Saturday, December 10, 2016

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Regarding the following link
The role of media-stoked fear in our politics

This fellow lays it out in a simple straight-forward way. After switching back and forth from Fox News to any other large media outlet, it was easy for me to see how consumers of extreme right-wing media see the world so differently. It is a simple view and it is fear based. When people feel their backs are against the wall and a mortal enemy is bearing down on them, good judgment is rarely the result. 

Parenthetically, I find it interesting how religion in America is often sold in a similar fear-wrapped package. It is not surprising to find so many Christian evangelicals hopping on board a train that must seem so familiar to them.

We only need one other piece to make a full circle. Imagine you lived in a place where the standard way to get your information about the world was from a religious leader. For the sake of argument, let's say 
he's a Muslim cleric. Of course there are moderate clerics but let's imagine you happened to be born in a place where, instead of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. they had instead fiery fundamentalist Muslim clerics. Now, every day you are fed a diet of fear and anger. Of course they change the names of the monsters in their stories, though you may confidently assume they are no less vehement in their rhetoric. To be fair, we could have easily engaged in the same mental exercise with fiery fundamentalist Jewish clerics. And so on.

I do believe we can put a bow on this puppy.

*There are those of you whose minds continue to question, drill down, look for the missing pieces. You might feel as though I have omitted a group. Let us give them a name. "I am on the correct side of the issues and therefore feel exempt from thoughtfully questioning the thin mental porridge too often served at my table, Liberals". Not to worry dear reader, I turn my sights on them in other posts. Few escape my curmudgeonly gaze. Insert maniacal laughter here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sinful? Sexy?

Regarding this story and similar horrors.

Link: American Female Genital Mutilation

The linking of sexual pleasure, self or consensual interpersonal, to the concept of sin, is unquestionably one of the worst ideas to propogate among humans. This idea, based solely on magical thinking (and most commonly related to a judgmental and vindictive invisible fellow in the sky), has been the source of hateful intolerance and innumerable barbarous acts on both the individual and societal level. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

As Darkness Falls

Regarding this link
New Dark Ages

First of all, it can not possibly be scarier than what I think, but I concede the point.

There was a period when Truth was not a thing independent of personality, power, etc. Truth
was whatever the rich and powerful (nobility and/or priests) asserted. Period. This historical period was known, in the vernacular, as The Dark Ages.

It is clear that perfectly reasonable intelligent thoughtful persons might have summarily concluded there was no likely path looping back to that period. Even the most cynical may have entertained the notion of humans being well past that sort of foolishness. Nevertheless, as dust on the battlefield clears, it seems there may be a path and a shockingly short one. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Post Truth

Washington Post article on post truth era.

I feel it is time we say what many people seem unable to say straight out.
Post Truth is what naturally follows from willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The easiest quiz you ever took

Out of the seven billion plus humans on the planet, choose the one who belongs to these quotes:

He trusts no one, and places a premium on revenge. ("If you do not get even, you are just a schmuck!")

And to make creative choices, he writes: "I try to step back and remember my first shallow reaction. The day I realized it can be smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience."

"The world is a vicious and brutal place, he wrote. "Even your friends are out to get you: They want your job, they want your house, they want your money, they want your wife, and they even want your dog.''

"When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it," he writes. "I always get even."

In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye," he wrote. "I'm not proud of that, but it's clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a very forceful way. The difference now is that I like to use my brain instead of my fists."

"When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it.  Then they were vicious. They were horrible, but they put it down with strength.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

You've reached "Narcissists-R-Us", how can you help me.

Setting aside for a moment what the "Left" says about the election, I suggest the following.
The people who voted Republican for President have no idea what they've done, nor how it is likely to swing back around and bite them as well as everyone else.

I know there are many very concerned people right now and I do not wish to fan the flames of hysteria. However, in my considered opinion, the inmates taking over the asylum is no longer just a metaphor. Further, if you are not frightened- you simply do not yet understand the consequences of this election. Conversely, if you are frightened to the point of immobility, you need to snap out of it. We are all likely to need clear heads if we hope to come out the other side of this heinous fiasco.
The above thoughts are mine.

From this point down is ostensibly a letter written by an attorney to the liberal Daily Kos site. I found it online and unsigned so I can not vouch for the authenticity. I can say the writer makes a fair amount of sense to me:

I’m a business and corporate attorney in the Midwest, in practice for 32 years.  Today a client emailed me, asking me what I thought of the election.  Here’s what I wrote back:

Ok, I normally don’t discuss politics with clients, but since you asked:   Trump is the most appallingly unprepared, unqualified person ever “elected” (he didn’t win the popular vote) to the presidency.
He is dishonest to the core, an ignorant, vulgar, bigoted megalomaniac.  He is an authoritarian with a taste for revenge, who has nothing but contempt for democracy, the Constitution, and the rule of law – subjects he knows nothing about in any case.  He neither knows nor cares about science.  He will put criminals and crackpots in charge of government agencies. The Supreme Court will be packed with right-wing ideologues who will ensure that all manner of fringe legal theories will become legally enforceable.  Trump’s presidency will make the Bush nightmare look like America’s halcyon days. 
Russia – aided by an astonishingly unprofessional FBI director James Comey --  succeeded in swaying just enough votes to swing the election. Yesterday the Russian Foreign Ministry actually confirmed that Russia had worked with the Trump campaign to help get him elected.  For months the Trump campaign had vigorously denied this even after it had to fire campaign manager Paul Manafort after his ties with Putin and pro-Putin Ukrainians were discovered.  Russia also officially confirmed that it was indeed behind the hacked Democratic Party servers and the leaking of emails to try to change the talking points by creating controversy about Clinton while suppressing anything negative about Trump.  Imagine if something like that had surfaced regarding Obama or Clinton during their campaigns – the right wing would have gone apoplectic – but now all we hear is crickets.  The Russians have cultivated Trump for years; they know he can be manipulated to allow them to gain the upper hand in whatever areas they wish. Trump is, as the Russian saying goes, Putin’s “useful idiot”:   Полезный дурак Путина. 
I have a number of clients who also wanted to discuss politics with me this past couple of days, and who are elated that Trump won.  Their reasons seem to be: 
  • They think our country is being overrun by Muslims or will be, and they want to avoid a situation like in Europe.  That’s a legitimate concern, since non-Europeans are indeed pouring into Europe and refusing to assimilate.  I have traveled and lived in Europe and have seen it with my own eyes. It threatens to destroy the fabric of society there. But we don’t have that problem:  One reason is that we control immigration.  We let in the best and brightest, and a tiny trickle of refugees, and that’s about it.  In Europe, by contrast, uneducated people from countries that never advanced beyond the 13th century can just take the train or drive and sneak in.  Also, non-Europeans flood into Europe from former French, etc. colonies such as Tunisia – a problem we don’t have.  Immigrant Muslims here in the States are assimilating far more than in Europe, in part because we don’t relegate Muslims to ghettos; we welcome them into our neighborhoods.  We have two first-generation Muslim families on our street. The wife in one of them wears a headscarf, but otherwise they’re not much different than anyone else. Our kids play together.  We get together socially.
  • They hate Obamacare because it is killing small businesses.  Obamacare is a classic example of that saying, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.”  It leaves a lot to be desired but it is far better than nothing.  As I’m sure you know, it’s just Romneycare on a national scale -- a Republican plan designed to privatize health care by delivering 20 million new customers to insurance companies.  It works fairly well in Massachusetts.  But once the Democrats abandoned Medicare for all and instead passed Obamacare as the price for getting Joe Lieberman’s crucial vote, Republicans did everything possible to sabotage and obstruct it, just as they have sabotaged and obstructed everything Obama has tried to do from day one.  The result is that the costs for small business are higher than they would have been – even though Obamacare has already resulted in a huge reduction in overall health care costs:  $2.6 trillion savings over the first 5 years.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why Congress doesn’t just enact Medicare for all – it would be financed by payroll tax deductions and small businesses wouldn’t have to contribute a dime.  And the result would be even greater overall savings.
  • They think Clinton is a “liar” and “corrupt,” but all they know is the propaganda they have been fed for decades by right-wing hate media. They think her speaking fees make her corrupt but couldn’t care less about the fact that Trump stiffed thousands of people who sold him goods and services.  They think she is a liar because she mischaracterized something James Comey said (which he shouldn’t have discussed in the first place), but overlook the daily deluge of lies coming out of Trump’s mouth.  I have followed the Clintons and the right-wing vendetta against them ever since I was in law school 33 years ago. Hate media (Fox, Rush, Savage, Jones, Drudge, Breitbart, Falwell Jr. et al.) use exactly the same propaganda techniques used by Goebbels in the 1930s and by Radio Moscow in the 1970s-1990s, only slicker.  And people eat it up.  In fact, these past few months it was hard to tell the difference between the Russian state-controlled media and Fox News.  Both sounded just like the old communist Radio Moscow, using their usual propaganda techniques, but this time to shamelessly promote Trump and just as shamelessly denigrate Clinton. In reality, Hillary Clinton has dedicated her life to public service, to the betterment of the country.  She is comprehensively knowledgeable about public policy and the world (an in particular is under no illusions about Russia), and knows how to get things done in a bipartisan manner.  She is as honest as any politician can be.  I’ve had a top secret clearance and worked in intelligence, and the email circus was just that.
  • There is definitely a racial and misogynist component.  One client, who laughed that Clinton got “spanked” and said he and all his friends talk like Trump all the time, and see nothing wrong with it.  Over the past eight years I’ve heard a lot of vile, disgusting racial stuff about Obama and Michelle Obama.  We aren’t nearly as civilized as I had hoped.
The world order is fragile.  Democracy is fragile.  The Trump presidency will be an unmitigated disaster. Our country and the world are in more danger now than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.  For me as an attorney, I feel as though my country has just died.  White supremacy has emerged again. Vast numbers of uneducated white men have gleefully voted with their middle finger.  Every great nation has its rise and its decline.  Trump’s election may well mark the beginning of the decline of the United States as a great nation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I hereby rename these practices.

Henceforth, Alternative Medicine shall be known by its more correct title: Alternative to Medicine.

Young model pays the ultimate price for believing in faux medicine.

I am sorry the poor young woman needlessly died. On the other hand, if her premature demise teaches us something, that could be a good thing that results from a tragedy.

LOL, just kidding.

Almost everyone who believes in faux medicine will continue to do so. Their evidence? “I go to the chiropractor and I feel better (at least temporarily) and, up to this moment, her manipulations have not directly resulted in my death.” How could I possibly contend against such a weighty argument?

Oh, sure, I know what you're thinking. I could employ critical thinking skills and logic.  But, seriously. I take Sam Harris' position on this:

“If someone doesn't value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?”

Friday, September 16, 2016

Safe Space or Vindictive Protectiveness?

Two things. 

First, I have been mostly diligent lately about keeping politics and heavy ranting on my blog (that almost nobody reads) and off my Facebook feed which quite a few people read. I intend to stick with that program, despite being sorely tempted.

Two. I am regularly critical of those on the Conservative side of the political spectrum. Flatly stated, I am more aligned with those on the Left. However, any case of poor thinking is open to criticism, regardless of political affiliation. I am stating bluntly and unapologetically this type of thinking is not some tiny problem being blown out of all proportion. It is at minimum foolish and at maximum dangerous. Slapping a “politically correct” sticker on something should not offer a free pass to poor thinking. I am embarrassed that the liberal/progressive movement, of which I consider myself a proud member, would harbor or even encourage this sort of behavior.

Frankly speaking, this brings to mind an “inmates running the asylum” type of mentality. Progressives are constantly (and most often, rightly)  cautioning us about the decline of the educational system in America. Is it possible that, in part, as a function of our horror regarding current events, we are blinded to the darker side of this bizarre set of circumstances?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hearts and Minds

Link to article about a Slovenian philosopher and his thoughts on the migrants.

Perhaps it is time (arguably past time) for us to sort out our feelings from our policy decisions. To be clear, I am a big proponent of acknowledging and being in touch with our feelings. I am convinced feelings are our motive force. That said, they are as much a force propelling us to do stupid or even harmful things as they are for motivating us toward our more noble goals. Further, following our feelings without a sufficient injection of rational thought is almost always a bad play. A cursory check on current events illustrates how, both in our own lives and on the global stage, failing to include the links of critical rational thought into the chain running between events and policy has led us down some foolish or even dark paths. Without heart we are nothing. With only heart, we silly dangerous beasts, indeed.

I am in part drawn to association with my beloved fellows inhabiting the Left side of the political sphere because of their heart. That said, I think it is important to call out my comrades*. The stakes are too high for us to make grave errors because we are (understandably) caught up in the horror. We need to honor our bleeding hearts without drowning in that blood.

I am going to unambiguously label the following as the critical bit. Some of the points being made by the Slovenian philosopher (and other thoughtful humans) are the same as or overlap with points made by people on the far Right here in America and in Europe. How can this be? If a person says some of these things they must be driven by racism, xenophobia, fear, anger and hatred, right?


Recognizing evidence that is disturbing does not immediately make one a hateful, fearful, xenophobe. In the same way that recognizing the horror on the faces of desperate refugees does not make a person a hopeless romantic without critical thinking skills. How one reacts to the evidence is the deciding factor. When the philosopher asserts that many of the migrants entering Europe are from vastly different cultures that may share little in common European countries, this is a fact. When he states that these migrants were at once justified in fleeing their war-torn homelands and not necessarily entering Europe with an intent to assimilate or adopt European values, this is a fact. If the response to these facts is hatred and violence, this is a horrible and sad fact- but not a surprising fact. If the response is to the plight of desperate fleeing refugees is to ignore their plight, this is unconscionable. However, recognizing the horror and committing to aid the afflicted while not simply absorbing them all into Europe is not a horrible or hateful thing. In fact, I would argue (after hearing the recent report on the refugees by This American Life) it is a superior idea. Compare this to the truly horrifying condition they currently endure in squalid under-funded refugee camps as stateless persons. Bereft and hopeless. Link to the refugee story.

Things would be easier if we could blame everything on the far-right-crazies but that won't fly. However, I will advance this idea. I am not the first to think this by any means. We are all concerned by the tendency on the Right, in recent years, to stray from historical fiscal conservatism into fundamentalist ideology both religious and political. I suggest that, when we are not reveling in glee at the pit they've dug for themselves, we may want to have a look at the ripple effect of these trends on the Left. Once upon a time and not so long ago, I could have an honest debate with a conservative in which we shared a fair amount of middle ground (intelligent rational people wanting to solve commonly agreed upon problems). Our routes to the solutions were often quite different but our thoughtful arguments spurred each other to better thinking and eventually some compromise. As the far right ideologues began their ascendency, I noticed the lack of a rational opponent helps degrade the argument on both sides. Without real and thoughtful arguments to push back on, progressives began to lose their edge. Worse yet, we didn't notice ourselves slipping. We rejoiced with cheap jokes about our opponents, but we were duller.  If you are thinking I seem wistful and at a bit of a loss without those old-time fiscal Conservatives, you'd be right. It wasn't all sweetness and light but I might have appreciated the reasonable ones more while there were greater numbers of them to appreciate.

*I agree, that bit about "comrades" was totally gratuitous. It was an unsubtle poke at any hardcore Republican Fundamentalists passersby. One has a certain curmudgeonly image to uphold.

Examples of conflicting cultures:
child brides

so-called honor killing

Monday, September 5, 2016

Thoughtful words from a person with a unique perspective

Elizabeth Smart speaks on Sex, Rape, and self-worth

Back in July I posted about missive in my Facebook feed regarding still pervasive religious teaching that links sexual activity and a person’s self-worth. I only considered the topic in relation to consensual sexual activity. Luckily this articulate young woman helped me see it in a larger context.

In my earlier post I asserted such thinking was fostered primarily by men, almost exclusively directed at women, and was the source of untold misery for many of those women. I find the whole business appalling and feel it is a human rights issue and a feminist issue. Some may have felt, as a man, I had no standing to comment. I don’t agree but fair enough. How about this young lady.

Back to the basics with Kasich.

Though it seems like forever, it was only few months ago that Kasich was being touted by some as the sane reasonable Republican candidate in the Primaries. I believe a better assessment might have been, very parochial and judgmental but a bit less crazy. Here is a recent quote from the former Presidential candidate and current governor of Kansas: Gov. John Kasich Condemns Actor Daniel Radcliffe’s Atheism: “What the Hell Is Wrong With Him?” I wonder where Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews fit into the Governor's hierarchy of people who do not share his views? Do they enjoy higher status because, at least they believe in a god- even if it is one of those "foriegn" gods?

Young Mister Radcliffe, known for playing Harry Potter, is by all accounts a talented actor living an exemplary life. apparently those facts are merely ancillary to the issue in Kasich's mind. He doesn't believe in God! What the hell is wrong with him?

Well, Governor Kasich, you claim to believe in Jesus who promoted good living but was accepting of  different people and flawed people. So, I ask, what the hell is wrong with you?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Drivel? Nun for me, thanks!

Check this NPR link to a story about the nun up for sainthood. Pay particular attention to the statements of the Canadian physician, Dr. Duffin: Miracles? Really?

Okay, so lets assume you do not immediately recognize this as drivel. First, I am sorry to hear that but do not surrender to goofy thinking.  Claims of miracles should be our last resort. Our very last resort. Chin up, we can walk through this.

The good doctor, a self described atheist, stated that she found no "scientific reason" the woman should have recovered. Not to be harsh with the physician here but, seriously? What the fuck does that even mean? There is no such thing as a scientific reason. Science is merely a well considered way of examining the world. It is a method. When we speak about the "reason" for something happening, that is about the "why". And anyone who truly understands how science works subscribes to the basic idea that science is not really in the "why" business. On the other hand, science is very much about the "how".

Let's give the doctor the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she intended to say, Apparently the woman was healed but I found no evidence that medical treatment should have resulted in her dramatic healing. Such results, though rare, are hopeful and cause for wonder. I'd have been among the first to offer praise and support for that.

The doctors statements leave us with a substantial problem. Critical thinking leads us right to the mess. All the doctor "proved" was, she was unable to gather sufficient evidence of a prosaic biological process that resulted in the woman's healing. That, obviously leaves open possibilities that include (but are not limited to) she missed something, the woman's body was healing itself and the prayers merely coincided with healing events, the doctor didn't miss anything but was hampered by current technology and/or medical knowledge. To be clear, the doctor provided zero evidence of a supernatural healing. I could have offered respect if she had simply said, "I don't know and that proves nothing beyond I don't know".

I feel the need to make a quick program note:

I am guilty of saying things like, "I believe in science". I now try to avoid such lapses. I am actively trying to eliminate believe and belief from my vocabulary. I find these words tend to muddle rather than clarify. For our purposes here, what I intend to say is, "I have confidence in the scientific method".

And now, back to our story.

How would one conclude that a given event had a supernatural cause? Think about that a moment.

To be sure, one could believe that to be the case. However, believing and concluding based upon the gathering of evidence and the evaluation of that evidence based upon logic and critical thinking- well, those are two different things. When belief is involved, no investigation is necessary. Likewise, when an investigation is necessary, belief does not and should not enter into it.

Further, if you should hear a person making claims about miracles and that person says something that resembles,  "You have to admit some humility and accept that there are things that science cannot explain", that is your clue. Somebody is trying to pull a fast one on you. The speaker has already fallen victim to Dr. Richard Feynman's ultimate caution: "The first principle is, you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool". The great physicist was reminding us that we are not clean slates. We all bring our hopes, beliefs, desires, and biases with us as we try to understand something or solve a problem.  Things can get muddled double quick.

So what? 

Well, if the answer is to admit humility,  we might well have begun down that path three thousand years ago and ceased all that bothersome "thinking" about matters such as the twinkling lights in the night sky, the nature of the various plants and beasts, and so on. This reduces the argument to, one needs to have humility and employ belief above everything. Why? Because, god. End of story. No investigation necessary.

I understand why the Catholic Church jumped right on this. They came to the process believing in miracles and simply wanted someone to offer something upon which they could hang their hats. Why Dr. Duffin became enmeshed in this mess escapes me.

The sainthood process and the proving of miracles is drivel. However, I am open to changing my mind on this. Bring evidence.

Labor Day, Laboriously Considered

Labor Day

Have I misunderstood something or have I got this right.

Starting at about forever ago, people with more power and resources took advantage of,or outright enslaved, people who had less. This continued, largely unabated until, the people with nothing were at the end of their rope. Finding themselves in a democratic republic, they decided to stand up for themselves against robber barons who saw them as nothing more than expendable instruments for creating and hoarding wealth. The little people were suffered greatly but were brave and resolute. They finally won the right to unionize and bargain with employers.

Fast forward a few decades.

The robber barons had not disappeared, they had simply gone underground, biding their time like hunted vampires. Slowly they morphed into giant faceless corporations. Now, insulated from the rabble with the pitchforks, they set about doing what they do. They found ways to increase their rights and weaken the rights of average citizens. Now, when challenged, they no longer need to send in goons to crack heads. They simply pack up the "means of production" and ship them elsewhere to take advantage of people who have fewer options and were unfortunate enough to be born in a place where they enjoy fewer rights. And, like manna from heaven, the wealthy few found ways to make unlikely allies among those they exploit, by appealing to their fears and prejudices and constantly suggesting that God is on their side.

Oh, yeah, Happy Labor Day.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I Could Use Your Feedback.

Story Link: Scientists have evidence that Chimps have entered the stone age

I need your opinions.
Too cynical : text 999-555-1111
Just the right blend of awe, wonder, and a clear view of the world around me: text 999-555-2222

In my own defense, my first thought was:

Oh, wow this is awe inspiring! This is really happening and we have scientists out there gathering evidence that continues to push back the boundaries of our understanding regarding the natural world and the amazing creatures with whom we share life on this big blue marble hurtling through space.
My next thought was, I wonder how long before somebody sends in missionaries to ask the monkeys, "Have you heard about Jesus"? And, of course, strongly suggest they put on some pants!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Go Ahead, Try to Steal Our Jobs!!!

The people who own most everything and control most every thing are not trying to cynically reframe the issues to keep us from coming after their wealth. They have already won that game. In fact I suggest, finding themselves in a world where their deeds and ever greedier misdeeds are easily exposed, they have largely abandoned pretense. The truly wealthy rightly perceive us as unable to focus on them when we are fighting among ourselves. So, instead of mounting a defense for the indefensible, they have decided to double down by painting brighter lines around the divisions in the ranks of the ninety nine percent. We do really make it all too easy. Hate Immigrants! Aye Aye, captain. Hate poor people. Whatever you say, bossman. Powerless people are destroying the middle class. Yes sir, if you say so, sir.

Of course these are merely the ravings of your local socialist/bleeding-heart/hippie. Please feel free to consult a trusted member of the Fourth Estate. There are a zillion of them and they are all proudly and diligently working to provide Americans with evidence based knowledge of the world around us. That's the way it works, right? My memories are slightly dimmed but I have a vague recollection of being told this in school.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Liberal Media

Story Link: Latest Issue of the Magazine produced by ISIS or Islamic State.

It might pay to click on and read the above link. In their digital magazine, ISIS states unambiguously why the hate us and what animates that hatred. Spoiler, it is their religion.

So, why is it that this piece of news was for all intents and purposes buried by the mainstream media?
This was largely ignored by everyone except for Fox News and others of their ilk. Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that it states implicitly that their religion has everything to do with why they hate us?

Those who know me understand I could not be much more of a liberal/progressive/lefty. And furthermore I am proud of that fact and will expound on related subjects at the slightest prompting.
I tend to believe that, in broad strokes, the liberal position is the more correct. I think this is an understandable view and one commonly shared by my liberal brethren. And that is as it should be. I am confident conservatives (at least the ones who are well-meaning and, you know, not crazy) share similar feelings about their own ideology. And bully for them, let the best ideas win.

 One of the things liberals find maddening or abhorrent about the more extreme conservatives is their tendency to jump on any conservative train without apparent questioning or critical thought. If it smells conservative, no further thought is necessary. I confess that I quite enjoyed thinking this was a trait most likely to occur on "that side" of the fence. However, lately I have noticed a disturbing trend to similar behavior in liberal circles. It does not escape me that some are arguing this is less a result of some sea change and more likely attributable to my taking better notice. A plausible argument to be sure.

It seems clear to me that any number of liberals, having identified a righteous cause, have begun to swallow in toto and without apparent critical thought anything related to or seemingly related to that cause. I suggest far too many of the people who are ostensibly on my team and who feel armored by righteousness now imagine that extra bit of thinking is not required of them. To be clear, I do not think is a good thing.

And back to the original point.

All the following statements can be (and I argue indeed are) true.
At the same time.

Most of the world's Muslims are reasonable humans who simply want to live with their families in safety as they endeavor to prosper.

There are Muslims who practice a more radical or extreme form of Islam that includes but is not limited to, violent jihad, fatwas, a commitment to the destruction of what they consider to be the liberal decadent ways of other cultures that, in their eyes, is an affront to their religion regardless of where it exists.

Both the reasonable moderate Muslims and the Muslims practicing more radical forms of Islam are able to draw inspiration for their chosen paths from the same canon of ancient scripture (largely the Koran).

The claim that Muslims practicing more radical forms of Islam and not true Muslims is specious and fails to bear up under the slightest scrutiny.

For you theater folks, this bit is an aside. Therefore I reasonably infer the above idea has not been met with the slightest scrutiny by either the main stream or liberal media.

The fact that some moderate Muslims (in America and elsewhere) are subject to prejudice and/or hostility is a sad but true situation we should thoughtfully address.

The fact that there are a number of Americans whose ideology is based in prejudice/hate have tried to employ these facts to their own dubious ends is reprehensible.

Acknowledging the facts does not make one a hateful person.

When all these statements are true at the same time the problems become soberingly or even maddeningly complex. And there is the rub. The news media and the politicians and pundits turn the whole business into a cartoon version of reality where there are black hats and white hats. Admittedly they should be serving us much better. However, when they fail, we need to think for ourselves. To paraphrase the First Lady, "When the go low, we (should) go high".

So, by all means, continue on your bleeding-heart-liberal path. No sarcasm intended. I plan to do exactly that. However I also plan to keep on thinking and questioning.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Question Everything

(This relates to a video on the Mic Facebook page where Mr. Darnell Moore "lays down the definitive take down of All Lives Matter everyone needs to hear.")

First, few are interested in a thoughtful nuanced response to complicated and emotionally fraught topic. It is my premise that many of the people whom I consider to be my ideological brethren are in such a scramble to be on “the right side” of an issue they may fail to question and consider. I know this because I have, more often than I would care to admit, been in that fray. All of us want things to be, dare I say it, black and white. This is understandable. Things are tidier if we can put them in a discrete box, label it, and move on.

As to the video, the speaker is entitled to his opinion but his rant is, at minimum, logically flawed. A red flag went up in his first sentence. "Here is the problem with everyone who says all lives matter, they don't really mean it". Everyone? Really? This gentleman knows what is in the hearts of others? He presumes to sit in judgment of, and lumps into one group, all those who have a different or simply more nuanced position than himself?

I am confident I could ask any high school class the following question and expect a high percentage to arrive at the correct answer. Be assured, in any class I taught or was responsible for it would be one hundred percent. What is the word we use to describe the situation where a person draws inferences about an entire group of persons based on little or no evidence? We call that bias or prejudice. Furthermore, we know from scientific evidence, prejudice is a condition to which we are all prone. Luckily it is also a condition we can learn to manage with some training. Because this tendency is part of the human condition, it behooves us all to be on the watch for evidence of this behavior in ourselves. Sadly, too many of us, after having been taught about the negative effects of prejudice, have come away with the idea that prejudice is a condition of those “other people”. Rarely us. In fact, I would argue, one of the ways to gauge whether or not a person is deluding themselves is if I hear from them some form of the expression, “I’m not prejudiced”. 

Special note here. I am trying to eliminate the words race, racism, racist from my vocabulary. Why? For several reasons which I will briefly touch upon here. First, the words are outdated as the classic ideas of race have been obviated by science. Second, but perhaps more important is my assertion that these words have become angry epithets or cartoon-like bombs we throw at each other. To be clear, there are a very real and sobering set of problems here but these words, at best, are not helping us understand nor solve those problems. In fact they tend to accentuate our differences rather than our overwhelming similarities. Some will remember the old saw, “How do I get out of this hole”? To which the answer is, “First, stop digging”.  

So, let’s go back to the beginning. If the argument is, there have been and continue to be marginalized populations in America and that is a problem with ramifications running the gamut from inconvenience to some really heinous behavior then, without reservation, we are agreed.

However, what exactly does the gentleman mean when he says, all lives didn't matter when this or that bad thing happened? I am not certain if this is more sad or ironic. His story is one broad brush painting America. In one swipe he attempts to negate every example of the good and decent. Such rhetoric turns a real and serious problem into a cartoonish version of itself. The speaker refers to hurricane Katrina during which there were systemic failures, the burden of which fell more heavily on the majority black communities. It was also true that the moment people were allowed in, folks of every type and color (both individuals and government workers) were risking life and limb to pull people from rooftops and flood waters and provide them with life sustaining supplies. While one might reasonably argue it was all too little too late, I did not see the television footage of first responders in helicopters flying past black people to save the white people. So, if we want to tell the story, let us tell it. It is all true. The good and the bad. The color of a person’s skin too often has an negative effect on the outcome of various interactions both on a personal and systemic level. That is vile and we should not stand idly by as it persists.

With that preface, it appears our speaker has confused certain bad events or actions with the "ideal". It may seem a bit of a non sequitur but allow me to give an example.

Some folks get their panties in a twist when somebody burns an American flag. The offended parties seem to feel that burning a flag has somehow hurt the ideals the flag represents. Now, I am not into flag burning myself but, I am proud to say that I can distinguish between the lofty ideals, to which I also subscribe, and a piece of fabric. Am I keenly aware that my country has fallen short of those ideals? No question. I suggest it is a very good thing for us all that ideals are not flammable. In fact our ideals do not exist imbedded in some material thing. A situation for which we should be thankful as objects are corruptible and subject to decay and destruction. To our great good fortune, our ideals reside inside us, prompting us to be our better selves. And while each of us is also subject to decay, those ideals are passed from old to young like a beneficial virus. In past generations the belief was in heavenly spheres where goodness and truth resided eternally. Now our better understanding of the world shows us both the fragility of our truths and ideals, as when tyrants attempt to stomp them out, and how amazingly persistent and hearty they can be when we nurture them through generations.

If the argument is, The ideal of Black Lives Matter is good thing. Done and done. Likewise, All Lives Matter. If the argument is, too often the lives of minority populations are assigned less value either implicitly or explicitly, sadly true. 

However, I think it begs the question. If we are responding to prejudice/inequality/injustice (and we should be) and our efforts are leaning toward more unity and more fairness, how is that served by dividing ourselves up into smaller and smaller “tribes”? How does this apply to BLM? First, I do not accept unquestioned and in toto the BLM narrative. Further, I suggest some of the BLM tactics and rhetoric promote tribalism and eschew help from allies by attempting to quash thoughtful critique. The gentleman in the video has the audacity to say, What people are saying when they say all lives matter is, those lives matter only rhetorically. While that may apply to some, I wonder how the gentleman came to accept this statement as some sort of truism to be applied in this blanket fashion. Where is his evidence for this? I came away from viewing the video with the distinct sense that because bad things happened to certain people at some point, everything now being said must be swallowed whole. The video didn’t welcome me into the struggle or ask me for my thoughts on how to advance the cause, it assaulted me. And I am an ally.

Though it does not seem to fit here, I am open to saying more about my resistance to the BLM narrative at another time. Hint, skin color is only a part of it.

In short, to the extent that BLM calls attention to problems and advances thoughtful policy (noted in Washington Post piece below), I am supportive. On the other hand, when BLM as an organization or people speaking on its behalf are bullying others by taking questioning and criticism off the table, I can not support this. That sot of rhetoric promotes a tribal Us v. Them attitude thoughtful people are working to attenuate. 

Do not be fooled. I, like other thoughtful observers, see the dangers that are cause for legitimate concern. It is clear there are some people who will use inclusive language as a veil in an attempt to cover their hateful ideology. Some will use the phrase All Lives Matter as a way to deflect attention from their politics of anger, division, and hate.  However, we do not want to color everyone with that brush. Good ideas (ideals) can be turned to bad purpose. This says more about the twisted intention of the user than the idea.

My assertion is, the last thing we want to do is to say: ideas can not be challenged or questioned. Can this lead to a messy business out in the public marketplace of ideas? Absolutely. Of course we wish the road to a better world was straight and smooth and we were all pulling in the same direction and people were without duplicity.  But, as messy as the public marketplace of ideas can be, it is, by far, preferable to the alternative where thoughts are dictated from above by some form of thought-police and are not to be questioned. I am by no means a qualified historian but I seem to recall we have tried several versions of that scenario (kings, queen, pharaohs, dictators, warlords, priests, and thugs of every variety). I do not recall the chapter where everyone lived happily ever after.

Finally. Well, okay, what’s the word for almost finally?

I considered putting this bit at the beginning but I had concerns. I worried that some would be moved by emotion and therefore be unable to evaluate my arguments based on their merit. I later considered not saying this part at all. In the end I decided I needed to say it because it is true and it informs my thoughts on this topic.

The issue of prejudice and inequality in the wider world, but especially in America, is a very personal concern for me. My immediate family includes black and mixed race persons.

I would like to conclude by saying that we have pressing problems as well as thoughtful policies and solutions. Anything from any quarter that inhibits us from getting on with that business is something about which I will continue to raise my voice. I will make every effort not to be disparaging with those I disagree with except in the most extreme case and I will keep my criticisms pointed. It is not to our advantage to shotgun the whole business because we disagree over this or that point. 

Now for the quiz. Aw, go ahead, just for chuckles.

**For our purposes here my use of the word questioning does not mean cavalier dismissal either of a person’s ideas or the struggles of a group of disadvantaged people. It merely means that one might wish to evaluate what is said and apply critical thought to the topic in the same way one does (hopefully) with other issues in life.**

First, these questions are intended to be answered in your own head and you may then choose to share the answers here, somewhere else, or not at all. Second, this is not intended to embarrass anyone or hurt their feelings. It is simply about self awareness in a way I think we do not often consider. Please feel free to partially or entirely disagree with me. However, if you feel this way and would be kind enough, I request that you tell me the argument for your position. This way, I can check to see how others view things and how I may come to a more thorough assessment of the topics rattling around in my brain.

1) In the third paragraph where I mentioned prejudice, how many were comfortable applying that term to the speaker in the video even after I had clearly shown how he had exhibited that behavior?

2) Did you feet comfortable owning the fact that we are all prone to bias and prejudice?

3) Who, upon seeing the video for the first time, questioned nothing about it and basically walked away thinking, yup?

4) Who did not even consider questioning anything that the speaker said because he was black man speaking about prejudice in America? 

5) Who essentially felt like whatever a black person says about prejudice or the events surrounding that sad fact in this country, I as a white person, need to simply listen to uncritically because I am of a privileged class and therefore I have nothing to think or say about this except what I am told?

6) Who, upon hearing words like racism and prejudice thinks, they must be referring to white people?

7) Who believes that a person who has been the object of prejudice is somehow immune from prejudicial thoughts/behaviors in their own lives?

8) Who, when they they hear words like prejudice, immediately infers the speaker is talking about skin color? And why do you not think about mental or physical disability, whether a person is considered too fat or too skinny or too short etc., social status, sexual preferences, or other reasons for which people are maltreated?

And finally, you might wish to take a deep breath before this last one. On second thought, bartender, make that a double.

9) Is there anyone who thinks it is remotely possible that we have gone from recognizing a set of problems then quietly arriving at the unspoken idea that solving the problems would be very difficult so, instead, we began to fetishize the problems?

**I know, that last one is a weird one and you do not need to accept it. But just for giggles, let it roll around in your head awhile. Even if you eventually arrive at the opinion that it’s just plum crazy, I submit it might be an interesting journey.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Dubious, more dubious, and totally fubar.

Not that anyone gives AFF but-
There are a few things that are troubling in the election cycle as it now stands.  One is the false equivalence argument that appears to be in play. Basically, Clinton is as bad as Trump. To be fair, I will likely vote for Ms. Clinton, but not because she is anything like my first choice. I hoped for a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren ticket. That said, equating her to Trump is silly. Thoughtful people who are in a position to make these judgments have assessed Mr. Trump to be a narcissist and/or sociopath. It is clear to me that some of the negative commentary on Ms. Clinton is supported by solid evidence and it shows she is, at best, no saint. Some would say at worst a self-serving opportunist with somewhat "flexible" ethics. I won't debate the point. That said, the people offering the most heinous assessments of her do not appear to be sober-minded folks performing a thoughtful assessment. Each one of this ilk whom I have heard is a right wing ideologue. I am open to hearing evidence to the contrary.

Another huge problem is, many Americans appear to hold a fantastical view of the American Presidency. This may be in part due to phrases that are bandied about in our media such as Leader of the Free World. This in a global sense may have some validity but in a political sense on the ground in our government structure, it is nonsense. The executive is but one of three powerful branches. This thoughtful arrangement, courtesy of our founding fathers, helps provide a needed buffer against autocrats. Thus, the office of President could be held by a shallow thinking, self-aggrandizing megalomaniac who would be better suited to running a string of used car lots than a country and things would get bit rocky but likely be alright in the end. This speaks to the political/policy side of the argument. The most troubling aspect is the fact that a U.S. President is automatically the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces. In a complex, dangerous, nuclear-armed world, this is a whole other can of worms.

Then we come to the issue of third party candidates. This may be the most serious problem on the horizon. To be clear, I have a largely positive assessment of both the Green Party candidate and the Libertarian Party candidate. Neither is a perfect choice for me but I feel the bits where I quibble with them would be muted by other factors. And neither one seems to be a psychopath or a slimy-opportunistic-politician type. Which is refreshing. So, why will I not likely vote "my conscience"? The answer is simple.  While hardly a scholar of our democratic republic and its complex minutiae, I am able to see where we are at this moment. We are, for good or ill, a two party system. Oh, sure, people can run as a green, a libertarian, a communist, or independent. However because we do not have a parliamentary style of governance, candidates receiving a percentage of the votes are not obliged to form coalitions to hold power. We basically have a winner-take-all system. Thus, third party candidates simply end up shearing votes from the two main candidates. This allows citizens to feel good by voting their conscience (a strategy of which I would never deprive them and to which they are absolutely entitled). However, in a nation so evenly divided, this only muddles the election. Ala, Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court, yadda yadda. 

Disclaimer: one ought not take my reference to parliamentary democracy to mean that I find that system devoid of problems. 

Finally, there is the so-called "down ballot" issue. That is to say, the important Congressional races often do not have third party candidates to whom one can turn and many voters simply pick the person at the top of the ticket (Presidential candidate) and make a party line vote. If the ballot is tricky in any way, this can throw off unsophisticated voters, the elderly, etc.- perhaps leading to unintended consequences.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Part of a larger discussion regarding Black Lives Matter and related matters...

The issues of prejudice are deep in this country and really could use some attention. That said, I take the words of Richard Feynman to heart: "I would rather have questions that can not be answered than answers that can not be questioned".

The point being, BLM can simultaneously be right about prejudice in America and wrong about how to frame the situation. And here is the place I put a stake in the ground and will not be swayed, Ideas are not sacred, Question Everything! If the argument is, these things can be tough to hear when you feel like you or your community is under attack- that's fair. However, the Black Lives Matter movement is comprised of adults who have entered the public marketplace of ideas. In that marketplace there are certain basic rules. Participants encouraged to disagree, but the accepted method is to proffer a different, and presumably superior idea and offer argument to bolster the idea. There is no currency in shouting down people with questions and challenges or claiming to be offended by such questioning.

I would like to offer the following for consideration: failing to hold participants in the marketplace of ideas to these standards is not an expression of warm-fuzzy-compassion. To be clear, love and compassion may well be the best thing we humans do. Period. I unreservedly value my feelings. Feelings provide the motive force behind everything. However, things only make sense in a context. Our use of compassion as a motivator in problem solving is arguably one of our highest achievements. I would likewise argue, using compassion when reason, questioning, and critical thinking is called for, simply dilutes the marketplace of ideas. I, like many others, am awed by our ability to lens the world through these different perspectives and I would not willingly surrender any of it. One might even imagine the human ability to sort through and make ever better use of these facilities may be a way to describe wisdom.

For those who might want to learn more about feelings and why we have them. This book also touches on consciousness: Why We Feel

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Nobody loves a huckster like another huckster.

What Matters?

I suppose this will not make me popular but I ambivalent about the Black Lives Matter group. I am not ambivalent about prejudice and inequitable treatment of minorities. That is a sad situation that we have failed to address. However, when Dr. King gave his speech, he hit every right note. Referring to the problems, he clearly and unambiguously cast a bright light on the plight and challenges of black people. However, if you read carefully, in every remedy or hope for the future his words were inclusive. What I know of Martin Luther King suggests these words were not casually assembled. He was by all accounts a deliberative man with a long-considered message. So, when speaking about the "Dream" for which all of us should strive, it was always "we" and "us". He clearly did not feel this inclusive language diluted the horrors of the oppressed nor the hopes for the future, for the Dream.

We are on the horns of a dilemma in this country. It is beyond contention that we have some real disparity in the way minorities are treated by various arms of government including the police force. If that were not sufficient, we are painting ourselves into a corner trying to have a conversation about the issues. There are some obvious culprits. First is the lack of trust/rapport between the groups. This has us all circling about warily and shouting at each other suspiciously or finger pointing. How will we get to a point where we can put something on the table for discussion when mistrust and suspicion color everything? At the moment there seems to be no meat on the table, only bones of contention.

Monday, July 11, 2016

More on Beliefs

It is a simple concept and so many seem to unable to wrap their minds around it. Human beings deserve a certain basic level of dignity and respect. Beliefs have no feelings and, in the public marketplace of ideas, they are not automatically entitled to respect. Ideas/beliefs may accrue respect as evidence mounts showing them to be good ideas. However, at all times, ideas and beliefs are, and rightly should be, subject to criticism and questioning. I would argue it is more than a point, it is the point.

It is not even that subtle of an argument. In most situations, when encountering a human being, assume they are deserving of basic kindness. If their are ideas are hateful or stupid, feel free to ignore those ideas or challenge them as conditions permit. While challenging ideas, make every reasonable effort to maintain the previously mentioned human dignity. If your efforts fall upon deaf ears remove yourself from that person's company. This should take care of 99.9% of the situations one usually encounters.

Wash, Rinse, repeat.

Check this article:
Sour puss curmudgeon wants to say something relevant...

My response:
Frankly my take on Mr. Giuliani is, he and his antiquated arguments are all but irrelevant at this point. That said, some of his points though crude or insensitive are not entirely without merit. His problem is, largely because he's an ideologue, he comes from an angry moralist position and he does not advance thoughtful solutions. He wants to make it very simple so we can all put it in a box and go on our way.

Here is another consideration that may be more informative. What if he and his ideas are not the biggest problem?

I largely align with Progressives. However, the sad truth is, many of the very people I consider to be "on my team" are engaged in the same kind of bumperstickerization of the issues. (Yup, I made up that word and I really like it.) They are, to a sobering degree, like Giuliani and his ilk. I know what you are thinking. He cant mean that. Oh, but I do, I really do. Far too many Progressives want to make it all so simple. On one hand we rightly want to deconstruct the rhetoric of the Conservatives but do not especially want to question the prepackaged answers of other liberals. Because when one is on the side of tolerance and puppies and rainbows, everything that comes out of ones mouth must smell like roses. Well, news flash. Being liberal does not exempt us from thinking and questioning. It is way too simple to say the other guys are wrong. Progressives seem to have the idea that the problem with Conservatives is: they are hateful, they are racist, they are intolerant, they are wrong-headed. While it is true that some of these things apply to some conservatives, they are not the really bad bits. Huh? Sure those are not endearing positions. However, even the fraction of Conservatives who are racist, hateful, intolerant, or wrong-headed can change. They can become better versions of themselves.

It turns out, the worst thing about the Conservative arguments is exactly the same as the worst thing about the Progressive arguments. And what is that, pray tell? The idea that the arguments should not be questioned. Go ahead, dwell on that a moment. It's worth your time. The pathway that leads people (on either side) to become better versions of themselves always starts with questioning. And what does it end with? If you do it right, it does not end. Questions lead to answers which, in turn, lead to more questions and so on. Wash, rinse, repeat. Questions, answers, more questions.

So, yes. People like Mr. Giuliani do not necessarily bring out our best nature but it does not mean they are automatically wrong about everything. And, it is our job to put forth our best nature. This would include, but not be limited to, keeping an open mind when listening to those with whom we disagree and continuing to question. Everything. Question everything. Really, everything.