and some references to LGBTQ issues and sexual minorities as well, they were clearly a minor theme, almost certainly purposefully so. One of my colleagues who attended with me suggested that the conference should have been titled "Fostering Community and Racial Hospitality" for the sake of truth in advertising.

But perhaps that focus is also logical, for a college deeply committed to forming a community that has at least some element of the Biblical message at its core? There are plenty of examples of folks trying, with varying degrees of success, to extend the Christian message of welcoming the stranger, showing compassion to the foreigner, and loving those who are despised, to the whole range of identities which face hostility, exclusion, or oppression in the world today, whether in matters of language or sexuality or politics or legal status or physical capability. I don't think any of those, however, can be as thoroughly grounded in such Christian teachings as all humanity being created in the image of God, or being commanded to spread the Good News to all nationalities, or being instructed that God's love is incompatible with favoritism and demands equality, as the condemnation of any kind of racism can be. So when Hughes asserted that it is the special responsibility of Christian colleges and universities to correct for the historical "erasure of the story of blackness from American life," and to "tell the stories of blackness as part of the diversity within the Kingdom of God," he surely felt himself on very firm scriptural ground.

If you're thinking that Hughes, with his insistence that Christian hospitality makes it necessarily for those who hold to Jesus's gospel to prioritize the stories of the racially oppressed, was essentially calling for Christian colleges to embrace progressive causes like Black Likes Matter, reparations for slavery, or the 1619 Project, you're almost certainly correct (though they were only mentioned in passing in his heavily theological address). In fact, you should go even further than that. Hughes actually reached all the way back to 2008, and gave an explicit defense of the Reverent Jeremiah Wright, quoting from the same controversial sermons which led then-candidate Barack Obama to distance himself from the man who had been the pastor of him and his family for over 15 years. Hughes called our attention to the enormous, murderous evils which slavery, Jim Crow, and the legacy of discrimination in all its forms have visited upon people of African descent throughout American history, and picking up on Wright's use of the rhetoric of civil religion, asked the American Christians in the audience if they wish to build communities that hold at their center that Kingdom of God which insists, in his words, on "turning the world upside-down," or whether they would continue with assuming that the social, economic, and legal world delivered to white Christians in America was set up in the right way? If the latter, than we need to feel the force of Wright's sermon "Confusing God and Government"--which climaxes in a condemnation, Hughes noted, grounded in the Second Commandment: God damn America for making herself into an idol, for acting "like she is God and she is supreme."

Our group from Friends University lucked out at lunch during the one-day conference, and were able to sit and speak directly with Hughes and the other plenary speaker, Nathan Luis Cartagena, a Puerto Rican professor of philosophy at Wheaton College, whose afternoon address, "Cultivating Mercy on a Diverse Campus," drew heavily upon liberation  theology and thoughtfully unpacked what he called "weaponized visions" of distinctly un-Christian "mercy." So yes, the conference--whether through the plenary addresses or the break-out sessions on the theology of hospitality and more--had a much broader aspirations than I think any of us expected.

And that breadth, focused as it was on matters of race and the Christian message, makes up the second major impression I took away from the conference. Despite the deadly rampage which had taken place less than 48 hours before the conference began and filled the news (and which, tragically, was quickly joined by stories of multiple, other mass shootings), I think I heard only a single, brief reference to Buffalo and Payton Gendron all day. The attempt of the conference presenters to capture the challenges and obstacles facing small Christian college which desire to be racially inclusive in their policies, in other words, never really looked at the problem in terms of solitary actors, racist trouble-makers, or bad apples. The analysis offered by different speakers--which included scriptural, pedagogical, historical, and theological approaches--was with the systems, presumptions, and structural forces which surround us, whether we're talking about balancing respect for students with campus law enforcement needs, or finding sources of revenue that are less dependent upon foundations which may be resistant to the radical implications of the gospel when it comes to racial matters, or confronting how many routine assessments relied upon by universities increase racial marginalization. It is, of course, a common accusation that the contemporary university, from top-tier Ivies to flagship land-grant and research institutions to small Christian colleges like Sterling or Friends, has become a clumsy, unresponsive bureaucracy, more driven by the imperative of financial survival than by its sense of vocation. The conference didn't get deep into that accusation--and yet, for me at least, the more I thought about how extensively my own teaching, my own textbook selections, my own student advising, my own committee work and more, are all at least partially conditioned by routinized practices and procedures that potentially reflect racial assumptions that had been put in place long before I or any other current employees at our respective schools arrived...well, it's humbling, to say the least.

That kind of radical introspection is unfortunately often seen as inimical to conservatism: a respect for traditional truths and social norms is not compatible, the assumption goes, with this kind of structural critique. I would insist that that assumption is not correct, at least not entirely: tradition (as opposed to nostalgia-drenched "custom," as Christopher Lasch put it), with its socially and locally fortifying power, is by no means necessarily incompatible with critique, prophetic challenge, and subsequent adaptation. But it is a common enough assumption that many conservatives have long looked upon the implicit universalizing and leveling to be found within Christianity with a quiet, but consistent, rejection of those who take the Biblical message with radical seriousness, or at least those parts of that message dealing with strangers, immigrants, foreigners, and all other sorts of minorities. And the conservatism I speak of here is not just a matter of socio-political positioning; it's institutional as well, including the institution of the academy and even the small Christian college. (Relevant to this: a couple of weeks after the conference I spoke with another faculty member at Sterling College, who observed that perhaps one reason why the organizers of this conference felt they could put on something this potentially challenging to some of the norms of their community was because some of them were leaving Sterling for other academic jobs, and thus may have viewed the conference as a farewell challenge.)

For my part, though, the conference elicited a desire to rethink. We academics unfortunately often fall into the trap of pride (particularly of the self-involved, self-satisfying, institutional kind), and hence a humbling such as this conference delivered was probably much needed. Even if whatever racist presumptions some of my routines may reflect are entirely unknown to me, or entirely marginal in their effects they may have on students who may be too busy trying to juggle classes and jobs and relationships and goals to think carefully about the systems which surround them, I have a Christian duty, as an educator and as a member of a Christian community, to think systematically about how I can live up, as a teacher and scholar, to the values of inclusion and equality. The fact that the politics of these questions might make for uncomfortable bedfellows on occasion, in our schools or our congregations or our larger communities, doesn't provide an excuse from asking them of ourselves and our colleagues. If people in Sterling College, in tiny Sterling, KS, can find the resources and will to lay out these challenges so openly, however momentarily, then the rest of us ought to be able to do the same.

Monday, May 23, 2022

On Medicaid Misinformation and Missed Opportunities

[When my own west Wichita representative in the Kansas House, Dan Hawkins, laid out some misleading and vaguely paranoid claims about Governor Laura Kelly's push for Medicaid expansion in Kansas, I knew what my next Insight Kansas column had to be about. Here, as tend to do, is a slightly longer and updated version.]

With the end of sine die on Monday afternoon, the 2022 Kansas legislative session has finally, officially, come to an end. As Clay Wirestone put it in the Kansas Reflector, it could have been worse. Still, once again, Medicaid expansion didn’t pass, and that's a frustration.

True, the legislature took the the important step of expanding the postpartum health coverage offered by KanCare to new mothers, an action which found support from Republicans and Democrats alike. But the money for that additional aide comes from the state’s own budget, not money which the federal government would provide, as would be the case with Medicaid expansion. The fact that this health care reform has nearly 80% popular support among Kansas voters, yet continues to face opposition from the majority of the Republicans those same voters elected to control the legislature, is a puzzle. Party polarization is one explanation; ideological divides that allow cultural issues to dominate media narratives and voters' headspace is another. And then there is the misinformation about Medicaid expansion frequently spread by Republican leaders--often intentionally, but also sometimes due to their own confusion.

The traditional conservative line against expanding Medicaid to help those people who have no medical insurance through their low-paying jobs, and cannot afford private insurance, but still aren’t poor enough to meet KanCare’s strict requirements, is two-fold. First, there is the libertarian booga-booga talk of the "risk" that Medicaid expansion "will cost state taxpayers more than initial estimates indicate" (ignoring the fact that those estimates show such drastic savings that even significant cost overruns would leave taxpayers in the black), or that Congress will change the law to put all the financial burden for Medicaid expansion on the states (ignoring the fact that representatives from the 38 states which have embraced Medicaid expansion would vote against such), or old reliable fear-mongering about America's debt levels. Second, there is the allegation that expanding Medicaid would increase the number of “able-bodied” Kansans receiving government assistance, and if one believes in up-from-your-bootstraps individualism, that’s a bad thing. There’s plenty to argue with both of these lines of argument, but at least they reflects a consistent (and for Kansans, familiar) ideology--the libertarianish position that Sam Brownback pushed so hard during his seven years as governor, with what most Kansans recognize today as terrible results.

Of late however, some leading Republicans in our state--perhaps because like Republican gubernatorial nominee Deterk Schmidt wants very much to distance himself from Brownback's legacy?--have taken to making what can only be called a pro-welfare argument, claiming that by fighting Medicaid expansion, they are actually the true defenders of Kansas's poorest and most needy citizens: specifically, the disabled already on Medicaid. Representative Dan Hawkins, the Republican majority leader in the Kansas House, recently made this case, insisting that in states which have expanded Medicaid (a total of 38 so far, including every state that borders Kansas), high enrollments have “crowd[ed] out other state budget priorities,” lengthened waiting lists, and left those states with “less to spend on things like education and public safety.” These claims either lack proper context or are outright wrong.

It is true that Medicaid enrollments in the states which have expanded their programs have been far higher than anticipated, especially during the pandemic. But the evidence for Rep. Hawkins’s claims about Medicaid expansion forcing cuts in other sorts of welfare support is very thin. Medicaid expansion, it must be remembered, was part of the overall reform of American health care which the Affordable Care Act created over a decade ago, and ties by law (and thus, of course, to the political interests of every elected representative from those states who accept it!) federal resources to state expansions of Medicaid. Admittedly, those ties require some changes in Medicaid policies, and those bring with them some other statutory costs. But still, when the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund conducted a very extensive review of the budgets of all the states which have expanded Medicaid and aligned their health care policies with the ACA's insurance exchanges and more, their conclusion was that the budgetary burden of traditional Medicaid payments in most states actually declined, even with higher than estimated enrollments. It also determined that the statutory costs which came along with national ACA requirements simply were almost never significant enough to require spending cuts or tax increases for states to maintain existing programs and a balanced budget.

Hawkins’s warning about ill people dying while on Medicaid waiting lists in expansion states sounds worrisome—until you wonder how many may have died while on waiting lists in non-expansion states. When dealing the health needs of the working poor and disabled, there’s always plenty of frightening statistics available, but pitting those currently receiving KanCare assistance against those Kansans struggling to survive on incomes that put them below the poverty line, but not far enough to qualify under current law, misses the whole point of Medicaid in the first place. Keep in mind that whatever the impact of Medicaid expansion on the insurance policies currently available--thanks to the exchanges set up by the ACA, which Medicaid expansion was designed to be part of!--to low-income Kansans whose jobs put them barely above the federal poverty level, there remain even poorer working Kansans, struggling to survive below the poverty line and yet still not poor enough for KanCare. They're worth caring about too.

Ultimately, when Hawkins writes that “expansion in Kansas will result in the same outcome as it has in every other state where it has been implemented,” he’s actually arguing in favor of a positive change. So my recommendation to anti-expansion, politically conservative Republicans like Hawkins is to stick with their usual anti-welfare,small-government, conservtives-hate-welfare, libertarian arguments, much as they might see political advantages in not doing so. In the end, trying to turn the policy changes which Medicaid expansion would entail for some of those already receiving it into an argument for denying of its benefits to many more, often equally needy people, simply doesn’t work.