An Open Letter To Charlie Daniels

A note to our enemies:

You think you know America, but you only see the tiny, inept, incompetent, cowering political tip of a very big, very capable iceberg.

You don’t know the Heartland where the people are fiercely independent and willing to defend this nation with their bare hands if that’s what it takes.

You don’t know the steel workers in Pittsburgh with muscles that could break a man’s neck like a twig.

You don’t know the swamp folks in Cajun country that can wrestle a full-grown alligator out of the water.

You don’t know the mountain folks in Appalachia who can knock a squirrel’s eye out from a hundred yards away with a small caliber rifle.

You don’t know the farmers, the cowboys, the loggers and the seagoing folks. You don’t know the truck drivers, the carpenters, the mountain men who live off the land, the hard rock miners or the small town cops who keep the peace in the rowdy border towns.

No, you don’t know America. You’ve only seen America through the eyes of an Ivy League ideologue. There are no calluses on his hands, no notches on his gun. He is naive enough to believe that people who only understand power can be swayed by political correctness, kindness and acquiescence.

Soon America will have a new leader, and I pray to Almighty God every day that we will choose the right one. – “Charlie Daniels’ Open Letter to America’s Enemies: You See Obama, But You Don’t Know America”, CNS News, February 15, 2016

Apparently, Charlie Daniels thinks the world cares about the opinions of a washed-up country musician

Apparently, Charlie Daniels thinks the world cares about the opinions of a washed-up country musician

Dear Charlie Daniels –

I honestly don’t believe anyone outside your ever-shrinking fan base cares all that much about your opinions. Certainly, America’s “enemies” don’t care. And since I’m someone whose opinions matter as little as yours, I thought I’d write you an open letter to address your . . . odd . . . “Open Letter to America’s Enemies”.

Let’s start, rather arbitrarily, with the incident in which two small American naval vessels wandered in to Iranian territorial waters, one experienced mechanical failure, and the 10 crew members were first detained, then released after a couple days negotiations. This all happened around the time of the Constitutionally required State of the Union. Many of Pres. Obama’s opponents insisted at the time he should cancel his speech and work to bring home the sailors. What these people didn’t know was that Sec. of State John Kerry had already completed negotiations with the Iranians and the captured sailors were already in the process of returning to the American fleet.

Now some people, including you, have protested the fact that Sec. of State Kerry “apologized”. I’m wondering what, exactly, you would have done. Sent in the 5th Fleet that’s already in the area? Threatened to bomb Iran while it holds American service personnel, which gives them no incentive to keep the Americans safe? Sent in the Navy Seals? What do you think someone demonstrating “strength” would have done that would have achieved the same results, results every American wants anyway, getting those folks home safe? A simple apology for violating Iranian territorial waters – something the Iranians seem touchy about anyway, particularly when it comes to the American military – seems a very small price to pay to get back our ship and our people.

So let’s talk about military recruitment. In 2014, facing serious fiscal and budgetary issues; understanding the changing face of modern warfare that, in all likelihood, won’t have even one front let alone two; and with the Pentagon budget top-heavy with weapon systems that, occasionally, they don’t even want; over a decade of war slowly – too slowly – coming to an end; all these considerations led Pres. Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to propose serious reductions in troop-size, including reducing recruitment targets. While the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps reached their recruitment targets in FY 2015, the Army projected falling almost 15% short of its goal. The reasons?

The Army’s top officer for recruiting, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, acknowledged in an interview with USA TODAY on Thursday the difficulties in attracting young men and women to the active-duty Army in an improving economy and the greater effort his recruiters are taking to find new soldiers.

—–

During the height of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the services struggled to make their annual goals. Standards for recruits were lowered, and greater signing bonuses were handed out. In 2006, for example, it spent $1 billion on bonuses to recruit and retain soldiers.

Bonuses and educational incentives, however, have decreased in recent years, Snow said. The Army paid out $117 million in 2014 compared with $235 million in 2013.

—–

In 2005, the Pentagon relaxed standards for recruits who fared poorly on standard military exams. Those who scored in the lower third of the test, so-called Category Four recruits — had been limited to 2% of recruits. The relaxed standard allowed 4% of those recruits, and even that was exceeded at times. Less than 1% of recruits this year belong in Category Four, Snow said.

“On quality we’re doing very well this year,” he said.

An improving economy, higher recruiting standards (or a return to high standards), and war-exhaustion are all really good reasons not to volunteer for the Army right now. Particularly since the bribes the military was handing out – singing bonuses for the military? Really? – to try and lure people to join an all-volunteer military in a time of war that was, by and large, invisible to the American people (by design) are far better explanations than some mythical distaste for the Commander-in-Chief (particularly since the other branches of the military reached their recruitment goals last year).

And finally, your really strange description of “the American people” “from the Heartland”. First you said they’d defend this country bare-handed if necessary. Because we obviously are in imminent threat of invasion and there’s a shortage of weapons in this country. Since these same people from the heartland piss their pants in fear at the notion an Islamic person might move in to their neighborhood, it seems to me you’re overestimating the courage of the American people.

Let’s consider your claim that steel workers in Pittsburgh are so powerful they can snap a person’s neck with their bare hands. Survey, however, says not really.

Note that in Real Life, it takes a considerable amount of strength and/or training to snap a person’s necknote , especially if the character getting it snapped is considerably big and strong. It’s possible if you know where to grab and twist, and can pin your opponent to get leverage. In real life, spinal/neck manipulation is allowed in certain martial arts competitions such as the UFC and other MMA events. However, it looks very different than in the movies, and there is almost always time to “tap out” before injury, much less permanent or lethal injury. To preform the “neck snap” like in the page’s image you would have to be extraordinarily stronger, to a point that is nearly superhuman.

—–

First, with regards to actually breaking the neck itself, it depends on exactly what type of fracture is involved, but cadaver studies have shown a range of 840 to 1500 N to cause the C2 vertebrae to be fractured [1]. A C2 fracture is highly correlated with high mortality but said injury is also most commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents [2] which gives you an idea as to the force involved with the injury. Given that amateur boxers have been shown to generate up to 8000 N of force with a hook punch [3] it is within the realm of possibility to fracture the vertebrae under the right conditions.

So breaking the vertebra is possible; however, the issue the video and those like it is that you need to apply the pressure the right way and the neck itself is built with a fair degree of flexibility [4] so it’s not just a matter of twisting the neck a given way.

So those steelworkers both need superhuman strength and special training. Instead of being, you know, steel workers who spend their days making steel and their nights with their families.

As for all those “real” Americans, according to the 2010 Census, urban dwellers comprise just over 80% of the American population. all those lumberjacks and sharpshooting West Virginians, Kentuckians, and folks from the middle of Pennsylvania; the cajuns from Louisiana and the farmers from the breadbasket while certainly brave and patriotic, just are as numerous and therefore not as much of a threat to some prospective enemy.  In 2010, New York’s population was 8.19 million people. The populations of South and North Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, and Iowa are 7.7 million. No matter how much you might think of those mythical “real Americans”, Charlie, there are just more of all those coastal elites of whom you think very little.

As for Vladimir Putin being an “enemy”, sure Russia is a rival. They’ve sent planes over the pole to test our northern border at Alaska, and that is certainly something folks in charge are keeping an eye on. On the other hand, I’m just not all that frightened of a supposed superpower who can’t even defeat a fractured and far weaker neighbor (Ukraine), using proxies instead because the Russian army just can’t seem to get the job done. As for China, well, they’ve spent most of their thousands of years of recorded history laughing at foreign powers, whoever they might be. Mongols, Russians, Japanese, Open Door Policies, foreign missionaries have all come and gone, and China remains. Why shouldn’t they laugh at us? And so what? Are you seriously so fragile the thought of a foreign power not fearing American power somehow just gets you so mad you have to write a letter to show them who’s boss?

And, really, the rest of the world knows what America is really like. Our music is the world’s music. Our movies are the world’s movies. Ours is the only military with a global presence. And satellite television beams our current farcical Presidential primary season all over the world, so people can watch buffoons, liars, and borderline psychopaths carry on for their entertainment. Should one of those people be elected President, however, I guarantee you pretty much the whole world – including many in the United States – will, indeed, be terrified of what the United States might do.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford

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Creepy And Toxic Pseudo-Christian Ideas

A "Quiverfull" meme that should make it difficult to eat lunch after reading.

A “Quiverfull” meme that should make it difficult to eat lunch after reading.

On the fringes of American Christianity there are many small groups that do very strange things. Some, however, rush past “strange” and wind up in places that are not only psychologically toxic, but just downright creepy. Nine years ago, I noted the existence of something called “purity balls”. I wrote:

Like a cross between a cotillion, a wedding, and a prom, fathers and daughters dress to the nines, get together, and the daughters (I can hardly keep my gorge down as I type this) pledge their virginity to their fathers. They promise to remain abstinent until marriage, making the vow public.

Later on, I found an example of the kind of thing a father “pledged”:

I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

Really just profoundly wrong, on so many levels, right? What could be worse than this?

I’m sure you’ve probably, at the very least, heard of the so-called “Quiverfull” movement. The Duggars are an extreme example: Having many babies, as close together as possible, home-schooling them, and restricting their access both to peers and the media. As a parent, I tend to get itchy when people start going after how others raise their children. I’ve never appreciated criticisms of our parenting; I’m sure there are many who probably figure we’re too lenient, allowing our girls to have as much freedom to grow and become who they are. So these folks home-school their kids and are strict disciplinarians; I have nothing against either, up to a point.

Today I discovered that this movement is rooted in what I can only call pseudo-Christian nonsense, incorporating physical and psychological abuse both of women and children, and as the above meme from one of the “leaders” shows, borders on endorsing both child marriage and pedophilia:

Vaughn Ohlman is a sick man with a twisted sense of fatherly love.

Suzanne Titkemeyer, administrator of the No Longer Quivering blog, frequently features the bizarre rantings of “Let Them Marry” in the “Quoting Quiverfull” section and has had numerous interactions with Vaughn, whom she describes as, “a nonsensical pain in the ass who refuses to accept logic, facts and legitimate figures,” reports that Ohlman was interested in a girl at his church and her daddy judged him not good enough and rejected him.

(That story is all kinds of messed up, but the good news is … whew, she dodged a bullet!)

While there is some standard right-wing rhetoric tossed around on these websites, there are also far more disturbing topics discussed in all seriousness. For example, the whole issue of women submitting to their husbands.

Submitting is not difficult, we do it all the time; we just have a hard time submitting to our husbands, and in this case they are unbelievers. 

God has placed your husband to be the head of the home, the Commander. Submission is a “voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (Greek/ Hebrew Lexicon)

It means that no matter where our husbands are at spiritually we have a responsibility to them and to God to submit to their authority.

Submission is not a giving in and bending over to let him walk all over you.

Jesus was in submission to the Father, but He was considered equal with God the Father. We are to be in submission to our husbands, but God sees us as equals as well.

When we truly grasp the meaning of submission we will begin to see ourselves as no longer singular, but as a part of a unit, a part of a team.

Our motives for submitting to our husbands is not because “God said” so much as it is, “God said and I love God, so I am going to submit to this man God has placed over me, because I seek to please God above all else.”

Now you see your choice for submitting, in this case, to an unbelieving husband means that we seek his good above our own. Our motives for submitting are not for our good and our benefit, but for his good and his benefit.

This is a recipe for disaster. Weak and abusive men will see such behaviors as invitations to do even more harm.

There there is “disciplining” children, or as one writer puts it, “training” them.

I have observed and engaged a sufficient number of parents, both in action and in conversation, to have made a very good guess about what this frustrated father was thinking. I’m certain he was proud of his patience and tenderness, knowing that he was not being overbearing or insensitive toward this child. His philosophy clearly is, “She’s a handful, but kids will be kids! Just love them, and in time they will turn out all right.” No doubt, he was solaced by the fact that in the best of times she responds to his commands. He has “faith” that such a sweet child will survive and eventually “grow into” obedience.

I cautiously mentioned to him that he could actually train her to stop upon command, pointing out how much safer it would be if she obeyed instantly. He brushed it off with, “Oh, she is not being disobedient; we play games like that.” And then he made some comment about how he didn’t like to spank his children except in extreme situations. He didn’t really consider it to be disobedience in a child so young. He was a foolish young father, not yet having seen the final end of the seeds of self-will and rebellion he was sowing.

Nothing says someone has a twisted view of children when they talk about “training” them to “stop upon command”. Nothing says someone has a twisted view of children when they believe an 11-month-old being an 11-month-old – playing a game with Daddy – is actually an example of “self-will and rebellion”. How, precisely, are such children trained?

The methods used to create children who are always smiling, who always obey instantly, who never go through individuation, who never talk back– they should horrify us because they are nightmarish. In order to achieve this, you have to beat infants. You have to strike your children multiple times a day with a switch or a board or a belt. Age-appropriate exploration must be prevented at all costs– either through things like blanket training or slapping a baby every time they reach for a necklace or your hair. You must subject your infant or toddler to brutal physical punishmentevery single time they show a disavowed form of curiosity about their environment.

For older children and teenagers, you have to completely disallow any form of individuality. They must agree with everything you teach them. Doubts and questions are forbidden. If they attempt to express their own identity, they must be bullied by other members of the fundamentalist community to immediately stamp it out.

Being socialized as a fundamentalist child means being horribly abused.

I followed the link above about blanket training because I had never heard of such a thing.

In its simplest form, blanket training consists of 3 actions: (1) place a young child (usually an infant or toddler) on a small blanket, (2) tell that child not to move off the blanket, and (3) strike that child if they move off the blanket. Rinse, repeat.

That sounds like a healthy way to discipline a child . . .

There’s always a fine line between proper discipline at the extremes and what constitutes abuse. Certainly parents who engage in these practices wouldn’t consider themselves abusive. The ideology behind all this, however, a steaming pile of Bible verses, extreme patriarchy, and the dehumanization of women and children, is something that deserves far more attention that it currently enjoys.

Looking For Some Honesty

It’s all over the news!

The Sheriffs weren’t the only ones who objected to the performance, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared on Monday’s Fox and Friends to trash the singer and the show.

“At the end, we find out Beyonce dressed up in a tribute to the Black Panthers, went to a Malcolm X formation. And the song, the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a syllable, were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks!” Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said.

I’ve seen memes like the one below cropping up on my social media feeds:

Concern Trolls are my favorite!

Concern Trolls are my favorite!

Everyone is up in arms! Black Panthers! Black Lives Matter! They all hate cops!

The video for Beyonce’s song “Formation” includes a shot of a wall with the words “Stop Shooting Us”. I can’t imagine why a woman of color might offer such a thought?

Civil rights groups sued Minnesota state agencies on Tuesday to force them to release video footage of the fatal police shooting of a young black man in Minneapolis in November.

But that’s an isolated incident!

Police in Austin, Texas have declined to say whether a naked black teen who was fatally shot by officers on Monday had been armed at the time.

The Austin Police Department confirmed on Monday that an 18-year-old man who was not wearing clothes was shot by officers, and then later died in a local hospital, theAustin Statesman reported.

Austin police Chief of Staff Brian Manley told reporters at a press conference that the incident occurred when officers were responding to reports of a suspicious black man. Manley said that an officer opened fire after the man disobeyed commands and then charged at him.

Why would an African-American organization, Black Lives Matter, believe that police violence against their communities is a problem?

Since [August 1, 2014], the rallies for justice have not abated, and neither have the number of deaths at the hands of police. At least 1,083 Americans have been killed by cop since August 9, 2014, according to comprehensive research and data collected by VICE News — an average of nearly three people a day. . . .

—–

While the bulk of those killed from August 2014 to August 2015 were white, black people per population were more than twice as likely to be killed by cops than any other race, the data showed. African Americans are also more than three times as likely to be killed by police than white people, according to the statistics.

But . . . but . . . Black Panthers! Racists! Cop killers!

At its inception on October 15,[4] 1966, the Black Panther Party’s core practice was its armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of police officers and challenge police brutality in Oakland, California. In 1969, community social programs became a core activity of party members.[5] The Black Panther Party instituted a variety of community social programs, most extensively the Free Breakfast for Children Programs, and community health clinics.

—–

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover called the party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”,[9] and he supervised an extensive program (COINTELPRO) of surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment, and many other tactics designed to undermine Panther leadership, incriminate party members, discredit and criminalize the Party, and drain the organization of resources and manpower. The program was also accused of using assassination against Black Panther members.

As for some of those other images from Beyonce’s video, like the kid in the hoodie with his arms up facing a line of police aiming their guns at him, I can’t imagine where she thought that was ever a thing.

Move along folks. Nothing to see here.

Move along folks. Nothing to see here.

Here’s where the honesty thing comes in: How many of you out there who are suddenly verklempt that a well-known African-American performing artist might well offer a view of race relations that makes white folks uncomfortable knew while watching the halftime show all the nuances and symbolism of Beyonce’s performance? How many of you saw those dancers in berets and screamed, “Black Panthers! She hates cops!”? How many of you didn’t wait until a bunch of folks on social media who don’t know history, who don’t understand contemporary music or Beyonce’s history of standing for both feminism and solidarity with African-American communities, who believe that each and every incident of police violence against African-Americans is justified, who believe that protesting such violence is ipso facto proof that such people “hate” police, how many of you snapped off your television there and then? How many of you don’t care about evidence, or history, or black lives, but just want to “take a stand” without even knowing that against which you’re taking a stand?

Be honest. Tell the truth. Did you know, during the halftime show, all or even some of the things her performance hinted at or pointed toward? Were you outraged even then? Were you previously a fan of Beyonce but have suddenly decided not to be because of this performance? Answer me honestly.

As for injecting race in to popular music performance, I’ll just leave you with this:

starsandbars

A Symptom Not The Sickness

When outrage misses the point, the only possible response is The Facepalm

When outrage misses the point, the only possible response is The Facepalm

It’s a story that seems only possible in the Internet age.

Self-proclaimed ‘neo-masculinist’ Daryush “Roosh V” Valizadeh announced on Wednesday that he would cancel his “international tribal meet-up,” DNAinfo Chicago reported.

Valizadeh called off the events on his website, Return of Kings, stating that he “can no longer guarantee the safety or privacy of the men who want to attend.” However, he said, “I can’t stop men who want to continue meeting in private groups.”

The proposed gathering was hit with overwhelming criticism since Valizadeh first announced his plans to hold 165 events in 43 countries on Saturday, with many opponents citing a blog post last year calling for rape to be legalized on private property.

“By attempting to teach men not to rape, what we have actually done is teach women not to care about being raped, not to protect themselves from easily preventable acts, and not to take responsibility for their actions,” he wrote at the time.

I’d be shocked by such views if I haven’t been hearing them for years and years and years. It isn’t exactly news that a whole lot of people believe that some women, in some circumstances, bring sexual violence upon themselves. It’s how they dress; it’s because men are uncontrollable tools of their hormones at the sight of a woman’s bare flesh. This time, some guy thought it would be a good idea to get all sorts of other men together to talk about this. The Internet struck back, up to and including the hacker collective Anonymous, and suddenly it didn’t seem such a good idea; a group advocating violence against women was shocked – SHOCKED!they received violent pushback.

Author and “neo-masculinist” blogger Daryush “Roosh V” Valizadeh called police to his mother’s home in response to what he described as threats against his life stemming from his attempt to organize a “tribal meetup,” the Daily Mail reported.

Valizadeh, who drew massive criticism after trying to organize a Feb. 6 international event through his website, Return of Kings, reportedly lives at the Maryland residence, and showed officers emails and voice messages threatening him. One threat allegedly stated, “We will kill you if you come to our city.”

And there’s been no shortage of outrage on social media. One FB friend of mine wrote:

You know, without social media, this would never have been a story in the MSM, and I think one of the ethical challenges of all media right now is to decide not only when something should be ignored, but when it should be roundly denounced. To hell with these “pro-rape” assholes. No. Hell, no, I will not “fight for their right” to freedom of expression. That’s why they have the defense engendered in the First Amendment: Not only do I not personally have to come to their defense, but they have constitutional protection from me, because if I could, I would burn their evil asses down, rake up the trash, and pour salt on the ground so nothing like them would ever, ever grow back.

Strong sentiments, indeed. Yet, I wonder about such outrage. It isn’t like this is either new or even unique. For example, there’s this story from USAToday in 2005:

The 49-year-old woman was awakened around midnight by an assailant who choked her, dragged her by the hair and raped her so many times before the sun came up that she lost count, police say. When she asked if she would live, her attacker allegedly told her: “We’ll see.”

Usually, rapes like the one described by the woman in September would be punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Arizona. But the man accused in the attack was the woman’s husband, meaning the crime alleged is considered spousal rape.

The punishment: no more than 1 1/2 years behind bars, and perhaps no prison time at all.

Just so readers don’t get the impression Arizona is some kind of outlier:

About half of the states treat spousal rape differently from other types of rape, according to the American Prosecutors Research Institute, the research arm of the National District Attorneys Association.

Some states give women less time to come forward with a claim against a husband, or require proof that force was used. Most non-spousal rape laws require proof only that the assailant lacked consent

In the Arizona case in question, the defense attorney had a great strategy:

Steven Harvey, the defendant’s attorney, said he will seek to have the rape charge dismissed because the couple are married. “They can file any charge they want, but it’s a charge that has an absolute defense,” Harvey said.

Fast-forwarding to 2011, we should remember Reps. Todd Akin and now-House Speaker Paul Ryan trying to invent new definitions of rape.

Under H.R. 3, only victims of “forcible rape” would qualify for federally funded abortions. Victims of statutory rape—say, a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a 30-year-old man—would be on their own. So would victims of incest if they’re over 18. And while “forcible rape” isn’t defined in the criminal code, the addition of the adjective seems certain to exclude acts of rape that don’t involve overt violence—say, cases where a woman is drugged or has a limited mental capacity. “It’s basically putting more restrictions on what was defined historically as rape,” says Keenan.

Remember Todd Akin? He’s the guy who said “that “legitimate rape” does not often lead to pregnancy because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.””

And who can forget Sandra Fluke, advocating for women’s health care before Congress?

[Rush] Limbaugh dismissed Fluke’s assertion that women may be prescribed the pill for medical reasons and accused her of merely promoting promiscuity.

“What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute,” he said. “She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.”

Limbaugh went on to insult Fluke’s family for raising a daughter with loose attitudes.

“Can you imagine if you’re her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be?” he said. “Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.”

I bring all this up as a reminder that Daryush Valizadeh isn’t some lone dirtbag, a simple product of the Internet age. His views are neither surprising nor even out of the ordinary. Rather than get upset over some guy trying to organize a pro-rape gathering from the safety of his mother’s house (a detail I find hilarious), perhaps we should be outraged at a society that continues to argue over what does and does not constitute rape; perhaps we should be outraged that it is still perfectly acceptable to slut-shame women, whether they’re rape victims or advocates for women’s health; perhaps we should be outraged not at a nobody, but rather at our persistent rape culture that continues to treat women as less than human.

Valizadeh isn’t the problem. Our society is the problem. Our politicians, our laws, a popular and even legal culture that continues to treat women as less than fully adult, less than fully human is the problem. It’s easy to take potshots at some guy on the Internet. How about we all take account of how little outrage there is over the everyday humiliations and horrors women face? How about we remember that the Valizadehs of this world exist because we allow them to exist? Why isn’t there outrage over that?

Don’t Do That

Man in Doctor’s office: It hurts when I do this. (Moves arm up and down)

Doctor: Don’t do that.

Neil Degrasse Tyson just can't handle the stupid.

Neil Degrasse Tyson just can’t handle the stupid.

It wouldn’t be a day ending in “Y” without someone, somewhere, publishing something stupid and offensive on social media.

A quote posted this week by a School District U46 board member on her Facebook page has elicited outrage and accusations of racial insensitivity among some community members in Illinois’ second-largest school district.

Some community members said they planned to bring the issue up Monday night at the school board meeting.

The Feb. 1 post on board member Jeanette Ward’s official U46 school board page contains a quote from a book by African-American author Jason L. Riley.

It contends that problems facing poor blacks today are a function of “values and habits, not oppression from a manifestly unjust society.”

Ward is white and wrote that she was posting the excerpt “in honor of Black History Month.”

“The notion that racism is holding back blacks as a group, or that better black outcomes cannot be expected until racism has been vanquished, is a dodge,” reads the passage from Riley’s book, “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder For Blacks to Succeed.”

“Having a black man in the Oval Office,” the passage states, “is less important than having one in the home.”

–snip–

“I think it’s unfair that I’m not allowed to quote an African-American who had something to say about history and African-Americans,” Ward said. “People try to point to me as if I made the quote. I am merely quoting someone who has a unique perspective.”

Ward said she expected that the post might prompt some pushback but that she was “a little surprised about the vitriol.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I see this sentiment a lot: Why can’t I just speak my mind without someone getting offended? Political correctness inhibits my freedom of speech! It gets more than a little tiring after a while, all these poor put-upon white folks who just want to speak their mind or offer their opinion. They have that right! All this political correctness stuff is so unfair.

No one anywhere is interfering with anyone’s First Amendment right to say whatever they wish to say. I’ll be the first person to defend anyone’s right to say anything they wish, should those rights actually be interfered with. On the other hand, “pushback” and “vitriol” should be expected when writing something or quoting something controversial. That isn’t unfair. It’s just the First Amendment at work!

So this woman believes it unfair that, rather than use her own words, if she quotes an African-American author on the moral status of African-Americans she should be immune from accusations of racial insensitivity (at the very least). She just wanted to offer a different perspective! These aren’t her words! It’s in honor of Black History Month!

Like we say around our house, when you’ve dug yourself into a hole, stop digging. Toss that shovel out. In this case, it might well mean stop whining about how mean everyone’s being, and consider that perhaps – just perhaps! – their views are legitimate. Does that mean you, or the person you’re quoting (behind whom you’re hiding?), doesn’t also have some legitimacy? Of course not. What it does mean, however, is that grownups take responsibility for their actions: If you say or write something others find offensive, own that; consider how your words might have hurt others. Stop hiding behind “It’s unfair!” because, really, life is unfair.

Just because people take offense at things others say and do is not any abridgment of free speech. Not a single individual is prevented for writing or saying anything in this country. What the whiners about political correctness miss is really simple: They don’t get to a pass anymore. Saying something offensive will draw a reaction. Telling people to stop being offended is, as the author quoted by Ms. Ward wrote, “a dodge”. It is perfectly fair that she has the opportunity to post something on social media and others will speak out either against it or in favor of it. That is the very definition of fairness.

On the other hand, if she doesn’t like people telling her the thing she published – hiding behind an African-American author; doing so “in honor of Black History Month” – is offensive and racially insensitive, my advice to her (not that she asked . . .) is the same as that doctor’s quoted above: Don’t write and publish it.

Moral Indignation

N.B.: This is another post from my previous blog, dated May 8, 2010 (our wedding anniversary!). It is one of a series of posts in which I discuss misplaced or misused moral superiority. It has been edited slightly from the original. Also, there were links in the original which only end in 404 Errors. I know nothing is supposed to disappear on the Internet, but the truth is, sometimes, things do disappear.

I have occasionally offered the view that I am not impressed with moral indignation. Claiming some kind of moral high-ground on any topic of controversy usually is a way of insulating oneself from the messy reality that we are all compromised in some manner, fashion, or form related to moral judgments. Way back in the fall of 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, one often heard “liberals” chided for some kind of failure to call what happened “evil”, especially after George W. Bush used David Frum’s “axis of evil” in a speech before Congress. For some reason still not completely understood by me, it was thought to be an act not only of moral but intellectual acumen, not to say public heroism, for the President of the United States to call an evil act . . . well, evil.

I was puzzled by this until I found the following. It is the source of what I call “the kitten-burning trap”, i.e., someone demanding that others make moral pronouncements on actions that are clearly vicious.

Every once in a while, I am sorry to say, some sick bastard sets fire to a kitten. This is something that happens. Like all crimes, it shouldn’t happen, but it does. And like most crimes, it makes the paper. The effects of this appalling cruelty are not far-reaching, but the incidents are reported in the papers because the cruelty is so flagrant and acute that it seems newsworthy.

The response to such reports is horror and indignation, which is both natural and appropriate. But the expression of that horror and indignation also produces something strange.

A few years ago there was a particularly horrifying kitten-burning incident involving a barbecue grill and, astonishingly, a video camera. That sordid episode took place far from the place where I work, yet the paper’s editorial board nonetheless felt compelled to editorialize on the subject. They were, happily, against it. Unambiguously so. It’s one of the very few instances I recall when that timidly Broderian bunch took an unambiguous stance without their habitual on-the-other-hand qualifications.

I agreed with that stance, of course. Who doesn’t? But despite agreeing with the side they took, I couldn’t help but be amused by the editorial’s inordinately proud pose of courageous truth-telling. The lowest common denominator of minimal morality was being held up as though it were a prophetic example of speaking truth to power.

That same posturing resurfaced in a big way earlier this year when the kitten-burners struck again, much closer to home. A group of disturbed and disturbing children doused a kitten with lighter fluid and set it on fire just a few miles from the paper’s offices.

The paper covered the story, of course, and our readers ate it up.

People loved that story. It became one of the most-read and most-e-mailed stories on our Web site. Online readers left dozens of comments and we got letters to the editor on the subject for months afterward.

Those letters and comments were uniformly and universally opposed to kitten-burning. Opinon on that question was unanimous and vehement.

But here was the weird part: Most of the commenters and letter-writers didn’t seem to notice that they were expressing a unanimous and noncontroversial sentiment. Their comments and letters were contentious and sort of aggressively defensive. Or maybe defensively aggressive. They were angry, and that anger didn’t seem to be directed only at the kitten-burners, but also at some larger group of others whom they imagined must condone this sort of thing.

If you jumped into the comments thread and started reading at any random point in the middle, you’d get the impression that the comments immediately preceding must have offered a vigorous defense of kitten-burning. No such comments offering any such defense existed, and yet reader after reader seemed to be responding to or anticipating this phantom kitten-burning advocacy group.

One came away from that comment thread with the unsurprising but reassuring sense that the good people reading the paper’s Web site did not approve of burning kittens alive. Kitten-burning, they all insisted, was just plain wrong.

But one also came away from reading that thread with the sense that people seemed to think this ultra-minimal moral stance made them exceptional and exceptionally righteous. Like the earlier editorial writers, they seemed to think they were exhibiting courage by taking a bold position on a matter of great controversy. Whatever comfort might be gleaned from the reaffirmation that most people were right about this non-issue issue was overshadowed by the discomfiting realization that so many people also seemed to want or need most others to be wrong.

It takes very little moral imagination to call an evil act evil. Indeed, a child of eight or nine can understand pretty readily that burning kittens, or killing thousands of people, is morally vicious. I have been chided by moral scolds of both sides of the ideological fence because I refuse to engage in that kind of thing.

Pronouncing moral judgments upon this or that or another act is the easiest thing to do. It’s safe and easy and involves no risk on the part of the person passing judgment. It also helps us avoid the far more difficult and far more important moral task of understanding why such an act is committed. When serial murderers and pedophiles are dehumanized by calling them “monsters” or “animals”; when terrorists are labeled “evildoers”; even when kitten-burners are labeled “sociopaths”; when people say these things, they are safely out of reach. We and they cannot possibly be related in a moral sense. Whatever drove these individuals to act in the ways they do has no relationship to the ways we live our lives; indeed, being morally vicious they can be considered intellectually unintelligible. Who cares why the priest molested the little boys and girls? Who cares why John Wayne Gacey or Jeffrey Dahmer killed all those people? That they did is sufficient to declare them evil, outside the circle of our empathy or concern.

The author quoted above continues:

Again, I whole-heartedly agree that kitten-burning is really, really bad. But the leap from “that’s bad” to “I’m not that bad” is dangerous and corrosive. I like to call this Thornton Melon morality. Melon was the character played by Rodney Dangerfield in the movie Back to School, the wealthy owner of a chain of “Tall & Fat” clothing stores whose motto was “If you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people.” That approach — finding people we can compare-down to — might make us feel a little better about ourselves, but it doesn’t change who or what we really are. The Thornton Melon approach might make us look thin, but it won’t help us become so. Melon morality is never anything more than an optical illusion.

This comparing-down is ultimately corrosive because it bases our sense of morality in pride rather than in love — in the cardinal vice instead of the cardinal virtue. And to fuel that pride, we end up looking for ever-more extreme and exotically awful people to compare ourselves favorably against, people whose freakish cruelty makes our own mediocrity show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off.

Melon morality is why if the kitten-burners didn’t already exist, we would have to invent them.

The narcissistic aspect of this phenomenon should be clear; these evildoers exist solely to demonstrate our moral worth. Pronouncing moral judgments, whether it’s on kitten-burners or Satanists or abortion-providers or racists or whomever – it’s a child’s game and has nothing to do with serious moral inquiry. I can’t even be bothered with calling evil acts evil, not because I do not believe them to be so. On the contrary, they are prima facie evidence of the reality of radical evil for those who think such a thing nonexistent. I do not bother with such labeling because it has nothing to do with understanding how an evil event took place. Whether it’s a mass murder, a serial child-rapist, or a terrorist attack, we get absolutely nowhere if we call such things “evil” and figure there is no more to be said, done, or thought.

What is far more important, and far more troubling, is investigating how human beings no different from us can engage in acts of radical evil, whether that is kitten-burning, serial murder, or genocide. To those who complained of the alleged silence of “the left” on the moral status of terrorist acts, I can only wonder how they could miss the equally vicious idea, bandied about by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, of “collateral damage” during the run-up to the Iraq war. Precisely because it is the embodiment of Arendt’s notion of the banality of evil, creating bureaucratic phrases hides horrors. Of course Rumsfeld was talking about the unintended, but nevertheless forseeable, deaths of thousands during combat. Not to see the moral viciousness of such a phrase is far more troubling than refusing to say that killing thousands with airplanes is an evil action.

Precisely because pronouncing moral opprobrium upon acts that are morally evil is so easy, it should be avoided. Whether it’s denouncing sociopathic adolescents or dictators, our intellectual and moral effort should aim toward understanding in order to prevent, rather than standing on some kind of pedestal, calling perpetrators of such acts evil. We should be willing to engage in the far more dangerous, and personally risky, task of keeping evil acts squarely within the possibilities available to any and all human beings. That takes real moral imagination, and is far more necessary in an age when genocide is commonplace and war has become our new normal.

How Do We Make America Great “Again”?

Trump's answer to how he would restore "The American Dream". Photo courtesy of ArdvarkianStan on Imgur

Trump’s answer to how he would restore “The American Dream”. Photo courtesy of ArdvarkianStan on Imgur

As with my post on another site concerning the United Methodist General Conference, I hope this is my one and only time I write about our upcoming Presidential election. Disgusted by the whole thing, I have tried to ignore it as much as possible, waiting for the autumn when there are two candidates to start caring.

All the same, the incessant nattering about Donald Trump and his slogan about making America great again has driven me past the point of distraction. I am really curious and want to know from people who think Trump is going to do something to “restore the American dream” or “make America great again” what, exactly, that means for them. Because, you see, I don’t think America was ever as “great” as folks imagine it was at some mythical time past. At the same time, there are actual metrics to which we can refer in regards to specific areas like friendly business climate, infrastructure, political freedom, etc.

[W]hen one looks at infrastructure, life expectancy, family paid leave, health care, social mobility, income inequality, political corruption, government efficiency, economic stability, childhood poverty, student debt, water quality, education, prosperity, happiness and even Internet speed, one finds the U.S. absent from the top 10 “best countries” in every single instance. While the U.S. continues to have the largest economy in the world and by far the biggest military budget, in most categories relating to prosperity, security, happiness and well-being, the great American empire falls somewhere between the developed and the developing world.

But don’t take my word for it. As the ancient philosopher Plato once observed, beliefs without justification aren’t knowledge, and justification requires evidence. So, let’s take a gander at some statistics from various sources, beginning with the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Swiss not-for-profit foundation that’s “independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests.” According to the WEF, the U.S. fares as follows relative to the rest of the world: 16th in quality of overall infrastructure, 22nd with respect to competition, 33rd in terms of public institutions, 34th in terms of ethics and corruption, 35th in terms of health, 58th in terms of primary education, 67th in terms of security and 73rd in terms of wasteful government spending.

In terms of the WEF’s overall “global competitiveness index,” Switzerland comes in first with a value of 5.7 (out of 7), followed by Singapore with 5.6, and then the U.S., Finland, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands all tied with 5.5. So, not terrible overall — yet conservatives would cringe at the thought that we’re tied with multiple “socialist” countries for third place. As it happens, though, the U.S. is far behind such countries according to other international rankings. Forbes, for example, ranks the U.S. as the 22nd best place for business in the world, with countries like Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Finland above us. Eventhe Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Economic Freedom leaves the U.S. out of the top 10, placing Hong Kong, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and Denmark at the top.

In terms of “prosperity,” a concept that includes factors like governance, education, health, personal freedom and the economy, the London-based Legatum Instituteranks the U.S. 11th, with Norway, Switzerland, Canada and Sweden being the most prosperous. We’re also ranked 13th in the world with respect to social mobility, or the freedom for underprivileged individuals to climb the social ladder and become successful. The result is that, as Politifact confirmed in a “Mostly True” rating from 2013, it’s actually “easier to obtain the American dream in Europe” than it is in the U.S. Take a moment to let that sink in. According to the research that Politifact cites, “Of the 10 countries studied, the United States had the strongest link between parents’ education and a child’s economic, educational and socio-emotional outcomes … more pronounced than in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Nordic countries, as well as Canada and Australia.”

Social mobility is important in part because studies show that “a lack of wealth does make poor people sadder,” and social immobility prevents those without wealth from acquiring it. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. isn’t among the top 10 happiest countries. According to the most recent data, we’re the 15th happiest country in the world, behind Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and our gentle neighbor to the north, Canada. Another factor relevant to happiness concerns the overall empowerment of women, who constitute 50.8 percent of the U.S. population. As the Global Gender Gap Index reports, countries like Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark score the best, while the U.S. ranks a shameful 20th. Yet another happiness factor relates to the prevalence of childhood poverty. Here the U.S. ranks 34th out of 35 countries considered by a recent study. Sadly, this is consistent with a 2014 report from Johns Hopkins that found that “teenagers in Baltimore face poorer health and more negative outlooks than those in urban centers of Nigeria, India and China.” Other studies have revealed that rates of PTSD among inner-city residents in America are “as high or higher than [rates among] Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam veterans.”

As they say, read the whole article. Just to highlight some things, imagine the reality in which allegedly socialist hellhole Denmark has a better business climate than the United States. Let it sink in there is greater social mobility in pretty much every other developed country in the world than in the United States; that is, after all, “the American dream” – the ability to live more comfortably over time, and provide for our children to do so even more.

As things would have it, there is a candidate who offers real policy solutions to address many of these metrics. While not getting nearly the press Trump receives, Bernie Sanders wants the US to improve its infrastructure, to make receiving a college education easier, and to enact policies that would create real wage increases as well as decrease the wage gap between workers and upper management. So why aren’t all you folks who want to make America great again supporting Sanders?

Of course, as Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out, being socialist is no protection from racism. There is ample evidence of this in the news, as Sweden prepares to expel up to 80,000 people seeking political asylum and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity has plummeted as she opened the country to Syrian refugees. As racism is the original American sin, its violent evidence for all to see as young African-American men will more likely wind up in prison than in college; as police continue to remain above the law even as they maim and kill African-American suspects with impunity; as it seems perfectly acceptable to tell African-American actors, directors, and producers to shut up and sit down and remain in their place; with all this it would seem that along with improving our physical and social infrastructure, we have also to educate a whole lot of folks on the realities on ongoing white supremacy.

There is also the gender gap in pay; the depth and extent of rape culture; and the ongoing denigration of women in various professions that make it clear that we still have a lot of work to do to regarding gender economic and social equality. Everything from providing paid parental leave for both parents, universal day care, to more flexible work scheduling to passing equal pay laws would go a long way toward decreasing the ongoing second-class socio-economic status of women. I wonder if a President Trump would support or propose these real, concrete steps to make America great?

I’m really quite curious about all you folks who shout and carry on about how horrible it is to live in the United States right now. Are you referring to all the ways America actually represents a crumbling formerly-developing nation? Are you willing to support candidates who will work to make the changes necessary to improve our standing in the world in real, measurable terms? Or does carrying on about “Making America Great Again” mean something else to you?