Thursday, December 29, 2016

When prayers are not enough

I've noticed a serious lack of attention -- even within Christianity itself -- to Christian persecution in general, especially in foreign lands, and by Muslims.

This has become a glaring problem to some of us, with Christian churches usually led by clergy who choose not to acknowledge that Christian persecution is occurring in the world today, even though I know that it is. And let's be clear: by "persecution" we don't mean calling you names. We mean the worst kinds of persecution: murder, rape, enslavement, burning churches and homes, forcing people to flee their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It's like ethnic cleansing, or attempted genocide, but by religious affiliation.

You would think that of all the people that should care about that, it's Christians around the world. I don't see much evidence of that, however. And it drives me nuts.

In our church, I don't recall ever hearing a mention of this Christian persecution, even though I read about it on the Internet just about every week. Our sermons never mention the atrocities committed by Muslims against Christianity, both its people and its symbols.

Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities have been killed during the rise of ISIS, whether from military operations or various disgusting spectacles - filmed of course - including drowning them in cages, burning them alive, crucifying children, etc. It's subhuman and nauseating, yet it doesn't merit a mention? This is bizarre.

In Egypt, after the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 2011, mobs torched close to 100 ancient Coptic churches with the obvious approval by the authorities who looked the other way while the torches were lit. In Syria and Iraq, ancient Assyrian churches from the time of Jesus himself have been purposefully destroyed by ISIS.

These stories show up again and again in my news feeds, because I follow sites that show concern about the health of Christianity in a world filled with apologists who - please explain this to me - are compelled to complain about Donald Trump but not to criticize ISIS throwing gays to their deaths from tall buildings.

The lack of attention, likewise, has also become a glaring problem in the political world. President Obama rarely mentions Christian persecution, or persecution of other religions, by Muslims. He is, allegedly, Christian. Doesn't that seem a little odd? And defending religious freedom around the world is part of the job description, since our country was founded upon that idea, first and foremost.

This leaves me with only two possible conclusions: A) too many of our leaders are unaware of the persecution, or B) too many of our leaders don't care enough to even call attention to it due to fears of backlash from the Political Correctness police.

Neither is acceptable. But I'm pretty sure it's that last one. And that's shameful.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Flag burning

Donald Trump tweets that he believes flag burning should be against the law, and now everyone is in a tizzy.

Personally I have always been a little uncomfortable with the idea that burning the American flag is just another free speech issue, deserving of no special consideration.

Of course there are legal arguments, both for and against, and I understand them, to the extent that any layman can understand them.

I just don't find them very persuasive. And I don't find them persuasive because it's not just an analytical legal issue to me. It's visceral. It's visceral to a lot of people, most of whom, as it turns out, are not lawyers and don't really care what the legal arguments may or may not be.

To people like me, the flag represents more than freedom, it represents battlefield bravery and sacrifice and honor and heroism. Good people have died for it.

It represents generations past, who had no inkling of my future presence on this planet, but fought anyway, because they fought for the idea that freedom is worth fighting for.

It represents what is good about our nation and our culture. It reminds me that I'm proud of my country, and how lucky and thankful I am to have been born here.

It makes me think of immigrants who cherish freedom enough to emigrate here, and embrace the very uniquely American ideals of God-given freedom, and who have to wait years to become citizens and then take an oath of citizenship that makes them better citizens than many of us who are born here.

It reminds me of the several hundred thousand U.S. military graves in foreign lands around the world. Their loved ones have no grave to visit, without traveling overseas.

A flag is many things, but it is primarily a symbol. Symbols are physical things. They are not speech, technically speaking, so that entire line of argumentation using the First Amendment to protect burning the flag doesn't really make sense to me.

Symbols are vitally important within a culture. They endure when we do not. They represent something much larger than the self: history, culture, pride, legacy. I don't see what we as a nation gain by purposefully allowing people to publicly destroy our national symbol. Is it just so we can hold up the First Amendment that was almost certainly not meant to protect burning the flag in the first place? This seems a stretch. And there are already plenty of exceptions to the types of protected speech under the First Amendment.

Allowing people to act out like spoiled children provides us with nothing of value. I don't really care what the penalty is; make it a cash fine and move on. We don't need to publicly hang these morons, but they can damn sure pay a fine. We fine people for speeding. Is protecting our flag less important?

Sorry if that doesn't line up neatly with arcane legal arguments.

We have already endorsed the idea of exceptions to protected free speech under the First Amendment: inciting violence, libel and slander, obscenity, copyrights, and others. It's not a tiny list.

Can somebody explain to me why all of those things deserve exceptions to an "absolute" freedom, that isn't absolute at all, but the flag that our fathers, brothers, and sons have died for does not? I'm having trouble with that one. Forget the legal arguments, I need a moral and ethical argument on this one.

Exceptions to free speech already exist. So:
  • If you disagree with the concept of exceptions, and believe free speech is an absolute freedom, then you need to give all the reasons why you don't support any of those already existing exceptions. That's a lot of case history. Get to work.
  • If you agree with the concept of exceptions, and believe that free speech is not an absolute freedom, then you need to explain how all those other things are important enough, but our flag is not
That last one is the case that nearly every advocate of flag-burning is making.

I have some trouble with it. Boiled down, they are saying: "free speech is not absolute, because we cannot allow inciting violence and other exceptions, but flag-burning is okay".

I just cannot buy that. And burning our national symbol that we fought wars to protect is not really "speech", to begin with. Does this look like speech?

The legal reasoning for exceptions to absolute free speech are apparent:  we must make those specific exceptions because protecting some types of speech as absolute freedoms could cause anarchy, injury, and infringe on the rights of others. In very limited cases, it's worth some restrictions to gain some public good. This is pretty easy to comprehend.

And the flipside is that in all other cases, we gain more public good by having no limits on free speech. Again, easy to comprehend.

But what do we gain by allowing people to burn the flag without a penalty of any kind? It's not like there are no ways to protest the government or make your opinions known. That's what the freedom of speech is for. That's why it's there, right there in the First Amendment. That's how you do it.

While you're pondering that, ponder this: does a nation have a right to preserve and protect its cherished symbols, or not? It seems to me, that's what we're really talking about. We've been dancing around that larger question, using the flag burning debate as a proxy for it. My answer is yes, of course it does, it's long-term national suicide to do anything else, and if you're looking for a reason to support an exception to First Amendment protections, there's a good start.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Wanting to be liked

A GOP or conservative politician who wants to be liked is a fool, guaranteed to lose elections, given the climate of ad hominem hate directed against every non-Progressive from Democrats and their PR wing, the media.

We saw this in 2012 with Mitt Romney - who I liked and voted for, and who would have made a very good president. His fatal flaws: being too nice and non-combative and not realizing he was surrounded by hostile forces a.k.a. "the media".

One cannot cede this territory and expect to win unless one is a charismatic candidate that people like on a visceral level. Romney was not that guy, for the crucial voters he needed to win over.

Likewise, voters make a mistake if they worry about how well-liked their candidates are by others, especially foreigners - it is much more important to be respected, and seen as a leader, for any head of state, and most of all for an American president.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to God

I first wrote a version of this blog post 10 years ago, in 2006. The situation has gotten worse, not better.

George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789 to set aside “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

This should surprise no one, really; the act of giving thanks requires someone to give thanks to.

Unfortunately, some of the un-educated lightweights running our school systems are dedicated to burying the truth above. Some teachers cannot even mention the word Thanksgiving because ‘the pilgrims offended the Indians’ and ‘Thanksgiving was never intended to be thanks to God.'”

Look, it’s just historical fact, it isn’t pushing anybody to convert. Learn to distinguish between two unlike things. It’s useful sometimes, especially for an education professional.

The article from which I pulled the above quote, "Taking the 'Thanks' out of Thanksgiving", goes on to make a larger point:
We have allowed ourselves to become controlled by our fears. Rather than risk offending someone, we would sooner toss our rich history and traditions on the pyre of political correctness. But such an approach is destined for failure. Indeed, even if you breathe, you are sure to offend someone. What is the result? We gain nothing. We water down and suck the life out of what once gave meaning and direction to our lives. In the end, our children will be the ones who lose out, left with little clue as to where they came from or where they may be going in life.

We have also lost our sense of reverence. Too many Americans have little, if any, gratitude for the liberty and material comforts we enjoy—both of which were made possible through great sacrifice. Heedless of our many blessings, as a nation, we are tempting fate.
My job as a parent, because schools are unwilling to do it, is to fight this anti-American trend that obscures our true history and origins. I educate my kids on the powerful role religion played in guiding the Founding Fathers and the resulting documents that have guided us well for 200+ years, and how the freedoms we enjoy today are unique in the history of mankind, and were earned by the blood of some of our best young people on various battlefields throughout the world.

Because all of the above is true, and even more importantly, we do ourselves a disservice when we ignore it, or pay homage to others instead.

Does that mean I think we are a perfect nation? Of course not. There are lots of things I’d like to see changed; but just because we aren’t perfect does not imply we aren’t pretty damn good.

We provide the freedoms necessary to any person born in this country, or who legally emigrates here, to do just about anything they like, limited only by their desires and capacities.

For most people, that’s all they really want. But most areas of the world are ruled by corrupt thugs and criminals, who have no interest in providing anything approaching a useful economy or the rule of law or the right to own private property to their subjects.

The very least we can do, to honor both those who died to protect us from those horrors, and those who designed the documents that protect us from those horrors, is to frankly and honestly assess their contributions throughout history.

Monday, November 14, 2016

We must reject the politics of personal destruction

We are going down a very dangerous road lately, and it is vital that we put a stop to it.

As consumers of news, and as citizens of a country built on freedom, we must not tolerate the politics of personal destruction.

All it takes to destroy a person publicly, these days, is an unsubstantiated. unverifiable allegation with little or no evidence from many years ago. This should immediately set alarm bells ringing in everyone's head.

These kinds of "he said, she said" stories are nearly impossible to verify independently, yet many of us fly right past that little detail and instantly decide -- irrationally -- that it must be true, based solely on this incomplete and unconfirmed information, about other people's private lives, which are really none of our business in the first place. The flaws with this thinking, I hope, are obvious.

And somehow, these stories always revolve around the political enemies of Democrats. Imagine that.

A perfect example of this type of ruthless Chicago gutter politics involves -- surprise! -- President Barack Obama in 2004 when he ran for U.S. Senate.

His campaign leaked rumors to the Chicago Tribune and enticed them to dig into the private lives of not one but two opposing candidates, and to convince judges in a court of law to demand the public release of previously-sealed records of their personal lives, including in one case, a custody order for the couple's children.

The alleged intent of all this, we were helpfully informed, was to provide the public with important details to inform their votes for an elected office, even though these details are not really any of our business, since people are still entitled to have private relationships that judges and media busybodies and campaign managers are not privy to.

The actual intent was to destroy these people in a very public way, using information from their private lives, in a naked partisan political ploy, to defeat their candidacy. And it worked.

Nice job, Chicago Tribune. Nice job, citizen mob.

The first victim was Blair Hull, Obama's opponent in the Democratic Party primary. The other was well-regarded GOP candidate Jack Ryan. Somehow the Obama campaign convinced the media to destroy the reputations of two good men, including dragging their ex-wives and children through the mud, all for a supposed public interest in their private lives. See more of the ugly details here.

The story created a mob mentality, and soon the mob's frenzied outcry forced both Hull and Ryan to drop out. Obama won his precious Senate seat with these slimy tactics that helped his campaign but destroyed two families, plus all those who could have benefited from the election of either clearly superior candidate. Instead, we got Obama. Four years later, the whole nation got him. Good and hard.

And none of that was any of our damn business.

People's marriages and relationships with their children do not magically become an essential piece of public information at election time. People's private lives are exactly that, and we news consumers need to recognize that, and reject the politics of personal destruction. We have shown an increasingly disturbing tendency to become an out-of-control mob, in search of a head to stick on top of a pike at the edge of town, as a warning to the next band of invaders.

Outrageous, salacious stories from the past, with no other witnesses and no independent way to verify them, should immediately cause three obvious questions to enter one's mind: (1) can I verify if this is true or not, and (2) even if it is, does it matter in some essential way to my task of selecting a candidate to vote for, and (3) even if it does, am I a sucker who is being played right now, by cynical political operatives?

And yes, you probably are being played, if you automatically believe all of this stuff.

A story like Trump "groping" some random woman we've never heard of might be true, it might not. That's the whole problem:  how could we ever really know? Maybe some Democrat slimeball paid some woman to make such a claim, and then sat back and watched the media circus take over. You don't really know, do you? You *cannot* know. That's the point. That's how it works on you. That's why you need to be more suspicious.

The flip side, of source, is that some accusers might be truthful. So what are we to do about this? Participate in character assassination in all such cases because some of them might be true? That bar is way too low.

If you were the victim of such a vicious, slimy attempt to destroy you, and you knew it was bullshit, what would you say then? That's the clue as to what the right answer is here.

We're nominating for political office, not the sainthood. People still have private lives, and it is in all of of our interests to defend and protect that, because we really don't want to live in a world where it becomes common and accepted to personally destroy any potential candidate based on something from 10 or 20 years ago, in their private life, that we cannot possibly know the truth about, and that doesn't really impact us or our future in any way.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Statistical Mumbo-Jumbo

After Game 4 of the World Series, some guy at said "The Cubs Have A Smaller Chance Of Winning Than Trump Does".

15% chance, he says.

Well, they won, didn't they, and so did Trump, so everybody who believed this meaningless mumbo-jumbo got burned. But there is another reason to dismiss this "percent chance" business.

Assigning a 15% chance to a single event with a discrete outcome - either the Cubs win, or they don't - is quite meaningless.

It's one event with exactly two potential outcomes: win or lose. No other type of result is possible; you cannot end up with "15% of a win".

The concept is nonsensical. So what possible use is it to say a team has a 15% chance of winning one World Series?

Try placing a bet in Vegas on that.

Now it's possible to look back in history and feed all kinds of data into a computer and come out with a number like 15% because you have hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of historical events to draw from.

When looking back at such a series of discrete outcomes, using percentages is somewhat useful, to understand how often it has happened before.

They are not useful at all with a single discrete outcome in the near future.

I also think people make the mistake of thinking of everything as if it were just like flipping a coin ten times. Percentages may help (but not always) predict the result of a series of discrete outcomes: heads, tails, tails, heads, heads, heads, tails, tails, heads, tails. 10 flips, 5 heads, 5 tails. 50%, just like you'd expect. But even then, it's not always right. Flip a coin 1000 times, and see if you get exactly 500 heads. The percentage says you should. Maybe, maybe not. It's far from a certainty.

But predicting a winner of a single World Series is nothing like predicting 10 coin flips. It's one "flip", not ten. It can only result in this outcome or that, win or lose, nothing in between like "15% of a win". And it isn't a flip at all, it's a game contested by people who have both successes and failures, and big emotional ups and downs, impacted by impassioned leadership, from guys like David Ross (after that same Game 4) and Jason Heyward (in Game 7).

Historical data alone is never the whole picture.

If you want to rely on percentages for things like this, go ahead, but only to describe events in the past, a way to understand history, which is interesting but when you really think about it, has almost no bearing on these players, on these teams, playing these games, today.

via Ann Althouse "The Cubs Have a Smaller Chance of Winning Than Trump Does"

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Polls and why they are stupid

From Don Surber, Clinton leads by 12, no 8, no 6:
Don't know what the story will be tomorrow. Maybe ABC just won't post its results. The polls aren't rigged. They're wrong.
Rigged? Sometimes. Wrong? Yeah, probably.

Mainly, polls are stupid.

I can think of no good reason for any normal person, not affiliated with a party or campaign, to pay ANY attention to any poll, ever. Polling organizations conduct polls to build reputations. Media organizations use them to drive ratings and sell "newspapers" (remember those?)

A poll is only useful as a curiosity, and best understood as a highly flawed snapshot of what a few hundred people think about the presidential candidates.

Your vote is precious, and  should be based on what YOU like, not what other people like. That's what a vote is - your personal preference. It really should not be impacted in *any* way by what others think you should think.

Obsessing over polls is a good way to drive yourself nuts. Especially when it's blatantly obvious that at least some polls, some of the time, are purposely trying to influence, rather than reflect, the choices of the voting public.

That's propaganda. I recommend everyone eliminate it from their life. Who needs it?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Part of me hates to think this is true, another part of me thinks it is

Vox Day says "It cannot be saved".  And if you guessed "it" means America, you're right.

I think about this quite a bit, and I alternate between two views on this question. My default position on just about any issue is unblinkered realism, since it is best to understand the reality of any situation to know how to deal with it in the best possible way.  At least, most of the time. This is Analytical Me.

But I also know that sometimes, unblinkered realism kills motivation and may lead to systemic sadness and depression. Motivation -- or the ability to ignore the odds and continue pushing that boulder up that hill -- can be more important than a realistic understanding of the world around us. Having something to believe in is very, very important. Like, say, the future. This is Positive Me.

It has taken me several decades to learn that both are valid ways of looking at the world around us. Both are needed. But you have to be smart about which to use when.

Returning to Vox, he also links to Fred Reed who is blunt and unsparing in the oddly-titled "Ronald McDonald or Lucretia Borgia?: In the Long Run, We Are all Dead":
To a practicing curmudgeon, the presidential contest is amusing but unimportant. Hillary will win, whether she wins or not. She is just the wave front of deep and fast-flowing currents of decay that cannot be stopped. Trump may try, but he cannot succeed. We live in a dying culture and, soon, a diminished country. It cannot be saved.

Not true? Add up the bits and pieces. We laugh in horror, some of us, primarily the older, at the decline of schooling, the courses like Batman and the Struggle for Gender Equity. Comic, yes. Yet in aggregate these constitute an academic and civilizational collapse both profound and irreversible. Enstupidation does not happen in a healthy country. Who even wants to reverse this onrushing night? Not the universities, nor the teachers unions, nor a professoriat gone as daft as the “students,” nor the banks battening on student loans.

It is over. Hillary may start wars in her six months before going into a sanatorium. Trump may build walls. But the rot will go on. Tell me why it won’t.
Analytical Me cannot argue with any of that. But Positive Me refuses to accept the end.

I have three kids. Boys. One is nearly 30, married with a beautiful baby girl, and he's doing pretty well, although he'd like a better employment situation. Still, he's smart, he works hard, he's very personable, and in the big picture, he'll be all right. The other two are still in high school, both very smart and with various talents that should prepare them well for their life ahead, if they leverage them and work hard.

America used to be a place where opportunity waited for millions. That has changed; now there is still opportunity for some, but not nearly enough for all of the kids who go to college and enter the workforce. If there were, we would not have the stagnant wages and a record low number of people in the workforce that we have today.

That big picture impacts everybody by changing the odds. I'd prefer that we not stack the deck against my kids, but we seem intent on doing that. This makes it personal for me; i.e., advocate for Obamacare, and you're making it harder for my kids to get jobs. It's not just a bunch of remote policy debates that only impact others.

I have a really hard time accepting that the great country I grew up in is destroying itself from the inside, all because of Leftist politics. My kids, and grandkids now and in the future, deserve better.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The "smartest people"

Richard Fernandez unloads on the Obama Administration's horrific misadventures and mismanagement in the Middle East, to the point that now we are engaged in saber-rattling with Russia over Syria in Obama, Media Go Quiet on Historic Mideast Catastrophe :
How did an administration which came to office headed by a Child of the World promising to "build bridges" with other cultures, that styled itself as brimming with "smart" foreign policy experts, finish up in an almost comical state of parochialism?

Why, rather than bestriding the globe, has it withdrawn in outlook, buttoned up like a tank, viewing the outside world only through the narrowest of slits, driving in little circles from talk show to talk show?
The bigger issue, the real source of this problem, of course, is Washington "experts" circa 2008-2016:
The "smartest people" on the planet found they were not quite as clever as they thought.

They should not have been surprised. Over the last decade presidential hopefuls have come from the ranks of thinkers without much experience in governance or the wider world. They knew all the answers -- in theory -- but none in practice. Individuals who spent all their adult lives learning how to raise money, craft talking points, perfect stances before the camera, fund opposition research, and recruit surrogates found that special skills did not travel so well in the wider world.
The geo-political track record of this administration has been not just bad, it's been historically awful. Yet the media distracts the American people with an unnatural, stalker-ish focus on Donald Trump.

Had enough yet?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sobering stats

Chicago year to date numbers, 2015 to 2016:

Shootings, 2016:   3,475
Shootings, 2015:   2,441
Increase pct:   near 40%

Homicides, 2016:   595 "or more"
Homicides, 2015:   409 
Increase pct:    45%

Note that shooting people has always been illegal.

From Second City Cop and Chicago Tribune.
3,475 people had been shot in the city as of shortly after midnight Monday compared with 2,441 people shot this time last year, an increase of 1,034, according to Tribune data. There have been at least 595 homicides this year compared with 409 this time last year, an increase of 186.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hmmm. This seems bad.

Russia Is Building Fallout Shelters to Prepare for a Potential Nuclear Strike

Maybe destabilizing the entire Middle East, lengthening the civil war in Syria, pulling all troops from Iraq, installing a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, forcing Qaddafi out, etc., all of which led to the rise of ISIS, all just because Assad was a bad guy and totally not JFK, was not such a great idea.

There are worse things that strongman dictators, and we are seeing that played out on the national stage, right now. Power rushes in to fill a power vacuum, everywhere and always, and in that region of the world, it's never going to be the second coming of James Madison and the Federalist Papers, trying to bring freedom to the people.

Oh, and who did Mitt Romney warn us about in 2012? Russia. While the Democrats and the media laughed and laughed ...

But you know, whatever, I heard Trump groped somebody 30 years ago!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Too Much Freedom to Persecute

Dr. Helen brings up an interesting point about the costs of ever-advancing leftism that few people ever stop to think about, but which carries real costs for real people:
[...] liberal bias and anger against those of us who do not go along with the liberal agenda could increase and in ways that cost people their jobs, livelihoods, relationships etc.
It's already happening, and we've seen way too many examples of it during Obama's 8 years of torture. The IRS, for example. Even when IRS corruption and abuse of power is viewed in the most innocent possible light - that it was just some rogue, out-of-control individuals, not directed from any layer of management whatsoever, and surely not the White House, which is amusing, but let's go with it - it still broke the law by persecuting Tea party sympathizers, asking ridiculous, illegal, un-Constitutional questions about who they associate with and even asking for copies of church sermons. There is no possible way any of that is permissible in a country built on liberty and freedom.

Dr. Helen continues:
A Trump election means that people (mostly liberal) will stop to think about the consequences of their acts more with the other side in power. The fact is, the media, schools, universities and much of society in general these days is driven by liberal thought and with a liberal president and Justice Department at the helm, people feel very free to engage in acts against dissidents without as much restraint.
(emphasis mine)

Again, back to the "best possible spin on the IRS" -- bureaucrats took note of which way the wind was blowing, from Obama's public statements and surely many other subtle signs from within the IRS such as emails, plus lack of any sort of pushback from the media -- and took that as unspoken approval to proceed with making clearly protected speech somehow illegal in their little bureaucratic bubble.

Persecution, abuse of power, and oppression can be based on nothing more than "othering" and virtue signaling. No direct orders are needed, no smoking gun emails required.

Whether it was ordered from above or not - and the fact that they destroyed emails, and lied about it to Congress, and obfuscated all along the way, pretty much indicates that it was - the point here is that persecution can be, and is, based on nothing more than social cues, because people are awful, in most cases. We don't need to find a smoking gun email that says, "Hey IRS, go after those deplorable Tea Partiers! Signed, Barack". Looking for that type of evidence is a waste of time, because people are rarely that forthcoming when conducting illegal activities. The plausible deniability is baked right in. That's how it works.

Our nation was founded on the idea that abuse of government power to persecute those with inconvenient opinions is a crime against our God-given "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". It's important to understand that, often, a leader drives that abuse by providing intellectual cover for the henchmen who carry out the deeds, rather than issuing a clear set of rules on what is to be done. And we need to put a stop to that.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kaepernick and his Precious Rights

Colin Kaepernick has the right to say whatever he wants.

He does not have the right to say whatever he wants on the team's time, wearing their uniform, as a member of the NFL. The league is a tightly-managed brand that has had ridiculous rules about every little detail of a player's appearance, for decades. They have clauses in player contracts about conduct off the field that is detrimental to the team or the league. They control everything about players, and if you don't believe me, go ask some of them. This is all common knowledge among NFL fans.

So they can damn well control his conduct in uniform, on the field, during the national anthem, in front of 60,000 fans and millions of TV viewers (although 15% fewer this year, and what a coincidence that is). You might think the NFL -- in deference to their advertisers who buy expensive ad time on those TV broadcasts, if nothing else -- would judge Kaepernick's conduct (and similar conduct of other players) as damaging to the league's reputation, and the team's goodwill in the community. They do not, obviously.

If the league was run intelligently, this should not have been a hard call: "We believe in a player's right to speak out on issues that are important to them, on their own time, when not wearing a uniform." Done.

Players like Kaepernick get to have their say, clueless as they are, and the NFL and teams like the 49ers save their reputations. It's an obvious home run. But not for Goodell and his army of SJW lawyers that run the NFL.

What this tells me is that they agree with him, or are afraid to disagree, which amounts to the same thing. The NFL is more than happy to do the bidding of BLM, including all the anti-cop violence and death threats that go with it. Why else did they refuse the Dallas Cowboys' request to wear stars on their uniforms to honor the five cops killed in Dallas? They refuse that request, and piss off more goodwill with the cops across the entire nation, and then they turn around and tolerate Kaepernick's obvious politicizing on the opposite side of that issue?

I already knew Roger Goodell was a really bad NFL commissioner, but I had no idea how bad. Or maybe he's just another anti-American lefty tool. Either way, this is not what I'm looking for when I want to watch a sporting event.

Players need to stand up for the national anthem. This is non-negotiable. Any league with competent leadership, that is *not* anti-American, would understand that instinctively, and react decisively and promptly.

Friday, September 23, 2016

We went to a funeral for a 16 year old young man this past weekend. He took his own life.

There were very few, if any, signs of trouble, from what I've heard (we did not know him well, but we do know his older sister pretty well). No indication of depression or anxiety, no drama or obvious signs of internal turmoil. In fact, the usual markers of stability were present: lots of friends, active socially, well-liked by all, a good athlete, strong Christian family.

The funeral itself was extremely difficult, as you would expect. Many of his friends were there, plus some teachers and coaches, and several kids who didn't even know him but wanted to show their support. Going through all of their minds, as it went through mine, was the thought "How in the world could this possibly have happened? What are we doing here? Why did he give up? Why didn't he turn to his friends and family to help him?"

How does a seemingly normal, well-adjusted young man, with everything to live for, at least on the outside, simultaneously live a tortured existence internally, so tortured for so long that he cannot tolerate it any longer? That level of disconnect seems almost impossible. And yet, here we are.

We tell ourselves that there must have been something, some kind of warning sign, or clue, or red flag, and if only we had seen it, maybe we could have helped. If only we hadn't failed him, that's what we really mean, even though it's almost certainly not true.

But maybe there was nothing. Maybe nobody could have helped him.

Maybe maybe maybe. Why why why. This is the aftermath for everybody who knew him, forever.

It's a kind of prison, and it takes a lot of mental energy to break free of it, and it can take a long time. But we have to do it. I'm no psychologist but I've had some experience with this kind of thing in my own family, and the questions never really go away, although they do lessen over time.

You have a life to live, and no amount of beating yourself up will change the past, especially something you probably had little control over in the first place.

It still hurts, though, to think you might not have been able to help somebody you love, and who is in great pain. It feels like failure, in your own mind, and that makes it plenty real, whatever the "truth" might be.

Still, you have to learn to forgive yourself. It's not easy, and it can take a long time. but it is really, really important. Time spent wishing you could change the past is time wasted, but sometimes we can change the future by making different choices. Honor the memory of a loved one by remembering the best things about their time with you, and resolve to live your own life with no regrets by living in the moment, right now, today, engaged with your friends and loved ones.

It sounds trite until you go to a funeral for a 16-year-old.

I hope and pray that his family and friends can find the strength to heal themselves from the pain, and find some kind of peace. It's certainly not going to be easy.

We can't always know all the answers to the things that perplex and confound us, no matter how much we try. And while it's probably much too soon to find that helpful, someday it will become very helpful to learn to accept that. in the end.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Trump and Hysterical Fear-Mongering

Reading Don Surber ("Trump Fascism") convinced me to put some thoughts down that have been echoing in my head for months now.

Lately we hear lots of claims that Trump will be some kind of epochal, "never before in history" downgrade from, one assumes, an uninterrupted string of virtuous presidents. It's only now, at this moment, when Trump is knocking at the door, that we must all go on high alert and man our battle stations to prevent what is sure to be the worst disaster EVAR.

I find this argument to be laughably stupid.

Exhibit A: Bill Clinton. Remember his conduct and how it degraded the office, and how after his term, and all the talk about oral sex in the news, and the stained blue dress, and all of that, the kids decided that oral sex wasn't really sex, so now 14 year old girls give out bl*wjobs like candy. Nice going, dipshit. And his wife has a long history of enabling and defending her serial abuser husband against claims of rape, harassment, and other charges. He was also disbarred from practicing law for a period of five years in the state of Arkansas, to avoid facing contempt charges from the Lewinsky testimony. Or was it the Jones testimony? There's so many of them. Again: Hillary Clinton is married to this pervert. Am I supposed to be more worried about Trump, compared to this team? Really?

Exhibit B: Barack Obama. He has already brought more shame and dishonor on that office in two terms than I've ever seen, BY FAR, in my many decades on this planet -- and that includes Watergate. He insults and demonizes his domestic political opponents, taunts and belittles traditional overseas friends while kissing up to despicable despotic regimes like Iran's, makes unwise promises he has no intention of keeping, and routinely abuses the Constitution by overstepping the power of the office and issuing decrees from the balcony like a Roman emperor. He does it all with a disdainful "I'm smarter and better than you" stance, and reminds you of it by referencing himself countless times in every speech. He is by far the biggest jackass, and the least qualified individual, to hold the office of President in my lifetime. And that includes Jimmy Carter, so ...

This is just in the last 20 years. The Clinton impeachment hearings were only 18 years ago.

The White House is not in good hands now, and it has not been in good hands very much in the last 50 years. Trump, whose life has been mostly scandal free, is quite likely an upgrade from those two.
But if Trump is just not your cup of tea, for whatever reason, that's a perfectly reasonable position, since voting is ultimately an irrational, emotional act in the first place. Most of us don't really use rational, fact- and policy-based reasons to vote for candidates; the vast majority of voters just don't have the time or aptitude to get into things that deeply, and we can't expect them to. Most people vote for candidates, actual people, not policies.

But the fascist talk, the "never before in history" talk, the "he's not worthy of the office" talk, is hysterical fear mongering. You might believe it, but that doesn't make it true, or persuasive.

Hysterical fear-mongering always rings hollow, especially during scary times when America already feels like taking a risk on a guy like Trump in the first place. People are very worried about the direction we are heading, and the quality of our "leaders" and governance, and as a result are much less risk-averse.

We already have a "fascist" in office, exactly the kind of president our system of government is designed to prevent. History shows that we had a remarkable succession of clowns in the White House, both in the last 20 years, the whole Nixon/Ford/Carter disaster, plus the entire period after Lincoln and before Theodore Roosevelt. In fact, we've had *lots* of lousy presidents.

Some advice to the Never Trump people. If (a) you're not going to vote at all in a public show of petulant defiance, fine, please just shut up about it already, or (b) you're going to vote Hillary in a public show of petulant defiance, fine, come out for Hillary and quit yammering about the GOP nominee. Pick one. And get ready to watch 2 or 3 Hillary nominated judges remove every last one of your freedoms.

Nobody ever said you are entitled to love every candidate your party nominated, and some of us had to put up with your shitty candidates in the past but we held our noses and voted for them anyway, and LOST. I voted for the biggest RINO of them all, McCain in '08, do you think I wanted him? And he lost. I voted for Romney in '12, a decent candidate, who I actually liked, but he was far too nice for presidential politics. And he lost and election that was very winnable.

What was your plan to compensate me for supporting your shitty candidates, and handing the election to an America-hating clown prince like Obama? I'm waiting.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The legacy of Ted Williams

There is a famous story about the legendary Ted Williams and his last at-bat in the major leagues, a home run, the 521st of his career. But that's not what makes the story famous.

What makes the story famous is the fact that he refused to come out of the dugout to acknowledge the cheers of the Fenway Park faithful that day.

As described in the essay by John Updike "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu", the fans cheered for many long minutes, and even chanted "We Want Ted! We Want Ted!". But he never came out of the dugout, on the last at-bat of his entire career at the ballpark he called home for 22 seasons.

This illustrates very succinctly the complicated relationship Ted Williams had with, well, nearly everybody.

But before we judge him for not being as cute and cuddly as we'd like, there is a side of Mr. Williams that might help us understand him a bit better. A side, perhaps, that is not as well known.

In addition to being one of the top two hitters of all time (along with the Babe), he was an ace fighter pilot in the Marines, and a world-class fisherman. To say he was a man of many talents is to understate his legacy by a wide margin.

His military life started in May, 1942, and rather than accept a cream-puff Naval baseball gig, he volunteered to be a pilot.

Because he is Teddy Ballgame, he expected to excel at it. And he did.

In fighter pilot training, he was excellent at dogfighting, the best in his class, according to his future teammate Johnny Pesky, who was in the same class. Pesky, who didn't qualify for the advanced fighter pilot training, on Ted's talents:
“I heard Ted literally tore the 'sleeve target' to shreds with his angle dives. He'd shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits. ... From what I heard. Ted could make a plane and its six 'pianos' (machine guns) play like a symphony orchestra. From what they said, his re­flexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine."
Which is not surprising. Because it's Ted Williams we're talking about here.

He served for nearly four years during WWII, mostly as a flight instructor, and then for about 18 months during the Korean War. He was united with John Glenn, future astronaut, on about half his 39 missions in Korea.

In addition to his piloting prowess, he was recognized as a fly fishing expert as well, and was elected to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2000. Again, he is Teddy F'ing Ballgame, and we're not.

Ted Williams was one of those men who knew exactly who he was and why he was here, and what he did well and what he did not. And so he did those things better than just about anybody else. Without apologies.

He paid a price for this, to be sure. His relationships with fans, the media, and others were sacrificed on the altar of the Teddy Ballgame persona.

So he was not universally loved, but he was universally respected, and for some people, that is more important. He was pretty damn good at three things that very few people can do even one of: hitting a baseball, and flying fighters, and fishing. For this he has my eternal respect and admiration.

This quote by Richard Ben Cramer seems to sum up his life quite well: "He wanted fame, and wanted it with a pure, hot eagerness that would have been embarrassing in a smaller man. But he could not stand celebrity. This is a bitch of a line to draw in America's dust."


Stuff to read

Gender insanity even at a Jesuit university like Marquette: Marquette's Gender Regime - Mickey L. Mattox, First Things

Wrote this one year ago (plus two days), on March 9 2015, and it seems pretty much spot on, even today: Hillary Clinton's bullshit and the puzzling question of why Americans line up to buy it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Mercury and vaccines

Several years ago I wrote up a couple of things about this topic in various places - see here and here.

I'm still not convinced that mercury in vaccines is completely, 100%, fault-free in higher diagnosis rates of autism over the last 20+ years. It seems to me there is some pretty compelling evidence that it is at least a factor, and might even be the primary factor, and none of this means or implies that it "causes" autism.

First, stop using the phrase "vaccines cause autism" - it's a gross over-simplification of the facts. From that first link above, about causation arguments, which are used much too often in any context:
Causation arguments require a very high burden of proof. To say A “causes” B is to make a very strong statement: the presence of A, and A alone, is sufficient to make B happen. I doubt that is truly what any of the proponents of the vaccine–autism link are claiming.

The theory behind the vaccine – autism link that appeals to logic and the surrounding facts is this: that the amount of mercury we purposely inject into our kids at a young age via vaccination contributes greatly to whatever mercury they’ve already ingested. And in some cases, this can be enough to trigger a variety of autism-related disorders. Especially if the child has a depressed immune system when receiving the MMR vaccination. I.e., if they have a cold, or the flu, or other forms of a depressed immune system. Which, of course, is the typical anecdotal evidence brought by parents of PDD children.

In fact, when you dig a little bit deeper here, the symptoms of autism are remarkably similar to the symptoms of mercury poisoning.

And since mercury is sometimes found in the food we eat, and sometimes the air we breathe, and can be passed to children in the womb or via breast milk, it is possible that this accumulated amount of mercury, from all sources, and in some circumstances, can be enough to push some kids into a toxic state of mercury poisoning.
Note all the qualifiers: “possible”, “accumulated”, “from all sources”, “some circumstances”, “can be”, “some kids”.
So I'm on board with the "vaccines do not cause autism" argument, because I think that grossly misrepresents the scientific, fact-based, analytical discussion at hand.

But I could be wrong.

Then there is this, from that second link above:
(1) There was no known safe level of exposure to the type of mercury used in thimerasol.

(2) [...] Even the FDA admits that some kids were exposed to toxic levels of mercury for the kind of mercury they think they understand, but that kids were not exposed to. This (nearly) guarantees that some kids were exposed to toxic levels of ethylmercury unless ethylmercury is much less toxic than methylmercury.
It's a bit confusing so I'll try to restate for clarity. The immunization schedule for children during the 90s was deemed safe for methylmercury - but thimerasol contained ethylmercury, for which there was no known safe exposure level.

Stated more simply, we placed an unwitting bet that ethylmercury was less toxic than methylmercury, without knowing if that was true or not, and then we experimented on our children with it.

That's my reading of it, anyway, I could be wrong - I just haven't seen anybody refute these very specific arguments before.

So, until I do, I will believe that our government was pushing the medical profession, and parents, to inject babies with a vaccine with a type of mercury for which there was no known safe level at the time. And to blithely ignore that seems a bit too much like dancing in the end zone after you fumbled at the 3 yard line.

Monday, March 07, 2016

"Voting self-interest" -- you're kidding, right?

Some people claim that you can take a bunch of demographic data and decide who is -- and who is not -- voting for their "self-interest", whatever that might mean, based on that data alone.

Several questionable implicit assumptions are built in, such as that people would always want government handouts over the freedom that comes with economic and personal liberty. Or that people are rational actors 100% of the time - is there anybody that really believes that everybody lives their life logically, all the time, with no emotions driving anything? That’s laughable.

They might as well come out and say "I've analyzed things I can measure about you and now I know more about what is good for you than you do."

Shorter version: “I'm smarter than you, because you’re a dumbass.”

This is patently stupid on its face, and immensely troubling for the following reasons, and probably more I haven't thought of yet:
  1. It is dangerous to assume you can derive somebody's self-interest given a bunch of demographic data. We are more than the sum of things that the Census bureau and tele-marketers know about us. 
  2. It is dangerous to assume a priori that everybody wants handouts over economic and personal liberty. Not everybody likes dependence on others - the history of America comes to mind.
  3. It is dangerous to assume you can build accurate models of human behavior from measuring things ... that we measure ... because we can measure them. Which leaves out things we don't measure. Because we can't. Self-select much?
  4. It is dangerous to assume that voters pay much attention to policy - because they quite clearly do not. Who gets to decide what an individual's self-interest "should" be? What does that even mean? Voters respond in various emotional ways to voice, manner, appearance, all kinds of things that have nothing to do with policy. JFK got millions of women's votes because he was dreamy … and Nixon was Nixon. Was that in their self-interest, or not? I don’t know, and don't care. Is a woman voting in her self-interest if she, contra the "experts", loves herself a dreamy JFK for president and couldn't care less about economics or any stupid b.s. because, hey, look at him! This is not news. People vote with their gut a lot more than we’d like to think, which is probably not ideal, but there it is.
  5. Likewise, Obama got millions of votes because he is "well-spoken" as his running mate famously said. Whose self-interest was met there? The people who like well-spoken black men, apparently. Also, whites feeling racial guilt. And blacks, who turned out almost 100% for the guy. Those black voters got to live to see a black president. This is an accomplishment, at least for them, no? Even though, objectively speaking, that is just as racist as whites voting only for whites, the fact remains, for lots of black folks, that’s all they cared about in 2008. This would meet the criteria of satisfying their self-interest, by definition. Even if others don’t understand it.
  6. Even if you could properly model behavior based on all the crucial factors, and collect and organize all of that, then what? You've got a 40-way (or 4000-way) matrix with a bunch of tiny numbers in it. Yay! All cleared up now, right? Some things are just not measurable, and determining whether others are voting in their own self-interest is surely one of them.
I have this same disagreement with baseball stat geeks too.

People who are obsessed with numbers fall into a couple of traps: just because we can measure something does not mean it is more important than something we can't measure, or that the thing we cannot measure is not a factor; and a belief that we understand completely what drives our behavior so that we can build accurate behavioral models from things we can currently measure.

If all of that were true, we should stop researching it, shouldn't we?

Friday, March 04, 2016

Technology is a wonderful thing, except when it's the worst

If you're wondering how many naked pics teens are sending back and forth on their iPhones, the answer is A LOT

Lives of the Selfie-Centered

For those who are blissfully unaware, lots of young people use their smartphones to take pictures and videos of themselves in various states of undress, and send them to others. 

That's flirting today: "hey ur hot, here's a d!ck pic" and "do you like my b00bs?"

Yes it's gross and immature and we raise them to know better, blah blah blah, but they're doing it. Because they can. This mode of self-expression was always there, bubbling under the surface, and it took technology that allows instant sharing of photos and videos, away from the prying eyes of parents, to allow it to bloom. Thanks for that.

And it encourages younger females to bare even more skin than they already did -- and it seems like a race to who can look the most like a hooker, sometimes -- in the uber-competitive race for male attention and social advantage that they already obsess over. 

A race to the bottom in who can degrade themselves the most, by leveraging technology, doesn't seem so wonderful to me. 

This epic advance in civilization is brought to you exclusively by smartphones and the Internet. Just keep that in mind next time you hear somebody talking about the wonders of technology. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Conservative? Liberal? No. AMERICAN!

I'm not much for labels, and lately have developed an aversion to "conservatives" who, when faced with a power struggle in the GOP, feel called to adhere to a set of ivory tower principles, and damn the election consequences.

And here I thought it was a political party, focused on winning elections! Silly, silly me. Now I know, and I won't make that mistake again.

It has become obvious over the years that Ronald Reagan won those elections based on his charisma and communication skills. He was a once in a lifetime - in a country's lifetime, perhaps - kind of president. Conservatism was just one arrow in his quiver, and the idea that conservatism independent of the charisma and speechifying of a Reagan is powerful enough as a coherent philosophy to motivate voters and deliver presidents to the GOP is, I think, a fantasy. As much as I would *like* it to be true, I prefer facing facts.

Anyway, this excellent short essay by Gerard Van Der Leun at American Digest, Bigger Tents: On Rebranding "CONSERVATIVE" and "REPUBLICAN" with "AMERICAN", does a nice job of reframing the debate, and I agree completely:
What we need to do is a little “rebranding” of our own in order to blunt the brain-dead attacks that keep coming from the attack poodles of the left. Attacks that when examined are all aimed at the label “Conservative” or “Republican.”

"Conservative." "Liberals." These two categories are not the same. Not all “Conservatives” are “Republicans,” and – unfortunately for the life expectancy of the Republican party – not all “Republicans” are “Conservative.”

Let's dump both brands.

I don't know about you, but I do not consider myself either a “Conservative” or a “Republican.” Never have. I consider myself to be one thing and one thing only: I AM AN AMERICAN.

Always have been.

Always will be.

Nothing less.

Couldn't be anything more.

To call me a Conservative is to miss the point.

To call me a Republican is to mistake me by a mile.

To call me an AMERICAN is to know me down to the bone.
Read the whole thing, as they say.

Trump complaints

Rule #1 of criticizing people is stop and think about what you're saying, and see if it applies to others equally. Like, any current politicians, or, you know, sitting presidents.

Because if it does, that means it applies to several people, or even an entire group. And that makes it not very useful as a criticism of an individual.

And please note my Trump disclaimer: I'm not so much a Trump "fan" who blindly worships his every word, as an interested observer who sees blatant hypocrisy all around me, and is willing to listen to Trump's side of any argument because the current political class largely sucks. So the bar is, admittedly, pretty low. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Let's make a list of some of these complaints.
  1. Not conservative enough, or at all
  2. Authoritarian strongman
  3. Racist xenophobic hater
  4. Rude and disrespectful
  5. Dumb reality show clown
  6. Billionaire who only pretends to care about our problems
  7. Weak and vague on policy details
  8. Cannot win the general election because appeal is limited 
  9. Hates / wants to deport Muslims
  10. Won't disavow endorsements from undesirables 
I will write about some of these topics over the coming weeks. Most of them are a little silly, and several apply to our sitting president. All of them can be applied to any number of politicians today, or are exaggerations of his actual quotes or positions.

For instance, #2. Anybody who voted for Obama but wants to express indignant outrage that electing Trump would be electing an authoritarian strongman, i.e. the "Mussolini" argument, is not paying enough attention to the guy in office right now. And by the way, the supposed Mussolini quote that Trump re-tweeted over the weekend, is not actually a Mussolini quote. It's from WWI. 1918. And it's a damn good quote, even if Mussolini appropriated it later, and if he did that, it doesn't render the quote any less true. What kind of argument is that, anyway? "A bad guy said something timeless and true, so that poisons the meaning forever"? What?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Let the blogging begin, 2016 edition. Or, why social media blows chunks.

Well, I'm back again. You can thank me later.

After starting my first blog in ... 2002 I think (on Blogger/Blogspot, and here I am back again!) ... and putting in a good ten years at various spots, I saw the writing on the wall re: social media taking over. So I took a 3-4 year break and tried social media for a while.

Social media kinda sucks, as it turns out. Maybe you've heard. At least, it sucks for people like me, who enjoy writing and reading the good writing of others. Social media is *too* social; it's like junior high school, or Lord of the Flies, where small-minded social climbers use gang warfare to isolate, belittle, and silence those they disagree with. Good to know. Thanks for clearing that up, Twitter and Facebook users.

I have tried it, and found it wanting. Most social media yahoos are too lazy and partisan to bother reading anything resembling a decent argument against their views, much less argue back against it. I, on the other hand, have spent the last 15 years of my life reading news-oriented blogs that analyze and examine news coverage, from a mostly oppositional viewpoint. And as a result, I have been able to not just understand those who disagree with me, but to develop serious, informed, and usually devastating arguments to refute those viewpoints. It's called intellectual rigor, and few people, I find, are capable of it, and even fewer are informed enough to try it.

Anyway, enough of this bitching. I need something to blog about tomorrow, ya know.