Both Feet!

I have posted before about the protest that is going on in the NFL (especially) by a number of players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem. It is a hot topic, indeed a large pond of hot mud, since there is a great deal of pointing of fingers and angry cries of “foul” but very little seems to be happening. The problem is the focus of attention is directed to the protests themselves and not to the problems that have brought on the protests — namely, the civil unrest, especially in large cities and most especially in poor neighborhoods where there have been numerous clashes between police officers and citizens who see the police presence as a threat.

This issue, as I say, is very muddy indeed and a number of the players — not only in football but in other professional sports as well — are actually working with those in the ghettos to help resolve the tensions that exist there between the citizens and the police who patrol the streets. What is needed is dialogue, of course, between the two sides so that an understanding can be reached between two groups of folks who simply see the world differently.

But of recent note is the insistence of our Fearless Leader to jump into the mud feet-first, throwing mud in every direction and generally making a mess of things. He sees things in black and white terms, as so many of us do. And he insists that the NFL Commissioner simply demand that the players stand or fire them. I kid you not! Simple solutions to complex problems: that’s in the man’s DNA. It’s the sort of thing that will appeal to a great many Americans who are offended by the protests and refuse to see beyond them to the real problems the athletes seek to draw attention to. But it is not going to help matters one bit.

This country was founded on protest. Those who ignore that are really not in a position to call the protests “un-American,” or “un-patriotic.” They are the very heart and soul of America. But the protests themselves should not be the focus of attention, as I have noted. We need to ask ourselves why certain individuals, many of them after deep soul-searching and at the risk of hatred and derision at the hands of those in the stands, would choose to disrespect the flag of their country. Is it possible that there is something amiss? Something that should be addressed? To be sure, there is.

We do love simple solutions and we find those who suggest simple solutions to complex problems reassuring. I give you Paul Harvey and Rush Limbaugh. It helps us avoid the exhausting effort of trying to figure things out for ourselves. Donald Trump is not the first to suggest a simple solution to a complex problem and he will most certainly not be the last. But the issue is there and it will not go away until people start to talk seriously with one another, to make a concerted effort to understand the other’s point of view. And shouting “Fire the bums! is taking this in precisely the opposite direction. To mix metaphors a bit, it is throwing gasoline on the fire. Or, to stick with my original metaphor:  jumping in with both feet simply makes the mud pile deeper and more smelly.

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Academic Freedom

Back in the day when I was teaching at the collegiate level we worried about academic freedom. In those days, it amounted to insisting that administrators allow faculty of differing opinions and philosophical convictions to speak their minds without recrimination. It also insisted on equal pay for equal work. It degenerated into unionization which, while it did raise salaries and save the careers of a number of faculty members, it also set a tone that I always felt was inimical to the ideals of collegiality that ought to be found on college campuses. But then I have been spitting into the wind so long my saliva is about used up.

Of late, however, the university faculties themselves are interfering with academic freedom. Increasingly, they are refusing to allow speakers to speak on campuses across the country, “controversial” figures like George W. Bush, Madeleine Albright, George Will, Paul Ryan, Condoleezza Rice, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Bear in mind that the universities that denied these people a voice on their campuses, because of student and faculty protests, are so-called “prestige” academies — places like Brandeis University, Stanford University, Boston College, Rutgers University, University of Minnesota, Yale University, and others of equal standing.

Students, often led by militant faculty with hidden agendas, are becoming increasingly strident in their opposition to ideas they regard as a threat to what they regard as social justice. In a word, they have their minds made up and cannot allow alien information to intrude on their convictions and deeply held beliefs. Increasing numbers of universities, in a word, are becoming closed systems that refuse to allow outside information to penetrate if it is determined by the vocal element on campus that those ideas are somehow harmful. There are exceptions, but they are increasingly rare.

Coupled with this intolerance in places that ought to be open to all ideas no matter how radical or outrageous, is the growing ignorance of the students and a great  number of the faculty. A recent study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni determined that:

• Nearly 10% of recent college graduates think Judge Judy is a member of the Supreme Court.

• Less than 20% of those college graduates know the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation.

• More than a quarter of the college graduates did not know that Franklin D. Roosevelt was president during World War II.

• One-third did not know Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president who spearheaded the New Deal.

And so it goes. To augment their ignorance, many of those students, while enrolled, were involved in a variety of campus protests, including a group from Brown University that complained of the emotional stress and poor grades that followed from the months they spent protesting! They blamed the university for insisting that they complete coursework and demanded “incompletes” on their course work.

On many campuses protest seems to have become an end in itself as self-indulgent students increasingly complain about their course requirements and about the poor grades they receive as a result of their unwillingness to complete those requirements. And in many cases, intimidated or sympathetic faculty take the side of the students rather than take the lead in showing them the way out of their ignorance by opening them up to new intellectual horizons. For many who teach, followers are what it’s all about — especially those who give them praise in on-line evaluations that often determine how full or empty their classroom might be. The pressure to be popular, to give students a “break,” is immense and helps us to understand grade inflation. Pressure was immense when I taught and it has only increased as students’ sense of entitlement has grown by leaps and bounds in our permissive society.

In the end, the trend toward closing doors (and minds) to new ideas, coupled with the increasing tendency to ask little of spoiled students who complain when asked to do what they really would rather not do, will reduce our academies of higher learning to country clubs and mental health clinics where students can feel safe and protected from the realities of the world “out there.” In a word, universities are rapidly becoming more concerned about the “well-being” of the students than about their intellectual growth. This does not absolve members of college faculties of their responsibility to prepare their students for the real world; it merely recounts what seems to be a growing trend in academia.

 

Beyond The Protest

As we all know, Colin Kaepernick has drawn the ire of thousands of people around the country for having the audacity to kneel during the National Anthem before football games because of what he sees as social injustice in this country. Lately, we are told, he has even received death threats, as have others who have followed his example; this underlines the fact that most people are more upset about the protest itself than they are about the injustices that the protest is designed to call to our attention.

That there are serious issues between the black communities and the police forces of many cities is beyond question. Recently a black man in Charlotte was shot because his car broke down and the police who arrived on the scene thought he had a gun (doesn’t everyone these days??). Countless other examples could be pointed out, including the recent shooting in Tulsa. And this suspicion and fear between the people and those paid to protect them is the root of the problem that Kaepernick’s protest is supposed to highlight.

It does appear, fortunately, that finally there is some movement beyond the protest itself to bring the two parties together for dialogue and an attempt at mutual understanding. Clearly, there are two sides to this issue, as there are to any complex problem. And the only way the problem will be solved, if indeed it can be solved, is if the parties who fear one another come together to present each other with their legitimate (or illegitimate) complaints  — Donald Trump’s mindless stop-and-frisk suggestion to the contrary notwithstanding.

As has been well said, we do not need fences to keep us apart; we need bridges to bring us together. Above all else, we need to bring the fear out into the open and try to understand the grounds for it and determine whether or not there is a way to uproot it and replace it with trust. This will not happen unless the two sides, in this case, come together and talk.

I never thought much of Kaepernick’s gesture in itself. It is disrespectful of our flag and this is insulting to a great many people. But as a symbol I thought it praiseworthy. If, as appears to be the case, it has made real dialogue possible then we could defend the protest not only on the grounds of the First Amendment, but also on the grounds that it has opened lines of communication that appeared to have been blocked by unreasonable fear and distrust. There would, then, be two reasons to applaud Kaepernick’s actions — as well as that of the other athletes who have had the courage to demonstrate with him.

Too often in the past athletes have refused to get involved in social issues when they are in an excellent position to speak out and act with courage. I will not attempt to speculate about the motives that have kept people like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods silent in the past, but it is good to see that others are willing to stand up (or kneel down) in the face of serious social issues that affect us all. And Jordan is finally putting his money where his mouth should have been all this time.

The heart and soul of moral responsibility is that those who are in a position to effect change act and not remain silent. Kaepernick has shown great courage in taking this step. Let us hope this leads to real solutions and that those who would pillory the man turn their attention away from the protest itself and reflect on the actions that have brought that protest about.

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.

Protest

The increase in violence at Donald Trump’s rallies of late has tongues wagging and writers furiously pounding the keys. It is indeed disquieting at the very least. Trump himself swears he is opposed to violence even though he is on record as encouraging his followers to hit those who protest at his rallies. He’s even promised to pay their fines! His apologists on Fox News are calling for more violence against the protesters who are blamed for the violence. We now have the interesting scenario of those who hit and those being hit both claiming to be innocent. Sounds like the NFL! Trump, as is his style, blames everyone else, including Bernie Sanders and the president, for the violence that has erupted at his rallies. Now there’s paranoia and delusion together in a most interesting mix.

But the reports of a woman standing quietly at his rallies with a peace sign being roughly escorted from the place, conservative reporters who merely seek answers to obvious questions being grabbed by Trump’s right-hand man and nearly thrown to the ground — and Trump later saying the woman is “delusional” and “made the whole thing up” — or blacks in the crowd who report that they are shouted at (the “n” word) and glowered at simply for being present and even struck by Trump followers as the so-called “protesters” are led (again forcefully) from the arena, all lead one to suspect that the tendency of Donald Trump to encourage this sort of violence is the root cause of the entire problem.

To be sure, it takes two to have a fight, but when one side becomes violent because those who disagree with them are merely present this suggests that the tendency is already there and that the violence is simply a matter of course. It’s not hard to see which foot the shoe fits in this case. But the larger question is: why is this man so afraid of listening to those who oppose him? Or, more to the point, why is this man afraid to even allow those who oppose him to be present at his rallies? One does begin to realize that this man has a very thin skin indeed. Further, he is a bully and filled with hatred toward those who might happen to think he is wrong. He is never wrong — in his own mind at least — and it is the “true believers” like him who are most dangerous. Their minds are closed tighter than traps; they are convinced they have all the answers and that the ends justify any means whatever.

But, again, why this brew-ha-ha over protest? This country is founded on protest. It is not only protected by the First Amendment, it is the very life-blood of this country, the very thing our forefathers died to protect. The fact that the man, Donald Trump, fears those who protest against him is a sign of his stunted personality. The fact that his followers are quick to follow his lead and strike out against those who represent opposing views suggests another pathology. It suggests that there are those among us, growing numbers in fact, who are willing to follow wherever they are led. The world has seen such followers before and the damage and destruction they have left in their wake is clear for all to see. This is what is so disturbing about the violence at the political rallies of late. It’s not about the lies and delusion the leader exhibits — though this is indeed unsettling — it’s about the growing number of folks in this country who buy into his confused and even conflicting ideas and are wiling to swear allegiance to someone who wants only power for himself and uses others simply to guarantee that the power belongs to him and to him alone.

Protest is a good thing. It is absolutely necessary in a democracy if the system is to remain vital. As Thomas Jefferson said the country needs a revolution every fourteen years. Anyone who doesn’t see this is blind to history and fails to understand what a democracy is all about. But violence is not a good thing and it is not a necessary thing either. That one should lead to the other, as it has done in this case, must give us all pause.

Concerned Students

You may have read about the football team at the University of Missouri that has refused to play again until the president of the university resigns his post. The story reads, in part:

Several African-American Missouri students have been protesting what they say is systematic racism on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. The latest incident came Oct. 24 when a swastika made of feces was smeared on the wall of a dorm bathroom. . . .Jonathan Butler, is on a hunger strike until [President] Wolfe is removed from his position.

Prior to that, Payton Head, the head of the Missouri Students Association, said several people in a passing truck yelled racial slurs at him while he was walking. And several other groups and individuals have noted racist treatment while on campus.

This is a serious situation indeed and the actions of the students, which have been supported by the rest of the team and the coach, are to be applauded. It is refreshing to see students interested in something other than sports and the upcoming party. But, I must ask, is this the issue to focus attention upon? To be sure, it touches directly many of the students who are black and others who are in sympathy with them. This is clear and not at all a bad thing. But, again, we see action being taken because of an issue that is fiercely personal and touches these athletes directly. What about larger issues?

Political activism is a part of our heritage. We are a nation founded on protest and a willingness to fight for principles. But what are the principles here? Racism is a fact of life and it should not be. That much is clear. But there are huge problems “out there” away from the campus that the students seem to be unaware of despite the fact that they affect those students and athletes directly and which, while seemingly not personal, will make their lives a terrible struggle in coming years. I speak, of course, of things such as global warming, the torture of other human beings by our government, expanding human populations, the continuing buildup of weapons of mass destruction around the world, not to mention the continued party bickering by our elected officials who should be turning their collective attention to those very issues.

Students in the past have occasionally protested such things as the investments of their universities in companies that threaten the planet and this strikes me as very laudable. These protests have been small, however, and have had fair results at places like Harvard University. But the irony here is that the protest at Missouri involves more students and those students are athletes in a sport that is of vital concern to the students themselves and the boosters who will, eventuality, put enough pressure on the president to resign — I predict. Therefore, they will get results, after which things will go back to normal. After all, we can’t have a Saturday afternoon at a NCAA Division I school pass without a rally, a big game and a party after.*

The irony I am reaching for here is that this is a tempest in a teapot compared to the larger issues that the students are simply unaware of or indifferent to. This problem will be quickly resolved while the larger ones continue to be ignored.  Their education should make these students ready to protest issues much larger than racism, issues that affect all of us and all of our children and their children as well. Racism is ugly and should not be tolerated. But so are the larger issues mentioned above which, for the most part, continue to be ignored by college and university students. This fact alone is an indictment of our educational system which should be teaching these students to get worked up over issues that may not affect them immediately and directly today, but are much larger and more threatening to themselves, and the rest of us, in the long run.

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  • Within hours of drafting this post President Wolfe resigned.

Good News!

It may be a small step, but Syracuse University announced today that they will divest over $1 billion in fossil fuels and invest only in clean energy in the future. This announcement came after two years of protest by students at the university. This is great news for two reasons: (1) It gives a boost to the clean energy movement. And (2) it shows that not all college students are wasting their time drinking and attending sporting events; young people who pull together for a higher purpose can have an effect.  I am delighted by both (all three?) of these facts.

Oh, yes. More good news: France has announced that all new construction must have solar collectors or gardens on the roofs!! You see, all news is not bad news. It’s just the news the entertainment industry chooses to provide us with!

Out Of Sight

A story in Yahoo News about a prisoner outbreak at Guantanamo Bay is an ugly reminder of a very ugly chapter in this country’s history. It begins as follows:

MIAMI (AP) — Months of increased tension at the Guantanamo Bay prison boiled over into a clash between guards and detainees Saturday as the military closed a communal section of the facility and moved its inmates into single cells.

The violence erupted during an early morning raid that military officials said was necessary because prisoners had covered up security cameras and windows as part of a weeks-long protest and hunger strike over their indefinite confinement and conditions at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Prisoners fought guards with makeshift weapons that included broomsticks and mop handles when troops arrived to move them out of a communal wing of the section of the prison known as Camp 6, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a military spokesman. Guards responded by firing four “less-than-lethal rounds,” he said.

After more than ten years 166 men remain in close confinement without the benefit of a trial for being “enemies” of this country. While they were supposedly captured by American troops during the Bush Administration, many of them were, in fact, captured by Pakistanis and Afghans who were paid a bounty. Barack Obama’s promise, when he first ran for President, that he would bring those prisoners to this continent and they would be given a fair trial never was realized because Congress, and the citizens of this country, would have none of it. They remain in prison, visited by their lawyers and occasionally by the Red Cross. But they have no idea when or if they will ever be released to return home. They may, indeed, be enemies of this country. But that supposition is based on evidence that has never been made public or allowed the benefit of rebuttal. In a word: they are presumed guilty, a direct violation of a fundamental right of due process all human beings could lay claim to since the days of the Romans.

Most of us don’t really care about those men or their plight. It’s a question of “out of sight, out of mind.” And I dare say that is how the matter is supposed to be regarded by those who call the shots at the highest levels and claim their only concern is to protect us from terror. They don’t want us to know, for example, how those men are “force-fed” after it has been determined that they are on a hunger strike. Perhaps it is better that we not know. One wonders whether we might be better off being protected from our protectors. In any event, the situation in Guantanamo Bay is inhumane and a black eye on a country that presumably stands for human rights, liberty, and “justice for all.”

Scouts’ Good Deed

The decision recently of a number of Eagle Scouts to return their merit badges to the National Council in protest over the recent decision not to allow gays into the Boy Scouts of America has drawn considerable attention. A recent story in Huffington Post begins with the following paragraph:

A letter penned by a former Eagle Scout who returned his badge to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in an act of protest against the organization’s decision to uphold its anti-gay policy is going viral in the blogosphere.

This is indeed a big deal. The scout in question, Martin Cizman is only one of a growing number of Eagle Scouts who are returning their badges. As a former scout who never made it to that level of scouting I recall how difficult it was and how many years it took to attain the heights of Eagle Scout and I respect the principles of those who are returning their badges and in effect turning their backs on an organization that has acted with a closed mind and narrow vision.

In this day and age, when even the armed forces recognize the rights of gay people to participate it is reactionary nonsense for any organization to deny the rights of any young man or woman to join and participate with his or her friends.

It is also interesting to see that a number of blogs, including one called “Scouting For All,” have appeared discouraging the scouts from returning their badges because, it is felt, it will do no good whatever. As the source mentioned put it, “We believe that the BSA officials don’t deserve them because they promote a policy of discrimination and likely would not even care if they received them.” Apparently the minds of those who run the organization are closed to what they apparently regard as sexual deviation and they are unaware that this is the 21st Century and that sort of bigotry is no longer the order of the day. In fact, the number of young men joining the Boy Scouts is lessening and one wonder if the narrowness of vision of the leadership might not be a large part of the reason for this phenomenon.

As Martin Cizman noted in his letter to the BSA National Office, “A national policy on sexuality forces good, principled people from scouting,” . . . “I can only hope that someone inside the BSA has the courage to fix this policy before the organization withers into irrelevance.”

I am one who is quick to point out the foibles of my fellow humans, I must be equally quick to note the good things that we also do from time to time. And this is certainly one of those times. Acting on a sound moral principle to take to task an organization that preaches that its boys be “morally straight” [their words, not mine], is worthy of a loud Hurrah! Well done Martin and friends.