Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Something to think about as the 'Romney lies' campaign gains steam

Recently, the Daily Caller, a conservative website, released the full--approximately 40 minute--video of a speech Barack Obama gave on June 5, 2007. It was at Hampton University, when Obama was still a senator. Apparently, the only version of the speech previously available had been a truncated one, about 9 minutes in length.

I didn't pay much attention to the story, as the focus of it seemed to be Obama's cringe-inducing propensity to fall into a speaking style he reserves for primarily black audiences--not exactly news.

But as Thomas Sowell's most recent column (linked below) points out, Obama stirred the crowd's outrage during this speech by suggesting quite clearly--I went back and listened to the relevant section--that the federal government waived the Stafford Act requirement (that disaster-affected communities kick in 10% of the amount the feds spend) for New York City after 9/11 and for victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida, but not for victims of Hurricane Katrina. There is no way to misinterpret his clear suggestion that such unequal treatment was due to racism.

The problem? It wasn't true and Obama knew it wasn't true when he said it. He had in fact voted, a mere two weeks earlier, against a bill which included a provision to waive the Stafford requirement. Presumably, he voted against the bill because its primary intent was to provide continued funding for the Iraq war, but the point is that he knew the bill had passed and that it waived the Stafford requirement.

I am not suggesting that there were no legitimate reasons for Obama to want to fire up his audience, but when people give themselves a pass for deliberate deception in pursuit of their objectives, how can one not suspect those objectives, as well as the motives behind them? It is disturbingly similar to Obama's having fabricated people and events in his autobiography, because he apparently felt factual truth was less important than the 'story' he had to tell.

What Obama did was lie (and it's not his only one--the well-documented, deliberate and repeated lie about his mother's health insurance troubles comes to mind) and it's worth keeping in mind, as his campaign and its friends in the media move forward with their new tactic of branding Romney a liar.

If someone can recommend an unbiased examination of what the Obama campaign deems deliberate debate falsehoods, I'll certainly read it, and am not claiming there weren't any. But as the old adage goes, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

This may need to be cut and pasted:


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Put your thinking cap on....

One of the books I reread every few years is C.S. Lewis' 'The Screwtape Letters.' I enjoy the device, the humor, and the sharp insight into human nature. For anyone unfamiliar with the book, it's a short compilation of letters--half of a correspondence between Screwtape, a senior devil, and his nephew and protege, Wormwood.

Wormwood's task is to secure the damnation of a particular young man, and we discern his progress, or lack of it, by reading the letters of advice from his uncle. As many times as I've read it, something always jumps out at me, and this time, it was Screwtape's musings about how much progress they and 'their father below' have made by encouraging a desire in humans for continued novelty, with one advantage being that they are never satisfied.

Screwtape goes on to say that the thirst for novelty 'is indispensable if we are to produce Fashions or Vogues' of thought, and explains that the 'use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.'

This got me thinking, as it might anyone, including those who do not attribute the course of history to a spiritual struggle between good and evil. I wondered, quite apart from cause, if this were a true observation--that the popular outcry is against dangers which are not really dangerous, and the acclaimed virtue is a step away from a corresponding vice. If so, what would they be?

The second half of the problem, in our time, seems obvious to me. The most loudly acclaimed virtue of the day is 'tolerance.' And who would disagree that it is a virtue? But while any objective measure shows that tolerance has greatly increased, we seem only to hear about when it is perceived to be absent or imperfect. The actual fruit of the movement to promote (enforce?) tolerance is _intolerance_ of anyone who does not say the correct thing, or has any opinion that can be characterized as intolerance and thereby discredited.

Examples abound--the hate (some of it quite visceral and ugly) directed at Dan Cathy by the supporters of tolerance because they refused to...tolerate...him having an opinion about the subject of gay marriage that they didn't like. No matter that no evidence existed of his ever having actually discriminated against anyone; it was his beliefs which were such an affront to them that he couldn't be allowed to have them in peace.

Another example is the ongoing effort, most recently at the current UN session, to criminalize any expression deemed offensive to Muhammed or Islam. Quite apart from the rather thorny problem of who makes that determination, the practical result is 'promoting tolerance' by being...intolerant.

So perhaps Lewis was on to something. I am curious if anyone has other ideas about this? Other vices or virtues, now or in times past, that support the idea that 'each generation direct[s] the fashionable outcry...against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix[es] its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice [it masks].' I would think examples could be found in education (perhaps the self-esteem movement that has increased self-esteem but not accomplishment?), certainly in politics, in art?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

F-bombs and the death of common sense

Although the fate of 'Obamacare' is the most eagerly anticipated Supreme Court decision, the justices have been deliberating other cases, as well, and today announced an 8-0 verdict against the Federal Communications Commission's rules for censoring profanity and nudity on television.

Those rules applied only to certain types of broadcasts (the original fines levied were due to expletives uttered on awards shows by those two beacons of intelligence and good taste--Nicole Richie and Cher--along with the infamous Janet Jackson 'wardrobe malfunction') and a New York appeals court had ruled against the FCC, which prompted the appeal to the Supreme Court.

It's usually a good indication of the soundness of a decision when conservative and liberal justices are in agreement, and their finding that the FCC rules were "unconstitutionally vague" sounds right to me, under the circumstances. That does not translate, however, at least in my mind, to the proposition that 'anything goes,' in terms of profanity, whether it's on TV or in public.

Which brings us to Middleborough, MA, a community that recently made headlines by voting to issue citations for outbursts of profanity in public spaces, like the town park. This was already prohibited by law (no doubt a holdover from the days when communities mistakenly believed there actually was a standard of 'common decency' which they were within their rights to protect) but it was never enforced. Middleborough proposed to decriminalize the offense, allowing officers to write $20 citations, instead, much like parking tickets.

The outcry was immediate, of course, with hysterical cries about the abrogation of our sacred First Amendment right to free speech, and people speculating darkly that cops would be lurking in the bushes, ready to spring out and write a ticket if they heard the 'f-word' spoken into a cell phone during a private conversation.

Puhleeze... No one doesn't know what the problem here really is, because who hasn't gotten caught in a hailstorm of 'f-bombs' in a public place where, theoretically, one has as many rights as the ignoramuses who are polluting the air? I remember once being at a South Carolina beach, settling down for what I thought would be a lovely afternoon but leaving after 30 minutes because some meathead nearby had exactly one adjective/adverb in his vocabulary and it was 'f***ing.' As in, 'f***ing awesome,' 'f***ing lame,' 'he's a f***ing ***hole,' and so on. Since I couldn't ignore it, I counted, and he used some variant of the f-word over FORTY times in that half-hour. He was extremely loud, so tuning him out was not practical. (And if you think I'm overly sensitive, imagine yourself with your present, past, or future toddlers in tow, with them being subjected to this.)

This is what the town of Middleborough wants to stop, and while I think they will doubtless back away from the ordinance because someone with nothing better to do will sue them, why is it that we can agree on a community's right to fine people who allow their dogs to leave steaming piles of crap in a public place, but become paranoid if any attempt is made to limit the 'right' to make public spaces hostile environments in other, equally repugnant, ways?

I know, I know...it's because it's a threat to free speech!!!

I think our founders would be horrified to know that this protection they enshrined so that citizens could criticize their government without fear of reprisal has been subverted so thoroughly that people actually get passionate about their 'rights' to pornography and foul language. Benjamin Franklin's comment that 'only a virtuous people are capable of freedom' becomes more chillingly apt with every passing year.

I am well aware that a certain toleration of this kind of boorishness is the price we pay to 'hold a line' in defense of the right to free speech, but how have we gotten to the point where no method exists to promote a civil society because of the 'right' of crude, inconsiderate people to make public spaces unbearable for anyone but the equally crude? (If you suggest saying something personally to the offender, you are truly out of touch.) How have we gotten to the point where some parents will undoubtedly sue, rather than tell their foul-mouthed little angels to have some respect for themselves and consideration for others?

I think Middleborough should just go back to its Puritan roots and put up a set of stocks, and let the citizenry pelt the pottymouths with rotten produce. I know, I know. I guess I don't really mean it, but I can dream, can't I?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sandusky should get all 500 years

The trial of Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach at Penn State, on charges of child sexual abuse and molestation, has recessed for the weekend. The prosecution has been presenting its case, and will continue into next week. It will be interesting to see what Joe Amendola, Sandusky's lawyer, comes up with as a defense, since his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses seems to have consisted mainly of challenging minor discrepancies in testimony, and accusing 'alleged' victims of being motivated by the hope of financial gain.

As contemptible as that is, Amendola probably doesn't have much else, which is why I say it will be interesting to see how he defends his client, and whether Sandusky will take the stand. Amendola is probably no fool, and I suspect he did his best to convince Sandusky to take the best plea bargain he could get. The fact that Sandusky wanted to go to trial--knowing all the sordid and despicable things he did were going to be exposed to the public in graphic detail--speaks to the level of denial that must be operating in his psyche. That he even entertained the idea of being found innocent indicates how little conception he has of the damage he's done.

But even if he's in denial about how much, he knows he was wrong, and that's what matters. His own statements over the years--a letter to a mother saying he knew she would never forgive him, a statement to another mother that he 'wished I were dead'--make it very clear he knew he was doing harm. Compulsion is a terrible thing and a powerful master, and I've no doubt Sandusky was compelled by his impulses and, probably, a victim of the same kind of abuse, himself.

But that only explains him; it does nothing to excuse or absolve him. He was not an opportunistic abuser. He had a preferred type of victim and he deliberately put himself in a position to find them, then patiently groomed them for what in many cases was extended abuse. (I can only hope Amendola's suggestions to the victims, many of them fatherless pre-teens at the time, that they were somehow complicit by continuing to accept Sandusky's attention and gifts, keeps him awake at night.) Anyone who could plan to that extent could also have made the choice to seek help.

Any sex-related crime wreaks havoc on the victim, but there is a special heinousness to cultivating the trust of an emotionally needy child so you can use him for your own gratification. There are many, many people related to Sandusky's long history of child-victimization who will never be put on trial, but whose consciences should forever trouble them--Mike McQueary, law enforcement and university personnel alerted to trouble as far back as 1998, those mothers who failed to vigilantly protect their offspring and, I believe, Sandusky's wife.

But Sandusky, at least, can pay. Never enough, but such a thing isn't possible. As a practical matter, 40 years in prison would accomplish what's needed--that Jerry Sandusky spend the rest of his life behind bars--but conviction on all counts with a maximum sentence does something very important.

It validates the claims of every single victim.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What are the limits on "reproductive rights"?

I’m not asking the question because I think I know the answer. I don’t and, frankly, I don’t think anyone does. But those who say there are _no_ limits, are, I believe, simply wrong.

A well-known Oliver Wendell Holmes remark goes like this: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” It’s a simple, colorful statement illustrating that our rights are not unlimited, and that those limits exist because other people have rights, too. Defining the limits, of course, is the hard part.

Abortion provides probably the best example of how complicated it can be. One side frames the debate as solely about a woman’s rights, while the other believes the fetus has rights, as well, but is in the difficult position of being unable to speak up for them. I don’t believe a legal resolution to this issue will _ever_ be reached that satisfies everyone, and I understand, entirely, that interfering in a woman’s decisions in this arena—even for unimpeachable reasons—involves depriving her of a basic freedom. But would those who say it can’t be done, then, and who reject the idea that a fetus has any rights, pause when the other person’s ‘nose’ belongs to a living child?

Consider the case of a young couple in Ohio—Felicia and Cody Beemer. Mr. Beemer, 23, just pleaded guilty to raping his own 13-month-old daughter—while on a supposedly supervised visit at a child protective services facility, no less. The abuse was in the presence of—and apparently participated in by—the child’s mother, Felicia, who is 21. They recorded the assault on a cell phone, and a relative who saw it reported the abuse. The cell phone also revealed hundreds of images of child porn, many involving bestiality, and evidence that Mr. Beemer had also raped an 18-month-old nephew.

It gets worse. Beemer was a registered sex offender, having raped a 3-year-old child when he was a teenager. Mrs. Beemer, only 21, has already had four children, and every one of them was taken away from her immediately after birth. One of those children has already been murdered in foster care. I have been unable to find any details on the Beemers but, clearly, there must have been ample evidence of her unfitness for motherhood. No one has to point out to me that Mr. Beemer was very likely a victim of child sexual abuse himself, or that something has to be deeply, profoundly, wrong with a woman who would not only sexually abuse her own child, but preserve the evidence for later enjoyment. Who knows what kind of screwed up parents she was probably subjected to, or what happened to her to turn her into a monster.

But does any of that change what they’ve done? The death, destruction, physical and psychological trauma and blighted futures of three children? (As mentioned, one is already dead.) And yet, she has the reproductive “right” to continue to get pregnant, and continue to bear children.


Thursday, May 31, 2012

aaarrgh....is there anyone left who knows how to use an apostrophe correctly?!

I don't get too bent out of shape when people misspell, punctuate poorly, or use the wrong word, as long as it's in their personal communication. It pains me a little, because I like the precision and beauty of language, but not everyone has a facility for it, and they are not putting the mistakes out there in a public forum.

But in professional communications perfection should be the goal, and I am flabbergasted that people and businesses pay to print and distribute materials--not to mention display signs--that contain glaring errors. Is there really no one along this continuum--the writer, the manager, the owner, the printer--who can recognize that something is incorrect?

I was following a truck recently that advertised the services of its owner, a landscaper. Along with mowing, edging, and laying sod, there was 'prunning.' I'm sure this custom sign wasn't cheap--it was large and looked well made--and yet, obviously, at no point did anyone see this simple misspelling. Even if the owner couldn't spell, wouldn't you assume he'd ask someone to proofread before he spent hundreds of dollars on a sign that was his face to the public, so to speak? Or that there would be someone at this sign-making enterprise that would double-check for accuracy before they committed the goof-up to posterity or had to haggle over redoing it?

But it is the misuse of apostrophes (particularly, when they denote possession) that is starting to make me crazy, not just because it's ubiquitous, but because their proper usage isn't all that difficult to comprehend.

Menus are the worst offenders. Oyster's, martini's, and entree's, for instance. This leaves me wondering. Which oyster? Which martini's what? Olive, onion? And while menus represent less of an investment than a huge roadside sign, consider this one in my town: 'Cap't Bill's Backyard Barbecue' which is 'catered by the Musser's.' The apostrophe is used correctly after 'Bill,' because the backyard barbecue belongs to him. But what or who is 'the Musser'? And catered by the Musser's what??

Aaaarrgh...! It's really not that hard. If something belongs to something or someone, you indicate that with an apostrophe: the dragonfly's wing, Mr. Pettifogger's hat, the owner's name, Peggy's pet peeve.

If it's simply a plural, then leave it alone! Martinis, lunch specials, entrees, the Mussers. For you eating establishments out there, "Wednesday's special" is correct, but "Beer special's on Wednesday's" is not.

Okay, I feel better now and am ready to move on. I think I have a couple of shrubs I need to prun.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NC teacher tells student he can be arrested for criticizing Obama

If you haven't heard about it yet, an audio recording by a North Carolina high school student has gone viral on YouTube. He recorded an exchange (that's misleading--it wasn't nearly that civil) with his Social Studies teacher, in which she tells him that he could be arrested for criticizing the president. Apparently, she was suspended once the furor escalated, but for what hasn't been made clear. For 'teaching while stupid'? I don't know.

The focus has been on her obvious ignorance; the student pointed out to her that he had in no way threatened the president, he had simply countered her 'fact of the day' (that Romney bullied someone in high school) with a question--namely, hadn't Obama also admitted to bullying someone--and that he was only exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

There are many disturbing things about this episode. For starters, this was the teacher's 'fact' of the day?? From my reading of it, it's not undoubtedly a fact. Romney may indeed have been a high school bully, but was this teacher going to start a discussion about the Washington Post's incredible lack of journalistic ethics (putting words into the mouth of a supposed witness to the effect that he had 'long been bothered' about the incident, then simply altering the story rather than issuing a retraction when this man made it known he hadn't even been aware of the incident until the Post contacted him a few weeks earlier), or mention the fact that the 'victim's own family disavowed the Post's portrayal of him and the incident?

Something tells me...no. And then there is the atmosphere in the classroom and the way this woman interacts with her students. I taught high school for many years, and while there often were laughs and spirited discussion, at no time--ever--was I trying to teach or conduct a debate while shrieking, laughing, unrelated conversation, and general 'carrying on' reigned while I simply tried to shout over it. These kids clearly had no respect for this woman--but why should they? She had no control over her classroom because she had no control over herself. She screamed like a fishwife, cut students off and shut them up because she wouldn't tolerate being disagreed with.

And quite frankly, she was an ideology-driven dummy. What a waste of time for all involved with her. If you can stand her loud, grating voice, you can find the clip and listen, but towards the end, she smugly tells the students that, 'as a Social Studies teacher,' she can't 'allow' them to disrespect any president--past or current--only _moments_ after she has responded to the student's comment that people 'talked shit' about Bush all the time with the shrieking rejoinder that he (Bush) "was shitty!"

I'm sorry to say that, based on my own observations over a long period of time, very few teachers maintain the objectivity they should when it comes to politics and their students. Their job is to challenge students' assumptions and reasoning (whatever their opinions) so they can make them better thinkers. But, by and large, they don't. They freely try to influence, and it's safe to say that most of them don't have a sufficient level of self-awareness to realize they are profoundly wrong--even immoral--to do so.

This woman is a temporary embarrassment to the education establishment in Rowan County, NC, but she is a great illustration of why we are pouring tax dollars down a hole, shortchanging our young people, and falling ever farther behind the countries who demand the very best of their students and teachers.