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Communism, Glorious Communism!

November 16th, 2017 8 Comments

 

I somehow missed the fact that October marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of communism. Communism is not something I tend to dwell on, having grown up overhearing the soft conversations of adults discussing, with deliberately vague and carefully chosen words, the “bad things” that were happening in Russia and China; conversations about the domino effect and the Dulles brothers; hearing the names of tiny countries in southeast Asia that would later become unhappy household words in American homes; hearing—and seeing a photograph in the newspaper—about women and boys being murdered in a place called Yugoslavia because they threw rocks at tanks.

“But Daddy, aren’t tanks made out of metal? How could a rock hurt the tank?” And my father would try to explain, in his inimitable style of talking to, never down to, a child as he might an adult, only with slightly simpler words.

Only a few years later, when I was thirteen (the year the Berlin Wall went up, in fact) a friend and I, a German boy of fifteen, tramped and hitchhiked through Yugoslavia during a great and glorious summer adventure my father allowed me to take part in, and unlike every other country we passed through on that remarkable adventure that unforgettable summer, the peasant farmers we saw in the fields of Yugoslavia never hailed us or even waved. Instead they leaned on their tools, or stopped their teams (there were damned few tractors even in western Europe in those hard, post-war years) and stared at us—just stared, as if we were things not quite unknown, but not quite human enough to merit any interaction. Pancho (my German friend’s real name was Dieter, but for obscure reasons his nickname was Pancho) and I had waved at first, but we soon gave it up, defeated by the blank, unresponsive stares; not hostile, just completely emotionless, as if the lessons of survival under the tender mercies of communism (Don’t give them anything they can hang a label on. Don’t wave back. Don’t react in any way. You don’t know who they are or what they might be. Just pretend they don’t exist.) had been learned so quickly in just the few short years between those newspaper accounts and our long trek down that grey land.

And for the most part, we did cease to exist. The only conversation I do recall in that country was when the authorities confiscated our money for some reason. By the grace of God (who was not supposed to exist under the communists) they missed the little safety stash I had hidden in a leather pouch around my neck, but it was hardly enough to get us through. In Greece, people smiled and waved and invited us into their homes to share their meals—and Pancho, who was very blonde and very handsome, became an object of great interest to the beautiful young black-haired, black-eyed girls in those tiny houses—bakers gave us the burned loaves, and farmers handed us tomatoes and grapes right off the vine, otherwise we would have gone hungry. But in Yugoslavia we didn’t exist, and we went hungry.

I saw my first hammer-and-sickle in Yugoslavia. We hiked more than hitched, because there were so few automotive vehicles of any kind. And I attributed my discomfort in that country in part to the photograph I remembered, and the remembered conversations of what had happened, and the other conversations I had not been supposed to hear, and I couldn’t wait to get to Greece. But now, looking back, I think I also picked up in some way on the despair and fear of the people who wouldn’t talk to us. How could one not?

That was my experience of life—if you can call it that—under communism. But what I saw was the good side. Let us now, on this one-hundredth anniversary of the creation of the great utopia of shared bounty and perfect equality in a worker’s paradise, take a quick look at just a tiny bit of what communism achieved in the twentieth century.

In the USSR, under Stalin (note that it is under Stalin exclusively; the number does not include other, comparatively less heavy-handed, rulers of the USSR) twenty-million (20,000,000) people were exterminated. That is the conservative estimate; Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who managed to survive both imprisonment and a labor camp) estimated sixty-million (60,000,000). Other sources that include the numbers of those who were allowed to die of starvation, as opposed to being actively murdered, put the estimate even higher.

In China, under Chairman Mao, the labor camps were relatively benign, being responsible for only a paltry, estimated, over ten-million (10,000,000+) deaths, but when it comes to famine, ah, there we can all learn of the joys of life under a real Communist Leader when he rolls up his sleeves and puts his mind to it. It is hard to nail down an accurate number, but the conservative—conservative!—estimate is that Uncle Mao knowingly allowed (most historians claim he deliberately and actively encouraged) approximately thirty-five-million (35,000,000) of his people to starve to death during the Great Famine (1959-1963), so that including the executed, the labor camps, the famine, and various noble social reforms of other Chinese leaders, the estimate is somewhere between sixty-five-million (65,000,000) to seventy-five-million (75,000,000) killed between 1949 and today.

The People’s Paradise of good old North Korea seems like Disneyland by comparison, though of course that unhappy land had far fewer people to murder to begin with, so you can’t blame them for not competing with the big boys. Nonetheless, an estimated three-million and up (3,000,000+) murdered one way or another isn’t bad.

Cambodia, under fun-loving Pol Pot, managed to do almost as well, with over two-million-six-hundred-thousand (2,600,000+) murdered, but most of those were murdered pretty horrifically. (Note for research: is there a way to murder one’s citizens wholesale that is not horrific?)

Afghanistan and Vietnam both come in at around one-million-seven-hundred-thousand (1,700,000) people murdered by their respective Communist regimes.

Ethiopia managed to kill over one-million-three-hundred-thousand (1,300,000+) people, some by active means, some by starvation.

The list of communist countries where death has had a field day continues, with staggering numbers: Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Mozambique, Angola, Cuba, what used to be known as East Germany…

We live in an age when enormous numbers are the norm. A million dollars today is chump change; if you ain’t got a billion, you ain’t got nothing. A thousand miles from New York to Kansas City is an easy jaunt when you think of 33.9-million miles to Mars. It’s no big deal to add another trillion dollars to the deficit. But those numbers listed above represent human beings, people like you and me, lives and loves, hopes and dreams and infinite possibilities, all gone, wiped out in the name of a perverted vision of an artificial and impossible concept of man being something other than what he was, is, and always will be.

Name a communist country that has thrived and prospered with human rights and justice for all. Just one. Call me when you think of it.

Wheelchairs

November 4th, 2017 18 Comments

 

This past August, when the great Jerry Lewis died, I wrote about my admiration for that extraordinary man and his tireless fundraising efforts on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Muscular dystrophy is one of those diseases that rarely make the headlines or the evening news, in part because it is so relatively uncommon. Illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s… The list of loss and heartache is long, too long, and society very naturally has to perform its own version of triage and allocate resources accordingly.

In addition to relatively small numbers, muscular dystrophy rarely makes the news precisely because advances come so slowly, so agonizingly slowly, and what works for one will almost never work for all, because there are so many variations. Look at an alphabetical listing of the many different kinds of muscular dystrophy; only the letters J, Q, and V are not represented, almost one hundred varieties in all, with sub-categories within each one, usually indicating variations in severity. And there are even more that have no names because they have yet to be properly identified.

My daughter’s variation is Facioscapulohumeral (FSHD), so called because it most frequently affects the muscles of the face (facio), the shoulder area (scapula), and the upper arm (humeral). But that’s not truly accurate. It can and frequently does affect far more; in my sweet Kat’s case it began early on to affect her ability to walk, targeting the muscles of the hip and lower leg especially.

I have a memory from many years ago, while she was still a teenager, of going to meet her at the Los Angeles airport and watching her walk toward me, struggling to make each step, trying to use her will to dominate her legs, fighting so desperately to retain a measure of autonomous mobility. It was not to be.

FSHD has taken much. What it has not taken and cannot take is her ready—and sometimes frightening—intelligence, her sweetness, her indomitable will, her lively interest in the world around her, in people (her friends are many and disparate), books, and living her life as independently and productively as possible. (She edited my book, Dancing with the Dead, admirably correcting my creative spelling, catching dropped words and other errors, and correcting my fanciful attempts at Spanish.) She has a loving partner who matches her in intelligence, and she works steadily.

But now she needs help.

Our medical system is in disarray. It was before Obamacare, which didn’t improve it, and it appears poised to become even less functional now under whatever system may or may not replace it. But it would be both churlish and unfair of me to blame our health-care system for Kat’s current troubles. A corollary of the rareness of anything is cost. Gold costs more than lead, rubies more than garnets. Relatively few people need motorized wheelchairs of the complexity of those needed by muscular dystrophy patients, so while those wheelchairs exist, the cost is exorbitant: think the cost of a brand-new, top-of-the-line, one-ton pickup with all the bells and whistles; think the cost not so long ago of a nice, middle-income house.

She has insurance that covers some of the cost, but there are certain things, features that would make her life much easier and give her more autonomy, and those things insurance will not cover. To that end, Kat has established a GoFundMe account (https://www.gofundme.com/w96dm-help-me-buy-a-new-wheelchair). I understand we all have our troubles, and we all have our own financial burdens these days, but if you can help, you would be helping a remarkable young lady. And that’s my objective opinion, not the proud parent talking. Thank you.

At the Movies: Maudie

October 31st, 2017 5 Comments

 

Darleen dragged me off to see a movie I hadn’t heard about, nor did I particularly want to see it when she tried to explain what it was about. But it was clearly something that was important to her and—let’s face it—there aren’t all that many movies even made these days for people over forty inches in height, so we went to see Maudie.

Part of the reason I wasn’t particularly wild with desire to see it was that Darleen made the mistake of telling me about a review she had read in The New York Times. I compounded her mistake by actually paying attention and imaging, erroneously, the Times might have something intelligent to say. After we saw Maudie, I was so stunned by the complete disconnect between the movie and the review that I took the time to read of bunch of reviews in some other major papers and magazines, and before I give you my own reaction to the movie, let me fill you in on what I read so that you too, gentle reader, will never trust anyone or anything other than your own opinion. That includes me.

A quick synopsis of what I read in various mainstream publications:

The opening is so boring and bleak that the only reason to bother sitting through it is the performances of Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke;

The opening is the best part of the movie, which is only redeemed after that by the performances of Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke;

The director (Aisling Walsh) and writer (Sherry White) wisely don’t adhere to the reality of Maud Lewis’ life;

The director (Aisling Walsh) and writer (Sherry White) might have created a better movie by sticking closer to the truth of Maud Lewis’ life instead of going for commercial success;

The directing is a masterpiece of subtle understatement, wisely staying out of the way and not trying to impose theatrical conventions on the story;

The directing is uninspired and vacillates between the irreconcilable extremes of Maud Lewis’ life;

The score was hauntingly beautiful and understated;

The score was pushy and inappropriate.

I have used my own words here, obviously, but essentially stuck to the essence of what was written.

And then there were the snarky, Snidely Whiplash comments within the reviews, as if each critic had his or her own personal animosities they wanted to air, the most egregious one dismissing Kari Matchett’s lovely turn as the vacationing New Yorker who basically discovered Maud Lewis as “Cate Blanchette doing Katherine Hepburn.”

Yet, to be fair, all these critics grudgingly praised the film and especially the performances of Hawkins and Hawke.

For my part, I was absolutely blown away by everything to do with Maudie.

For those of you who don’t know who Maud Lewis was (I didn’t), she was essentially a Canadian Grandma Moses, an untrained folk artist, whose cheerful and colorful depictions of rural life in Nova Scotia caught the attention of the world.

That’s the sanitized version. It’s true, but as with all human affairs, the truth was rather more difficult: a life that was mostly very grim, very hard, and very unforgiving. Whatever the reality was or was not is unimportant here. This is a movie and should be judged solely on its merits as a movie, and on that basis, it knocks the ball right out of the park.

Everything starts with the script. Written by Sherry White, a Canadian actress and writer I had never heard of, the script is as spare as it should be, considering she is writing about a shy and reticent lady married to an almost non-verbal man, but within that framework Ms. White manages to balance beauty and brutality, laughter and tears, the physical fragility of her heroine and the indomitable resilience of her spirit. There are lovely touches of humor and hope in the bleakness of these two people’s extremely circumscribed lives, but I confess I had to take my glasses off and wipe them more than once.

Directed by another lady I had never heard of, Aisling Walsh, an Irish director who managed to balance the widely disparate elements of the story with remarkable grace, and who had the sensitivity to allow two immensely gifted actors to bring their characters to life, even when that life sometimes took them off-script. Ms. Walsh also did an exquisite job of capturing the harsh beauty of the environment that inspired Maud Lewis, a job that must have been exceptionally difficult: filming in cold weather is fraught with challenges, from fogged-up lenses to frozen batteries that can no longer power the cameras, to freezing cast and crew members. And much of the film takes place in different seasons, something that must have brought its own challenges. Kudos to her.

And then the performances! Oh, my. There isn’t a false note or bad lick from anyone anywhere in the film, but it is Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins who simply took my breath away. Actors choose projects for many varied reasons, but the challenges inherent in any given role are the primary lures for actors who have confidence in their own abilities. How do you find and convey the wisdom and humor in a tiny, fragile, deformed, possibly limited lady whose only means of real expression was through her art? Sally Hawkins does it.

If you like the kinds of action/adventure movies that depend so heavily on stunts and special effects, Maudie is almost certainly not going to be your cup of tea. But if you are interested in your fellow man, if the hidden bits and pieces of the human psyche that we know are there in all of us but that we so rarely see, if William Blake’s world in a grain of sand and Heaven in a wildflower, if those things appeal to you more than gun fights and car chases, you will love this movie. No matter what conflicting nonsense the damned critics spout.

The Reason Why

October 23rd, 2017 27 Comments

 

I received the following comment from a reader:

“I find it disgusting that some people have to voice their opinions with threats. With social media that seems to be more and more the case. Would most of these people say these things to a person’s face? I also want to say that being a Canadian I am more liberal in my views although I would never put someone down because of more conservative views. I would never, nor do I know of any other Canadian, who would vote Republican.  Republicans are far too much to the right for most Canadians. What I am wondering is why a lot of Americans feel so strongly about the right to bear arms.  I realize that it is a right in your Constitution and that we should fight not to have rights taken from us. I hear many Americans say that they need to protect themselves. From what?  As a Canadian I am not given the right to have a concealed weapon in my purse and I am 100 per cent okay with that. I feel, just as you do, that I live in a free country. I hear that it is to empower yourselves in case there is an uprising with the government. Really? I have never feared my government nor the head of state of Canada, the Queen. Whenever I am on holiday in Florida I also think in the back of my mind “many of these people could have guns on them”. This is not a reassuring feeling. I do also realize that the majority of you are carrying guns for protection and peace of mind and are not about to shoot me while I’m shopping at Target. As a Canadian I actually feel safer at home.  I guess I just want you, or your readers, to explain to me why you feel so passionately about guns and the right to carry one?”
Nancy Ontario Canada

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for asking a very reasonable question. I won’t go into the Republican versus Democrat issue, because that is a separate topic and relates to completely different views on what kind of government is best for America, views that were, once, possibly, long ago, during a brief and halcyon moment immediately after our revolution, debated with courtesy and respect for the other man’s opinion, in a gracious and honest attempt to reach what both sides knew must ultimately be a compromise. Them days is long gone.

But as to the right to bear arms, I am delighted to try and explain our uniquely American outlook on the God-given right to self-defense.

First, we must accept that self-defense is a God-given right, something no government can take away from you. Throughout all of man’s history, from the earliest known records of the Mesopotamian civilizations, men have always gone armed and usually in groups, precisely to be able to defend themselves. It was only with the rise of unprecedented wealth created by the industrial revolution that people in Western civilizations began to relax a little and stopped wearing swords or carrying guns for the first time, but during America’s colonial days, weapons were a fact of life and, in rural areas, of survival.

(An anti-gun history professor at Emory University, Michael Bellesiles, was awarded the prestigious Bancroft Prize in 2001 for his book, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, purportedly showing that firearms were relatively scarce in colonial America, and therefore proving the historical construct for the individual right to keep and bear arms was a bogus invention of a gun industry pandering to wingnuts like me who wanted to justify their strange obsession with guns. Obviously, I am taking liberties here, because I honestly don’t know, nor does anyone else, what Mr. Bellesiles’ motivations were, but while his book was initially, gleefully, accepted by gullible and eager anti-gun types and the virulently anti-gun media, his purported “scholarship” was almost immediately called into question by legitimate historians and scholars, with the result that within a year, the prize was rescinded and he was fired from Emory. I mention this incident only to show that, unlike Michael Bellesiles, I am not making things up when I say that owning and carrying guns has been a tradition in America since before it was America.)

Understand that our founding fathers, the men who initiated and spearheaded our revolution and subsequently created as close as we are likely to get to an ideal democratic republic, were men who decided to revolt treasonously against the crown precisely because they felt they were being crushed by a monarchy that neither cared for them nor for the colonies, except as a source of revenue and geographic expediency. There is much debate about what the final straw was, but the embattled farmers who stood by the rude bridge that arched the flood and fired the shot heard round the world (Ralph Waldo Emerson is rolling in his grave for how I’ve mangled his poem) were there specifically because they had received intelligence that the British army was coming to confiscate their weapons. That’s worth remembering.

So, America had a tradition of keeping and bearing arms even before it was America, and unlike Canada, which is still technically part of the United Kingdom as a parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy, America had to fight for her freedom, enduring enormous hardship and great loss of life in pursuit of a dream of equality and autonomy.

Even the western expansion of our two countries was radically different: American settlers and the American government fought battle after bloody battle against various indigenous tribes (and routinely and serenely disregarded treaty after treaty, which is why pro-Second Amendment types frequently and ironically say, “Of course you can trust the government. Just ask an Indian.”) while Canadian settlers relied upon their government (the Mounties specifically, if memory serves) to broker peace treaties instead of waging war. (Perhaps a better and more humane strategy, but all those Canadian treaties worked far better for the settlers than for the native tribes.)

I’m not trying to praise or condemn either one of our separate histories here: I’m just pointing out that there are historical differences between America and Canada and that those historical differences are reflected in our different attitudes toward self-defense today. Canadians, judging by the ones I know personally, by statements like yours, and by the accounts I read in local papers and saw on the local news during the three-plus months I worked in Edmonton, really believe in their various levels of government, and in their national government especially. Americans, at least conservative (read Republican) Americans, tend to look at their various levels of government with a much more jaundiced and distrustful eye. We also tend to be more self-reliant (for want of a better phrase) from the point of view that we do not expect the government to be there for us when we might like it to be. Anyone who has ever frantically called for the police in a life-threatening emergency knows that, with the best will in the world, law enforcement can never get there as quickly as we need them to be there. (I did it once; my ex-wife did it once. In neither case were the police able to arrive until well after the danger was past. In my ex-wife’s case, she was saved, literally, by the fortuitous and random appearance of a private security guard.) Nor is that the police’s mandate: our courts have ruled that the duty of law enforcement is to protect society in general, not the individual, a ruling that compels law enforcement to try and solve the crime and arrest the bad guys, but not to prevent the crime from happening. And, realistically, how could they?

So, while you, as an individual, have the right to defend yourself, just as every individual in the wide world has the right to defend himself, only in America is that right codified in our Bill of Rights, and spelled out to specifically mention arms. Not only is it codified, but it is given the honor of second place, preceded only by the rights of freedom of religion, expression, press, peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, all lumped together under Amendment One.

Even a cursory glance at the writings of the founding fathers, their letters amongst themselves, their diaries, and specifically and most importantly what we refer to as the Federalist Papers (a series of essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay), shows that they considered the armed individual to be a necessary requisite to balance the power of any government. Our anti-gun politicians and the media keep spouting fatuous nonsense such as, Nobody needs a (fill in the blank) to go duck hunting. But no kind of hunting is ever mentioned anywhere in the Federalist papers or any other writings. What is mentioned, repeatedly, is the right to self-defense, and the importance of an armed populace to keep a government from becoming too enamored with itself and taking liberties with individual rights. Think it can’t happen? Read your history. I won’t bother listing the all advanced, civilized, well-educated countries that descended into murderous chaos when their governments came under the thrall of leaders with evil in their hearts. It has even happened—on a very small scale—right here in America; the reason it hasn’t happened on a larger scale is precisely because an armed populace would, and more importantly, could, rise up.

So, what do I and other Americans, feel we have to defend ourselves against? Evil and stupidity and mental illness exist everywhere, and no legislation in the world will ever stop them. Fortunately, they exist in minuscule amounts, and are greatly outnumbered by good and kindness and selflessness, but they do exist. I have used a handgun to defend my life and the life of one of my sons. I have used a rifle to defend myself and my late hunting partner from a bear. Even our Center for Disease Control (CDC), an agency which has not had a traditionally pro-gun stance (to put it mildly), stated in a report commissioned by former and virulently anti-gun president Barack Obama, that “defensive gun uses by victims” [skip] “range from 500,000 to more than 3-million per year.”

Does that mean that 500,000 to 3-million times a year law abiding Americans whip out their gats and throw slugs around? Of course not. In my case, I never even got the pistol out of its holster; just the act of reaching for it caused the two men to spin around and jump back in their van. Usually (and countless studies and statistics prove this) just the presence of a firearm resolves potentially violent criminal situations without a shot ever being fired, thank God. Nor is the average person likely to go to places where bears will regard him as the first course of this evening’s dinner, but rabid animals and aggressive and out of control dogs seriously injure thousands of people every year.

Obviously, as someone who has been around firearms practically all my life, I have a very different feeling about guns than you or anyone who is unfamiliar with them. Not long ago, driving through Arizona, where constitutional carry is the law, I stopped in a big-box store and saw two men carrying sidearms openly (in holsters outside their clothes) and identified several others who were clearly carrying concealed sidearms. My immediate reaction was one of safety, of (to paraphrase Mr. T in The A Team): “I pity the fool who starts trouble in here.” But that’s a result of my knowing that guns are inanimate objects, tools that do not cause bad behavior or discharge by themselves. I quite understand that urban people who have never been around guns, let alone seen or handled them, might respond with fear, but always remember: there is far more good in the world than evil, so if you are in a state where law abiding citizens may legally carry firearms, take comfort in knowing that if evil should raise its head and see a man with a gun on his hip, evil is likely to retract its head and leave quietly for other venues. If that doesn’t happen, at least there is someone around who has the means to take care of the situation while you wait for the police to arrive.

Another Reason for the Second Amendment

October 18th, 2017 16 Comments

Two recent atrocities came together in an unlikely nexus.

The first was the horror in Las Vegas. The second was the horror in Hollywood with disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein.

The unlikely nexus is Dana Loesch (pronounced “lash”), the very beautiful conservative talk-radio host and NRA spokesperson. Since the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Ms. Loesch has received so many threats that she has been compelled to sell her home and move. The context of the nexus is that these threats are not just the usual death threats of the extremist looney-tunes on the far left to shoot her (no irony there), though there were plenty of those, but that there were apparently also many sexual threats, primarily to rape her to death.

Sexual abuse such as Harvey Weinstein’s, whether groping, masturbation, or rape, is not about sex. It’s about power, and I find it fascinating that the very sickest of the sick peaceful anti-gun types would use sexual threats in an attempt to intimidate Ms. Loesch.

Rape has been used by men as domination device since the dawn of time. It makes no difference whether it’s by sick and sleazy individuals like Harvey Weinstein, or by armies as a weapon of war, or by male convicts against other male convicts: it’s not about sex; it’s about power. And with that in mind, to find that the radical far-left would be so completely blatant is very revealing.

Radical progressive college professors and students have said, and proven, they consider violence acceptable if it prevents other people from saying things and presenting ideas the professors and students do not want to hear or see presented, First Amendment be damned. But to add the threat of such a crude and disgusting form of dominance, in an attempt to silence ideas and beliefs anti-gunners do not agree with, provides very effective proof of precisely why we need the right to keep and bear arms.

Oh, Yes!

October 10th, 2017 9 Comments

Darleen (above) as the stewardess of my dreams.

A friend of Darleen’s sent a link (http://dustyvideobox.blogspot.com/search/label/The%20Horror%20at%2037000%20Feet%20%281973%29) to a British blog about a movie Darleen made back in 1973. The blog is very entertaining and has a lot of very enticing photographs of my beautiful wife. You tell by glancing at the photo above just why the blogger was so smitten by her.

NFL Sponsors

September 28th, 2017 12 Comments

On another site where my blog gets posted, not this one, I received an ad hominem attack in response to my blog about the NFL. Curiously enough, the attack had more to do with my having once made my living as an actor than anything else, the implied reasoning being that because of my charmed life (and perhaps, indeed, compared to many, my life has been charmed in some very important ways) I couldn’t possibly know or understand what it is like for black people in black communities to be targeted by law enforcement.

I made it abundantly clear in my post that I have no interest in anecdotal evidence, neither mine nor anyone else’s. Anecdotal evidence can always be found to support any side of any argument, and your individual experience is no more valid as universal evidence than my individual experience. The conclusions I have reached are based on statistical evidence from our nation’s most highly regarded impartial source. But let me ignore the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, and I will instead quote findings of The Washington Post, the newspaper that runs neck and neck with The New York Times for title of most liberal paper in America.

According to the Post, out of 963 people shot by police in 2016, 233 were black and, again according to the Post, the vast majority of those were armed. Sixteen black males who were shot were classified as unarmed. In 2015, a police officer was 18.5 times more likely to be shot by a black male than an unarmed black male was to be shot by a police officer. In the past ten years, black males have constituted 42% of all cop-killers, even though they represent only 6% of the population.

If you don’t trust the Washington Post, a number of recent academic studies have produced similar results. I am referring to Harvard, to Washington State University, to an independent economist, and to the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), which describes itself as “…an independent, nonprofit organization merging scientific knowledge and proven practice to create solutions that improve the health, safety and well-being of individuals, communities, and nations around the world.”

The PIRE found that a civilian’s chance of being shot by the police following an arrest or traffic stop is unconnected to race; the chances are equal for both black and white.

The economist, Ted Miller, also found the chances of lethal force being used are equal for black and white.

The Washington State University study found that whites were three times more likely to be shot than blacks.

Harvard economist Roland Fryer found that police officers were 24% less likely to shoot a black suspect than a white one, 47% less likely to fire their sidearm without first being attacked if the suspect was black rather than white, and that black and white victims of police shootings were equally likely to have been armed.

The Center for Policing Equity, a 501(c)3 think tank, found that with violent felony arrests, white suspects were more than twice as likely to be victims of lethal force by law enforcement as black suspects.

Those are some studies that present one point of view, but there are also at least as many studies that seem to come to the exact opposite conclusion. However, I will not cite most of them, because:

—there was clear and explicit bias in some; e.g., citing a Black Lives Matter study would be like citing Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety on Second Amendment issues;

—some studies were clearly skewed by deliberately ignoring readily available evidence to bolster a specific point of view, or by opening or closing valid parameters, used in other studies, to alter conclusions, e.g., classifying anyone under the age of 21 as a child, or ignoring racial crime disparities;

—or because the focus of the study was so narrow (a single small-to-medium sized town) that it is not applicable to establishing a nation-wide trend.

But I will mention three in particular.

A UC Davis study found “significant bias” in the killing of unarmed black men versus unarmed white men, particularly in large metropolitan areas with low median incomes, high black population, and high financial inequality.

The same Roland Fryer cited above, found that although police were less likely to shoot a black suspect, they were more likely to use non-lethal force.

And the New York Times carried a story about a study by the same Center for Policing Equity cited above, that reached the exact opposite conclusion cited above, this time stating, “African-Americans are far more likely than whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even when racial disparities in crime are taken into account.” (I am quoting the NY Times there, not the study.)

Perhaps the reference was to non-lethal force, but I have neither the expertise nor the time to do the research to explain why the same organization could find completely opposing conclusions, so you pay your money and take your pick. But again, I emphasize that none of these contradictory studies reflect any nationwide trend, or plot, or coordinated form of discrimination or oppression, and disrespecting the symbols of an entire nation seems a poor and offensive way to register displeasure over the actions of individual towns or police departments.

I would also point out, that according to the FBI, while blacks commit most of the violent crimes, their victims are predominately other blacks, which does not speak well of local law enforcement in “large metropolitan areas with low median incomes, high black population, and high financial inequality.” Chicago leaps to mind. But it does not reflect badly on the nation as a whole.

But all of that is beside the point that I was trying to make. My primary argument, as I stated in my original post, is not the facts of law enforcement, nor the perceptions of football players black or white, that I object to. Rather, I object to a double standard by the NFL, a sort of cherry-picking, if you will, of the right to freedom of expression. Contrary to a popular email making the rounds of the internet, there is no rule on page 62 or 63 or any other page of the NFL rule book dictating etiquette for players during the national anthem. There is, however, a separate “game operations manual” that does cover etiquette during the playing of the national anthem, but it is phrased in terms of “may” and “should,” not “will” or “must,” so there is no basis for anyone, including President Trump, to call for the firing of players.

There is, however, a basis for disagreeing with the injection of divisive politics into any game: football and other sports are meant to be unifying events, with all the players striving for a common goal of victory for their team, and all the fans routing for victory for their favorite, and that can rightly be considered a paradigm for the unifying common goal of love of country. Beyond that, for the NFL to align itself with a divisive action by certain players, while forbidding other actions (honoring murdered police officers, honoring the victims of 9/11) by other players, is not only wrong in its support of division, but wrong in its inequality. It is very akin to the moronic anti-thought of Antifa and certain extreme college progressives who claim the right to freedom of speech should be open only to them. It would certainly seem the players kneeling on the field in protest of inequality should be able to recognize the inequality of their organization’s decision on this matter.

Here, for those of you who believe in America more than football, is a list of the NFL’s major sponsors. Profits drive the NFL, and lowered revenue will accomplish more than angry words.

Anheuser-Busch

Includes anything named Budweiser or Bud. Also Michelob, Rolling Rock, Busch, Shock Top, Natural, Johnny Appleseed, Landshark Lager, as well as the micro-breweries Goose Island, 10 Barrel, Blue-Point, Elysian Brewing Company, Golden Road Brewing, Four Peaks Brewery, Breckenridge Brewery, Devils Backbone Brewing, Karback Brewing, and Wicked Weed Brewing. It also includes the malt liquors King Cobra, Hurricane, and Spykes.

Barclaycard USA

A credit card company that is part of Visa, and partners with Mastercard and American Express in ways I’m not smart enough to understand.

Bose

Bose is a privately-owned company, so short of boycotting its products (easy for me to do), it might be hard to bring financial pressure to bear on them.

Bridgestone

Actually a Japanese company, Bridgestone also owns Firestone, Bandag (a re-treading company), and manufactures bicycles and golf equipment.

Campbell’s Soup Company

Campbell also owns Pepperidge Farm, Wolfgang Puck Soups, Garden Fresh, Prego, Pace Foods, Arnott’s Biscuits, V-8, Swanson, Bolthouse Farms, Franco-American, Plum Baby, Raguletto, and many other brands overseas.

Castrol

Castrol includes Penzoil.

Courtyard Marriott

A division of Marriott International. There are other hotels.

Dairy Management, Inc.

Proving that even farmers, who are basically the salt of the earth, can get hooked up with the wrong people.

Dannon

The yogurt company makes a variety of yogurts whose names either begin with “Dannon” or have some variation of “Dan.”

Extreme Networks

It’s a networking company based out of San Jose, CA, that builds, designs, and installs ethernet network computer products. I have now exhausted my intelligence about the company and the ethernet.

FedEx

Send your package via UPS

Frito-Lay

The snack food company is owned by Pepsi, and they manufacture a slew of snack foods such as Lay’s, Frito’s, Dorito’s, Ruffles, Cheetos, Sun Chips, Tostitos, Rold Gold, and Funyuns.

Gatorade

This is also owned by Pepsi (what food product isn’t?) and sells a range of drinks and energy bars that all have some variation of “Gator” in their names.

Hyundai Motor America

Hyundai also owns Kia and Genesis Motors.

Mars Snackfood

Oh, boy. They own the Wrigley Company (chewing gum) as well as a huge selection of candy products, including, but not limited to, 3 Musketeers, Bounty, Lifesavers, M&M, Skittles, Snickers, Twix, Uncle Ben’s Rice, Milky Way, pet products such as Eukanuba, Iams, Nutro Products, Pedigree, Whiskas, Sheba, and a lot more stuff I’ve never even heard of.

Microsoft

Yeah, good luck avoiding that one. I suppose, if you’re more computer-savvy than I, you could switch to Apple.

Nationwide

The insurance giant, another vast conglomerate that owns more companies than you can shake a stick at, and certainly more than I can list.

News America

This is a marketing company that is owned by News Corporation (News Corp), which is in turn owned by Rupert Murdock, as in the Fox News Rupert Murdock. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Murdock’s conservative beliefs outweigh his desire for profit.

Papa John’s

The pizza company. Make your own.

Pepsi

The mega-conglomerate that owns just about everything you can put it your mouth, including Aquafina, Tropicana, Lipton, 7-Up, Propel, Mountain Dew, Stolichnaya, California Pizza Kitchen, as well as Wilson Sporting Goods, North American Van Lines, and scores of other products. Pepsi also has some kind of partnership deal with Starbucks.

Procter & Gamble

Everything that isn’t owned by Pepsi is owned by Proctor and Gamble, including a bunch of the stuff you will need after eating Pepsi products, stuff like Crest, Oral-B, Fix-O-Dent, Scope, Pepto-Bismol, Charmin, Pampers, Tide, Head & Shoulders, Gillette, Bounty, Olay, Pantene, Mr. Clean… The list goes on and on.

Quaker

Among a slew of breakfast cereals, including Mr. T Cereal, Quaker also owns the Aunt Jemima brand.

Verizon

Yeah, that Verizon.

Visa

It’s always better not to use a credit card anyway.

USAA

This is the financial service, banking, and insurance company that bangs the drum in its commercials for its support of military families, in part because it was founded by a group of Army officers, and in part because it targets military families in particular. It will be interesting to see if NFL-related profits outweigh the company’s conscience (not likely) or, more importantly, its image. It’s hard to wave the flag while you’re disrespecting it.

NFL

September 25th, 2017 18 Comments

 

I’ve been thinking about the NFL players disrespecting our flag and our country. Apart from the fact that I find their chosen form of protest extremely offensive, I have several other problems with it.

I decided to do some research about what precisely they are protesting, and by precisely, I mean something more than vague references to racism and oppression and police brutality. Obviously, as an all-American slice of Wonderbread, I have no way of knowing what it means to be a black man in America today, or what day-to-day issues black people face, so I decided to rely on what the players themselves had to say. Unfortunately, there is very little to find.

Colin Kaepernick has a website for his foundation that has the following mission statement: “The mission of the Colin Kaepernick Foundation is to fight oppression of all kinds globally through education and social activism.”

While that is laudable on the face of it, it is unfortunately so childishly and hopelessly vague as to be completely meaningless. It’s like saying you support world peace. Who doesn’t?

Other public statements I was able to find by other players are also equally vague, so I fell back on an article from Sports Illustrated that condensed Mr. Kaepernick’s stance down to protesting racism and oppression and police brutality, which left me very little better off than I was before I tried to do my research.

I’m not going to address the racism because these days it works both ways and I find both equally offensive. The white people who feel, show, or express racism are just as crude and moronic as the black people who feel, show, or express racism, and both manage to create their own belief support system to carry them on, so nothing I might say is going remedy that.

Oppression I have a hard time taking seriously (to “oppress” means to persecute or subjugate by unjust use of force or authority) in the wake of eight years of a black president, and with three black incumbent US Senators and forty-five black incumbent US Representatives in Congress, especially when that word is used by men with an average salary of $2,000,000.00 per annum.

So that brings us to police brutality, which I what I suspect the NFL players mean when they use the word “oppression.” Again, I have no way of judging what it means to a black man or woman in America today, but I am not interested in anecdotal evidence. We all have our various personal experiences, pro or con, that color our view of the world, but personal or second-hand stories do not equate to reality or to society as a whole. So what we all have to fall back on are the statistics for law enforcement compiled by the FBI and available to all in their Uniform Crime Report.

The percentages break down into 68.9% of all arrests, for all crimes, are white people, while 28.3% are black people, with native American, Asian, and “other” making up the negligible rest. In fact, in all categories of crime, with the exception of violent crime, whites comprise the majority of arrests. Since, as of 2016, whites are still the majority in America, with blacks being the largest racial minority with 13.3% (Latinos and Hispanics are considered a white ethnic minority) that isn’t too surprising. Unfortunately, the paradigm shifts when it comes to violent crime, with young black men accounting for 52.2% of all arrests for murder and non-negligent homicide and 56.4% of all arrests for robbery. However, when it comes to police shootings, almost twice as many white men are shot by police than black men. If you adjust for population percentages only, yes, a greater percentage of black men are shot by police, but if you also adjust for violent crimes by race, it skews the rate back again. Police go where the crime is.

But apart from the disparity between perception and reality by black football players, what really bothers me about this is the NFL’s reaction to the protests. In 2016, when five police officers were murdered in Dallas, Texas by a black racist who stated he wished to murder white people and white police officers in particular, the NFL ruled that the Dallas Cowboys could not honor the five murdered officers by wearing decals on their helmets. Yet now, they deem it acceptable for players to kneel or sit or otherwise disrespect the American flag and the men and women in the service that flag represents, who have given or risk their lives for all of us, including football players black and white. The reason given by the NFL is the First Amendment right of freedom of expression. What happened to freedom of expression when the issue was honoring five murdered police officers? I would like someone to explain what nicety allows one form of freedom of expression, but not another, because either the NFL must decide expression ends in the workplace for everybody, or it is allowable for everybody.

Until then, as I follow sports specifically to get away from the constant hateful and divisive political ranting and posturing that has invaded every aspect of life in America, I will boycott the NFL and go back to watching nothing but boxing.

Reasoning with Evil

September 21st, 2017 15 Comments

 

Many decades ago I read an account of the Charles Manson murders that included the horrifying revelation that of all the people in Sharon Tate’s home that night, only one, Wojciech Frykowski, fought for his life. Mr. Frykowski had witnessed the tender mercies of the Nazis in his native Poland and was able to recognize evil when he saw it. All the rest tried to reason with their murderers, with poor Sharon Tate repeatedly saying, “Can’t we talk about this?” even after she had already been stabbed in her almost nine-months pregnant belly. Too many rational people are unable to recognize irrational evil when they see it, and they die as a result.

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Sharon Tate Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

I thought about this as I watched President Trump’s speech to the UN. Unlike Barack Hussein Obama, who appeared to enjoy blaming America, Christianity, and Western civilization generally for all the troubles of the world, there was no wringing of hands, no apologizing for actions past or present, and no smarmy, we’re-all-in-this-together conciliation by Donald Trump. Instead there were plain, blunt promises to protect and support America and her allies, and the plain, blunt naming of names of bad actors. (Sometimes plainer than one might hope for from a United States president, but I’ll take plain courage and plain belief in America over articulate apologies and eloquent conciliation any day.) North Korea, Iran, and Syria are not our friends, and there was no attempt to pretend they were. Socialist dictatorships like Venezuela, and communist dictatorships like Cuba, have never given a damn about their citizens, with the predictable results of extreme poverty, privation and abuse. Donald Trump made no attempt to say anything nice about any of those regimes. It was, as Benjamin Netanyahu said, “…the boldest and most courageous speech I’ve ever heard at the UN,” and Mr. Netanyahu, unlike our previous president, is a man who knows a little about courage and boldness. Unfortunately, the mainstream media that has banded together to portray President Trump as dangerous and unfit for his position, also seems shocked and horrified by courage and boldness. The criticism has run a wide gamut, from Hilary Clinton’s “dark and dangerous” comment, to more measured analyses by people who (on the surface, at least) understood what the president was saying, but rejected either the language or some parts of the message.

But it was the mainstream media’s reaction that really went over the top.

In particular, Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, went out of his way to portray Donald Trump as “mentally unstable” by comparing him unfavorably to President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. Mr. O’Donnell chose to carefully ignore, or is more likely ignorant of, the facts that:

1] John F. Kennedy was a dangerously compulsive serial womanizer (that would disqualify him today as mentally unstable) who

2] was having an affair at that time with Mary Meyer (that would also disqualify him today) who

3] introduced him to LSD (think that might disqualify him today as mentally unstable?) and—most importantly—that

4] despite O’Donnell’s insistence that Adlai Stevenson’s speech at the UN is what caused the Soviets to back down, the truth is Kennedy had a secret direct line to Khrushchev (OMG! Throw that man in prison for collusion!) and it was their direct, private communication that resolved the crisis, not anything anyone said at the UN.

Winston Churchill, who experienced some of the horrors of war, was roundly condemned and vilified by the House of Commons for his bellicose attitude toward rearming Great Britain prior to World War Two, and for opposing Neville Chamberlain’s groveling appeasement of Hitler. God knows Trump is no Winston Churchill, but like Churchill, and like poor Wojciech Frykowski, Trump seems to be able to recognize evil for what it is when he sees it, and like both of them, he knows better than to waste time trying to sweet-talk or appease people who only want to kill.

Child Abuse!

September 18th, 2017 9 Comments

 

When the news reported that an eleven-year-old kid had been given permission to mow the White House lawn, I immediately told Darleen that President Trump would be accused of violating child labor laws. My bride appreciates her lord and master’s wit, and we both had a good chuckle over my droll little nonsensical quip.

In fact, it turns out Darleen’s lord and master is a hopelessly naïve schmuck who consistently underestimates the sheer mindless idiocy of the progressive left, the mainstream media, ivy league education, and the kind of people produced by those entities, the lovers of safe spaces and the nanny-state concept. What I had thought was a silly little joke to go with the morning’s coffee turned out to be an absolutely accurate (and, I suppose in hindsight, completely predictable) forecast.

Here, word for word, is the tweet of a reporter named Steven Greenhouse: “Not sending a great signal on child labor, minimum wage & occupational safety >> Trump White House lets a 10-year-old volunteer mow its lawn.”

Ten, eleven; no matter.

Steven Greenhouse is a journalist who specializes in labor and workplace issues. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and the New York University School of Law. He was a correspondent for the New York Times, for thirty-one years, but he has apparently taken some sort of early retirement to work on his own projects. Let’s be fair and presume that Mr. Greenhouse has his own brand of cynical humor and enjoys (to paraphrase the title of a Tom Wolfe book) mau-mauing the conservative right and is now enjoying the hysterical reactions of, well, people like me. Let’s hope so. Let’s sincerely hope so.

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