Colin’s Sit-Down

I admit it: I have never been a huge Colin Kaepernick fan. I don’t like all the tattoos and I have thought him a bit of a doofus when he has spoken to the media — like so many of his fellow N.F.L. players. Colin is, of course, the wannabe  quarterback of the San Fransisco Forty-Niners football team. Before the last two pre-season football games he has refused to stand during the national anthem as a protest  against what he perceives as injustices in this country, particularly injustices involving minorities. He also includes in his protest, as I understand it, the inaction of those paid to “serve and protect” the minorities and other disadvantaged persons. This topic has been very nicely discussed in a recent post by Jill Dennison that I reblogged. It is well worth reading.

The interesting thing about Colin’s protest is that the protest itself has drawn more attention (and ire) than the injustices it is directed against. It is seen by many as unpatriotic despite the fact that the First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees each of us the right to speak our minds and express ourselves as we see fit. I would argue that he is being a bit of a rebel in the true American spirit. This country is guilty of a great many injustices against minorities, increasingly of late. And we have seen the police reluctant to step in and even to over-react when they do step in. Theirs is a difficult role to play in neighborhoods where the tempers are at the boiling point and violence is just a word away. I don’t envy them in the least.

But the fact that this young man would choose to draw attention to a situation that needs to be addressed should be applauded, not condemned. It takes great courage these days to stand up for what one believes, and for that alone Kaepernick is to be praised. Whether or not his action will have the desired effect is doubtful, and there is always the possibility that it will have a reverse effect — especially in today’s political climate. But as an action in protest of an injustice it is not to be condemned as “unpatriotic.” After all, the flag he chooses to refuse to salute does represent his right to protest. And the actions he is protesting against are not those of a country that prides itself on taking and holding the moral high ground.

As a nation we have much to answer for of late and we have never fully accepted the equality of the races. Lincoln thought we never would. And with a major politician with a mouth far too large raising temperatures and tempers around the country, waiving red flags in front of bigots and racists, the injustices Kaepernick is protesting against become all too visible.

We need to pause and reflect just what it is this country stands for. If for no other reason, Colin Kaepernick is to be lauded for his stand.

“Sierra” Speaks

The recent issue of “Sierra” magazine has a most interesting editorial which I quote in part:

“Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been like an oil-train derailment in slow motion — the spectacle is awful to witness, impossible to turn away from, and mesmerizing in its sheer horror.

“Trump enjoys being a bully. His bigotry and his bile are nauseating: the calculated cruelty, the willful ignorance, the lack of empathy and grace. But, as the old saying goes, even a stopped clock is right a couple of times a day. It would be a mistake to blithely dismiss this real estate mogul turned politician. Trump’s brand of nationalism may be ugly, yet he has tapped into a deep vein of resentment that many Americans feel toward the way politics is practiced in this country. He isn’t wrong when he complains that many of our elected officials are ‘puppets’ who are controlled by ‘special interests, the lobbyists, and the donors.’

“Our democracy is, in a word, busted. In this new Gilded Age, U.S.politics has become a pay-to-play game in which the quickest way to bend a politician’s ear is to dip into one’s own pocket. Electoral watchdogs estimate that during the 2016 elections, candidates for office will spend a total of $10 billion. Much of that comes from a wealthy elite who can afford to buy an elected official’s attention; just 158 families have donated nearly half of the money raised by presidential candidates in this election cycle.

“Such an imbalance obviously undermines the one-person-one-vote ideal upon which this democracy rests. . . The environmental movement has popular sentiment on its side: poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans want action addressing climate change and value clean air and water. . .  But it is difficult to translate these positions into policy when elected officials are being funded by industrial interests like the Koch brothers.

“Note that I said difficult, not impossible. Given the sickly state of our body politic it is tempting to view cynicism as wisdom. The best antidote against cynicism is staying engaged in the political process, with the knowledge that reform only happens when people demand it. . .

“It’s a delusion, of course, to imagine that a self-described billionaire will wrench the political system away from wealthy interests. Real reform will require putting all political candidates on a level playing field, stopping voter suppression that disenfranchises poor people, and ending gerrymandering that keeps incumbents in office. That’s how we’re going to make America great.”

This editorial was written by Jason Mark, editor in chief of “Sierra,.”

The Murder of Khalid Jabara

This is well worth your time.

Filosofa's Word

Some stories are harder to write than others.  When I write about Trump, it likely raises my blood pressure some and I pound the keys harder, hence shortening the lifespan of my Dell.  When I write my Idiot of the Week pieces, I shake my head, roll my eyes, and sometimes even chuckle.  But stories like this one break my heart.  They have more meaning, at least to me, than most of the others I write, but they take a toll.  Still, this story must be told.  It is too important to ignore.  I hope you will agree.

It is nothing new, really.  Neighbors get into disputes, usually settled with words, but every now and then with fists, willful property damage, or by some other means.  Then, usually, they go on being neighbors and either “kiss and make up” or simply ignore each other.  Perhaps they plant a 6-foot-tall hedge…

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Just Words

One of my favorite comics recently ran a strip on the topic of a funeral for the word “said.” It’s a word (they insisted) we no longer use and we can thus have a formal ceremony acknowledging its passing. We have thrown it away and now we hear: “I’m like,” and “She goes,” then “he goes,” and Fred’s all like”…. you get the picture.

Another word that seems to have passed away is the word “take.” We used to take things there and bring them here. Now we bring things everywhere. Lazy folks we are. We also find ourselves  “laying around” instead of “lying around.” We forget that “lay” is a transitive verb requiring an object. We lay something or someone, but if I were laying around I would expect to see an egg after I got up — or perhaps a I am a slut! We also can’t tell when to say “I” or “me.” Folks who like to pass themselves off as educated opt for the former in almost all cases so we get things like “It is all the same to Sally and I.” We know this is wrong since if we forgot all about Sally we would get something like “It’s all the same to I.” We know that can’t be right.

But one of the really interesting things is the way we use the word “up” at the end of so many phrases. We say “listen up!” or we say “button up,” or “zip up,” or “shut up,” “heads up,” “back up,” “lock up,” “wake up,” “wait up,” the list goes on. And why? It doesn’t help the meaning any.  Oh yes, there’s another little word that creeps in uninvited from time to time as when we say “It’s not that big of a deal,” when we mean to say “It’s not that big a deal.” The “of” really doesn’t belong. It’s just a waste of words when we could use them wisely elsewhere — as in the case of “take” or “lie.”

And there is another little word that is in danger of disappearing — if the folks at Weather Channel have their way. That’s the word “in.” They simply don’t seem to need it even though they say things like “the weather into Chicago is rather warm today.” I always thought “into” suggested movement, but they seem to think “into” works perfectly well wherever you want to use it, though it makes me a bit nauseated when I hear those “experts” saying it (not nauseous as some would have it. The latter is an adjective and describes such things as odors and sights; the former is an adverb and works well to describe feelings. Sheldon Cooper pointed that out to his friends on “The Big Bang” several years ago).

My problem is that I hang out with a good friend who teaches English to undergraduates. We tend to cry in our G&Ts about the sorry state of language in this country (not to mention politics). But, these are just words and I am being a pedant — knowing that no one likes a pedant. Sorry. Its tiresome, though, reading and writing about Donald Trump so much  — who is verbally challenged, to say the least, and it makes me feel a bit nauseated to think of him.

In the end, however, we do need words to communicate and if everyone is playing a different language game it makes communication impossible. This would be a serious problem if people were listening to one another, but since that doesn’t seem to be happening much any more perhaps I am simply spitting into the wind ….. again.

Lipstick On The Pig

What is it they say? If you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig? This appears to be an application of that adage! The Donald is making every attempt to pretend he is something he is not — since what he is turns off so many people. This is part of his effort, initiated by his new PR people (staring Kellyanne Conway) to create a different image for him and make him out to be someone else. Note the brief excerpt below:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is planning a Thursday morning meeting with Latino and African-American activists at his Manhattan headquarters in Trump Tower. The activists are fellows from the Queens, N.Y., office of the Republican Leadership Initiative, a program designed to train young, diverse recruits to be campaign field operatives.

Multiple GOP sources confirmed plans for the meeting and characterized it as part of Trump’s outreach efforts in the African-American and Latino communities. While the initiative is not solely focused on training minority activists, a source said the Queens office of the program is in a predominately African-American and Latino area and has attracted its participants from the community.

An email circulated earlier in the day Tuesday indicated that former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner, current chairman of the Queens County Republican Party, was helping to organize the event, which was initially set to take place in Queens. Turner told Yahoo News the event had subsequently shifted to Trump Tower and described it as part of Trump’s efforts to court Latino voters.

We all know how The Donald feels about minorities generally and this is almost funny — having them come to Trump Towers to meet with the great one (in his surroundings) to see what he can do to placate these folks and convince them he’s really not a racist and orthodox bigot so they will go forth and spread the word to their peers. He had his fingers crossed the whole time! Right!

There are so many things wrong with this one hardly knows where to begin. But I suppose we could start with the fact that he is not going to these people, he is asking them to come to him. The meeting was “shifted” to Trump Towers. I dare say he wants to intimidate them with his opulent surroundings and the emotional effect it must have on these folks to have to visit the great man in his palatial surroundings. It borders on the sick, if we find it difficult to laugh at the shenanigans of this man and his supporters.

It is so clear to any disinterested bystander that this man is making an effort in the final two months of this campaign to unsay some of the things he has said, win over new voters, and bring back many of those who have defected from the Republican Party. One would hope those people cannot be this naive. And I gather from this snippet that many of those targeted will not fall for this codswallop:

Many rank-and-file black voters, meanwhile, dismiss the overtures as another racially charged pitch from a campaign aimed exclusively at whites, from Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” to his withering critiques of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black chief executive. It was Trump in 2011 who fiercely challenged Obama’s U.S. birth.

“Any minority who would vote for him is crazy, ought to have their head examined,” said Ike Jenkins, an 81-year-old retired business owner in the predominantly black suburb of East Cleveland.

It’s all about selling the candidate, and his name has grown sour and isn’t selling very well to the uncommitted voters, especially minorities whom the man has eviscerated repeatedly, while driving away many of those loyal to the Party. So we change the image and present the new version to those out there who haven’t already decided that voting for this man would be the greatest of all possible mistakes. Seriously. There’s not enough lipstick in the world to make this pig look like anything but what he is. He remains the same belligerent, bellicose, bigot with an ego the size of the Pacific Ocean.

News That Sells

I found the following remarks in an article about how we should take reports about the latest polling results with a grain of salt. I have always done so, but it was most interesting to read what the writer said about news reporting generally:

Our research suggests yet another reason not to overreact to news stories about the newest poll: Media outlets tend to cover the surveys with the most “newsworthy” results, which can distort the picture of where the race stands.

Why? Consider the incentives of the news business. News outlets cover polls because they fit the very definition of newsworthiness. They’re new, timely, often generate conflict and allow political reporters to appear objective by simply telling readers and viewers what the public thinks. Horse-race stories are also popular.

Given that readers are drawn to drama and uncertainty, polls that offer intrigue or new developments — such as a close race or signs that one candidate is surging — are more likely to be deemed newsworthy. In particular, polls with unusual results may be more likely to make the news.

Note, please, the “incentives” of the news business. To begin with, news is regarded as a business, not a public service. This is, of corse, true. The hooker is that as a business news sources must worry about who pays the piper. That is to say, news reporting should be about what we need to know to be an informed citizenry; rather, it’s about what sells newspapers or air time. “Newsworthiness” is nothing more or less than what sells.

But I was struck by the notion that reporters should “appear to be objective,” as though objectivity should not be their highest goal. Clearly, it is impossible to be completely objective — how could one be objective about a person such as Donald Trump, for example? One either hates or (apparently) loves the man. But the idea that a reporter, like an historian, should be objective should be the first order of business. I recall a friend once saying that he wished someone would write an objective history of the Civil War — from the Southern point of view! As I say, it can’t be done. None the less, it should always be the goal of any historian or reporter. But this writer says it is enough to “appear” to be objective. The polls do this by giving us numbers. But the selection of those polls can be very subjective and it appears as though that choice is based on what strikes the reporter as sensational (“drama and uncertainty”).

It’s a good idea to take what we hear and read with a grain of salt generally. It pays to be suspicious and question all sources of information. We cannot always do this, but it, too, is a goal we should all seek to achieve. This is the point of thinking critically — not to reject, but to accept on reasonable grounds, which requires that we have a good idea off what constitute reasonable grounds. This is especially difficult in an age like ours in which the reports we read and see on television are selected for all the wrong reasons.

I have noted in past blogs that reporting has become an arm of the entertainment industry. But it is interesting to have reinforcement of that idea by someone who seems to accept as a given the fact that reporting is all about getting through to an audience rather than about telling the world what is going on and letting the world decide what they want to read, see, or hear. Apparently TV is the worst culprit in this decline of reporting as news provider and this is because TV is a cut-throat business and as we all know business is what our world is all about these days: it’s all about the bottom line.

Why It’s Close

To many observers, this political race for president of the United States should be about over. It shouldn’t even be close. On the one hand, we have a candidate who has managed to offend everyone from the disabled to the mother of a baby who had the audacity to cry at one of his rallies. On the other, we have a trained lawyer, a seasoned veteran who has been involved in international affairs at the highest levels, advised a sitting president, and was married to another. As I say, it shouldn’t even be close.

But, depending on what polls you read and when they were taken, the race is alarmingly close — “alarming” because if the former candidate (who shall remain nameless) should win it would be a disaster for this country given his twisted sense of reality together with his proclivity for alienating practically everyone and his inability to take criticism or advice from anyone who disagrees with him. The thought of this man (who shall remain nameless) with the nuclear codes is enough to wake the dead and cause them to dig deeper graves. This is the man, after all, who repeatedly asked, during a State Department briefing, why, if we have them, we could not use nuclear weapons. As has been said, America’s choice is between sanity and insanity.

But the race is closer than it should be and the obvious question is why. The answer seems to be that many people do not like Hillary Clinton. She is a strong woman with definite opinions and a hard exterior. However, I cannot recall any political candidate in my lifetime who has had to withstand the personal attacks and relentless —  and in many cases unwarranted — scrutiny that this woman has and she has handled it with remarkable equanimity. But, you see, she is a WOMAN. And there is the rub, it would seem.  We managed to elect a black man to the presidency and we now sit on the threshold of electing a woman– both “firsts” for a nation not known for doing the right thing of late.  And yet it appears we are afraid to take that step. Why is that?

Is it possibly because the candidate whose name will not be mentioned has scared the pants off a great many people in this country and created a fictional opponent whom he has pilloried on every possible occasion, hurling every ugly calumny at her?  Most of us under the circumstances would have wandered off to the local Home For The Bewildered babbling incoherently. Clearly, his mindless minions have bought into this diatribe. They have bought into it because (a) there are a great many people in this country who are sick and tired of “politics as usual”; they want to elect “someone else,” i.e., someone from outside the political mainstream. Hillary Clinton is decidedly mainstream. And (b) because they do not want a woman to hold that office, especially the woman who has been held up to them as the embodiment of all they hate and fear. As one of this man’s followers said in a recent interview, following a rally, regarding women generally : “No. A female has more hormones. She could start a war or anything. Hot flashes … BOOM!” By depicting this woman as the bearer of all of the vices any one person could possibly bear and holding that image before his mindless minions this candidate (who shall not be named) has managed to create the belief in the hearts of many that they must reject his opponent because she is weak and thoroughly evil while he is the only one who can save this country from perdition. And because those minions are mindless — and more numerous than anyone thought in his or her wildest nightmares — they have bought into it; as a result the race is so much closer than it should be.

Thus, those of us who see things as they are — and not as they are painted for us by a twisted mind — worry that this race will go to the wrong person and we shall have to deal with the consequences, consequences that are worrisome indeed, because it really is a choice between sanity and insanity and it shouldn’t even be close.

Straw Woman

There is an informal fallacy in logic that is committed with great frequency. It is called a “straw man argument.” It occurs when person A misrepresents the argument put forward by person B and attacks the misrepresentation — which is always a weaker form of person B’s original argument. Thus, I might argue that you should stop smoking because there is a very high correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, and despite the fact that a strict cause between cigarette smoking and cancer has not been shown — due to the fact that some people smoke and do not get lung cancer and some who do not smoke  get lung cancer anyway. You might then say, “oh, I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that there really is no risk in smoking because no one has been able to show a causal relationship between the smoking and lung cancer.” In this replay we see the “straw man,” a weaker (distorted?) form of my argument that is easier to attack because it is vulnerable.

A similar sort of thing is taking place in today’s political contest for the office of president of the United States. The opponents of Hillary Clinton have created a “straw woman,” a fictional person who closely resembles the female form of the devil (Trump has actually called her that, among other things!) and who is in no way like the original. This fiction is easy to attack because she embodies evil, is ambitious, dishonest, weak, and determined to bring the country down about her ears.

Now, I don’t know the “real” Hillary Clinton but from what I have read, despite her flaws, she is nothing like the creation of the Tea Party and Donald Trump. But since the real Hillary will be hard to beat, the creation has taken her place in the minds of a great many voters who now hate the woman and would not vote for her even if she could walk on water.

We tend to believe what we want to believe, of course. So it is easy to “sell” this fictional person to the voters of this country who almost certainly fear strong women in their lives in order to sell them their own fiction, a man who “tells it like it is” and offers us his proven expertise as a successful businessman and a refreshing alternative to politics as usual. Clearly, this is a fiction and nothing like what we know about the man himself. But it is a fiction that “sells” and in the minds of a great many people is preferable to the straw woman they have grown to hate and fear.

To be sure, attacks on politicians whose image has been created for us by marketing experts are always terribly weak, though commonplace. Such attacks tend to miss the mark because we have no way to know precisely who those people are and what they will do when elected to public office. Such is the case with Hillary Clinton — and Donald Trump, to be honest — because the straw woman has become the main figure in the target practice that has become politics. Create the image you want to hate and start slinging mud. That’s now the name of the game.

As responsible voters, we must do whatever we can to put aside those caricatures and try to see who the people running for office really are: listen carefully to what they have to say, “vet” them to know as far as possible how much experience they have had and what sort of track record they have thus far. We must rely on the media, which is a problem, but there are sources that are known to be unreliable (e.g., Fox News) and there are sources that are known to be reliable (e.g., the New York Times, CNN, and PBS — or even the BBC). The latter sources are more likely to present us with a true picture of the candidate than are the former. But, in the end, we must be as sure as we can be that the person we vote for is the person himself or herself and not a straw image that will hurst into flames as soon as elected.

The Real Victim

We have already heard the claim that this election is “rigged” and that Donald Trump may lose as a result. What this translates into it: My name is Donald The Trumpet and IF I lose it will not be as a result of my own failings as a person and a potential president, it will be because the Democrats have rigged the election.” In a word, it’s an escape clause that Trump has built into his ridiculous candidacy, because in his mind he cannot lose fair and square. The facts, of course, do not matter — though his claim is, indeed, based on the fact that the DNC managed to guarantee that Hillary would be their candidate and Bernie Sanders would not be. There is certainly some truth in that (if truth matters any more).

But it is a huge jump from that particular unpleasant fact to the outrageous claim that the entire election will be rigged to guarantee that Donald Trump will not be our next president. Why, we might well ask, should the Democrats bother to rig the election when the Trumpet is managing to undermine his own candidacy by continuing to shoot himself in the foot? If only he wouldn’t open his mouth, he might have a chance. But whenever he opens it another outrageous claim comes gushing forth and another doubter is born (we would hope).

To be sure, things have been done in the past to promote the interest of one particular candidate — Mayor Daily in Chicago practically delivered the election to John Kennedy back in the day. But there have been numerous other attempts, such as Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise certain voters (usually Democrats) and help the candidate of choice. And it would appear that Florida was pretty much delivered to George W. Bush by his brother not long ago. But to “rig” the entire election in favor of one candidate over another would appear to be practically impossible.

But that doesn’t matter, as we have learned. It’s not what is the case, in fact, that matters. It’s all about perception and the Trumpet is a master at deception — making the “truth” out to be whatever he says. He will say the word “rigged” enough to convince his mindless minions that it is a fact. And when he goes down in defeat in November (if he is not forced to resign sooner) he will shout “foul,” and his minions will rise up in protest. Let’s hope and pray that they not do so in violent protest — though I would certainly not bet against it.

The real victim in this race is not Donald Trump. If the real victim is not the Republican Party (which may well be the case) it is the truth. It is facts. It is what happens to be the case and not what people perceive to be the case. Truth is the real victim because the consequences of this transformation of lies into The Truth From On High are incalculable. The Donald will, as he says, take a long vacation and then probably work for Fox News and do the lecture circuit to help reimburse himself for the expenses he has incurred in this contest — and keep his face in the public eye. But what his mindless minions will do is anyone’s guess and those consequences follow directly from the rocks this man has turned over and the rage he has ignited in the hearts of so many people who might otherwise have simply remained mute. And, again, the truth will lie in tatters around our feet, unrecognizable and incapable of resuscitation. There’s the real victim.

Enhancing Performance

After watching Katie Ledecky win her fourth gold medal at this year’s Olympics, beating her second-place opponent by 11 seconds in the 800 meter free-style race I immediately thought “I wonder what she’s on.” It’s sad. I have no reason whatever to believe that this young women took anything to enhance her performance, but in this day and age when anyone wins big one immediately wonders what that person was on.

For so many years we could simply enjoy the thrills and spills that are sports, getting satisfaction from the remarkable feats of strength and grace. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Now that’s all done and gone. I suppose Lance Armstrong was the one who spoiled it for me. Or was it Barry Bonds? Or Roger Clemens? Anyway, there seem to have been so many “great” athletes who, it was discovered, cheated and had a leg up in their goal to achieve great things in sports. They have spoiled it for me.

I watch an athlete like Katie Ledecky win her race by such a large margin and I cannot get it out of my head that if she’s that much better than her opponent she, too, much have had a letup. The same is true of Serena Williams who is big and much stronger than so many of her opponents. I don’t want to believe it, but the seed has been planted and it has grown into a thorny bush that pricks and stings and makes every great moment in sports a moment of suspicion and doubt. How sad.

Sports are one of the few places left in our world where people are rewarded for their wins and punished for their losses, where there is success and failure — and many athletes at all levels of play learn important lessons from both winning and losing. But when winning is tainted by the suspicion (well-founded or not) that there was cheating involved it makes the entire enterprise dark and shadowy. That is not as it should be by any means. But that is what Performance Enhancing Drugs have brought to sports. All successful athletes play under a cloud of doubt and the only thing we can do — and we do it — is to think “well, everyone else does it, so what’s the difference?” We try not to think of it.

As I say, that’s not the way it should be. It’s not fair. We should rejoice with Katy Ledecky and admire the determination and skill of this remarkable athlete and the wonders she performs in the pool. But, because of that thorny bush, I find it difficult to do any more. How sad.