Obama’s Pronouns Vs. the Flat Earth Mentality

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-HISPANIC CAUCUS

Only a few days after posting yet another examination of Obama Derangement Syndrome, I came across a piece about the Obama Haters’ recent obsession with the president’s use of pronouns.  The claim, you see, is that he says “I” or “me” with inordinate frequency, which proves that he’s an arrogant narcissist.  The pronoun narrative reached its nadir, perhaps, with right-wing pundit Charles Krauthammer, who declared

For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon… I mean, count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech, and compare that to any other president.

Well, unfortunately for Krauthammer and his kind, somebody did just that.  The folks at BuzzFeed studied more than 2000 news conferences delivered by all the presidents since 1929, when mass media began coming into its own. And they counted the number of times the presidents used personal pronouns like “I”, “me” and “mine”, calculated their percentages among all words used, and compiled them into a handy chart.

Obama pronouns

And those results do not speak well for Obama Haters, Inc. Far from having the highest frequency of such pronouns, Obama has to date the third lowest. Furthermore, he also has the highest usage of plural first-person pronouns like “we” or “our”, suggesting that he actually may be the most inclusive of modern presidents.

That being said, a glance down this chart indicates that we should exercise caution in assuming that the incidence of such words is always a reliable indicator of narcissism/ arrogance/ self-indulgence. Jimmy Carter is at the upper end of the scale, and he is a manifestly unselfish man who has devoted his post-presidency time to nonpolitical public service. Herbert Hoover is at the very bottom, and yet he was a relentless and unscrupulous megalomaniac who scarcely was capable of doing anything that didn’t advance his ambitions or status. Ronald Reagan also ranks rather low, and yet he had delusions of grandeur that bordered on schizophrenia.

Nonetheless, it’s possible that the haters are, despite their best efforts, on the right track about Obama. His low level of personal pronouns does seem to coordinate with his humility, as reflected in his extraordinary efforts to work with an extraordinarily obstructionist Congress, and his amazing grace and good will in the face of an unbelievable amount of hatred thrown his way.

Whatever the implications, the most obvious problem with the haters’ pronoun narrative is simply that they got their facts wrong. Not just mildly wrong, but wildly wrong. And they did so by indulging in that very egocentrism of which they accuse the president. Having heard him say “I” a few times, they concluded, without bothering to investigate, that he does so with great frequency.

It’s a folly that has plagued the human race from day one: the presumption that the view from one’s own narrow window reflects what the universe as a whole looks like. And it has resulted in a great many irrational beliefs and behaviors, from the hilarious to the horrific. The belief that the world must be flat because I can’t see it curve. The belief that the earth must be the center of the universe because I see the sun move around it. The belief that the old woman down the road must be a witch because my dog got sick after she petted it. The belief that global warming must be a myth because it snowed in my back yard last week. And now, the belief that the president must be a Kenyan communist Nazi Muslim Anti-Christ because Fox “News” says so.

And it’s a folly that likely will continue to  plague the human race in the future. Let’s just hope that its consequences are more hilarious than horrific.

The 35th Worst President Ever?

Obama coffee cup

In case you missed it,  there was a brilliant little political essay  by the brilliant little political essayist Mark Morford at SFGate on July 8 called “The Best Worst President Ever”, eviscerating the oft-heard lament that Barack Obama is “the worst thing that ever happened to this country”, or some such. The Cult Of Obama Hatred is working overtime to drill its mantra into the head of the American citizen: “worst president ever, worst president ever, worst president ever”. Like a broken record, or a record-breakingly inept Republican president wedging “Iraq” and “9-11″  together into the same sentence as frequently as possible, they hope that if they say it long enough and often enough, people will believe it. And it appears to be working, at least for now.

Not long ago, an RRR (rabidly right-wing relative — don’t they make family gatherings fun?) said to me, “Obama has just split this country apart. He’s caused the races to hate each other more when they were beginning to get along, and he’s made the whole nation more divided than it’s ever been before”. Naturally, I was intrigued by this analysis, and I asked him to explain exactly how the president accomplished this. Needless to say, he was unable to name even one thing Obama has done to cause such unprecedented divisiveness. He just knows that somehow, the president has set Americans against each other more than anyone else has ever done, including, say, Jefferson Davis.

I suggested to my RRR that maybe he should consider the possibility that if indeed the nation is more divided than it’s ever been (which is by no means a given) then in fact it has not been Obama but Obama haters who have contributed to it. After all, they’ve churned out the most malicious lies imaginable about the president on a daily basis for the past 6 years, and lies tend to be quite divisive. To which he replied, “Well, you have your opinion, and I have mine.”

This is what we’ve come to in Twenty-First Century America. The difference between lies and truth is dismissed as nothing more than a difference of opinion. And the prevailing opinion is that Obama has “destroyed this country” and “shredded the Constitution” and “mortgaged our children’s future”, or he’s — (insert the popular cookie cutter phrase of your choice). facts and explanations be damned.

Some polls have the president’s popularity at an all-time low. Or as Fox “News” puts it in inimitable Fox fashion, “more people than ever are fed up” with him. In one poll, a plurality (33 percent) of Americans consider Obama the worst president since at least World War II — even topping out George W (28 percent).  Which just goes to show how effective the anti-Obama propaganda has been, and in particular how effective is the technique of sheer repetition. Because reality tells rather a different story.

Determining the best and worst among presidents is necessarily a subjective undertaking to some extent — particularly among members of the contemporary general public, who tend to assess a leader according to how well he conforms to their own ideologies. And since Obama caters to neither the Right or the Left, he’d be getting a double dose of criticism even if he wasn’t the intensive target of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Even Michael Moore declares that he will be remembered only as the first black president. Et tu, Mike?

But future generations won’t care much about present ideological differences, or how the current crop of right-wing radicals detested the current president past all rationality, or how contemporary “liberals” are disappointed that he’s not progressive enough. With a broader perspective, such as that provided by history or even contemporary historians, there are definite objective parameters. It would be hard to call an Abe Lincoln or George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt a bad president, or an Andrew Johnson or Warren Harding or George W. Bush a good one (though some people may try).

A president’s place in history is determined, with pretty decent accuracy, by his cumulative actions in office; and again, there are definite objective parameters. It would be pretty hard to fault, for instance, the Emancipation Proclamation or Social Security or The Peace Corps (though some people certainly try). And it would be pretty hard to praise the intelligence and security failures that allowed 9-11 to happen, or the launching of the Iraqi quagmire based on lies and fraud, or converting a huge surplus into a huge deficit, or shattering Ronald Reagan’s record for presidential vacation time, or muzzling scientific research and playing denial on climate change (though some people certainly try).

And it’s hard to find fault with the retirement of Osama bin Laden; but the Obama haters certainly try — while at the same time trying to credit it to George W. Bush, who’d been out of office more than two years and had long ago given up even looking for bin Laden. But that’s by no means the only one of the current president’s impressive accomplishments.

Among them, of course, is the Affordable Care Act, forever to be spun as “Obamacare”. Surely you’ve heard of it. Socialized medicine. Government takeover of medicine. Nazi medicine. Death panels. Skyrocketing premiums. Doctors jumping ship. Thousands of armed IRS agents ready to enforce it. A dismal catastrophe all around, right? That’s certainly the way it’s being portrayed. And a gullible public gobbles it up.

Yet when you dig beneath the cacophonous layer of Bedlamite frenzy and press the issue, most Americans will quietly if grudgingly admit that “Obamacare” is… (wait for it) actually a success. Most have even seen this for themselves. Yes, even Republicans. Shhhh!!! Don’t tell anyone.

And what about the economy?  That’s certainly an important factor to consider. And the official spin is that Obama’s economic policies have been ineffective if not disastrous. Many Obama haters cite their own change in economic status as “proof”, on the assumption that (a) their own experience typifies the nation’s as a whole — after all, the universe does revolve around them, doesn’t it?, and (b) it’s all Obama’s fault — if and only if they’ve become worse off in the past few years.

Right-wingers have an immutable four-part formula they apply to a president’s impact on the economy: (a) If the president is a Democrat and the economy goes bad, the president is to blame. Period. (b) If the president is a Democrat and the economy improves, it’s due to the Republicans in Congress or the last Republican president, however long ago. (c) If the president is a Republican and the economy improves, it’s all his doing. Period. (d) If the president is a Republican and the economy goes bad, it’s due to the Democrats in Congress or the last Democratic president, however long ago.

Historians and economists, however, are not blessed with such divine insight, and so they have to rely on hard numbers instead. Those numbers almost invariably show that economic improvement coincidentally has a way of occurring when a Democrat is in the White House. And the present president is no exception.

The guys at Motley Fool have compiled tables of how the presidents since 1900 compare in five economic factors. Of 19 administrations, Obama’s ranks fourth in stock market performance, seventh in reducing unemployment, eighth in GDP per capita, and — get this — FIRST in corporate profit growth. The latter isn’t even close: at an annual growth rate of 43.1 percent, Obama’s figure smokes the next closest competitor at 17.7 percent. This, mind you, is a president whom the wingers love to brand a “socialist”. So lopsided is the president’s boon to corporate interests that the Fools suggest, with a perfectly straight face, that maybe he should play fair and bring the percentage down to a more competitive 6.2 by factoring in the final year of the economically disastrous Bush administration. You think I’m making this up?

Okay, so President Obama has plenty of positive things going for him. What about the possibility that there is enough in the minus column to wipe out his assets? Well, it’s really not a realistic possibility at all. Certainly, he’s only human, and he’s exhibited his share of missteps and flaws like any other politician. (And ironically, they tend to be overlooked by the Obama Haters in their rush to circulate nutball rumors.) But contrary to loud and pervasive rumor, there is nothing that promises to make a dent in the history books.

Which certainly hasn’t prevented the haters from trying desperately, comically, to find something. From Benghazi to birtherism to Benghazi to the IRS to Benghazi to the NSA to Benghazi to Fast and Furious to Benghazi to Solyndra to Benghazi. And oh yes, there’s always Benghazi. Failing to gain much traction with these “scandals” they grasp at straws that are excruciatingly silly even by their usual standards.

There is, for example, the “latte salute”. The president’s casual act of saluting two marines while holding a cup of coffee as he exited Air Force One was turned into a tsunami-sized controversy by the hatred industry. The puerile hyperbole over this non-event is perhaps best encapsulated by Karl Rove on Fox “News”:

Are we surprised? After all, we’ve got a chai-swilling, golf-playing, basketball-trash-talking, leading-from-behind, I-got-no-strategy, ‘Osama-bin-Laden-is-dead-GM-is-alive’, community organizer commander-in-chief… It’s not a latte salute, it’s a chai salute because he drinks chai tea. I mean, please! How disrespectful was that?

This thoughtful and mature analysis brought to you by a man who who, in many respects, ran the country for 8 years, and is often referred to as “Bush’s Brain”. Hey, let’s all try being as adult and sophisticated as Karl. Hmmm… If he was Bush’s brain, which end would that make Dick Cheney? The reference to “no strategy”, by the way, is a comment taken out of context (a national pastime for Obama haters) and seized upon to advance the myth that the president is weak/ disastrous/ embarrassing in foreign policy. In raising such a hue and cry over the disgraceful latte/ chai salute (Which is it? Makes all the difference in the world, you know.) Fox “News” completely gets its facts wrong  (Fox?? Say it ain’t so!) about the history and protocol of presidential salutes, and asks “Would President Bush ever do this?” The answer to that, it appears, is probably not.

Bush dog salute

Bush salutes several times with a dog, and he’s a patriotic, strong-willed, resolute commander-in-chief. Obama salutes once with a cup of coffee (Or is it tea?  Inquiring minds want to know.) and he’s an embarrassment, a joke, a traitor in league with ISIS who wants to infect you with ebola. But in the interest of being “fair and balanced”, surely Fox soon will launch into a protracted analysis of how Bush’s saluting posture was cowering, wimpy, and quasi-fetal as he clung to the most popular member of his administration, while Obama’s saluting posture is erect, bold, proud and decisive. I’m sure they will. Any day now. Doncha think?

Basically, anything that any other politician could do without raising a Hannity eyebrow becomes a major, major scandal/ outrage/ source of ridicule if Obama does it. Is there anything more worthy of a Lemony Snicket novel than Sarah Palin, that persistent answer to a question nobody is asking, mocking the president for using a teleprompter with a canned one-liner read from a teleprompter?  Considering that nearly all of the media coverage of President Obama is negative, and a great deal of it is deranged and apocalyptic, is it really any wonder that his ratings are so low?

Meanwhile, what gets far less media attention is that a group of 238 presidential scholars has done a periodic ranking of U.S. presidents that placed Obama 15th. That’s 15th BEST, boys and girls, not 15th worst. This, mind you, was after his first year in office and thus before most of his accomplishments. Other surveys of the experts have also rather consistently ranked him highly — as highly as 8th. And highly ranked presidents tend to rise in their rankings after they are out of office.

So, sorry to break the news to you, Obama haters, but posterity promises to be far kinder to Barack Obama than to you. Or to your warped image of him. If you wanted to peg him as, say the 35th worst president ever, then you might have a case. But the worst? Not unless things change very, very drastically. And very, very soon.

Good Cop/ Bad Cop: A Primer For Confused Extraterrestrials

st louis county police

Greetings! This is Qtlrzk from the planet Blexxar reporting again about the strange goings-on on that world whose inhabitants call Earth — it may be better known to the rest of you in the galaxy as Planet Punchline.  As you may know, we’ve been learning about this world by monitoring transmissions from information(?) systems known as TV — especially a system called the Fox News Network, which has the loudest and most widely received signal. This is puzzling, since both its name and the intellectual level of its content indicate that this network is intended for an audience of small furry quadrupeds.

One of the more recent sources of confusion has been the reaction to the behavior of law enforcement personnel in the enclave known as Ferguson in the sector called Missouri in the settlement called the “United” States Of America. After killing an unarmed youth, one policemen has been hailed as a hero, and the force to which he belongs has been extolled as noble and righteous — in native slang, they are “good cops”. This was puzzling because we were under the impression that police were meant to protect rather than destroy other carbon-based life forms.

Furthermore, it wasn’t long ago that law enforcement personnel dispatched to the sector of Nevada were referred to as “armed thugs” — which, we take it, is the equivalent of “bad cops”. Initially, this seemed to us to be such a contradiction that we suspected that in the interval between the two incidents many media personalities had been abducted by interplanetary interlopers and replaced with class four replicants.

On closer inspection, however, we have learned that there is a consistency to the inconsistency. We are pleased to present you with the following compendious guide to the distinction between “good cop” and “bad cop”, which depends on five factors:

1: Offense responded to

Bad cops respond to instances in which citizens blatantly defy the law over a period of years. (Those citizens are called patriots.) Good cops respond to impulsive momentary violations such as walking in the street. (Those violators are called gangsters.)

2. Nature of offender

Bad cops respond to violations by individuals with lighter skin tones. Good cops respond to offenders with darker skin tones.

3. Conduct of enforcers

Bad cops behave with restraint even when faced with confrontation, and back off rather than engage in violence. Good cops kill citizens at the slightest hint of conflict. When others protest such deaths, they brandish their weapons and yell, “I will fucking kill you!”.  They also say “I’m into diversity; I kill everybody” and refer to the national leader as an “undocumented president” and to Supreme Court justices as “black-robed perverts”.

4. Protesters

The protests against bad cops are initiated by individuals and organizations from all over the country, who come with weapons and try to provoke a fight. The protests against good cops are initiated by local citizens; and though they may be supported by individuals from other parts of the country, they come unarmed. Nonetheless, good cops greet them with armaments sufficient to quell a Klingon invasion.

5. Jurisdiction

Good cops serve municipalities. Bad cops serve central government agencies, which puts them more directly under the command of The Evil One, the dreaded Barack Of Obama. We have not yet been able to determine why this leader invokes such fear, paranoia and delirium in so many citizens. We had heard that many of those infected with this peculiar form of madness live in parts of the “United” States Of America in which the ground is red, but our spectroscopic analysis reveals no significant difference in soil tint. We suspect instead that the behavior may be due to some substance in their supply of potable aqueous liquid.

We hope these guidelines will be of help to you should you ever choose to visit this bizarre little planet. If you do make such a rash stop, however, we assume no responsibility for your fate.

Playing Ostrich on Race

Ferguson protest

Whenever an unarmed black teen gets shot by a white guy — which seems to be becoming a trend these days –you can count on two things happening. First, there is an outrage among the public. Second, there is a campaign by many in the media, and other right-wing extremists, to gloss over the incident and the public reaction. It’s really no big deal, they try to tell you. Get upset over something else instead, they say. We saw this with the killing of Trayvon Martin. And more recently, we’ve been seeing it with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Fox “News” and company have gone into hyperdrive declaring how sick and tired they are of all the media coverage of protests in Ferguson even as they offer endless coverage of Ferguson, and how the real racists are the ones who talk about racism even as they go on and on about racism.  Fox bit off more than it could chew in one priceless unscripted segment in which Steve Harrigan was, in the condescening words of a colleague,

trying to explain the reality of what is happening now — that in the middle of the night, a bunch of people are out for show.

When Harrigan patronizingly referred to the protests as “child’s play”, he was overheard by an angry participant who confronted him and schooled him in very blunt terms — asking him, among other things, “Who’s the child playing with toys? Us or them?”

Fox, of course, is not designed primarily as a news organization, but as the voice of the “conservative movement” (one of my favorite oxymorons) which likes to play ostrich with racial tensions. Republicans sometimes bill themselves as “the party of Lincoln”, forgetting (if they ever knew in the first place) that the party has undergone a radical makeover in more recent decades, and Abe wouldn’t recognize anything about it except the name. The GOP — and Fox — often trot out the scant handful of African-Americans in their midst and pretend that they are a much larger contingent than they really are, and that everything is just peachy keen.

But anyone who’s attended a Republican convention can vouch for the scarcity of dark faces among the delegates, though there might be plenty of them in the service staff — for whom black delegates are often mistaken.  I recall reading about one African-American attendee of a state GOP gathering in recent years who, though he was wearing a badge that clearly identified him, was asked to carry bags or call a taxi six times. But if you shine a light on this lack of ethnic diversity, then wingers, rather than trying to address it, are likely to upbraid you for “playing the race card”.

The trigger-happy cop in Ferguson didn’t even give Michael Brown a chance to carry his bags. What he did was shoot an unarmed teenager — not once, but SIX TIMES, who according to witnesses, was holding up his hands and moving away from the officer. The friend who was with Brown reports that when the cop drove up he yelled at them to “get the fuck on the sidewalk”.  One witness says that he then started driving away, but abruptly reversed his vehicle, after which the confrontation started. After Brown was gunned down, his body was allowed to lie in the street for FOUR HOURS.

Now suppose you didn’t know anything about the color of the parties involved, or you knew that everyone was the same race. Wouldn’t you find it alarming that law enforcement personnel could conduct themselves in this manner? Hell, there are lots of Libertarianoids out there who seem to be on a fulltime campaign to convince people that police in general are jack-booted Storm Trooper thugs; they scout out and publicize every little instance of alleged police misconduct they hear about, and tout it as representative of police activity in general and proof that all police forces should be totally emasculated. And yet they’ve been rather behind the curve when it comes to outrage over the death of Michael Brown. Why? (It isn’t true, as some have suggested, that Libertarians have been totally silent on the matter; but they haven’t been nearly as vocal as one might expect given their obsession with all things constabulary.)

The really extreme right-wingers, however, certainly have not ignored the incident. Instead, they’ve done their best to convince you that there’s really nothing to see here, so move on. And that includes trying to convince you that the dead kid “got everything he deserved”, in the words of pundit Pat Dollard. As phrased by an article in AlterNet (“4 worst Right-Wing Reactions to Michael Brown’s Killing and the Ferguson Protests”),

Conservative media has never met a young black man it couldn’t retroactively [i.e., posthumously] enlist into the shadowy urban gangs of its fevered imagination.

The campaign to  smear Michael Brown is virtually a carbon copy of the campaign to smear Trayvon Martin. They’ve claimed he had a criminal record. Not true. They’ve claimed he had a gang affiliation. Not true. they’ve claimed he had marijuana in his system. Possibly true, but irrelevant. They’ve circulated photos of another, more menacing-looking individual, and falsely identified them as Brown. They’ve claimed that he broke the eye socket of the policeman who killed him. Not true. They’ve circulated still frames taken from a surveillance video which they claim depicts Brown robbing a convenience store earlier that day. But the video does not prove any such thing. It shows a young man fitting Brown’s description bringing merchandise to the counter, having a discussion with the clerk, then leaving — pushing the clerk, who has come out and gotten into an altercation with him. In any case, the officer who shot him did not stop him because he was suspected of robbery; his crime that cost him his life was walking in the street.

Yet pretend that all of the rumors about Brown are true. Say that he really was as monstrous as the wingers would have you believe, and then some. Even so, is it justified to shoot him six times when he’s unarmed? Would anyone ever say that a white teen, because he lived a less than exemplary life (like most teenagers) deserved to be pumped full of lead? Would people say (as some have of Brown) that slaughtering a white teen amounts to “taking out the trash”?  It wasn’t very long ago, lest we forget, that many of these people were manufacturing all the outrage they could muster because the Obama administration gunned down Osama bin Laden. So now they high-five over the same thing happening to an unarmed American kid who apparently never hurt anyone?

“Conservatives” loudly insist that race is not a factor in slayings of this type, yet they undermine their own narrative by trying to justify the perception of the victims as suspicious characters on the basis of their appearance. Fox’s Geraldo Rivera speculated that “the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as [the killer] was”. The rumors of Michael Brown being a gangster have been bolstered by the fact that he sometimes wore red clothing. And LiberalLogic 101, a site that purports to expose flaws in “liberal” reasoning but only exposes its own utter lack of reasoning skills (we mentioned it previously in the post on straw men), suggested that judging someone for wearing a hoodie or a red shirt is no worse than judging someone for wearing a Klan robe. Such is the “conservative” logic behind LiberalLogic 101. And if you really think like this, you have your head stuck in something worse than sand.

Incidentally, the folks at LiberalLogic 101 also recently ran a cartoon depicting President Obama saying, “My position on beheadings is that I be heading to the golf course”.  Coincidentally, researches in one study found that they were able to manipulate the favorability/ unfavorability with which many participants viewed Obama by subtly altering the skin tone in his photograph.

Such individuals have a habit of treating each shooting of this sort as an isolated incident, wrenched free of social context, But as many people, including the author of the AlterNet article have pointed out, the killing of Michael Brown did not occur in a vacuum. Jon Stewart, spot on as usual, goes into a bit of detail about what a vacuum it didn’t occur in.

Forget that in Ferguson, 94 percent of the police are white, and 63 percent of the people are black. Forget that 92 percent of police searches and 86 percent of car stops are for black people.

He goes on to present an account of an incident in which 4 Ferguson police officers beat a 52-year-old man and then cited him for defiling government property by staining their uniforms with his blood. Indeed, the Ferguson P.D. has an apparent history of heavy-handed behavior. Its strained relations with residents, particularly with those of the African-American persuasion, was a time bomb waiting to detonate. And it has.

Stewart also hands Sean Hannity his testicles on a platter for the umpeenth time (not a particularly difficult feat to pull off) and punctures another popular right-wing talking point: that the attention focused on an event like Ferguson or the death of Trayvon Martin is way out of proportion to the attention given to the killings of black citizens that occur in some cities on a daily basis. In the words of one clueless Foxster:

If I were African-American, I would be outraged that more journalists aren’t covering what’s happening in Chicago, and more outraged that people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson don’t head to those areas.

Which is an amazingly brainless comment for at least three reasons. First, as Stewart facetiously asks, “Why all the interest in holding police officers to a higher standard than gangs?” And second, it’s not an either/ or proposition; and as it turns out, those African-American leaders whom the wingers so often upbraid for not addressing gang violence have been very involved in, um, addressing gang violence. Third, there are good reasons for the discrepancy in media coverage: see Trayvon Martin and the “Double Standard “Standard, Part 1 and Part 2.

Okay, we’re being hard on right-wingers here, but there’s a simple explanation: they’ve earned it.  Yet observers on both the left and the right tend to cloud the issue by conflating racism with racial bias. Racism is blatant and deliberate, and as such is readily noted. But racial bias is more subtle and unconscious, and therefore does a lot of damage under the radar.

Racism suggests that the Ferguson cop killed Michael Brown because he was black. That’s probably not true — although it doesn’t speak well for him that the KKK and other racists are rushing to his defense. What’s much more likely, however, is that Brown’s ethnicity contributed significantly to his being a “suspicious character” in the first place. No matter how you slice it, it’s quite possible, if not probable, that if he had been white, he’d still be alive. Compare what happened to him to what happened when a white man walked down the street brandishing a gun, threatening and insulting police and daring them to shoot him. And what did the police do? They negotiated with him for 40 minutes, pleading with him to put down the gun, and all but invited him home for tea.

The killers of both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown have, thus far, walked free. Compare this to John McNeil, a black man who is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting a white man (who was not a teen) who was armed and threatening on McNeil’s own property. Once again, let me quote Jon Stewart (Don’t you get tired of having to get the facts about current events from comedians?) because he puts it so memorably:

I guarantee you that every person of color has faced an indignity — from the ridiculous to the grotesque to the sometimes fatal — at some point in their,,, I’m going to say last couple of hours. [to the Foxsters] You’re tired of hearing about it?? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is to live it.

As he mentions, this blatant racial profiling occurs even in the “liberal bastion” of New York City.  Indeed, it’s everywhere. Research indicates that people with darker complexions are more likely to be considered untrustworthy or suspicious, and are more likely to be convicted of crime when accused. This bias is often present even among African-Americans themselves. It’s not a simple problem, but it’s a very real, and sometimes deadly problem. And I don’t know what the solution is — although I suspect that an increased awareness would go a long way toward a remedy. Whatever the solution, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve playing ostrich.

Suicide and Depression Vs. Modern Medievalism

robin williams

If there’s anything more saddening than hearing about the death of Robin Williams, it might be hearing some of the commentary about his demise that came from certain clueless and classless ideological fanatics.  Civilized and civil behavior requires a certain amount of respect toward the newly deceased, at least for a few minutes. But no sooner had rigor mortis set in than certain individuals began vying furiously for the honor of having produced the most insensitive and idiotic response to the news

The ever-dependable Rush Limbaugh concluded that Williams killed himself out of the “guilt” attendant upon “political leftism”; and when there was an outcry over his utterances, he blamed the whole thing on — what else — the librulmedia. Shepard Smith at the ever-dependable Fox “News” suggested that Williams killed himself because he was a “coward”.  (Smith, unlike the others mentioned here, at least had the decency to apologize later.) . Chris Fields, an official with the Minnesota GOP, thought the mourning of Williams’ fans was, somehow or other, a golden opportunity for him to urge them to vote for the candidate of his choice — and he continued politicizing repeatedly even after  a fellow Republican admonished him to “Shut. The Fuck. Up.” because he was “making an ass of all of us”.

Not only political hucksters, but religious hucksters, weighed in and cashed in. The ever-dependable Westboro Baptist Church Tweeted hateful comments about Williams and threatened to picket his funeral.  Popular Christian blogger Matt Walsh declared (as one of his “absolute truths and alpaca grooming tips” — I’m not sure which he was intending) that “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice”, and went on to say some other insulting things about depressives (more about that in a moment).  The Family Research Council — DING! DING! DING! (sorry, that alarm always goes off whenever the word family appears in the name of an ideological organization) saw the opportunity to hawk a supposed cure for homosexuality.  WorldNetDaily, not content to refer to depression and substance addiction as figurative “demons”, posited that Williams literally was in league with “demonic powers” that eventually destroyed him — and oh by the way, they just happen to have little video that tells you all about other celebrities who’ve done the same, available at the special low price of only $15.95.

There’s nothing new about this type of exhibitionist opportunism. That’s just the kind of thing these people do, and they’re never going to let a perfectly good tragedy go to waste. Ever. But it underscores just how little the American public understands depression and suicide — which are inextricably bound together. Smith and Walsh are symptomatic of a mindset that holds that depression and suicide are voluntary; and that Williams should have been able to just step back and look at his life in perspective, and make the correct choice. But at its worst, depression is something that totally takes control of you. Williams in his final hours  probably was no more capable of being rational than a Fox anchor or a holier-than-thou religious blogger.

We have pious religiosity to thank for much of the current attitudes about suicide and mental health issues.  But these attitudes are more of medieval than biblical origin. The Bible contains no specific injunction against suicide; moreover at least two of its most vaunted heroes — Saul and Samson — did themselves in. The notion that suicide is a “sin” for which one will “go to hell” originated with writers during the Middle Ages — most notably Dante. And as for the mentally/ emotionally imbalanced, they were often presumed in the good ole days when religion ruled the world to have been possessed by or in league with evil spirits, and subjected to whippings or worse.

Christian fundamentalism has not evolved much, if any, beyond the medieval phase. (Fanatics no longer burn “heretics” at the stake, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if they could still get away with it.) It’s still a jarringly contradictory combination of fatalism and free will doctrine, stitched together by the conviction that prayer can alter anything, including the will of God — unless He invokes His power of veto. No wonder Christians are so often confused about what is or is not within their control. No wonder people like Matt Walsh can be so condescending toward people like Robin Williams.

Religionists passing judgment on suicides are likely to point to a set of stone-engraved rules for living that they inaccurately call The Ten Commandments and mistakenly believe are to be found in the Bible. (See previous postThe Myth(s) of the Ten Commandments). One of them admonishes flatly, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”; and the traditional inference is that this applies even when the killer and the killee are one and the same. Your life, folks believe, is not your own, and it’s inexcusable for you to deprive God of the fiendish delight of tormenting you indefinitely.

You know as well as I, however, that there are asterisks on the stone alongside the words. The same God who commanded his people that they shalt not killeth also instructed them to slaughter their enemies by the thousands and stone to a pulp anyone who ran afoul of this or that tribal taboo. Likewise, even today many people who consider themselves Good Christians have no problem with capital punishment or aggressive warfare that annihilates innocent men, women and children all over the place.

And yet…

Suicide still remains strictly taboo, under any circumstances.  Walsh declares it to be a “bad decision. Always a bad decision.”   In part because it entails a “willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”  Notice that word willingness. While Walsh insists that he doesn’t consider depression to be a sign of weakness, he also says:

I know that in my worst times, at my lowest points, it’s not that I don’t see the joy in creation, it’s just that I think myself too awful and sinful a man to share in it.

No matter how you slice it, it’s still that time-honored smug WASP pastime of blaming the victim. (Indeed, many smug WASP neocons refuse to acknowledge that there is any such thing as a victim at all.) I recall reading about a woman who had been molested by a relative as a teen, and when she confided to her minister about it, he replied, “Let’s pray for your forgiveness.” That’s the kind of lunacy that results from a worldview that maintains that on the one hand God and His agents have total authority over you, and yet on the other, that you are totally responsible for whatever circumstances you find yourself in. The kind of worldview incorporating the notion that, just by committing the offense of being born, you’re graded a sinner by default.

To be sure, there are indeed some suicides that (apparently) are willful acts. These include those situations when an individual has a painful terminal illness; and it is their conclusion that their protracted living under those conditions will cause unnecessary pain, grief and expense to both them and their loved ones. Which doesn’t seem to be such a problem for the anti-suicide moralizers.

But the vast majority of suicides are the result of depression, which is a topic very close to home for me. I had a severe struggle with it myself. It runs in my family. I even had a cousin who committed suicide at age 17. None of which qualifies me to determine what is in someone else’s head unless they tell me. And to the best of my knowledge, Robin Williams wasn’t talking to anyone as he tied the knot around his neck. Walsh claims to be able to speak authoritatively about depression because he’s suffered from it himself. It’s hard to imagine, however, that he’s endured any but the mildest emotional turmoil if he can be so presumptuous and judgmental. And even if we assume that he’s really been through the mill himself, that does not put him in anyone else’s shoes. Depression is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon; nor, for that matter, is suicide. 

Yet he professes to know beyond a doubt that Williams died of “choice”  His ideology demands it, so it must be true. He joins the ranks of such experts on the topic as Tom Cruise (a religious fanatic of a different stripe) who know more about depression than do the professionals. He doesn’t go so far as to say, as Cruise did, that “there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the body”, but he does insist that it has a “spiritual” element, whatever the hell that means. Well sure, depression has a spiritual component if you choose to look at it that way. So do mud wrestling and nuclear warfare. And how exactly does that change anything? People still slit their wrists, get dirty, and fry.

For Walsh, the prescription for depression is simple: “joy”. It’s the only thing that really defeats depression, he says. Just inject more joy into your life, and you’ll never succumb. Well, yeah — and the key to immortality is simply to refrain from dying. But telling a severely depressed person to experience joy is like telling a blind man to go out and gather some yellow flowers.

The law has long recognized the validity of an “insanity plea”, based on the premise that people sometimes commit atrocious acts that they are not responsible for because they are not in control of their faculties. Most people accept this as reality, as long as you’re talking about one person killing somebody else. Yet when it comes to suicide, we’re still in the Dark Ages. 

Suicide and depression have always been with us, but that doesn’t mean we have to view them as they’ve traditionally been viewed. It’s the Twenty-First Century, folks; and we have unprecedented tools at our disposal to save people from this horrible affliction called depression, and to prevent many suicides. But our feet our still mired in modern medievalism.

Don’t believe it? Cool. Let me tell you about an informative little video that details how many entertainers have sold their souls to the devil. I can sell you as many copies as you like for the amazingly low price of only $49.95 each.

 

(UPDATE: Matt Walsh has done a followup to his original piece, in which he backtracks a bit, and tries to clarify some false inferences some readers have made, and tries to distance himself from the medieval mentality. But he still insists that he knows beyond all doubt that suicide is always a choice.)

“Tarp Gate”: A Sign of the Times

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Just when you thought you’d heard EVERYTHING that ANYONE, ANYWHERE could POSSIBLY blame on Barack Obama, along comes… the bungled suspension of a major league baseball game because of rain. No, seriously. Well, it did happen in Chicago, so surely the prez must have been involved somehow or other, eh what?

On the night of Aug. 19, the Chicago Cubs were hosting the San Francisco Giants when a downpour interrupted the action in the middle of the fifth inning, and a grounds crew clumsily covered Wrigley Field with a tarp. Then everyone waited until after 1:00 a.m., when the game was finally called off because the field was too wet. Since the Cubs were leading 2-0 at that point, they were awarded the victory.

But the Giants protested (They wanted to play until 3:00 in the morning?) because they maintained the crew did not adequately protect the field. Officials ruled in their favor, and the game was resumed a couple of days later. The Giants still lost, them bums, but they claimed the consolation prize of the first successful protest of a major league game in 28 years. End of story, right?

Well no, this is where it really gets interesting. And weird. It turns out that the reason the grounds crew was so inept at covering the field was that they were drastically shorthanded. And the reason for that was that some of them were sent home early. And the reason for that was that the bosses didn’t want the lowly laborers working too many hours. And the reason for that reportedly was that they didn’t want to shell out a few more bucks as required by “Obamacare”.

Now there was no real damage because of any of this, except maybe the sore butts of the fans sitting in the bleachers so long — the Cubs even got to keep their mark in the win column. But for some people (notably those at the ever-entertaining National Review), it was another catastrophic failure of the Affordable Care Act — oops, that should be “Obamacare”, of course. Another failure right up there with… well, you know, death panels and stuff.

It’s a sign of the times for a couple of reasons. First, the craze involving blaming any and all problems on President Obama, somehow, anyhow. Second, the trend toward corporate directors being Scrooges and squeezing the underpaid workers at the bottom of the food chain — and then blaming their Scrooginess on President Obama. But there’s yet a third reason.

It turns out that the big cheeses for the Cubs were rather misinformed about the ACA. (What? Someone misinformed about “Obamacare”? Say it ain’t so, Rush.) The dreaded provision of the law requiring them to treat their workers like human beings isn’t even in effect this year. They could have had the full complement of tarp spreaders on hand without having to pay a penny in penalties. As Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research bluntly observes, “This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.” In other words, maybe this is why the Cubs suck so much.

It’s another sign of the times. Few if any of the attacks leveled at “Obamacare” are totally accurate, and most have no basis in reality whatsoever. You’d think that if people were going to criticize a law, or anything else, they’d at least want to avoid making fools of themselves by learning a little bit about it first. Just a tad, a smidgen, a modicum, a crumb.  But for the Cult of Obama  Hatred, this would only spoil the fun.

So far, Republicans in Congress have not cited Tarp Gate as grounds for impeachment. But it’s surely just a matter of time.

 

Of Redskins and Red Herrings (Plus Eric Holder On Racism)

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By now you’ve probably heard that the NFL team long known as the Washington Redskins will likely be compelled to change its name soon, thanks to a decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. And reactionaries have reacted as reactionaries always do — ridiculing the move and dishing up a generous serving of red herrings.

A red herring, as you may know, is a decoy, a distraction — an irrelevant matter introduced to divert attention away from the real issue. An excellent example occurs frequently with the topic of abortion. “Pro-life” ideologues devote a great deal of time to discussing whether abortions “should” occur (accompanied by a very strong answer in the negative), which in turn is masked by another debate on when life supposedly begins.  All of which steals focus from the vital question of how to prevent abortion.  All the “pro-life” posturing in the world does nothing to answer this question, and, by all evidence, makes the problem even worse.  (See previous posts: Abortion: the Big Lie and the Inconvenient Truth, Part 1 and Part 2 and ACORNization: the Curious Vendetta Against Planned Parenthood.)

And so it is with the Redskins flap. Ideologues lecture the rest of us about whether Native Americans “should” be distressed over the use of demeaning stereotypes (with a very strong response in the negative). Does it really matter whether you or I believe they should be? (Even if you are Native American yourself, does that entitle you to decide that nobody else should disapprove?) The thing is, they do object, or at least a good many of them do. The real question, then, is whether the rest of us are willing to respect them enough to cease and desist the use of such stereotypes. Some people will go to the ends of the earth to evade such a question, leaving a trail of crimson fishlets as substantial as Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs.

Inevitably, for instance, the reactionaries peg the outrage as an instance of “political correctness” run amok — whatever the hell that means. “Political correctness”, like “liberalism” is one of those things people love to hate but hate to define or clarify. Naturally, then, the two are often lumped together. This whole stink about the Redskins, they say, is just another attempt by them librulz, whoever they are, to wield political correctness, whatever it is, to take away our freedom, somehow or other. Never mind that the USPTO’s decision was the result of numerous complaints, over a period of many years, by Native American advocacy groups with no political affiliation, expressing the sentiments of Native Americans of all ideological persuasions. What’s really important is to apply the “PC” and “L” words to as many people as possible, as frequently as possible.

Is that an acknowledgment that only “liberals” respect people of all races? If so, I can’t buy it. I’ve known many “conservatives” who were also quite respectful. They may be a minority, but there are still plenty of them.

Yet right-wing zealots make it standard procedure to politicize/ polarize just about anything and everything to the Nth degree — even climate, for crap’s sake. And they proclaimed the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Hobby Lobby case as a victory for “religious freedom” (which, if not itself a red herring, is at least a deep pink mackerel) and a defeat for “liberalism”. As opposed to, say, a slap in the face for women in general whatever their ideology, a religious incursion into government that ultimately is bad news for people of all religious persuasions, and a judicial precedent that will extend the (already quite extensive) imperious reach of the current unscrupulous bench, ultimately having an impact on everyone.

When it comes to encapsulating the reactionary silliness over the Redskins issue, it would be hard to top this commentary called “20 Other ‘Allegedly Offensive’ Team Names That The Left Isn’t Complaining About” by Justen Charters at Independent Journal Review. It wastes no time attributing the dastardly deed to “The Left” and the “PC Police”. And of course to the big bad black guy in The Formerly White House.  Indeed, Charters even links to another article on Independent Journal Review (Should they be required to put a “sic” after Independent?) titled “President Obama is Stripping Washington Redskins Trademarks After Owner Refused to Give Up Team Name”, that begins with this prize paragraph:

This is how the Obama administration rolls. Get in a confrontation with the president, and some IRS branch patent office makes trouble for you. That’s how “community organizers” do business. That’s the Chicago Way.

Never mind that the USPTO made the same decision, later overturned by court interference, in 1999 — which not only was well before Obama was elected, but probably even before he traveled back in time to plant a bogus birth announcement in a Hawaiian newspaper. Never mind that the USPTO has made many similar rulings for the past 20 years or so. After all, President Obama publicly stated that if he were the team’s owner himself, he would “think about changing” the team’s name. What a severe “confrontation”. What more proof do you need that he must have taken time out from his busy schedule of confiscating your guns and euthanizing your grandma to personally dictate that the Redskins must go.  And those cleverly crossed out words above, of course, are an allusion to the IRS “scandal” we’ve debunked before.

Smears against President Obama, by the way, often not only contain red herrings, but not infrequently illustrate how red herrings differ from, yet neatly dovetail with, straw men, which we’ve discussed before. Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said “Political dissent is NOT racism.” That’s a classic red herring — nobody is suggesting that political dissent IS racism. But it’s an obvious reference to a straw man very popular among sufferers form Obama Derangement Syndrome: the premise that Obama hatred is nothing more than “political dissent”, and to attribute the former in some degree to racism is to attribute the latter entirely to racism,

Political dissent consists of expressing/ demonstrating political differences — not circulating wackadoodle rumors about birth certificates, death panels, Islamic roots, Benghazi cover-ups, IRS conspiracies, faked mass shootings or FEMA concentration camps. Nor does it involve reflexively obstructing, or trying to sue or impeach a president just because you don’t like him — or his politics. Obama hatred goes way way way waaaaaaayyyy beyond political dissent, beyond disagreement with or criticism of the president, even beyond all bounds of sanity.

It may not always be rooted in racism, but quite often racism definitely is at least one factor in play. Yet when Attorney General Eric Holder pointed out this indisputable fact, the wingers seized upon and distorted his comments to push the astronomically false narrative that President Obama — who seldom mentions race (and even then it’s generally to the tune of “let’s get along”) and rarely mentions racism — loves to play the race card. Here are Holder’s allegedly inflammatory words:

There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me and directed at the president. You know, people talking about taking their country back. … There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.

These comments were almost universally spun — not only on talk radio and in the rightwingnutball blogosphere, but also in the supposedly more centrist mainstream media (aka the librulmedia) as “Eric Holder Says It’s Racist to Disagree With Him and Obama”. Holder said no such thing, of course. (Read it again if you really need to. We’ll wait.) On the contrary, he clearly specified that  he didn’t even consider racism “the main driver” in that “animus”. The winger spin distorting his words actually lends them validation. And provides us with another classic straw man.

But back to the Redskins. The Independent (sic) Journal Review‘s 20 additional mascots are essentially red herrings, and quite often sterling specimens of false equivalence, which is something we’ll be examining in the near future. They include The Toronto Raptors (Fine, marginalize all the people who got scared by the Jurassic Park movies.”) and the BYU Cougars: (“Last time I checked, Provo Utah isn’t famous for middle aged women prowling on young men.”) Nyuk nyuk nyuk,

Okay, okay. So the piece is intended to be cutesy-poo satire. But that’s just it. By listing team names for which outrage would be preposterous, Charters hopes to portray the disapproval of “Redskins” as equally petty and laughable. It isn’t.

Also included among the 20 are the Chicago Blackhawks and the Cleveland Indians. Had Charters done just a smidgen of homework, he might have learned that in fact the Cleveland baseball team has been a frequent target of protests over the years by The Left, or The PC Police, or whoever those guys were with feathers in their hair. And the Blackhawks? Not so much so, but there are several probable reasons.

First, Blackhawk, unlike Redskin, is a perfectly legitimate and respectable designation for a particular group of people, (Indian, though not preferable, is also respectful and respectable enough; the clamor over the Cleveland Indians isn’t because the word itself is inappropriate.) Second, it’s the name of a specific tribe rather than an entire ethnic population. And third, the NHL team wasn’t even named after that tribe in the first place. It was named after a combat unit in World War I, which in turn was named (like the tribe) after a single historic Native American leader.

Interestingly, the Independent (wink wink) Journal Review overlooks or deliberately omits one of the most egregious offenders: the Atlanta Braves, whose fan ritual of intoning a “war chant” and mimicking a tomahawk chop has ruffled the feathers of those ruddy-complexioned PC Police on The Left for years. The article does, however, suggest that monikers like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Boston Celtics should be regarded as equally tasteless.

Which is not only nonsense, but screaming-out-loud nonsense. Because the Irish/ Keltics do not have the same kind of history in this country that Indians do. On the contrary, they were, to put it bluntly, among the historical white oppressors rather than the Indian and African oppressed. Furthermore, it appears that those team names were chosen by Irish persons themselves. Native Americans, however, did not choose the Indians, the Braves or the Redskins. Which brings us to the real crux of the problem: a long, long history of white Christian males making choices for everyone else — often through the use of barbarically brutal force.

Native Americans were slaughtered like the bison they depended on, driven from their land and stripped of their religions, their languages, their traditions, their lifestyle and their dignity. All bygones, you say? Not really. The aftermath of that ethnic and cultural decimation is still very much with them. Many of them still live on reservations (paleface lingo for “land we have no use for anyway”).  They still have abnormal rates of poverty, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and suicide. Their traditions have been trivialized and their sacred objects have been lampooned by mass-market gewgaws cranked out in Asian sweatshops. And throughout the sordid history of their interaction with Caucasians, they have been portrayed in mainstream pop culture as cardboard stereotypes at best, and quite often as simpleminded, bloodthirsty savages.

Many Native Americans feel that there is a connection between these things — i.e., that how they are perceived and portrayed has a significant impact on how they are treated. And guess what? Many sociologists agree. Is there any reason we should not give this conclusion the benefit of a doubt?

When we speak of the mascot-ization of Indians as being offensive, we don’t mean that it results in “hurt feelings” — another common red herring. We mean that it undermines respect and dignity. Which brings us to the Independent (snicker snicker) Journal Review‘s concluding red herring, perhaps the mother of them all:

Instead, we should be recognizing the idea that names like Redskins and Patriots are ways to honor the legacy of our ancestors, not defile them.

Now if you really believe that Redskin is an honorific appellation on a par with Patriot, you probably don’t have the cognitive faculties to have made it to this point in the discussion. But for those of you still with us, here are some final questions to ponder.

The reactionaries like to cite a poll indicating that 90 percent of Native Americans have no problem with “Redskins”, and other polls indicating that 79 to 89 percent of the general public don’t (the figure I hear most often is 83); do you really believe that more non-Indians than Indians are bothered by the word? Another poll indicates that 56 percent of Americans believe the term is racist; does this mean that 46 percent of Americans (56 times 83) and 50 percent of Native Americans (56 times 90) think racism is hunky-dory?  Since we’ve been making comparisons here, do you really believe that any sports team today would consider naming itself The Los Angeles Spics? The Memphis Niggers? The San Francisco Chinks? The New York Kikes? What about The Honolulu Japs? Why, then, has it taken so long to get rid of “Washington Redskins”? Why do so many people still think Indians are fair game? Why are they so willing to engage in grotesque distortions of reason in order to justify that predilection? Is it just coincidence that, so very very often, they are the same people who indulge in spittle-flecked, head-banging, pants-pooping delirium about the nation’s first dark-skinned president?