Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday Musings: Memories of Grandmother

The other night my grandmother climbed up a ladder to retrieve some canned berries.  Then she suggested to my wife that they should use candied ginger and canned mushrooms to make breakfast.  My wife shrugged, accepted the offer of a More menthol cigarette, and got to work.   I haven’t dreamed about my grandmother in quite a while.  I think of her less often while awake too.  The truth is that I have to think pretty hard to even conjure up her voice in my head.  But she is still there, lurking in the recesses of my mind and waiting to pop out on random Saturday mornings as I get that much anticipated extra hour of sleep because of the kindness of my wife who neither cans berries nor smokes More menthol cigarettes but does get up early with the kids every Saturday.  My grandmother has been dead for more than fourteen years, but she and those canned mushrooms she used to give me are still there.  My kids know about both already.  But they will never meet her.  Neither will my wife.  Despite dreams of the old woman sliding down a ladder like a fireman, my Grandmother is gone.  Some little scraps of memory, augmented by various artifacts, will persevere.  But she is gone.  That is what happens to all of us.  We leave varying amounts of artifacts behind, but over time we mostly fade away.  Even a Presidential museum does not preserve a person … just their things, their accomplishments, and images, both still and moving.  They, the Presidents,  are not still moving … which is what I think about whenever folks talk about American individualism and decry most attempts to put value on the collective rather than its individual parts.   All that glorious individuality mostly disappears … and what doesn’t lives on because of the collective and its memory.  What is still moving are the people who look at the pictures, watch the videos, and visit the museums … the rest of us.  Us.  Not me or you.  Us.  It’s wisdom my grandmother reminded me of early Saturday morning … wisdom that we might all do well to keep in mind.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Free Friday: The Limits of Freedom

It is worth remembering that none of us is truly free.  We are all constrained, in one way or another .. or quite a few others.  For many of us money is a constraint.  Most of us have at least a few moral constraints ... for example I don't feel free to go around killing folks.  Most people are constrained by their relationships with other people.  I have two children, and as much as I love them I have to say that they can be constraining.  I also don't make very many important decisions without consulting my wife.  I don't really have co-workers, but many folks have to work with other folks ... and often feel at least a bit constrained by them.  I am constrained by my citizenship.  I have agreed to follow the laws of the land and to go along with the decisions of the majority of my fellow citizens on a number of issues including who should be our elected representatives.   I also have agreed to respect the rights of my fellow citizens.  My freedom can't infringe on their freedom.  My freedom, like their freedom, is partial.  Now, even though it is partial freedom, even though it is limited by all these constraints, it is still meaningful.  It is meaningful, and it is balanced with other considerations like safety, quality of life, equality, and fairness.  It is real.  It can be protected and used.  The bottom line is, when you see your freedom for what it is you can take full advantage of it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Theology Thursday: This World is Heavenly

A lot of folks need a new religion.  One that doesn’t see all humans as sinners trapped in an imperfect shadow of a world and eagerly seeking passes to the next one … the perfect one.  If you give it a chance I think you will find this world to be harder to understand than you thought, more confusing than you ever dreamed, and pretty darn remarkable.  Keep your eyes open.  Keep your ears open.  Keep your hands out … keep reaching out.  And if the next world comes, you should be just fine there too … because you let yourself be just fine in this one

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

W-etiquette Wednesday: Sandy Hook as God's Response

If you’re God, what do you do when people take you out of schools?  What do you do when people start calling Christmas Trees “holiday trees?”  What do you do when people turn your son’s birthday into a consumer spectacle?  What do you do when men start marrying men just because they love them?  What do you do when more folks actually start thinking that trying to do right by each other is what really matters?  I think it goes without saying that you would set it up so some six and seven year old kids can get gunned down in their classrooms.  You’d also probably lob a killer storm at the East Coast.   That makes perfect sense.  I can see why people are linking these events to taking prayer out of schools and removing nativity scenes from city parks.  Who really believes in a loving God.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuneful Tuesday: Good Gardener/Bad Soil

John Darnielle captures my state of mind in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings when he sings:  

"This song is for the soil
That's toxic clear down to the bedrock
Where no thing of consequence can grow
Drop your seeds there
Let them go"
(Mountain Goats - Cotton)

I know this is an overreaction on my part, and a cliche one at that, but as a parent I can't help thinking that the 'soil' in which my 'seeds' are somehow managing to grow isn't the best.  I can't help wondering if my skill as a 'farmer' is entirely beside the point.  I can't help wishing I could apologize to my children and have that mean something, even though I would be apologizing for something "I can't and won't feel sorry for."  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Musings: A Gun For Teacher

I just can’t believe that anyone is really making the argument that it would be a safer country if more people were packing heat.  And I can’t understand what sort of person watched the coverage of Friday’s massacre of six and seven year olds and reached the conclusion that what we need is for elementary school teachers to have guns in their classroom.  I can think of nothing better than a loaded gun in close proximity to little kids.  I can think of nothing better than every idiot out there who now just snarls and gestures at me when I don’t drive fast enough having a gun to make their point more clearly.  What planet do you people live on?  I really want you to stop making these silly suggestions unless you have some small bit of evidence to back them up.  And data from Australia in 1998 doesn’t count.  Even if you find evidence, I still want you to stand in front of me, look me in the eye, and tell me that everyone out there that you want to arm with a gun is going to correctly perceive danger and use that gun to act in a level headed and measured way to address the danger.  The idea that the solution to controlling violent crime in the country with more guns than any other is to increase the number of guns is utter and complete nonsense.  Arming everybody is not the answer.  You don’t need guns to protect you from the government.  Obama isn’t coming to get you.  The time has come for us all to get serious.  We aren’t getting rid of guns.   We also don’t need assault rifles.  We do need common sense regulations on who can purchase a gun and how they can purchase it.  The time for channeling John Wayne and Tombstone is over.  It's time to step out of the fantasy and into reality, and to deal with that reality rationally, logically, and together.

Monday Musings: "Without Representation"

“Without representation.”  These are two very important words that folks seem to forget.  The American Revolution was not a fight against taxation, it was a fight against taxation “without representation.”  The idea is not that it is wrong to contribute to roads, bridges,  schools, and the like … but that it is wrong to contribute to those things and have no say in their planning or construction.  We now have representation, so taxation should be OK.  Since taxation is OK, we can stop it with the no tax pledges and the opposition to any tax and allow our elected representatives to get down to the business of working together to solve our financial problems with every tool at their disposal.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Free Friday: The Freedom To Not Get Shot

Freedom is a funny thing.  It’s one and it’s many.  It’s simple and it’s incredibly complex.  It’s huge and it’s microscopic.  It’s wonderful and it’s horrific.  If you are stuck in traffic and are going to miss the traditional family caroling adventure, then it feels as if it was right there in your hands and has been snatched away.  If you are in a field of flowers on a sunny day and can see all the way to the horizon and seemingly beyond, there are no limits to it.  If you are in a political science class or, god forbid, a Constitutional Law class, it is under the microscope and divided up and dissected in innumerable ways.  When you see your letter to the editor in the local paper or can go to the local polling place and vote for the first African American President, it is truly beautiful.  When you learn that five year old children have been shot to death in their classroom, it is so ugly it is hard to accept.
Freedom is an amazing and wonderful thing, but like most amazing and wonderful things it is incomplete, imperfect, and capable of disappointing and hurting us.  No one is truly free.  It just isn’t possible.  Fundamentally, if I am perfectly free than you are not.  My freedom is not independent of yours.  My freedom isn’t even fully compatible with yours.  The freedom that exists in a world of independent individuals is illusory, so we have all agreed to give it up.  We have decided that there are particular freedoms that are important, so we surrender other freedoms to come together to protect those that are most important … most fundamental.  Even within a society, however, the freedoms we seek to protect can clash.   So, we are forced to negotiate about how our freedoms will intersect and interact.  That is why no freedom is absolute.  That is why our government can impinge on any freedom, even the most fundamental, if there is a good enough reason.  My freedom to say whatever I want can be limited if it puts you in harm’s way.   My freedom of movement is restricted by your right to have property and privacy. 

So, this begs the question, on a day when we mourn the lives of children gunned down in their classroom by a man using guns that his mother legally owned and might have purchased at Walmart, why do we act as if your right to own a gun trumps everything else, including my right to live and breathe?  It really is pretty simple.  The imposition on my freedoms and rights of your being able to own an assault rifle or purchase a gun at Walmart without going through an extensive background check, mental health evaluation, and training regimen is just way too great.  It is not justified by a cultural connection to hunting, by a Constitutional Amendment aimed at maintaining an active militia, by a crime ridden neighborhood, or by a powerful lobby.   

Freedom can be a hard thing to grasp … a hard thing to deal with.  Dead children are hard things to deal with too.  Putting limits on people’s freedom to own and operate guns, however, should not be hard at all.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thistle Thursday

Eeyore has always been my favorite denizen of the Hundred Acre Woods.  He isn't entirely powerless, too young, too empty headed or likely to end up with diabetes, too bouncy, too long winded, too motherly, or too anal with vegetables.  He is gloomy, slightly depressed, and entirely pessimistic.  He has even been followed by a dark cloud.  He is not, however, a dark cloud himself.  He is a good friend to Pooh.  He is open to diversity, becoming good friends with his polar opposite (Tigger).  He is even a doer (albeit at a slow pace) ... being a whiz at Pooh sticks and sometimes even able to find his own tail.   Most of all, he is a cold realist ... a fan of reason, even when it is more than a bit depressing to be one.  Throw in the voice, and you have George Carlin meets Henry Kissinger meets James Earl Jones.  It's what we need the most right now, a cute and likeable guy who tells it like it is in a voice you want to listen to.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

W-etiquette Wednesday: Four Way Stops

I'll make this simple.  If someone gets to a four way stop before you they get to go first.  Period.  All the time.  It doesn't matter if they got to the intersection after you, you who were behind another car that was actually at the stop sign.  If they get to the stop sign first, then you have to wait.  You don't get to follow the car in front of you through the intersection.  You aren't teammates.  And it doesn't matter if you have somewhere to go, or are late, or are driving a want to be monster truck with testicles hanging off of the trailer hitch.  You still have to wait for the stay at home dad in the miniature mini van.  Sorry.  Often life is complicated, but this isn't one of those times.  Not getting this is kind of like not understanding that evolution is real, not understanding that the Constitution increased the power of the Federal Government, not understanding that Obama was born in Hawaii, not knowing that Paul Revere was warning the British, not allowing people to marry whomever they want , not ... oh, I get it now.  I guess that's why we have horns in our cars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuneful Tuesday: Republicans are Human Too

Republicans are worried about backing off on their no tax pledge and settling for something less than closing down the Federal Government in order to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff.  They seem ready to be reasonable, to enter into a compromise and even to admit it.  They just seem unsure as to what they should tell their more Libertarian and Tea Partying followers.  Well, I want to help out and I know just what they should do.  They just need to look to the Human League for guidance … and here is what they should say:
Hey, person who thinks government is evil and the earth was created in six days complete with dinosaur fossils, dry your eyes.  Wipe those tears away.  We don’t want to see you cry.  We wouldn’t try to hurt you, we just needed to talk sense for a while in order to avoid economic oblivion.  We’ve made some mistakes, after all we are only flawed humans born to sin.  We really do long to be back in your arms.  Heck, maybe the tears you all are crying aren’t tears of pain.  Maybe they are only to hide your guilt and shame.  Maybe you’ll forgive us and ask us to forgive you, because maybe while we were off solving problems you were human too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Musings: All or Nothing

Statements that start with “all” or “always” are usually wrong.   

All killing is wrong.  It sounds great.  “Thou shall not kill.”  Problem is, sometimes it is necessary.  And the thing is, no one really disagrees … but still lots of folks say that abortion is wrong simply because it involves killing.  It might be wrong, but if so it is because it is not an instance when we can justify killing and not because it involves killing.

All taxes are bad.  This sounds great too, until you realize that without taxes there is no collective and no society.  If we don’t contribute to the collective, why should we have a collective?  And, for the record … the Boston Tea Party was about taxation WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.  Just so you know, we have representation now.

Anything now done by the government could be more effectively done by private enterprise.  The free market is always the answer.  This is all silliness.  It is hard to see how anybody could believe any of this.  It is clear that the key to economic success is a partnership between government and business, and instead of wasting our time in the realm of absolute silliness, we should be talking about what the ideal nature of this collaboration should be.  As far as the free market goes, that was debunked long ago as the ideal solution to every problem.  Need I say “child labor’ or Upton Sinclair?

All Muslims are terrorists in waiting.  The truth is, if you are going to go with this than there are some equally unflattering things we ought to say about Christians.  And we better not get started on all White Folks.

I think you get the idea.  The world has a bit of nuance to it.  It can be frustrating, but it is the truth.  Dealing with the truth, leads us to cooperation, collaboration, compromise, and solutions.  Living in a black and white fantasy world leads to self righteous satisfaction and one impasse after the other.  I’ll take the truth, at least most of the time.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Free Friday: Renouncing the Pledge

Dear Elected Representatives,

If who have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, We the People relieve you of that obligation.  If you need to raise taxes to solve the problems facing this country, you are now free to do so.  We would like you to use your knowledge, experience, and skills (the reasons why a bunch of us voted for you) to do whatever you feel you need to do in order to carry out your responsibilities.  If we disagree with what you do or we feel that you have duped us and become a different sort of representative then you led us to believe before we voted for you, we’ll let you know and fewer of us may vote for you.  That’s what elections are for.  The only pledge we require of you is that you promise to do your job to the best of your abilities.  So … have at it!


We the People

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thoreau Thursday: The Individual is Voting In Lockstep

If you see America as the culmination of the success of a lot of individuals doing what is best for themselves, how do you justify voting in lock step on every issue with everyone else in your party?  We know every Republican doesn’t agree on every issue and that every Republican doesn’t believe that government and taxes are always bad.   So why do they suppress their individual beliefs for the good of the collective?  Why is it OK for the Republican Party to use the threat of supporting a rival in the next primary to keep folks from supporting health care reform, but not OK for the government can’t use fines to encourage environmentally responsible behavior?  Compromise to save the environment or provide medical care is horrible, but compromise to save the Republican Party is OK?  I suppose whatever It is that allows a person to criticize a fellow Republican for “impure thoughts” for considering raising revenue to reduce a deficit, also allows them to fight hard to protect embryos and stem cells but dismiss the murder of women and children by remote control planes as collateral damage.  So, while it may be hypocrisy, it’s also really useful.  An individual certainly should be able to do whatever is best for themselves … even if it isn’t always what’s best for themselves.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

W-etiquette Wednesday: Those Damn Liberals

Life would be better if people would stop lacing their political arguments with one or more of the following: liberal, leftist, radical, conservative, wacko, Jesus freak, socialist, pinky, left leaning, etc. etc.  You add nothing to your argument by saying “how can you leftists think that Obama‘s plan will do anything but add to our deficit?”  Besides, it isn’t nice.  Why don’t you just say that Obama’s plan will add to the deficit?  Why do you have to call me names?  Is your argument not good enough on the merits?  I know that manners and cooperation are antiquated relics of a time gone by, but I like them.  I also like logic and reason, and I think none of them go well with half hidden insults.  If you have a point to make … make it.  If you want a name to call me, I’d prefer the name my mother gave me.  If you don’t know that, go with “fellow American,” or even “hey you.”   I can’t stop you from being juvenile, but you can … so would you mind?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuneful Tuesday: It is Raining in Baltimore and Everywhere Else Too

It might be "raining in Baltimore fifty miles east."  But it is right in the nation's capital that "The circus is falling down on its knees" and the "the big top is crumbling down."  I listened to "Raining in Baltimore" by the Counting Crows as I was ignoring the crumbling children in the back seat midway through a twelve hour road trip, and it made me think of the political mess.  There are "no answers" and there is "no change" and "everything else is the same."  Adam even gives us the solution, although I might start with a little love before went right to the "big love."  I, however, feel and am as powerless as Adam to do anything but wait for "a phone call" or "a rain coat."  "Maybe I should buy a new car.  I can always hear a freight train, [i]f I listen real hard.  And I wish it was a small world, [b]ecause I'm lonely for the big towns.
I'd like to hear a little guitar.  I think it's time to put the top down."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Musings: Obama and Gift Giving

Obama did win because he handed out gifts.  Romney was right.  Of course, so was Obama.  Elected officials should give their constituents things which improve their lives, things like citizenship, medical care, and renewable energy.  The goal should be to benefit the majority of your constituents, and not just a few.  It would seem to be hard to get elected if you don’t do that … but of course that isn’t the case.  You don’t have to give people the things that make their lives better if you convince them that there is something or someone they should be afraid of … or something that they should be angry about.  Then, all you have to do is take money from the few people whose interests you do take into account to fund this deception, vow to take care of the invented threat, and chuckle as people forget their own interests.  This, of course, is why there is a Tea Party, a Birther Movement, “love it or leave it” bumper stickers, and so much talk of “socialists” and “radical liberals.”   The only way the Republicans can sell many of the extreme positions that they have recently adopted, is to use fear and anger.  They seem to have given up on even pretending to give people what they need, forcing them to take a different approach … and criticize the people who are trying to provide folks what they need as gift givers.  I think that the holiday season is a good time to start appreciating, and even demand, gift giving … even from the people we have elected to look out for our interests.  Maybe Republicans will start agreeing with Romney about how you win an election, and then start acting on that conclusion.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Taxes Pay for Stuff

We came together in societies because we couldn’t thrive as individuals.  Taxes are how we contribute to that collective effort.  Taxes pay for shit that you use.   If you want to go back on your own, be my guest.  If you are going to stay, can you please drop this nonsense about never raising taxes and get serious about each of us doing our part to help solve the real problems we are facing?  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Voting For America

I love America.  I love it for what it is, what it has always been: an imperfect collective enterprise.  The Republican Party of 2012 has a very different vision.  For that reason, for the first time in my lifetime, I won’t give any consideration to voting for a single Republican candidate.  I don’t mean any disrespect to those who will be voting for Republicans, I just can’t reconcile the differences between the vision of the Republican Party for this country and my own vision of what this country has been, what it is, and what I would like it to be.   

I love this country, warts and all.  I don’t need to pretend that it is something it isn’t.  I don’t need to pretend that it is perfect.  I don’t need to overlook Jim Crow, the detention of Japanese Americans, our role in supporting despots in several continents, our misguided war in Iraq, our use of torture, or our current rankings in education, infant mortality, and violent crime.  I’m not threatened if my President acknowledges any or all of this, or even apologizes for it.  On the contrary, it makes me proud.  America isn’t perfect.  It isn’t always a beacon for freedom and democracy.  It isn’t always in the right.  That’s just the truth.  Good leaders acknowledge the truth.  Good leaders make me proud. 

I am proud of my country and I love my country, so I don’t have a problem acknowledging that other people love their countries.  I don’t have a problem acknowledging that other folks have reasons to love their countries and reasons not to love ours.  Not acknowledging that there are economies that are growing as fast or even faster than ours, cities that are as safe or even safer than our cities, health care systems that work as well or even better than ours, or young people that are getting as good if not a better and more affordable education than our young people doesn’t make it all untrue.  It just makes us obnoxious, self righteous, self involved bullies.  The truth is that America isn’t any more perfect than any other country.

Maybe I love my country because I’m not perfect either.   I don’t claim to be the only one who loves my country, or to love it for the right reasons or the only reasons.  I also don’t think that part of loving America is agreeing with me.  Part of loving America, for me, is being willing to raise my voice in opposition and being willing to listen when others do the same.  I’m not perfect and my country isn’t perfect, which means there are problems to be dealt with and I’m not going to be able to do it by myself or just with folks who agree with me on every issue.   I don’t love my country any less because I recognize its deficiencies or believe that they can only be addressed through collaboration, cooperation, dialogue, and discussion.

I do love my country, though, and I do want to address those problems.  I want to use logic and reason to solve them.  I want to rely on science.  My country is not on a world that is flat or was created in six days.  My country is not threatened by a communicable disease caused homosexuality.  My country is threatened by climate change.  My country is filled with animals that evolved rather than being created as they now find themselves.  My country evolved. 

My country is still evolving.  That is what I love about it.  There is a minimum wage.  Children don’t work.  Women can vote.  Slavery has been abolished.  There aren’t still drinking fountains for colored people.  There aren’t still Jim Crow laws, and when echoes appear in voter ID laws or in the actions of ‘monitors’ identifying voter fraud mainly in minority precincts in contested states … enough folks protest to warm my heart.  It makes me believe that in the future people won’t be called out as terrorists because of their religion, seen as less than full citizens because of their accent or skin color, and denied rights because of who they choose to love.

I love my country even if everyone doesn’t think homosexuality is right, maybe even because everyone doesn’t think homosexuality is right … as long as those preferences don’t intrude on people’s rights.  I love a place where folks can tell each other their morals are wrong, I don’t like a place that can bring the power of the courts behind those religious and moral preferences.

I do love the power of the state.  We all do.  That is why we joined a society.  That is why we abandoned the Articles of Confederation and rejected the Confederate Constitution.  That is why we like paved roads, bridges that don’t fall down, police forces that protect our children, health care for our families, and a helping hand  when we have fallen behind.  I don’t see that there is much to love about a state that leaves us at the mercies of the market and corporate interest, while telling us what we can do with our bodies and who we may marry.  I don’t hate government.  I love it.  I love the promise that rests within it, unfulfilled as it may be … the promise that rests at the center of America … the promise of equality of opportunity … the promise of a fair shake.

I love my country because of that promise of a fair shake, above just about everything else.  I love the idea of that fair shake, because underneath it is the idea of a common goal.  I love my country because underneath the John Wayne me-first veneer, I see something else.  I see it in the footage of folks marching over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  I see it in the stories of the Boston Tea Party, the crossing of the Delaware, and the winter at Valley Forge.  I see it in the flickering light of television screens the world over when Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon.  I heard it in Al Michael’s voice as he asked “do you believe in miracles?”  I felt it in my bones when a Black man was elected President.  Talk all you want about the independent streak in the American character.  I see something else, something more important.  I see a togetherness, as tortured and imperfect as it may be, and that is why I can’t vote for a party that denies it.  I can’t vote for a party that doesn’t acknowledge, let alone love, America as it is.  That will change.  I won’t have to boycott the Republican Party in 2014.  It may be na├»ve of me, but I am sure of it.  I love this country too much not to be.  For now though, it is what it is … and so is love.  So, I’ll be voting for Obama for President, and against the Republicans in every other election.  Don’t hate me for it … I’m just staying true to my vision of the country I love.  What about you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beware of Belgistan

This video represents the sort of fear mongering I can really do without.  I had it forwarded to me as from an otherwise thoughtful person who saw it as "food for thought."  This is a problem, because it is complete nonsense.   It connects with many Americans, however, because there is so much ignorance and fear regarding Islam.  My first reaction was to wrinkle my nose at such ignorance, rant at my wife for a few minutes, and move on to something else.  The problem is, when I do that, there is that much more chance that it won’t be countered.  It becomes that much more likely that everyone who knows better will simply look down their noses at fools who would believe such foolishness.  No one can be faulted for believing nonsense as long as those of us who know better fail to identify it as nonsense.  So, I offer up the following brief response.  It can’t hurt.

There are a lot of problems here, but the first one is that we get a twisted picture of the Muslim presence in Belgium.  Muslims are about 25% of the population of Brussels, but about 6% of the population of the country as a whole.  The Muslim population is centered in the cities.  The total Muslim population of Europe is supposed to be a little over 8% by 2030.  In Belgium it is estimated to be just over 10% by 2030.  So, the situation is not quite what it was represented as being in the video.

Second, the rate of growth of the Muslim population is falling.  This is because Muslim immigration is leveling off and the birth rates of Muslims in Europe are falling.  So, there isn’t a population explosion on the horizon and talk of the “high Muslim birthrate” is misleading at best.

Third, the Muslims in Belgium, as is true of Muslims everywhere, are not a unified and homogenous group of folks.  The Muslims are mostly of Moroccans and Turkish descent, with sizeable groups of Albanians, Pakistanis and West-Africans.  They practice different strains of Islam, and have different beliefs and cultures.  They are highly unlikely to be a unified force with a single agenda.

Fourth, the focus in this video is on what they call a fringe group, but then go on to use as a source for information on Islamic Law.  This would be like talking to someone like Fred Phelps about Christianity (Fred).  It isn’t any fairer to treat this radical as a spokesperson for Islam than it would to treat Fred Phelps as a spokesman for Christianity. 

Fifth, the things that are said about Islam in here are mostly false.  There is not just one Sharia, just as there is not just one understanding of the role of Sharia in the practice of Islam.  The Sharia that has relevance in Western countries is centered on family law, and does not involve chopping hands.  It is the same sort of religious law practiced by Jewish folks in Western countries.  Islam is not fascism.  If you want to claim it is, the least you could do is define fascism.  Islam is also not undemocratic.  Islam is not any more inherently incompatible with democracy than Christianity.  Islam has a strong tradition of lay leadership, community input into decisions, personal and unmediated interactions with God, and critical thinking, particularly in the law. 

Islam is a religion.  Within Islam there is much diversity of ethnicity, race, ideology, and belief.  Some Muslims are radicals bent on your destruction.  So are some Christians.  Most Muslims are ordinary people trying to support their families and enjoy their lives.  When you portray Muslims as radical fiends bent on conquering the world you say more about yourself than you do about Muslims. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dear Mr. President ... here is some advice for that next debate

Dear Mr. President,

I have a suggestion as to what you should say at the next debate.  Here it is.  “Good evening my fellow Americas.  I hope you will excuse me if I dispense with the niceties and get right to the point.  Governor Romney and I have very different visions of what American is and what it should be in the future.  I want to fully reveal those differences for you tonight, so that you can know what your choice is on November 6th.    In the last debate I tried to do that by simply laying out my record and my vision, leaving it to Mr. Romney to do the same.  Unfortunately, he did not do that.  He chose, instead, to distance himself from his own positions and lie about mine.  I don’t know if that is because he is now abandoning positions he took during the primary season in a craven attempt to get the votes of a particular group of Republicans so that he can appeal more to independent voters, or because he simply doesn’t want you to know what he believes until it is too late.  It really doesn’t matter.  I’m not going to let him do that this time.  If I have to I will present you with my positions and his positions.  If he says that I put 90 billion into green energy, half of which went to failed companies, I will point out that 29 billion went for energy efficiency and 18 billion for fast trains and that half of them did not fail and in fact fewer have failed than anticipated in the legislation.  I will also assert that money spent to combat the very real problem of climate change is money well spent.  If Mr. Romney says that his health plan, whatever that is, includes coverage for pre-existing conditions I will point out that it doesn’t.  If he asserts that he isn’t proposing 500 trillion dollars in tax cuts, I will list off all the folks that say he is and I will point out that of course he will be able to do this and lower the deficit because he plans to eliminate all sorts of spending that is critical to the lives of folks in the middle class and really in every class.  If Mr. Romney says that I don’t give credit to folks who succeed by creating their own businesses, I will point out that I do but I also give credit to the role that all of us play in the economic success of our country.  Mr. Romney, you are on notice.  In this debate, you will have to come clean to the American people about what you want, details and all.  If you don’t do it, then I’ll do it for you.  The American people deserve the truth.  They deserve candidates who will simply spell out their beliefs and records and leave the choice to them.”  Mr. President, I beg you to say something like this and then go on the offensive.  Don’t let Governor Romney get away with lies.  Don’t wait for the next day to stand up to him.  Don’t worry about your likability or about being cast as the angry black man.  Give us enough credit to see through all of that nonsense, and make a stand.  We’ll do our job if you do yours. 


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

We should all be able to agree ... inappropriate reactions

We should all be able to agree that in the immediate wake of tragedy, before we know all the facts including who has been killed and by whom, all politicians should be expressing is sadness.  Certainly, we should be able to agree that it’s a little too early to start lying.  We should, but apparently we can’t.  Or at least Mitt Romney can’t.  Before the Ambassador’s death had even been reported Mitt was on the attack.  The US Embassy in Egypt had condemned those who would assault the religious beliefs of others.  How dare they!  Now this was an attempt to respond to Muslim indignation over a You Tube film.  It came before the attack on the Libyan consulate.  After the attacks on the Libyan Consulate and the Egyptian Embassy, the US Embassy in Egypt condemned these attacks, as did the Department of State.  That was not important to Mitt, because he could just pretend that the attacks had happened first.  He had to say something, I mean how dare US Representatives sound like they appreciated anyone else’s perspective!   America should erupt into righteous indignation anytime anyone is angry at us.  God help us if we start caring why folks are upset … or if we start waiting for the facts to react.  They’re all evil and we’re good, so we’ll shoot them.  It’s just easier to yell at folks then to be patient and understanding and aware of the greater context.  It’s easier, but it’s not the right thing to do.  And we should all be able to agree on that.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Yes, I am better off than I was four years ago

I am better off than I was four years ago.  There is absolutely no doubt about it.  I now live in a country that has rehabilitated its international image.    I live in a country that no longer sanctions torture nor writes off whole countries and even religions as evil.  I live in a country whose leadership seems to have rediscovered the value of conversation, compromise, and collaboration in foreign policy and placed them back alongside confrontation as legitimate alternatives.  I live in a country that is no longer involved in two wars, and is on the path to being involved in zero wars.  I live in a country that now allows all of its citizens to serve in its armed forces without hiding who they are.  I live in a country where health care is available to more people than has ever been the case before.  I live in a country where much of the leadership takes climate change and other environmental issues seriously.  I live in a country whose top manufacturers of automobiles have been saved from ruin and placed back on the path of profitability and success.  I live in a country that is crawling back from a crippling economic downturn as housing markets begin to rebound and unemployment stops going up, despite the best efforts of many politicians to stall economic recovery for their own political gain.  I am saddened at the hate that has accompanied the election of a Black President.  I am outraged that a financial crisis caused by ineffective regulation has spawned calls for deregulation and small government.  I am worried about the slow creep of an intolerant form of Christianity into the places of power.  I am maddened by the politics of ad hominem attacks and appeals to fear and hate.  I am dismayed at the increasing rejection of science.  The bottom line ... we are not in a good place, but it is far better than where we were four years ago and the way to move forward is to reelect Barack Obama.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rushed logic: Limbaugh, Gabby, and Racism

If you spot racism, you're a racist.  Liberals spot racism all the time, so liberals are racists.  Isn't it wonderful logic?  It is the thesis of this rant by Rush Limbaugh (Rush).  Sometimes I just have to shake my head at the twisted shit people come up with.  This, though, is pure brilliance.  If you make a big deal about something being racist, then you recognize racism and thus are racist.  It's a perfect response.  If someone claims they didn't get a job because they were black, you criticize them for being focused on race.  If someone says they were beaten to death by white people trolling for blacks to harass, they would be a racist ... and a zombie.  I suppose that couple that wasn't allowed to get married because they were of different races had it coming ... those damn racists!  I do have one concern, though.  How does racism get identified?  It must exist, or the folks identifying it couldn't be racist.  But who would want to identify it?  Maybe they are taking one for the team.  Maybe they are so ignorant that they don't realize they are racists.  Maybe they are confused by the tortured logic.  I know I sure am.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Michelle Obama scolds Gabby Douglas

In this country, the news gets produced and we are all complicit in that production.  Want an example?  Michelle Obama appears on the Jay Leno Show with Gabby Douglas.  Gabby Douglas makes a comment about eating an Egg McMuffin at McDonalds and the first lady makes a joke.  She's really teasing Leno and not Gabby.  Somebody who is "exposing and combating liberal media bias"  reports exactly those facts, and then plasters on this headline: "Michelle Obama scolds Olympic hero Gabby Douglas for eating an Egg McMuffin."  (A Scolding)  Next, folks read the headline without glancing at the article and start criticizing the fat socialist un-American First Lady for attacking a true American hero.  It's really pretty sad.  And just to be clear, that headline is a lie.  The folks who read it without caring enough to read the story let alone do five seconds of internet research perpetuate the lie.  And the rest of us who do nothing about it, even when much more is at stake than an Egg McMuffin, have no one but ourselves to blame.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Enough is Enough

I’ve had about enough.  Haven’t you?  The time has come to demand some changes in American politics. 

First of all, a bit of respect, humility, and empathy need to be interjected into the debate … into every debate.  We need to stop tolerating the use of insults and snide remarks, whether they come from political candidates or ordinary folks on the internet.  I’m not evil, un-American, or a socialist because I disagree with you. 

Second, we need to follow up with a rediscovery of cooperation, collaboration, and compromise.   Why have we allowed working together to get such a bad name?  Problems don’t get solved if we don’t work together to solve them … the position taken by the House of Representatives over the last two years makes this pretty clear.   

Third, people need to be reminded about the importance of evidence.  If you don’t have it, you need to be told to stop.  The Sikh temple in Wisconsin was not attacked by the government seeking to discredit the NRA.  No one wants to kill off old people.  The President is not waiting for just the right time to open up welfare to anybody who wants it regardless of what they do.  In the end, this one is on all of us.  If you require evidence before you buy into a claim, people making claims will have to provide it.

Fourth, we need to insist upon the use of logic and reason.  Evidence is great stuff, but if you can’t process it accurately what use is it?  If the financial crisis was caused by insufficient and/or ineffective regulation, does it make sense to respond with a push for deregulation and small government.  Does it make sense to assert, against the scientific consensus, that evolution is unlikely or climate change is illusory?  Logic needs to trump ideology.  If it doesn’t, the result will be … illogical. 

Fifth, when elected politicians, business leaders, lobbyists, reporters, and others lie they need to be called on it.  Now, folks are sending out lies, watching them rip across the news and internet landscapes changing opinions and helping to win elections among other things, and then avoiding any real consequences for having told them.  This needs to stop.  And while it may well be unstoppable, it seems like the attempt would be rather worthwhile.

Sixth,we have to keep an eye on the long term impacts of what we do in the here and now.  Job creation is great, but what kind of jobs are we talking about and at what price do they come?  Taxes are horrible … unless there is a benefit to be had from improved infrastructure and reliable social services.  The present is important, but so is the future.

If we were to put a priority on these six things, everything could be different.  It seems to me like it’s worth a shot.  Whatever we are doing now certainly isn’t working.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Shhhh ... I'm Talking About a Revolution

I’ve had about enough.  Haven’t you?  It is way past time to change the tenor of the discussion on a host of issues.  First of all, a bit of respect and humility needs to be interjected into the debate … into every debate.  We need to stop tolerating the use of insults and snide remarks, whether they come from political candidates or ordinary folks on the internet.  We need to be more empathetic (now that’s a family value worth talking about).  Second, we need to follow up with a rediscovery of cooperation, collaboration, and compromise.   Why have we allowed working together to get such a bad name?  Individual rights are wonderful things, but we don’t have to fight to the death on every issue to maintain them and we can’t forget that in the end we are a society and not just a random gathering of individuals.  Third, we need to insist upon the use of logic and reason.  If you want to insist that evolution is unproven and we have no impact on our environment, you should be laughed out of public life.  If you want to make an argument, you simply have to support your conclusion with real premises.  You have to offer some proof.   It should never be enough to attack your opponent’s patriotism or play on peoples fear by invoking bogeymen like big government.  Fourth, we have to keep an eye on the long term impacts of what we do in the here and now.  Job creation is great, but what kind of jobs are we talking about and at what price do they come?  If we were to put a priority on these four things, everything could be different.  It seems to me like it’s worth a shot.  Whatever we are doing now certainly isn’t working.  So, I am on a new crusade.  I want to encourage folks to insist on empathy, cooperation and compromise, logic and reason, and consideration of the big picture.  To put it simply, we deserve at least that much.   

Monday, August 6, 2012

How to Comment on a Political Issue

Before you make a comment on something whether on-line or in person, why don’t you try doing these few things.  First, listen to or read whatever it is you are commenting on.  Second, actually try to understand what you just listened to.  Third, assume that the person or persons responsible for whatever you are responding to are reasonable people with legitimate interests, concerns, and viewpoints.  Fourth, think about what you want to say.  Fifth, imagine including all those nasty and snarky comments, and then don’t actually include them.  Sixth, come up with a conclusion and evidence that supports it.  Seventh and last, don’t plug up your ears and/or cover your eyes when you open your mouth or start typing on the keyboard.   It might seem like a pain to do all of this, but having to read your comments when you don’t sucks too.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

True Love For America

The United States of America is unique.  It is one of a kind.  It’s not uniquely free, however.  It’s not uniquely democratic.  It’s not uniquely just or right.  It’s not uniquely educated or prosperous or crime free.  It’s certainly not uniquely old … or uniquely new for that matter.  What sets America apart isn’t any of this stuff … what sets America apart is its extreme diversity.  No other country can boast about such radical religious, cultural, racial, or ideological diversity.  It is the contributions of all these folks that have made this country strong, prosperous, innovative, and interesting.  Now, this diversity hasn’t always been celebrated.  In fact, America’s history is a history of resistance to this diversity.  It is a history that includes slavery, internment camps, hate crimes, lynchings, and border fences.  Nonetheless, the diversity persists.  I think that is a wonderful thing.  I love America not despite but because of its Chinatowns, its rainbow flags, its store signs in Spanish, its temples and its mosques, its soul food and its sushi, its blues and country music, its fasting and its festivals.  If you don’t … then you don’t really love America. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blind Love

Your wife is the most beautiful woman in the world.  Your son is a combination of Einstein, Pele, Yo Yo Ma, and Bono.  Your hometown team is always on the verge of the Super Bowl.  So, naturally, your country is number one too.  It is a beacon of freedom.  It is all powerful and all desired.  How could it be any other way?  How could it be … except, of course, it is.  More than forty countries have lower infant mortality rates than the United States.  More than twenty five countries have lower homicide rates.  The US ranks in the low twenties in life expectancy.  The United States gets an “average” ranking from the OECD in terms of education.  We aren’t tops in literacy.  We are fifth in the use of the death penalty, behind only Yemen, North Korea, Iran, and China.  The bottom line … we aren’t number one.  The fact that I recognize this doesn’t mean I hate the United States.  My kid is not going to be Michael Jordan … he’s three and I’m already fairly sure of that.  That doesn’t mean I love him any less.  I will be a Detroit Lions fan until the day I die, but I have never once thought they were on the verge of winning the Super Bowl.  Recognizing that the United States doesn’t get everything right, or lately much at all, doesn’t mean I don’t love the place.  It just means I see it for what it is … and love what it is.  That’s more important when it comes to countries and children than it is football teams … because while there isn’t much I can do to make the Lions better I can help my children to succeed (although there is probably little I can do to help my son snag an NBA contract) and I can help solve the problems facing my country.  Before I can help my country, or my children for that matter, I have to be able to admit that something is wrong.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love my country.  On the contrary, it probably helps to prove it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

It's Constitutional Bitches

There is a problem with Patrick Gaspard’s tweet.  It’s not the course language, however.  I’m not bothered by swear words.  I’ve always been more interested in substance … and frankly I enjoy peppering my speech, and even writing with, more than a few choice words.   Why the hell not?  I’m also not overly concerned that Gaspard’s tweet will serve to stir up and unite Republican opposition.  They’re pretty stirred up already. 

The problem is that this comment by the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee just plays into the high school football narrative that has been allowed to linger far too long.  This shouldn’t be about which side wins.  The main goal shouldn’t be too crush the liberals or the conservatives.  We don’t need pep rallies and cheerleaders.  We need meetings and mediations, logic and reason, listening … Sure you want your party to succeed, but what happened to focusing on whether or not we fix the problems that are facing us, among them a health care system that every serious person agrees is broken?  Republicans have been focused on denying Obama any sort of success on health care, or anything else for that matter, seemingly unconcerned with any negative effects that approach might have on the country.  It didn’t matter if he borrowed their general approach or essentially compromised with himself when he sought out the middle ground.  Democrats in the House were initially pretty unconcerned with listening to any legitimate Republican concerns, or with compromising … they had the majority, why would they compromise?  Compromise and collaboration are signs of weakness after all … ineffective and inessential distractions that make you less likely to be victorious.

The goal isn’t to solve the health care problem.  The problem is to use the debate over health care to destroy the other side.  Someone serious about solving problems would have been happy with the Court’s decision because a framework for helping fix our medical system had been left in place.  The focus would not be on who won or lost.  It would not be on gloating or trying to deny credit.  The focus would be on how to alter and add to the new framework in the manner that most fits with one’s approach to fixing the problems facing American and improving America’s future prospects.   The focus would be on solving problems.  Unfortunately, that’s not where the focus is now.  And that is nothing to celebrate.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

John Roberts ... Traitor?

According to some folks who are disgruntled with the Supreme Court’s ruling on ‘Obamacare’ the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is a traitor.  This is a truly unfortunate claim for a couple of reasons. 

First of all, the word “traitor” in this context brings with it the suggestion of treachery not just to conservatives or the Republican Party, but towards America as a whole.  People who disagree with you are not traitors.  Calling them traitors is lazy, stupid, and not any part of a productive discussion of anything.  I think people who want to use military force on Iran are completely wrong, but I don’t think they are purposely trying to destroy or betray the country so I wouldn’t use that accusation as a part of my argument that they are wrong.  I would just rely on real evidence. 

Second, this use of traitor assumes that one should have a pretty strong allegiance to one’s party.  Many folks seem to be assuming that these days.  It has appeared to be the case that more than one Republican leader has placed the good of the party above the good of the country.  That’s really the only way to explain the last two years of ‘strategy’ on the part of the republican leadership in Congress.  A continued economic depression seemed to be seen as a small price to pay for the removal of Obama from office.  Party allegiance is important, but I think it has to be tempered a little bit more by allegiance to country and a commitment to addressing the problems facing the country.

Third, Supreme Court judges are not supposed to vote along party lines.  They are actually supposed to apply the law of the land.  Chief Justice John Roberts is not supposed to check with Republican Party leaders before he writes his opinions.  The judiciary, after all, is a separate branch. 

You don’t have to agree with the Supreme Court’s decision.  You shouldn’t, however, go around calling it treachery.  That is lazy and irresponsible.  If you are going to reach a conclusion on this, try and make it one that is supported by actual logical premises rather than name calling and innuendo.  Then we, your fellow citizens who disagree with you, might be able to do the same and, wonder of wonders, we might even find ourselves in a dialogue.  I don’t think that would be too vile.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Free Yourself and We Can Follow

When logic fails, claim to be at the mercy of public opinion.  This is an old last resort for the practitioners of one of our oldest professions.  “Gee, I’d like to be able to go along with you on this one, really I would … but look at how my constituents feel.  You can’t expect me to go against their wishes, can you?”  It sounds reasonable enough, until you think about it. 

First of all, we don’t have a representative democracy by accident.  The men who founded our country were worried about the majority dictating policy, so they went with a system where policy could be decided by knowledgeable and fair minded folks who are guided but not completely ruled by the opinion of their constituents.    It’s a great system, unless the elected representatives refuse to ever make unpopular decisions. 

Second, since when is “geez, that’s what those people think” a good argument?  If you are old enough to remember Members Only Jackets and Parachute Pants, I shouldn’t have to say much about the folly of believing that popularity is evidence of anything besides popularity.  If you’re not that old … what about “Jersey Shore”? 

Third, and most important, you aren’t at the mercy of popular anger if you purposely arouse it.  If you tell people that healthcare legislation is a plot by socialists and fascists to kill old people and turn us all into homosexuals, then chances are they won’t favor it.  In fact, many will be very vocal about opposing it.  Those who favor it are likely to raise their voices and boost their rhetoric in response.  This is how the space for compromise and cooperation is destroyed.   This is why in between elections little gets done.  Folks do indeed get elected, but very few problems actually get solved. 

So, if someone starts taking some responsibility for public opinion rather than blaming it, we might start solving the problems facing our country.  There are two ways to do this.  One is for the elected representatives to stop using public opinion, and start informing it.  The other option is for the public to start informing their own opinion.  Either way, we need to stop using public opinion as proof of anything but the opinion of the public.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Uncommon Decency

If you see someone you know
You say hello
If someone falls to the ground in front of you
You check to see if they’re alright
If someone says thank you
You say you’re welcome
If someone graduates from college
You say congratulations
If two men tell you they’re getting married
You say ...
What do

Monday, June 25, 2012

I want to be free

I want to be free
Not to own a gun
But to walk the streets without the fear that I might be shot with one
I want to be free
Not to make a billion dollars
But to feel like I make enough
I want to be free
Not to stop other people from marrying
But to be happy in my own marriage
I want to be free
To join with others to eliminate abortion
Without raping women in the process
I want to be free to
To welcome people to my country with open arms
In their language
I want to be free to
Invest my money
Drink my water
Take my medicine and
Not die or end up on the streets or both
I want to be free to disagree with you and
Still be your fellow American
I want to be free to talk with you
To compromise with you and
To solve problems with you and
Still be committed

I want to be free
How about you

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Obama and Golf

Stop it with the golf already.  Really.  I don’t care if the President plays some golf.   No one should.  We need to stop talking about things like golf, birth certificates, and dogs.  These aren’t the key issues.  If you want to criticize the President because he hasn’t invaded Iran, that’s fine.  That’s an important issue.  Plus, a substantive argument like that can be addressed, answered, debated, and even discussed (if that happens anymore).   If you want to talk about golf why don’t you talk about Tiger Woods, and leave serious discussion about politics to more serious people.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Better Line

Obama put in place a freeze on the deportation of some immigrants who came to the United States as kids.  Republicans responded by saying that Obama should have let Congress take action.  Ha!  The truth is he waited far too long for Congress to take action on a number of fronts.  Congress, led by a Republican majority in the House, did everything it could to obstruct any legislation at all but that which would have been completely unpalatable to the President.  The President stood around alternating between glaring and saying please a lot.  Nothing got done.  Eventually he figured out that if anything was to get done he had to do it himself.  So, that is what he is doing.  And now the Republicans in Congress tell him that he should be working with them?  They’re going to have to come up with a better line than that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

V#$#%$ spells vagina

“It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women … I would not say that in mixed company.”  What word was this state representative in Michigan reacting to?  What word was it that got another state representative barred from the next debate just for using it?  What heinous word is this?  Well … it is … (recoil in horror) … vagina.  What a horrible thing to say … especially in front of men!  I mean, come on, clearly the more appropriate word is pussy.  Relax … I’m just teasing, I know that it’s not appropriate for adults to talk about our own private parts, especially when it’s an event that women and men are allowed to attend together at the same time.  The nerve of that woman!  Especially in a debate about abortion.  What was she thinking?  Just because she has one she thinks she can talk about it?  Outrageous!  This seals it.  I am moving back to Michigan right away, because they clearly have their priorities straight.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Neshaminy Strike: Let's Get Real Part II

It is awful that you lost your house.  It is hard to raise children on the money that you make working part time as a waitress.  I am sorry that you have to contribute so much to your health plan.  That being said, none of that has anything to do with the contract dispute between the teachers and the school board in Neshaminy.  If the board doesn’t have enough money, that matters.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have enough money.  It doesn’t matter if a teacher makes more than you do or has better health care.  The focus needs to come back to what the district can afford, what the teachers need, whether the teachers are bearing more of the burden of a shortfall then they should, who is responsible for the shortfall, should teachers get credit for teaching the last four years, etc..  The problems you are facing on the home front are important, but this contract dispute is not the place to solve them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Neshaminy Strike: Let's Get Real Part I

Barrett Oterson took her daughter to Walter Miller Elementary School to help her study … on the grass while teachers picketed nearby.  She was joined by other parents and their young ones.  Here is what she told the paper about what she was doing: “My daughter kept asking me, ‘Why aren’t we going to school?’  So I said, ‘Why don’t we just go and have class ourselves.” 

Now, let’s be real about what Ms. Oterson was doing.  She was using her kid to send a message to the teachers.    This wasn’t about keeping her education going, because she could have done that at home.   It wasn’t about her daughter’s question, if it was even asked, because I’ve dealt with that one myself and I didn’t need to take my daughter to the school to answer it.  All I had to do was talk to her in a general way about how people get paid to work and sometimes disagree about what they should be paid.   What she accomplished was impressive … she got her side a nice picture on the front page of the paper.  That wasn’t even all she did.  She risked the safety of her daughter to do it (there were death threats and cars swerving at picket lines) and introduced an interesting dimension into her daughter’s relationship with her teachers.  Now, that might have been worth it in order to get an advantage in a conflict with teachers … but let’s not pretend it had anything to do with educating her kids.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

J.D. Mullane ... More of the Same

J.D. Mullane certainly has a formula for success, and he is most definitely unafraid to use it.  Mullane’s approach was on display once again in Thursdays Bucks County Courier Times(Facts of Life).  This time the topic was sex education rather than light bulbs, but the plan of attack was the same.

First, single out an individual or group for ridicule.  This time it was young people attending Sexual Education Day at Bucks County Community College and the program itself.  He set up a young man by telling him that monogamy was natural, and then gleefully waited for the testosterone laced response … and probably just as gleefully typed it in.  The program itself was artfully set up as a gay related boondoggle whose impact can be summed up with a description of kids giggling at atable full of colorful condoms.  The program leader was a mechanic, who was obviously another elite snob focused on “knowledge” rather than “truth.” 

Second, throw out some irrelevant data and pseudo facts.  This article was heavier on pseudo facts and unexplained philosophies then irrelevant data.  There was actually no data at all.  Instead, Mullane waxed eloquent about the difference between truth and knowledge, but never really explained what he meant.  He expressed his preference for babies over birth control, and though he said he understood why not everyone shared his enthusiasm it would have been nice if he would have understood why that was a ridiculous choice to even ponder.  Are we to understand that sex is only about babies?  Is this a choice we really want to present to a young person?  Do we want fourteen year olds choosing babies?  Are we really to believe that sex education is meaningless because the young people here could answer most of the questions that were asked and there is a lot of porn on the internet?

Third, Mullane covers up the holes in his philosophizing with a bogeyman or two.  The big, unwieldy, and threatening state is here … after all sex education is state mandated.  Obama and Obamacare were lurking about too.  “Free condoms!  Oh boy!  Who needs ObamaCare when you can get free birth control at the community college.”  Who needs logic and reason when you can include “Obama” in a sentence and attach all that thoughtless negativity to whatever you oppose. 

J. D. Mullane is witty and sarcastic.  He is also illogical and interested in fear mongering.  Above all, though, he is predictable.   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The J.D. Mullane Template for Commentary

J.D. Mullane has a great template for commentary.  It’s simple, good for laughs, and creates the illusion of expertise without requiring too much annoying research.  It even has the added benefit of allowing you to stick to your beliefs irrespective of facts.  It’s really a great thing … for the commentator.  If you want to see how it works, all you have to do is take a look at Mullane’s piece on light bulbs in yesterday’s Bucks County Courier (Article Link).
First of all, the most important ingredient in any J.D. Mullane piece is mockery.  He almost always sets someone up to bear the brunt of his satirical approach.  His victim in Tuesday’s piece was some poor young man working to raise awareness for an environmental organization.  His crime, aside from talking with J.D. Mullane, was pronouncing Earth as “Erf.”  That created the thread that tied the whole piece together.  He ended with a call for “greenies” to redistribute wealth and to do it “for Mother Erf.”  Very funny. 

Second, you need to fill the piece with numbers.  None of these numbers need provide any actual support for your argument.  That would be too much work, and besides it’s not necessary.  For example, you can ridicule the legislated change in light bulbs simply by mentioning the high cost of a particular type of light bulb, without getting into the issue of long term savings (which you can dismiss by saying your old) or the prices of the wide range of alternatives.  Those facts would weaken the argument, so why mention them.  The goal, after all, is making your viewpoint seem to be the most logical one. 

Third, since it is possible that folks might see through the barrage of data or be turned off by your nastiness, you need to make sure your piece is filled with plenty of bogeymen.  It is always a good idea to supplement unrelated or incomplete facts with appeals to fear and anger.  Mullane is a master at this.  His favorite bogeyman of late is President Obama.  Mullane admits that the legislation he is opposed to came from the George W. Bush, but he still manages to precede that admission with this gem: “even when we buy light bulbs, hope ‘n’ change gets us tangled in paperwork.”  Nothing scares folks more, and/or gets them angrier than everyone’s favorite foreign born, Muslim, socialist, dog eating President.  So, even if he has nothing to do with the issue at hand, it’s probable that he wishes he did and that ought to be enough.  People hate him too much … that just has to get taken advantage of.  The same is true of big government.  No one really knows what it is, but everybody hates it.  Mullane knows it, and takes advantage of it.  This mess is the work of that big government guru George W. Bush.  Mullane is so good that he even works in redistribution, although I have to admit that I’m not sure how.  Hat’s off to him though … I mean it’s not everyone that could make light bulbs be about Obama, Big Government, AND Redistribution.  It’s too bad he didn’t see the state sponsored religious discrimination or the influence of Maoism.

J. D. Mullane is a talented writer.  That much can’t be denied.  Unfortunately, he’s either incapable or uninterested in the application of logic.  He prefers to make use of fallacies … personal attacks, appeals to fear, slippery slopes, etc.  I suppose, however, I can’t blame him.  He has a template that works.  Why wouldn’t he use it? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


If you think you can put your hands on it
Read it to me or
Run it up the flag pole
Then you don’t have it

If you think you can find it with a gun
Then I hope you never do

If you think it’s fallen down from above
Like manna from heaven
Fully formed and ready to sustain us
Then you haven’t been in the kitchen yet and
I doubt whether you’ll be of much help if you ever make it there

If you think it’s that warm feeling you get in your chest
When you sing one of those songs
I’d like you to be right
I’d like to be there with you
One voice among many
Hands in the air
Eyes closed
Held in the cacophany
For always and ever
But I know I’d only last an hour or so
Before I’d want to
Listen to something else or
Nothing at all
Before I’d want to open my eyes and
Look for it somewhere else

If you think it can be wrestled to the ground
Bestowed from above
Discovered only in the faces and beliefs of some people
Purified or
Who knows what else
Then I know that you’re wrong
You think the fact that everyone is looking for it
Means that it can be found

Farry, Harry, and Normalcy (Frank Farry, Harry Arnold, and the Write-In Campaign)

State Representative Frank Farry has done what most politicians would have done when faced with Harry Arnold’s write in candidacy.  He has tried to out maneuver him.  Harry Arnold isn’t on the ballot as a candidate for the 142nd house district … no Democrat is.  Mr. Arnold is trying to get himself onto the ballot in the fall, however, by mounting a write in campaign.  In order to be on the ballot in the fall he needs to get at least three hundred write in votes, and he needs to be the top vote getter among ’Democrats.’  Farry has called this a “tactic” perpetrated by “partisan Democrats.”  He hasn’t limited himself to name calling and attacking the messenger, however.  He is mounting his own campaign to be written in on the Democratic ballot.  He sent a letter to Democrats asking that they write him in, and handed out a similar appeal to Democrats at the entrances to polling places.  I guess Mr. Farry is a ‘non-partisan Democrat.’  I guess Farry didn’t consider questioning Arnold’s commitment to the race and the position, all the while making it clear that he will welcome Mr. Arnold to the race if the voters decide he should be in it.  That would have made Mr. Farry appear confident, capable, and focused on the issues and on his constituents’ wishes.    It would have, however, not been the normal course of action for a politician.  Frank Farry is a normal politician, which is a shame since I think we deserve  something more.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Allen West is a Communist

Allen West said: "I believe there's about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party."  Allen West is wrong.  Allen West is wrong on a number of levels.

First of all, no one currently serving in Congress is a Communist.  West’s campaign manager defended the accusation, since "[t]his group advocates for state control over industries, redistribution of wealth, reduced individual economic freedom and the destruction of free markets."  Of course, we don’t have to get into a debate as to whether those things constitute communism because they aren’t true.  Not a single member of Congress has advocated for the destruction of free markets.  Not a single member of Congress is really advocating state control over industry.  State assistance for troubled industries … yes.  State direction of the kind involved in minimum wage laws … yes.   Sustained state control … no.  Almost everyone advocates for the “redistribution of wealth” at some level, so to throw that out as an accusation is a little silly.  If you think there is no place for social security, welfare, or taxes of any kind … then go ahead and make that accusation.  Otherwise, it would be best if we laid to rest accusations of communism, socialism, and fascism. 

Second, this is really just name calling.  Calling someone a communist, a socialist, a fascist, or a radical liberal accomplishes little.  It tells us nothing about the issues.  It provides no support for any argument.  It does little to foster the kind of cooperation and collaboration necessary for problem solving.  There is no place for this sort of behavior, and the folks that indulge in it probably have no business being elected to public office.

Third, this is more than just name calling.  Allen West is appealing to people’s fear and anger rather than appealing to logic and reason.  He knows the baggage that the word “communist” brings with it, and he is trying to dump that baggage onto his political opponents.  He wants folks to reject the communists out of hand rather than listening to their arguments and potentially forcing Mr. West to come up with a real argument as to why they are wrong.

Fourth, Allen West is playing the ‘enemy’ card.  Democrats are the ‘enemy.’  They are the ‘other.’  They can’t be real Americans, because what real American is a free market hating communist?  This of course means that they can’t be compromised or collaborated with.  Who would collaborate with the enemy?  I don’t see Allan West as the enemy.  I see him as a fellow American who I happen to believe just has it wrong on a number of issues.  I don’t have to question his citizenship, goodness, or motivation to show why I think he is wrong.  I can give real honest to goodness reasons why I think he is wrong, reasons based in … well … reason and logic. 

The bottom line is that Allen West should not be representing Americans in Congress.  No one that thinks Muslim points of view “represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established” should be representing anyone anywhere.  He is spewing insults and hate, and there is no reason that the people of Florida, and the people of America, can’t do better than that.