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Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part VI


I don't often agree with Mitch McConnell.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an immediate ethics review of Senator Al Franken in light of allegations that Franken committed sexual assault.

I don’t often agree with McConnell, but he’s right.

For all the wrong reasons, of course. But, still the allegations against Franken should be investigated.

On the face of it, the allegations are highly credible. There is photographic evidence and Franken himself has admitted that at least part of the accusation is true. The incident in question happened before Franken took office and while he was working as an entertainer on a USO tour and may in fact have no bearing on his office.

I don’t know. That’s why it should be looked into.

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What?

Did somebody have a question? Hello?

Ah, yes, I see you there in the back. Put your hand down. Let me finish before you start yelling.


Senator Franken should be investigated by the Ethics committee.

He’s a Senator. He’s a representative of the people. He should be held to higher standards.

Look here, I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I don’t owe any politician any slack whatsoever. I’m a citizen of the United States and it's not my job to make excuses for shitty behavior by politicians of any party. Even if I was so inclined – which I emphatically am not.

Senator Franken will have to answer for his shitty behavior and accept whatever consequences result.

I don’t know how it will shake out for Franken, but that said, for Mitch McConnell of all people to make this statement while blithely ignoring Trump's massive laundry list of admitted sexual assaults is ...


What?

You again? What now?

Oh, right. Yes. I know. Please, hang on for a damned minute. Let me finish.


Sexual assault isn't relative.

Franken's shitty behavior isn't made less by Donald Trump's shitty behavior.

There may be degrees of heinousness, but sexual assault isn't a game of comparison.

But that is exactly what happens when politics are involved.

It’s human nature. We all have a tendency to diminish the failings of our own by pointing out the egregious actions of those we don’t like. It’s not a liberal or conservative thing.


No. No. Just sit down. Let me finish.


Both sides do it. We all do it.

I see liberals right now doing it.

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Well, yes. That’s true.

Comparing what Franken supposedly did to what Judge Roy Moore (or Donald Trump) allegedly did is a false equivalency.

Because there is no comparison.

But that doesn’t in any way excuse Franken. Or Trump. Or any of the Hollywood creeps that have been recently outed.

But there’s more to it than that. And it does no good whatsoever to identify a logical fallacy and then use that same error in reasoning to make another – i.e. to diminish sexual assault by attempting to quantify it in relation to other heinous behavior.

But that's exactly what's happening here.

Because that’s what always happens.

Take Fox News conservative pundit Sean Hannity today:

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"Liberal media finally sees Bill Clinton for what he is, 20 years too late."

Hannity is course predictably dredging up William Jefferson Clinton and his infamous reputation as a horn dog.

Now here's the problem:

I can point out to all of you that

  • Liberals never excused Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct or tried to use the Bible to justify it.
  • She (plural, because there were many) wasn't 14
  • Bill Clinton was held to account. He was. He was held to account in court and paid nearly a million dollars to settle the case. And he was impeached for his behavior – even if he wasn't convicted in the Senate (Yes, he was impeached for perjury, not sexual misconduct. But you're just arguing semantics here. If there wasn't any sexual misconduct, there wouldn't have been any perjury).
  • He's not running for office

I can point all that out to you, to Hannity and his followers (and did, on Twitter to the predictable result), but it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because it's a dodge.

It doesn't matter if what I say is true.

Hell, it doesn't even matter if what Sean Hannity says is true.

Because the whole thing is a non sequitur. Bill Clinton's shitty behavior has nothing to do with Roy Moore's or Donald Trump's shitty behavior (Yes, yes, I see you back there. I am deliberately setting aside, for the moment, the larger context of a culture that promotes, excuses, enables, and turns a blind eye to sexual assault in general. Yes. Hang on).

And while liberals' behavior regarding Clinton sure as hell isn't without fault – particularly the trashing of his accusers – the Left has always known who Bill Clinton is. What they did or did not do about it, is, well, part of the point here.

In a better world, if the Left had done more to condemn Clinton’s behavior back in the day, their condemnations of Moore and Trump et all would be virtually unassailable today.

In a better world.

But, of course, that’s not how it works and Whataboutism is a lousy argument no matter if you’re standing hip deep in the swamp or holding the moral high ground.

As I've previously noted here and elsewhere: the act of sexual assault has nothing to do with political parties.

Sexual assault isn't political. It’s not a Left, Right, Republican, Democrat, Liberal or Conservative thing. Sexual assault spans the spectrum. The ranks of both sides have more than their share of scumbags. And there are plenty of apologists to go around.

So, pointing to sexual assault by members of the other side to justify, excuse, or diminish sexual assault by members of your own side is not only a logical fallacy, it's just plain bullshit.

Whataboutism is a lousy argument.

Each individual case of sexual assault must be judged on its own merits (merits in the legal sense, not that sexual assault itself has any merit).

The damage done to the victims isn't lessened because something terrible happened to somebody else.

Those that survive rape, their pain and trauma isn’t diminished because somebody else was raped even more violently. The goddamned dumbest thing you can say to a sexual assault survivor is, “Hey, it could have been worse. Just look at…”

That’s not how it works.

Sexual assault isn't relative.

No matter the behavior of Al Franken, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, et al, if the allegations against Roy Moore are true then he is unfit for office because of his own actions.  His own actions and nobody else’s.

Donald Trump is unfit for office because of his (admitted) actions and his alone.

And perhaps Franken is too. I don’t know.

The only way to find out is to look.

So, McConnell is right – even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

And yes, before you ignore everything I just said and pull a butwaddaabout in my comments section, I do think Bill Clinton is unfit for office – and if he was running I would be opposed to him exactly as I am Roy Moore and Donald Trump and for the same reasons (the same reasons of sexual misconduct. I’m opposed to Moore and Trump for other reasons as well).

How our society regards sexual assault shouldn't be about counting coup.

It shouldn't be about balancing some political book.

It shouldn't be about comparison.

Sexual assault isn’t relative.

This should be about the behavior itself and holding each individual accountable for their actions regardless of what anybody else has done.

This should be the one thing we all – left and right, Republican and Democrat, liberal and Conservative – all people of good conscience and intent, can agree on.

But, of course, it’s not.

Of course not.

And unfortunately, regarding the world as it should be instead of as it is can also be a cognitive bias and while the act of sexual assault itself isn't dependent on political party, how we often deal with it most certainly is.

And so here we are.

Senator Franken should be investigated for ethic violations.

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Democrats should be held to high standards.

In fact, they should be held to higher standards than they are right now.

AND. SO. SHOULD. REPUBLICANS.

So should the president. So should the Judges. So should every Congressman and Senator. So should every office holder. So should every cop and Priest and dog catcher. 

So should we all.

You want a better nation? A better world? Then you have to be better citizens.

It starts right here.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veteran’s Day 2017

The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked Heinlein I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment

I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

The novel was, of course, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

But really it doesn’t matter which author or what novel or exactly where the conversation took place. The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military.

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies.

I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass to yet another lost shipmate while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of Robert Heinlein whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, Johnny Rico, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.


And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.


That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are. 

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war.

It wasn’t always so. When I was growing up, society openly despised the soldier.

But somewhere in the intervening 50 years, the circle has come full around and now again it is not only okay to love those who do violence in our names, it is nearly mandatory.

But it must be done in a certain way, you see.

It’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to?

To write of those who find a home in the military?

That is a sin.

Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met up above … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military.

And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day.

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.


Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.


Perhaps we are.

Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the tax bill, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards.

Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform, all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing that the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram.

They won't talk about honoring veterans, they are veterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Florida. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, car lots are all open with blowout sales. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by living without having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security.

Without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. Just as you may never understand why Heinlein wrote what he wrote.

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war.

It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it.

We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can and should and must strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more.

Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. I won’t live long enough to see such a day if it ever comes.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. And me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be that better citizen in my own way.

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them.

I stayed for my comrades in arms, for those I served beside. I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.

I met a man who despised me.

He despised me for who I am, a veteran.

And you know what? That, that right there, is the highest compliment I could be paid.

That, that right there, is what we were doing out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Giving Us The Business

You know the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet, we picked up 5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months, in terms of value. So you could say, in one sense, we’re really increasing values. And maybe in a sense we’re reducing debt. But we’re very honored by it. And we’re very, very happy with what’s happening on Wall Street.
- President Donald J. Trump, Hannity, Oct 12, 2017


This is how billionaires think.

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A surging stock market is great for billionaires, sure it is. You’ll get no argument from me on that.


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A rising stock market sure is good for Donald Trump.

And what’s good for Trump is good for business, because Trump is business, isn’t he?, I mean that’s why he was elected. Business. He’s a businessman. Americans were tired of business as usual. Trump was going to run America like a business. And so he is. And so he is. Really giving us the business. 

And what’s good for business must be good for you, good for jobs, good for the national debt, good for the world.

Sure.

I mean, right?

What’s good for business is good for you.

Isn’t it?

Well? Isn’t it?

Right?

It’s not just Trump.

That’s what conservatives have been telling us for decades. That’s essentially the foundation of the Republican platform. If we create a country that’s good for business, well, it’ll automatically be good for all the rest of us. This is the fundamental message of the GOP. What’s good for business is good for you. This is modern conservatism. This is, at least in part, libertarianism, sure it is. Government is bad. Get government out of the way, kill government, drown it in a bathtub, and that’s good for freedom, good for America, good for business. And what's good for business is good for you.

Trickle-down economics, the same warm piss disguised as lemonade Republicans have been peddling since before Reagan.

And how’s that worked out for you?

What's good for business is good for you.

Seems intuitive, doesn't it? Seems logical. Seems to follow. Good for business, good for me.

Well, mostly…

[Pregnancy is] a wonderful thing for the woman, it's a wonderful thing for the husband, it's certainly an inconvenience for a business. And whether people want to say that or not, the fact is, it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business.
--
Donald J. Trump

Sure, a rising stock market is better than a falling one (Caveat: unless you’re attempting to short your stock, but just go with me for a minute), but is that really good for the average American? 

Is it?

Maybe.

Or maybe not. Or maybe both.

See, the things that are good for business aren't necessarily good for people. Sometimes they are, yes, but not always.

Take John Thain, for example.

John Thain was the last CEO of Merrill Lynch. He made billions upon billions for the stock market. Literally.

Now what’s good for the stock market must be good for you, right?That’s Trump’s whole message this morning.

And John Thain was great for business, great for the stock market.

Oh yes. Yes, he was.

Until he destroyed everything.

Until that ballooning stock market he helped create imploded and precipitated a global financial collapse that vaporized literally trillions of dollars, destroyed century-old too-big-to-fail companies and brand new mom & pop businesses alike, zeroed millions of retirement accounts, destroyed the life savings of millions, and left hundreds of thousands jobless, hungry, and out on the street all over the globe.

How was that?

Was that good for you?

Max Belfort: What kind of a hooker takes credit cards?
Donnie Azoff: A rich one!
-- The Wolf of Wall Street,
2013.

No?

It was pretty fucking great for John Thain though. He made millions, literally. The company he destroyed paid him more than $80,000,000. Then Bank of America hired him for millions more to preside over the carcass of the company he destroyed (BOA acquired the wreckage of Merril-Lynch after it collapsed).

That's good work if you can get it.

After that, Thain headed up Citigroup, making millions more. Then he retired. With his fortune intact.

And how'd that work out for you? How's your retirement account? Recovered from Thain’s recession?

No?

Oh well.

Martin Shkreli made millions for the stock market by driving up the prices of certain critical drugs.

That was really great for investors.

And in fact, that was the whole point. Shkreli wasn’t a pharmacist, he was a hedge fund manager. The entire reason he got into the drug business was to make money. Which was a pretty sweet gig while it lasted. Great for stocks.

Kinda sucked if you were dying from AIDS and needed a Daraprim prescription though.

Was that good for you?

Mylan raised the price of the EpiPen to levels that literally killed people with allergies.

Mylan made billions. The company’s CEO became a millionaire. And the stockholders were overjoyed.

Was that good for you?

See, business raises its stock by becoming more profitable, i.e. by creating a monopoly like Shkreli, by creating a market and limiting availability like Mylan, by tricking people into investing by creating buzz for products that don't actually exist (see Silicon Valley et al), by risking other people’s money like Thain, by offshoring their manufacturing, by outsourcing, by rightsizing, by downsizing, by hiring cheap foreign labor on temp visas like, oh, let's say Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago for example.

That’s good for business.

That’s good for the stock market.

But is that good for you?

Maybe.

If you're invested in those companies.

Not so great if you're poor and your kid is allergic to bees though.

If any of my competitors were drowning, I'd stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water. It is ridiculous to call this an industry. This is not. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I'll kill 'em, and I'm going to kill 'em before they kill me. You're talking about the American way – of survival of the fittest.
-- Ray Kroc, American businessman, founder of McDonalds

You know what's good for business? Strip mining. Polluting. High oil prices. Shady deals. The 2006-07 US Housing Bubble was great for the stock market, really really great. Right up until it destroyed all your jobs, your retirement, and left you homeless.

You know what's good for business? Cancer.

You know what's good for business? War.

A surging stock market always benefits the wealthy. Always.

But it's the middle class and the poor who always pay the price when it fails. Always. Every time.

And the wealthy are fine with this.

Of course they are.

This was their idea.

This is how billionaires like Trump go bankrupt over and over without losing a penny of their wealth.

Sure, every once in a while the good guys win one and people like Martin Shkreli and Bernie Madoff go to jail…

..but, Donald Trump didn't lose his home when the bubble burst last time.

And John Thain made millions destroying your life.

And Martin Shkreli still has $70 million waiting for him when he gets out.

These people, their business model is simple: rape and pillage, rape and pillage, squeeze the suckers for all the market can bear plus ten percent. Then, when it all falls apart, demand those very same victims – the poor and middle-class – bail them out or suffer even worse. And if called on it, deny all responsibility and place the blame on the very same victims with a smug Martin Shkreli sneer and a supercilious caveat emptor.

And yesterday Republicans voted to make it illegal to sue these people when they blow up the economy and steal your money.

Which they most certainly will do again.


Using the stock market as the sole measure of economic "greatness" is disingenuous at best – and dangerously fatal at worst. Fatal for you.


If you elect wealthy business people to run the country, well, then you're going to get the business.

That's the one thing you can count on.

Every. Single. Time.

I love money more than the things it can buy. But what I love more than money is other people's money.
-- Lawrence Garfield, Other People’s Money, 1991

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Myth of Judeo-Christian Values

The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.
-- Aristotle


“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values”

That was President Donald Trump addressing the Value Voters Summit in Washington D.C. last Friday.

We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values.

That’s what he said.


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Attacks.

On Judeo-Christian values.

What does that mean?

No, stop. Think about it. What does that mean? How do you attack a value?

Seriously. How do you attack a value?

Look here: Values are defined as those principles we hold important in life.

How do you attack that?

Values are personal. We each determine for ourselves what is important. Values are your personal ethics, morals, your standards of behavior. Values are often, but not always, the ideals imposed on us by our environment, ways of thinking learned from various examples: our parents when we are young, leaders, public figures, community, law, teachers, friends, societal groups, and so on. Because everyone’s experience is different, our values are often different in varying degrees.

A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.
--
Muhammad Ali

Our values tend to change over time as our relationships and community and experience change and indeed if your worldview is the same at fifty as it was at twenty, well, like the man said, you might have wasted much of your life. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we get wiser. There’s nothing more enlightening than listening to a fifty-year-old conservative moral absolutist describe how he was once a liberal but his values changed when he [found Jesus, joined the NRA, became a Republican, etc] and that’s why moral relativism is evil.

But ask that same moral absolutist to provide a list of universal values, see what you get.

No, better yet, ask a room full of moral absolutists to provide a single list of human values, ordered by importance.

Then time how long it takes for the angry shouting to start.

Is there an agreed upon list of human values? Not Judeo-Christian values (we’ll get to that in a minute), just plain old ordinary every day human values?

Is there?

Quick, what are they? List them in order. What’s the most important value to you? Truth? Compassion? Strength? Altruism? Selflessness? Courage? Wait. Are those even recognized values?

Are they?

Are you sure?

Funny, isn’t it? Certain words we use. Words describe concepts. And we all think we know the definition of those concepts. Moreover, we assume that everybody else’s understanding of that concept is the same as ours.

But ask a hundred people to list the most important human values, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

Because values are relative. Values are subjective.

I’m not the first person to notice this. Obviously. There are entire fields of study going all the way back to the great philosophers of Ancient Greece.

A lot of very smart people have devoted lifetimes of research into this very subject. One of those people, a social-psychologist named Shalom H. Schwartz, came up something called the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. You can find a current and reasonably readable overview of Schwartz’s theory here, published by the The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Schwartz’s Theory of Basic Values has been around for a while and it’s commonly used by psychologists and sociologists and those who study ethics and human interaction as a starting point.  Schwartz said that values are “beliefs linked inextricably to affect.” And what he meant was that values are tied to emotion and goals. For example, “People for whom independence is an important value become aroused if their independence is threatened, despair when they are helpless to protect it, and are happy when they can enjoy it.” This applies to nearly any value you can name – again in varying degrees depending individual circumstance. But it’s not something you can measure quantitatively.

Basically the theory says:

  • Values are beliefs.
  • Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action.
  • Values transcend specific actions and situations.
  • Values serve as standards or criteria.
  • Values are ordered by importance.
  • The relative values of multiple values guides action.

And I think that works as a general description of what a value is. But what are actual human values?

What would you list as human values?

Schwartz defines ten basic human values based on the criteria above:

  • Self-Direction: independent thought and action--choosing, creating, exploring.
  • Stimulation: excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.
  • Hedonism: pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself.
  • Achievement: personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.
  • Power: social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.
  • Security: safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.
  • Conformity: restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.
  • Tradition: respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one's culture or religion provides.
  • Benevolence: preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’).
  • Universalism: understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.

Hedonism. Stimulation. Power. Conformity. When you were trying to think up a list of human values, unless you are a sociologist, you probably weren’t thinking in those terms, were you? But nearly any value you can name falls into one of those categories as described by Schwartz’s theory. 

It matters.

Precision of language matters.

Because that language, the words we use, defines how we see the world around us. How we relate to each other. Words can build a society, or tear a civilization apart. Language is information. And information used as a weapon can bring a dictator to power, topple governments, start wars (or end them), or shape the worldview of a nation.

And I want you to remember that.


“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values”


That’s what the most powerful man in the world said last Friday.

He was speaking to an audience made up largely of hardline conservative Evangelical Christians.

What does that audience think Trump meant by that statement? To them, to those particular people, what are Judeo-Christian Values?

Remember: Values are beliefs linked to emotion, values are ordered by importance, values motivate action towards particular goals.

Remember: Values tend to be personal, and thus relative.

Remember: Language defines concept. Terms matter.

Thus: for values to be shared, they have to be defined and we all must agree to the definition and its emotional importance. And ultimately, we must agree with the goals inherent to each value.

Also please note that when Trump said, “We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” he didn’t bother to define … anything.

He didn’t define “attack.”

He didn’t define who was doing the attacking.

And most importantly he didn’t define “Judeo-Christian values.”


And Donald Trump is not the only one.


Breitbart led off their article on the subject with,

President Donald Trump vowed to end leftist attacks on Christian values that threatened the United States.

President Trump vowed to end Leftist attacks on Christian values that threatened the United States?

Christian Values. That threatened the United States.

Wait a minute here.

Words matter. Let’s read that again.

… on Christian values that threatened the United States…

Yep, still says, Christian values have threatened the United States.

(On a side note, odd that Breitbart mysteriously dropped the Judeo part. It’s almost like their old Anti-Semite CEO is back. But again, I digress)

If Christian values threatened the United States, why would the President vow to end attacks on them? Shouldn’t all Americans attack these Christian values that threaten America? I mean…

What?

Oh.

Right. Okay. Sure. But again, precision of language matters. Particularly when we’re talking about somebody attacking the United States.  As such, somebody needs to let Steven Bannon know his editors don’t understand basic sentence structure at even the sixth grade level. I’m just saying. For clarity’s sake. Given that it’s the lede and all. Right up front and ....

What?

Fine. Fine. Moving on.

So, if I’m reading confused Breitbart grammar correctly, the basic idea here is that certain undefined “leftists” are somehow in some manner “attacking” “Christian values.” And, given the context, an attack on Christian values is an attack on America.

But see, the problem here is that the article again doesn’t define (other than in vague terms) who is doing the attacking, why they are attacking, how they are attacking, and most importantly of all: exactly what Judeo-Christian values are. Nor does the article explain how Donald Trump might end these attacks.

We are all just supposed to know what those things are.

Values change.

Morality changes.

This is the nature of civilization.

Once upon a time in America, it was moral to own other people. The measure of a decent man was once determined by how he treated his property, his slaves.

Is that a value we respect nowadays?

Is that an American value we want to bring back?

Is that a Judeo-Christian value? After all, slavery and how you treat it is integral to both the Jewish and Christian holy books.

No?

No, I suppose not.

But how do you know? How do you know if the terms are never defined? Given recent violent demonstrations in places like Charlottesville by hardcore Christian conservative Trump supporters marching under the Swastika and the flag of the Confederacy, how can I know that slavery isn’t a Judeo-Christian value?

How do I know?

I mean, I assume that’s not what these conservatives mean, but how do I know?

If the terms are not defined?

Let me show you. Fox News, in a Special Report last Friday entitled: Eagle Scout: RIP Boy Scouts of America. You were great for 100 years, laments the destruction of the once venerable organization.

We all knew this was coming. The Boy Scouts of America stood for over a century on its strong foundation of Judeo-Christian values, growing boys into young men, and young men into leaders.  However, in recent years the BSA has allowed cracks to form in that foundation.

There is it, Judeo-Christian values.

Undefined.

Unexplained.

Unspecific.

Nowhere in that article does the author list those supposed values. Don’t take my word for it, click on the link and go look for yourself.  The article doesn’t describe in any way whatsoever the specific Judeo-Christian values that Lord Baden-Powell supposedly based the Boy Scouts on, nor does the author tell you which values they’ve supposedly discarded.

The author just assumes we all know what he means.

Because, of course, we are all Judeo-Christian in America, are we not?

And all Jews and Christians are the same, with the same worldview and outlook and values. Same as the author. Right?

Right?

With much handwringing and teeth-gnashing, the article goes on to bemoan the “incredibly disappointing news” that girls – girls – will not only be allowed to enter into Cub Scouts, but the BSA organization will soon create a scouting program for older girls – girls – to advance and earn Scouting’s highest rank of Eagle Scout. The author is outraged at the idea of stinky girls – girls – being allowed anywhere near Scouting. He rages against “inclusion” and the end of “manhood” and points out how “[i]t is important for boys and young men to grow together free from the distraction of girls.”

It is important for boys and men to grow together free from the distraction of girls.

It’s important.

For boys and men.

To grow together.

Free from the distraction of girls.

The article doesn’t bother to explain why it’s important for boys and men to grow together. In the woods. Alone. Though he does point out the danger of putting girls – girls – into the same situation:

I have to wonder why any parent would want their young teenage girls camping in the woods with young teenage boys?

(this is where I politely don’t provide links to literally thousands of Christian and Jewish church youth programs across America where boys and girls do exactly that)

The article ends with this:

This is what the Left does best:  target and destroy everything good in America.  They cannot compete with us on ideas, so they have to eliminate everything that makes us who we are.  If they were truly motivated to provide girls, homosexuals, and “transgenders,” with the same experiences Boy Scouts provides, then they would form their own youth organization.  But it isn’t really about that, is it? [sic]

So, is that it?

Are those Judeo-Christian values? Exclusion? Bigotry? Segregation of the sexes? So that boys and men might grow together, free from the “distraction” of stinky girls? Alone. In the woods.

Well, is it?

But why then call it Judeo-Christian? Why not call it Islamic-Judeo-Christian values, given that devout Muslim fundamentalists forbid mixing of the sexes.

Separation of the sexes isn’t a Judeo-Christian value you say?

Well then what is?

A guy named Michael Imhof wrote a letter to the editor of Madison Country Herald Bulletin, in Anderson City, Illinois.

It’s time to eliminate the Democratic Party. This is no longer the Democratic Party of the John F. Kennedy era. The Democratic Party has transitioned into the Marxist and Socialist Party of America.

Because apparently in this American’s mind, freedom is when the government dictates what political parties you can have. Because that’s totally not Marxist at all.

But here I am, digressing. Again.

Mr. Imhof spends a couple of paragraphs describing how everybody who isn’t just like him must certainly be an un-American commie socialist and then he gets to this:

The Democratic Party doesn’t care about the Judeo-Christian values of America, nor the Constitution. They’re the party of globalism, and they’re anti-American, anti-sovereignty. They use people and causes to promote the godless agenda of the global elitists.

There it is again. Judeo-Christian values of America.

Judeo-Christian values.

Undefined.

Unexplained.

The author just assumes we all know what he means.

Because, of course, we are all Judeo-Christians in America, are we not?

Imhof spends another paragraph describing how all liberals obviously must love Lenin, and then fetches up here:

Vote the Democrats and Republican In Name Only (RINO) Republicans out of office. Vote for candidates with tea party and Judeo-Christian values.

Tea Party and Judeo-Christian values.

Which would seem to indicate that in Imhof’s mind, those values are the same.

image

The Tea Party. Taxed enough already. I’ll keep my freedom, my money, and my guns, and you can keep the change. That Tea Party?

Is that it? Are those Judeo-Christian values? Isolationism? America first? Sovereignty? Teabagging for Jesus? Money and guns?

No?

Are you sure?

A few weeks ago, former White House hobo Steve Bannon went to Alabama to speak at a rally for Roy Moore – Alabama’s openly racist, homophobic, Christian-nationalist former Chief Justice. Moore was running for the Senate against Donald Trump favorite Luther Strange.

Moore has somewhat interesting interpretation of the First Amendment.

You have to understand it was the duty of the government under the First Amendment…to foster religion and foster Christianity

That’s what Moore told Vox reporter Jeff Stein in August of last year.

The First Amendment makes it the duty of the government to foster religion and specifically Christianity.

Got that?

I know. I know. You thought the First Amendment meant pretty much exactly the opposite. That’s why you’re not a judge in Alabama.

There’s more.

There’s so much more.

Roy Moore: There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities. But Sharia law is a little different from American law. It is founded on religious concepts.

Jeff Stein: Which American communities are under Sharia law? When did they fall under Sharia law?

Moore: Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana — up there. I don't know.

Stein: That seems like an amazing claim for a Senate candidate to make.

Moore: Well, let me just put it this way — if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not. That doesn’t matter. Oklahoma tried passing a law restricting Sharia law, and it failed. Do you know about that?

No. No. Don’t roll your eyes, that’s not even close to the best part of Moore’s interview. Not even close. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You can read the whole thing here – and remember, this guy was Alabama’s chief justice and he’s probably going to be one of the state’s senators when Alabamians go to the polls this December.

Moore was the leading voice of birtherism, he is rabidly homophobic and anti-Muslim, and he spends a lot of his time hanging out with neo-Confederates – you know, people who actually and openly hate America and parade about under the flag of America’s enemies.  Moore’s fanatical religious ideology has prompted his critics to nickname him the “Ayatollah of Alabama.” And despite the fact that Moore’s repeated claim of communities living under Islamic Law in the United States has been repeatedly and soundly debunked (and Moore himself can produce no evidence whatsoever and essentially admits he doesn’t really know or care), he continues to push this falsehood.

So, I suppose it was unsurprising when Steve Bannon showed up in Alabama to stump for Roy Moore. 

Judge Moore knows the Ten Commandments is the basis for the Judeo-Christian West. Judge Moore is a good man, he’s a courageous man, and more importantly he’s a righteous man.

And there it is again.

The Judeo-Christian West.

Judeo-Christian. Undefined. Unexplained. Except for some vague reference to the Christian’s Ten Commandments (which are apparently the solution to pretty much everything).  

Steve Bannon just assumes everybody in the crowd knew what he meant.

And from the cheering, everybody in the crowd assumed that they did know what he meant and their definition and list of Judeo-Christian values was exactly the same as Roy Moore’s, Steve Bannon’s, and everybody else in the crowd. But, well, look at who was up on that stage. Are those Judeo-Christian values? Knowingly pushing falsehoods and conspiracy theories? Bigotry? Intolerance? Xenophobia? I mean, don’t take my word for it, look up Roy Moore for yourself (and Steve Bannon while you’re at it) and tell me which part of his career embodies Judeo-Christian values. Tell me what those are. Hell, it’s Alabama, maybe everybody in the crowd was on the same sheet of music. Maybe those are the values of Judeo-Christianity.

No?

But are you sure?

How do you know and can you prove it?

No?

Well, what then?

What are Judeo-Christian values?

Donald Trump seems to know:

We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values. They don't use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct. We're saying Merry Christmas again.

Is that it? Is that one of them? A Judeo-Christian value is saying Merry Christmas?

Jews for Christmas?

Really? I admit to being a little fuzzy on the finer points of Judaism, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.

But, there it is. Judeo-Christian values again. That’s what the president said.

Undefined.

Unexplained.

And the crowd once again cheered.

I mean, we’re just supposed to know. Right?

That is the inherent assumption whenever this term appears. Otherwise, they’d explain what they meant. Trump was speaking to the Value Voters Summit, a convention of hardcore religious nuts hosted by the Family Research Council. They define all kinds of things from traditional marriage to what constitutes “life” to what makes a real American. But they don’t bother to define Judeo-Christian values before people like Trump take the stage. And they don’t ask people like Trump to define it either.

And that – that right there – tells you something important.


We’re all supposed to know.


How about this?

Dr. Richard Lee, who according to his bio, is the Founding Pastor of the Atlanta, Georgia, First Redeemer Church. He is also the Editor of The American Patriot’s Bible:

THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW ‘A LIGHT FROM ABOVE’ SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot’s Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation’s history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the historic King James Version Bible text. 

Lee also authored God’s Promise to the American Patriot and The Coming Revolution, among other works.

So you figure, if anybody can describe Judeo-Christian values in detail, it’s got to be the guy who edited the Bible and slapped an American flag on it.

Right?

Right.

Lee says there are in fact seven Judeo-Christian values, or principles. To wit:

Principle #1: The Dignity Of Human Life

Lee cites Exodus 20:13 "You shall not murder” and Matthew 22:39 "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Oddly, he doesn’t reference Jewish text anywhere – and looking back I likewise see only a reference to the King James Bible in his book blurb. That seems an odd omission right out of the gate, Judeo-Christian values wise, I mean. But hey, I’m sure he’ll get to it. Eventually.

So, dignity of human life. No murder. Love your neighbor. Sounds reasonable. I mean it does, doesn’t it? Respect human life. Not really exclusive to just Jews and Christians though, is it? And I bet you can guess where he goes with it, can’t you?

Can’t you?

See, that bit about “murder,” that’s the kicker. That’s the weasel word. Thou shalt not murder, not kill, murder. Words matter. Language matters.

Abortion, of course, that’s what we’re talking about here. Murder, you know, that’s what guys like Lee call abortion. Murder. We’re good with other kinds of killing, war, the death penalty, letting people starve to death, so long as there’s no abortion.

And respect for the dignity of human life? The dignity of human life forsooth, well, that only goes so far.

As you will see.

Principle #2 - The Traditional Family

Again, a Christian reference: Genesis 2:21-24 "And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.  Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.  And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

Lee says “The biblical view of marriage and family is the basis of our society and serves as the backbone of a healthy social order.”

So, the biblical view of marriage as defined by Genesis 2:21. Got it.

  • God creates Adam artificially from non-living ingredients, i.e. mud. Essentially life in a lab.
  • Then God makes Eve by taking a biological sample from Adam and genetically engineering it to produce a cross-sex clone (see the reference: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, taken out of a male, transformed into female. God could have created a completely new person from scratch, but he didn’t. Pretty clear what we’re talking about here).
  • Adam then marries what is for all practical purposes his fraternal twin.
  • Adam and Eve then proceed to break the law, become felons, and are exiled from civilization for their crimes.
  • While on the run, they produce two sons – presumably without the assistance of artificial laboratory aids.
  • At which point one of the sons murders the other – which may or may not have something to do with the fact that their parents were, genetically speaking, brother and sister.
  • A few generations later, the world is populated with Adam and Eve’s descendants, which God wipes out because they are all insane murderers, rapists, drunkards, and deviants. And you’d think God would have seen this coming given the limited gene pool.

I gotta be honest with you, maybe this isn’t the best example.

Lee goes on to say, “Since the joining together of Adam and Eve, marriage has been defined as a holy union between one man and one woman.” Except, the very reference Lee uses, i.e. the Christian Bible, provides numerous examples of marriages that are not just one man and one woman.

Numerous.

Principle #3 - A National Work Ethic

Another reference to the Christian bible: 2 Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."

We didn’t even make it two values past “Dignity for Human Life” before we got to the part about why poor people should starve.

Also, how is a national ethic a personal Judeo-Christian value?

I’m going to speed this up and give you the last four without commentary.

Principle #4 - The Right To A God-Centered Education

Principle # 5- The Abrahamic Covenant

Principle #6 - Common Decency

Principle #7- Our Personal Accountability To God

You can read the whole thing for yourself here at Sermon Central. Again, note that Jewish text isn’t referenced – though I suppose Lee would weasel out by suggesting his Old Testament references apply. Still, seems that if you’re going to use the term Judeo-Christian, Jews should maybe get equal time. Just saying.

Well?

What do you think. Are those Judeo-Christian values?

Are those the Judeo-Christian values?

I suspect many people in Trump’s audience last Friday would agree that they are – even if they couldn’t name them off the cuff.

But … they can’t be.

Words matter. Language matters. Context matters.

“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values”

Which of those values are under attack?

For those to be the values Trump was talking about, they’d have to be under attack. By definition. That’s what the man said. That’s what they all said.

So, show me a single Jew or Christian in America who was prevented from respecting the dignity of human life.

Go on. Do it. I’ll wait.

Show me any Jew or any Christian who was denied a traditional marriage license.

Show me any Jew, any Christian, who was prevented from working hard or was prevented from attending the religious school of their choice.

Show me a single Jew, a single Christian, who was prevented in any way from adhering to some supposed contract with their deity – a covenant, I note, that was specifically between the Jews and their God and nobody else, an agreement that Christians are apparently attempting to horn in on.

Show me a single Jew, a single Christian, who was attacked for Common Decency, right after you explain why one group of Christians gets to define what “common decency” means for all of us.

As to that last one, your personal accountability to your god, I would love to see Donald Trump explain how exactly anybody would go about waging an attack on that.

None of these values apply to the other examples either – though I admit to a chuckle at the thought of Lee attempting to explain to my Boy Scout troop how Adam married his Sister (I learned to drink and swear in the Boy Scouts, skills that served me well in the Navy. We would have gotten a good laugh at Adam’s expense. Alone. In the woods. Far from the distraction of girls). 

I’m afraid I don’t buy it, even if Dr Lee did write his own bible.


No. After weeks of research, I don’t have any idea what those values are.


And I bet you don’t either.

So, I asked.

A quarter of a million people follow me every day across various social media platforms. Jews. Christians in various and assorted flavors. Muslims. Non-believers. Sort of believers. Atheists. Some that don’t fit well into any category. So, I asked. What are Judeo-Christian Values? What are they? Give me a list. It doesn’t even have to be exhaustive, just give me the top three.

Now, you’d think that a quarter of a million people could come up with something.

Three Judeo-Christian values. That’s all I’m asking.

Far and away the most common answer was: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I got hundreds, thousands, of responses that said that. That’s THE Judeo-Christian value.

That one, right there.

The Golden Rule.

Apologies, but I can’t accept that.

Treating people decently is hardly a uniquely Judeo-Christian value and …

You again? What is it this time?

Oh, I see, you’re upset by the qualifier “unique.”

You feel that’s unfair. You think I should have specified that up front.

I did.

And I mentioned it up above, you should have seen it coming.

Language matters. Precision of language matters. Context matters. Judeo-Christian values. It’s right there in the label. And that specific label matters.

See, if we were just talking about values, human values, universal values, those values defined and enumerated by Schwartz up above, well, then you would have no need for the qualifier. Would you?

But there it is: Judeo-Christian values.

That’s what those examples up above were talking about.

President Donald Trump vowed to end leftist attacks on Christian values that threatened the United States

The Boy Scouts of America stood for over a century on its strong foundation of Judeo-Christian values […] This is what the Left does best:  target and destroy everything good in America […] they have to eliminate everything that makes us who we are.

The Democratic Party doesn’t care about the Judeo-Christian values of America, nor the Constitution. They’re the party of globalism, and they’re anti-American, anti-sovereignty. They use people and causes to promote the godless agenda of the global elitists.

…The Ten Commandments [are] the basis for the Judeo-Christian West.

We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values. They don't use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct. We're saying Merry Christmas again.

Seven Principles of the Judeo-Christian Ethic

They were quite specific about it. Go back and look, follow the links, read those words in context. Look for your own examples. The people who use that term, Judeo-Christian, use it to highlight that those values are special, unique, and specifically foundational to the United States itself. This is clear from the context.

Just as those same people and media outlets define “American values” as uniquely American and by definition not something you’d find in any other country.

That’s what “exceptional” means.

And we are exceptional, America, are we not?


If these were universal values, human values, we wouldn’t have to caveat it.


This term, Judeo-Christian values is used purposely by conservatives to identify values specific to their religious and their political ideology.

But more importantly the term Judeo-Christian directly and deliberately excludes all other political and religious beliefs – and this is the point where I remind you that the people who use this term are also the people who daily denounce multiculturalism and diversity, racial mixing, cultural dilution, and often going so far as to insist that everybody speak the same language. So, by definition, by context, by omission, when these people say Judeo-Christian values, they mean values that are exclusive to their ideology and that specifically exclude all others – which is why you don’t see these values labelled Judeo-Christian-Islamic values, or even just referred as American values, or human values.

The exclusion is on purpose.

So, when I asked the question, I set specific limits on the answers. Because when you say that your values are unique – and moreover, that uniqueness specifically makes you better, exceptional, correct, righteous – but when asked to describe that uniqueness, you proceed instead to describe the same values that can be found universally and that are not in any way exclusive to your political party or religion or nation, well, then you’re full of shit.

So if you insist on using the term “Judeo-Christian” to identify your values as superior to others, then I will require you to show your work.

And so I set limits on the question.

  • The value must be uniquely Judeo-Christian, it cannot be common to any other value system, secular or non-secular
  • The value, whatever it is, must be common to both Jewish and Christian belief systems, i.e. it must be Judeo-Christian.
  • Be specific. Show your work. Don't make vague hand-waving pronouncements.

And out of a thousand answers, from Christians, from Jews, Muslims, atheists, agonistics, from Rabbis, from Preachers and Shit Shakers and Holy Rollers, I got … nothing.

No definitive answer, not even a vague answer.

I got bible quotes and guesses and a lot of sarcasm and a bunch of hand waving. I got links to Wikipedia articles – an article, I’m at pains to point out, which does not in any way provide any kind of definitive list of Judeo-Christian values.

I would like to note that I got a polite and reasoned discussion among thousands of people on my various Facebook pages, which is either a testament to the personal values of those particular people or a testament to my screening criteria. Maybe both.

But for a list of values that we’re all just supposed to know, that we all assume everybody else knows, that our leaders insist are the very basis of our country, well, there’s absolutely no consensus at all.

None.


image


Many responders threw their hands up in the air and said given the limits I placed on the question, an answer was impossible. Some of them got angry about it. One person left the Stonekettle Station Facebook Group in outrage, thinking that I was mocking her religious beliefs because she could not answer the question as asked.

But…

Words matter.

Definitions matter.

Concepts matter.

Precision matters.

Because that language, the words we use, defines how we see the world around us. How we relate to each other. Words can build a society, or tear a civilization apart. Language is information. And information used as a weapon can bring a dictator to power, topple governments, start wars (or end them), or shape the worldview of a nation.

When the president of the United States tells Americans that their values – their Judeo-Christian values – are under attack, it matters.

The limits matter. Because these are the conditions set by those who would use their values as a weapon. As a club. As a flail. As a cudgel to beat the rest of us about the head and shoulders.

These are the conditions set by those who would claim that their values are exceptional and thus should be the values of the nation and us all. By force, if necessary -- even if they themselves are unable to detail exactly what those values actually are. 

These are the limits set by those who would use some imagined martyrdom to justify theocracy and fascism and to put their boot on our throats.

And so I asked.

But the answer, given the limitations placed on the definition by those who use the term, is impossible.

And that – that right there – was the point.

One thing I didn't understand in life was that I had $100,000,000 in the bank and I couldn't buy happiness. I had everything: mansions, yachts, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, but I was depressed. I didn't know where I fitted in. But then I found family and friends and I learned the value of life.
-- Vanilla Ice

Monday, October 9, 2017

Whitewash


This post first appeared on Columbus Day, 2014. // Jim



Here's what I don't get: Pluto.

More specifically, I don't get the argument over what to call it.

I’ve seen people nearly come to blows over Pluto.

And I just don’t get it.

Planet, minor planet, Kuiper Belt object, whatever.

I mean, if you're not an astronomer – that is: a vitamin D deficient long-hair who spends all night staring at a computer monitor filled with mathematical gibberish instead of watching Bang Bang Theory like normal people – why do you care?

No, really, why do you care?

Go outside, look up. Where’s Pluto?

Where?

You have no goddamned idea, do you?

It’s not something you need to deal with on a daily basis. Hell, it's not even in the bible, is it?

And let’s be honest, shall we? The closest most Americans get to astronomy is watching Dancing With The Stars and giggling over the pronunciation of Uranus.

So, I’ll ask again: why does anybody care what the hell science calls the damned rock?

Hell, Clyde Tombaugh could have just made the whole thing up...


What?


Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. American astronomer. The guy who “discovered” Pluto back in 1930. You know, Clyde Tombaugh. I mean, you're all over the whole Pluto thing, right? Probably have Clyde's swimsuit poster on your bedroom wall. Oh, sure, Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. Big fan. Saw the movie with Brad Pitt as Tomblargh, that’s the one with the sparkly vampire zombie Nazis, right?

Right.

Tombaugh could have made it up. Sure he could have.  And how would you know? Pluto, it’s just a spot on a photographic plate. I mean, who verified this? Other astronomers? Oh, and we believe them, do we? We won't take science's word for for evolution, climate change, Bigfoot, oh hell no – but Pluto? Science, totally real, Dude, totally.

A couple years back the little world, which Americans can’t see and never think about, was demoted from planet to not-planet.

And we lost our shit over it.

What? They demoted Pluto? Oh, now it’s on!

It’s a wonder astronomers weren’t dragged from the universities and burned alive.

Politicians and pundits weighed in with ponderous gravity. Congress milled about in various orbits of outrage and actually considered a bill mandating the little frozen ice ball be declared a Full Planet in law if not in fact.

Ironic, isn’t it? That we can’t agree people are equal, but, man, we’re all about civil rights for planets.

I mean, think about it, what if Pluto turns out to be black? Or gay? Would you still want it to marry your sister? I mean, come on, folks, think it through, it’s not rocket science … ur, okay, maybe it is, but I think I’ve made my point here.

The web was aflame with pitched battles. People were all, "Oh I've always been a huge Pluto fan! Favorite planet ever, man, love how they named it after the Disney character, yo!"

And it's still going on.

Somebody asked me about it just the other day: say, Jim, where do you come down on this whole Pluto demotion issue? I sure hope you're not one of them "minor world" guys.

Hey now, I replied, some of my best friends are dwarf planets…

Here in the nation of the perpetually outraged and offended, Pluto’s status is just another thing to be outraged and offended about. What? What's that? They've demoted Pluto? Why those dirty SONS OF BITCHES! In my day we had nine planets! Nine! But now? Everything is going to shit. This is probably Obama’s fault. That guy. You know. 

As if we're all somehow diminished as human beings, as Americans, if Pluto isn't a planet.

Eight? Eight planets? Just eight planets? But, but, but, what if other solar systems have MORE THAN US? WHAT THEN? WE CAN'T HAVE LESS PLANETS THAN ALPHA CENTAURI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WE'LL BE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE UNIVERSE! ALIENS WILL THINK WE’VE GOT LITTLE DICKS! WE'VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING!

Honestly, what's next? We gonna put some big chrome stacks on Jupiter and hang a giant pair of Truck Nutz on Neptune?


You’re wondering where I’m going with this, aren’t you?


Columbus Day.

That’s where I’m going. Columbus Day.

Pluto. Columbus Day. How could you not see that coming?

Honestly, it’s like you people don’t know me at all.

Today is Columbus Day in America.

It’s a bullshit minor holiday that’s mostly just an excuse for federal employees to get a paid day off.

Because, you know, that’s what we need, another reason for Congress to take a long weekend. Not like there’s a big backlog of legislation or anything, right?

I mean, what exactly are the ancient traditions associated with this holiday?

Look, I’m not unpatriotic, I know my American history, sure, I know the part about going to Wal-Mart for “Columbus Day Blow Out Deals.” I’m not a total Philistine. But I’m a little hazy on the religious aspects. Do we gather together at Grandma’s house, she’ll make her famous deep fried ham stuffed with firecrackers and syphilis, the kids will carve a Plymouth Rock from gingerbread while Uncle Phil gets plastered and manages to light his balls on fire again from shooting bottle-rockets out of his ass in the backyard, we’ll watch the big Macy’s Columbus Day parade in new york where men dressed as Conquistadors wade ashore from floats that look like Spanish galleons in search of gold and slaves under the baleful copper gaze of Lady Liberty, then we’ll all meet down at the church for the traditional Columbus Day Prayer Of Peace and Togetherness? Are there little construction paper war bonnets? Fireworks? Do we get to nail somebody to a cross? Is there a gift exchange? Tell me there’s at least going to be a giant male rabbit who shits foil covered chocolate eggs. Something.

But, of course, there’s none of that.

So far as I can tell, the primary Columbus Day tradition involves shouting variations of the phrase:  “Oh what the fuck? Why is the post office closed?

Folks, Columbus Day is the Pluto of American holidays.

Most Americans have no idea where this stupid “holiday” came from and most of the time they couldn’t care less.  Columbus, he’s the guy who discovered America, right? He was like the first American … or was that George Jefferson? I forget, anyway, off to Wal-Mart, gotta make a beer run before Dancin’ Wit Da Starz comes on.

I mean, come on.

Columbus day? Really?

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
"Indians!  Indians!"  Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But "India" the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he'd been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
The first American?  No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

Except it turns out almost all of that is, literally, whitewashed bullshit.

Columbus was an asshole, even his friends thought so – what few friends he had.  He routinely screwed his own crew out of money that he’d promised them and gloated about it, rubbing their faces in it. When his men threatened to mutiny (which happened repeatedly because Columbus was a shitty leader), he handed out pre-pubescent native girls as compensation, after enslaving their parents. He justified genocide by reasoning that so long as he didn’t let anybody convert the natives, he wasn’t killing Christians so God had to be good with it.  They used to say you could navigate between Europe and the New World without a compass, all you had to do was follow the trail of dead Indians floating behind Columbus’ ships.  He ruled Hispaniola as a brutal tyrant, see, Columbus wasn’t exactly keen on democracy and liberty – though he was a big fan of gold. 

Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the United States.

In fact, Columbus never set foot on any part of what is now the United States. Never. He wasn’t even close to the first European to reach the shores of the New World. And he certainly wasn’t an American, he was an Italian sailing under a Spanish flag.

Columbus never set foot on what is nowadays American soil.  Never. He made his voyages nearly 300 years before the United States even existed.

Most Americans couldn’t tell you much of anything about Christopher Columbus beyond the silly fairytale of that child’s nursery rhyme  – let alone anything about the actual man who called himself Cristóbal Colón.

What? What’s that you say? Oh, c’mon now, Jim? What are you, some kind of America hater? Why Christopher Columbus was a genuine American hero. You’re just repeating liberal lies. Besides, who really knows what happened back then?

Yeah, except for the part where Columbus himself documented his atrocities in his own logs and diaries in full detail – and it’s not me who whitewashed history.

In fact, Columbus Day as a federal holiday is a relatively recent invention created whole cloth by people who are largely ignorant of and tone-deaf to actual American history.

But just like Pluto, bring up demoting Columbus’ place in the Pantheon of American Fairytales and watch the spittle start to fly – as if we, as Americans, will somehow be diminished if we don’t have a largely ignored holiday named after a genocidal tyrant who died two and half centuries before our country was even founded.

And you want to know what the really funny part is?

Do you?

Because I’ll tell you.  See, the people most adamant about the sanctity of Columbus Day? Yeah, those Americans? They’re the very same people, the very same people almost name for name, who want English declared the official language of the United States and who demand that the southern border be secured with a wall a hundred feet high specifically to keep out Christopher Columbus’ Spanish speaking descendants.

Now, how’s that for irony?

Listen, you know what will happen to America if Pluto is allowed to remain a minor planet?

Nothing.

Likewise, you know what will happen to our nation if we dump Columbus Day?

Nothing.

Listen to me, you want a day off in October?

Then how about a holiday that includes us all?

How about a day that celebrates our great accomplishments as a nation? How about history and events we don’t have to whitewash? 

How about a holiday where we Americans celebrate our great accomplishments, our moments of exploration and discovery?

We can talk about the first peoples to arrive here chasing wooly mammoths 25,000 years ago. We can celebrate the native cultures that once dominated this continent – the ones we name our rivers and states and sports teams after. We can talk about the Viking longships that explored our shores long before Columbus – and hell, we can even talk about The Great Navigator himself, if we want. Then let us celebrate and remember those moments in time where we Americans, all of us, came together in wonder and awe. Let us remember our voyages of discovery and exploration and hope. From the Nome Serum Run to the California Gold Rush, from Kitty Hawk to the footprints in Mare Tranquilities, Columbia and Challenger and Apollo One, to Voyager and Curiosity and beyond.

We’ll open the museums and the history books and teach our children what it is to be an American - and maybe one day we will again became a nation and a people who look outward instead of staring into our own festering bellybuttons.

Let’s call it Clyde Tombaugh Day.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Seven Stages of Gun Violence


Forward:

I stopped updating this for every mass shooting.

Because I was updating it every other day.

So now I update it only when the mass killing breaks some kind of record or is otherwise notable. Last time that happened was June 14, 2017. We didn’t even make 6 months.

Congratulations on the slaughter, America. Heck of a job.

It’s now been two three four five years since I first wrote this on the day after a madman stepped into a darkened movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and started killing people.  Since then more than ten twenty sixty ninety one hundred and fifty two hundred thousand Americans have died from gun violence, three seven ten twenty fifty times more than died on September 11th, 2001, more than twenty times all the military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, twice the number of Americans killed in Vietnam. There have been so many mass shootings between the day I wrote this and now that I’ve lost track, one killing blurs into another and the bloody rampages seem to be our new national pastime.

I got a lot of email regarding this post over the years.

A lot of people told me I was wrong, some in less than flattering terms. Some threatened to beat me bloody or kill me to make their point.

Those people are not only fools, they are damned fools.

I’ve updated the text and updated it and updated it again and again and again and have now updated it yet again and moved the essay forward in the Stonekettle Station timeline. 

I left the original comments intact, but because those comments primarily address the Aurora Massacre (e.g. the original impetus for this essay) I’ve added a demarking comment dated April 3, 2014, for the first update and another for June 19, 2015, another for July 24, 2015, another for October 1, 2015, another for June 14, 2017, and now, today.  New comments will appear after that. The line of demarcation should be obvious.

Anyway, before we get started, I just wanted to say: Way to go America. We can’t build spaceships any more; the high frontier belongs to Russia and China. We lack the will to save our children from rising seas and a warming earth. We spend literally trillions on aircraft carriers and invisible fighter jets and our nuclear arsenal, but we somehow can’t spare a dime to ensure every American has access to healthcare, or  food, or clean water, or a warm place to sleep. But goddamn, man, we’ve got the world beat in bloody murder.

Bang bang bang. This – this right here – is the future the NRA wanted.



It is easier for a crazy person to get an automatic weapon than healthcare in America.
                                            - Shannyn Moore, Moore Up North



So, America, déjà Vu.

Here we are yet again.

Another mass killing.

Another hellish scene of smoke and blood and murder.

Another day of death and pain, panic and terror.

Here’s a few highlights, America. Think of it as our country’s Greatest Hits. No no, don’t look away. Don’t roll your eyes. This is who you are, this right here, man up and face it: September 1999, Fort Worth, Texas, a gunman killed six people during a prayer service, then he committed suicide. October 2002, it was the Washington DC Sniper, ten dead. August 2003, Chicago, a gunman locked six of his former coworkers in a conference room and shot them dead, then he killed himself.  November 2004, Birchwood, Wisconsin, a hunter got into an argument with a group of sportsmen over a trespassing issue, the hunter ended the argument by killing six and wounding two. March 2005, Brookfield, Wisconsin, a man walked into a church and shot seven people dead, praise the Lord. October 2006, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, a disgruntled truck driver shot five Amish schoolgirls to death and wounded six others before taking his own life. April 2007, Virginia Tech, an angry former student set a record with the deadliest mass shooting in the US in recent years, he killed thirty-two people and wounded fifteen others. Go Team. August 2007, Delaware State University, three students were shot and killed execution style by a 28-year-old and two 15-year-old boys. A fourth student was shot and stabbed. And a month later, September 2007, on the same campus, a student shot and wounded two other students in a dining hall. December 2007, Omaha, Nebraska, a 20-year-old man killed nine people and wounded five others in a shopping mall.  A few days later,  on Christmas Eve, a woman and her boyfriend gunned down six members of her family in their house in Carnation, Washington. February 2008, Chicago, a gunman tied up and shot six women at a clothing store, five of them died. The gunman was never caught. February 2008, DeKalb, Illinois, a man opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. He killed five students and wounded sixteen others. July 2008, Phoenix, Arizona, a former student shot three people in a computer lab at South Mountain Community College.  September 2008, Alger, Washington, a mentally ill man who was released from jail one month earlier shot eight people, six died. October 2008, University of Central Arkansas, gunmen shooting from a car in front of a student dormitory killed two students and wounded a third.  December 2008, Covina, California, a man dressed up like Santa Claus killed nine people at a family Christmas party, then he set the house on fire and shot himself. March 2009, Alabama, a 28-year-old drove through several towns randomly shooting people, he managed to kill ten. March 2009, North Carolina, a heavily-armed gunman stormed into a nursing home and killed eight elderly residents and wounded two more before police killed him. The object of his murderous rage, his estranged wife, was a nurse at the facility –  she escaped unharmed by hiding in the locked Alzheimer ward.  March 2009, Santa Clara, California, six people were shot dead in an apartment building. April 2009, Virginia, an 18-year-old former student followed a pizza deliveryman into his old dormitory, and shot the deliveryman, a dorm monitor, and then himself at Hampton University. April 2009, Binghamton, New York, a man shot thirteen people to death in a bloody rampage at the town civic center. July 2009, Houston, Texas, six people were shot in a drive-by shooting at a community rally on the campus of Texas Southern University. November 2009, Fort Hood, Texas, a U.S. army major opened  fire on his fellows in the middle of a crowded soldier processing center filled with troops preparing for deployment, he killed thirteen and wounded forty-two. February 2010, Alabama, a disgruntled professor opened fire during a staff meeting of the Biological Sciences Department faculty. She killed three and wounded three more. January 2011, Tucson, Arizona, a gunman opened fire at a public gathering outside a grocery store, he killed six people including a nine-year-old girl and wounded twelve more including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head.  July 2012, Aurora, Colorado, a masked gunman storms into a packed movie theater and starts shooting, he killed twelve and wounded fifty-eight more. August 2012, Oak Creek, Wisconsin again,  a gunman kills six people at Sikh temple before being shot dead by police. September 2012, Minneapolis, a gunman kills six including himself and wounds five more inside a small sign company. December 2012, Newtown, Connecticut,  a 20-year old gunman with mental problems killed his mother and then shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and started killing people. He killed twenty small children and six adults and then shot himself.  February 2013, a former Navy officer and Los Angeles policeman declared war on the LAPD, over a period of nine days he killed four people including three police officers and wounded three more before eventually committing suicide by cop.  March 2013, Herkimer, upstate New York, a 64-year old man lit his apartment on fire, then coolly walked into a local barber shop and started shooting. He killed two and wounded two more. Then he drove to another business and killed two more.  He killed a police dog and was subsequently gunned down by the canine’s human partners. June 2013, Santa Monica, California, a 23-year old man went on a killing spree that left six people dead and four wounded and ended when he was shot dead by police inside the Santa Monica College Library.  July 2013, Hialeah, Florida, a man living with his mother lit their apartment on fire and then went on a rampage throughout the living complex, he killed seven before police returned the favor.  Twelve more dead at the Washington Navy Yard.  Another murdered standing watching on a pier in Norfolk. Four more dead, including the shooter, again on Fort Hood, Texas. Charleston, South Carolina, a racist sat quietly for an hour among the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, then without warning he  murdered nine people during prayer service and wounded a tenth – he was hoping to start a race war. Chattanooga, a self-declared Jihadist suffering from depression and drug use, mad at the US government, shot up a military recruiting center in a strip mall then drove to a local Navy operations support center and launched another attack, he killed four Marines and a Sailor and then died in a gunfight with law enforcement. Lafayette, Louisiana, a drifter with a gun fired thirteen rounds into a crowded movie theater. He killed two people, wounded nine, and then turned the gun on himself when police closed in.  June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old security guard killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-eight others at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and then died in a gunfight with police who had to use explosives and a military-grade armored assault carrier to bring him down.

Last time I updated this was four months ago, 14 June, 2017, when four people including House Majority Whip, Steve Scalise, were shot during baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.  A ten minute gun battle followed the initial shooting – in the middle of the nation’s capital – until eventually the gunman was himself shot by police. He died.

I said then, “Who knows? Maybe now they’ll finally do something about gun violence in America.” Now that another member of congress had been shot. A conservative gun advocate this time instead of a liberal. Maybe.

I also noted, “But I wouldn’t count on it.”

And, of course, congress did nothing.

Scalise returned to Capitol Hill and went right back to taking money from the gun lobby.

And now? Today? Here we are, America. Here we are yet again. Bang, Bang, Bang.

Another massacre. Fifty-nine dead. Five hundred and twenty-seven wounded or injured.

Six hundred people.

Six hundred people.

ONE man did that.

ONE man. With a personal arsenal and unlimited access to guns.


And that, my friends, is exactly the power the gun nuts in this country want every man to have.


This slaughter is exactly the future the National Rifle Association and their pet politicians wanted.

This is the power the NRA wants in the hands of every American – as they define American anyway.

What?

What’s that?

Oh no. No. Fuck you. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare try to tell me different. This is the future the NRA wants. Right here. This is the future these sons of bitches want. This is exactly – exactly – the power they want every American to have. The power to murder six hundred people in seconds. And don’t you dare try to tell me otherwise.

This the future the NRA wanted.

And they got it.

This slaughter belongs to the NRA and the gun lobbyists and the gun manufacturers.

The blood of every victim is on Congress’s hands.

And so here we are again. Friends, bereft families grieving with concern, a nation left shaken with shock and outrage, left wondering why? How?

Another murderous lunatic with a gun in his hand and a score to settle.

Another excuse from the National Rifle Association. Another denial. Another bribe to their pets in Congress. Another unhinged rant from terrorist-enabling lunatics like Ted Nugent and Wayne Lapierre and Tom Selleck.

Another flurry of empty prayers and sound-bites from our bought and paid for legislature and a Twitter storm from the White House.

Another day of “expert” opinions from the media and Facebook, from people who have no training and no experience and who have never been shot at.

And another day when gun and ammo manufacturer stocks surged up as Americans ran down to the gun store to load up.

This is the point where I used to type bloody horror.  And it is, a bloody horror, but it’s just another bloody horror.  Business as usual.  Sandy Hook. Aurora. Pulse. Shrug. So? Fifty-nine dead, nearly six hundred wounded. So? What? That’s the price freedom.

That’s the price of freedom.

Isn’t it?

Well, isn’t it?

I mean, why else would we put up with this?

Bloody slaughter, it’s certainly no longer a surprise – and hasn’t been for a very long time.

Gun violence? Mass slaughter? That’s just who we are.

This, this right here, this is the country we live in.

Bang, bang, bang. Welcome to America.

How many mass shootings since I first wrote this? A dozen? Two dozen? A hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? How many? Who knows? You’ve lost track, haven’t you?

Me too.

This slaughter, it’s the set up for a truly American joke, isn’t it? So, a racist, a suicidal drifter, and terrorist walk into a public place and start murdering people, what do they all have in common?

The fabled gun battles of the American Old West have nothing on the modern slaughter. Gun fuelled mass murder isn’t the exception any longer, it’s as common and as American as, well, apple pie and happens on average about once twice three four times a month now.

What’s that, you say? Oh yes, another grinning nut with a personal arsenal shot up a concert? Tsk tsk terrible isn’t it? Did they catch him this time, did he kill himself, or did the police shoot him down like the dog he was? People say he was a nice guy, quiet, kept to himself, kind of odd but, man, didn’t see this coming, no Sir.  Here’s a picture of him smiling like a crazy guy, look at those eyes, they’re crazy eyes, anybody could tell he was going to snap. He probably tortured small animals and has his grandmother’s head in the freezer. It’s the parents’ fault you know, for not raising him right.  It’s the atheists’ fault for taking Jesus out of the schools. It’s the doctors, why don’t they get crazy people off the street? It’s the goddamned police, they’re never around when you need them. It’s the government. He’s probably a veteran, you know, those guys are all on the edge.  Guns don’t kill people, you know, no Sir, they don’t. In fact a good guy with a gun is the only … Oops, gotta go, Duck Dynasty is on.

And now? Well, now we Americans will go through the same old oh so utterly predictable dance: 


Stage One, Confusion:

Mass shootings are still, mostly, news. I have no idea how much longer this will be so, Americans don’t have much of an attention span unless you up the wow factor. Some guy went bonkers and killed a bunch of people? Yawn, I’ve seen worse. What’s the body count this time? Fifty? And he got nearly 600? That’s some good shooting, man. I’ll tune for that! But, maybe next time we could get the guy to wear a Bruce Willis costume while shooting a chain-gun from the back of a crashing stealth fighter in the middle of Times Square? Because that would so cool.

What?

Oh. I see.

Fifty-nine dead. Nearly six hundred wounded. By one man. Sure, I’m the one being ridiculous. Right.

Anyway, for now, mass murder is still a news show money maker.

Problem is, there’s just not enough actual information about the event to fill up the airwaves.

Nobody really knows anything. 

But Americans aren’t interested in facts and they’re for damned sure not interested in waiting.

Americans want their news the same way they want their food, they don’t care if it’s good for them or not so long as it’s quick and it comes in SuperSize.  

So, over the next few days, until America loses interest, the news outlets will each issue at least three versions of the story, all different, all mutually contradictory. Accuracy doesn’t matter, being first is what matters. Blame, that’s what matters, we need to assign blame to somebody, Muslims, liberals, gays, commies, survivalists, the mentally ill, somebody is at fault and the sooner we assign the blame the sooner we can get back to our freedom and liberty and civilization. 

And besides, it’s not like those first false reports and poor reporting will be wasted, the conspiracy nuts will print those out and tape them up on their bulletin boards right next to pictures of that grassy knoll and WTC #7. False Flag! False Flag! They’ll shout gleefully and manufacture their own false information fresh from their fevered imaginations and within days the airwaves and the internet will be filled with their wild speculation.

You’ll get interviews with at least four witnesses who didn’t actually see anything, including at least one middle-aged hypochondriac who wasn’t actually there on the day of the massacre but once, way back when, happened to be in the same neighborhood, and so had to be hospitalized because she was so traumatized by the close call.

You’ll get interviews with at last three professional victims who weren’t there but were near similar events and whose stories are now somehow relevant.

You’ll get earnest opinions from two experts in fields completely unrelated to anything that actually transpired, and CNN will interview at least one former non-combatant Air Force Major who was stationed in Nevada during the Iraq invasion and now teaches law at a small Women’s college on the East Coast.

Eventually, each news outlet will trot out their one remaining gray haired genuine distinguished Newsman, and in dour solemn tones he’ll ponderously opine on the miserable state of journalism in this modern age – then he’ll condemn all the other stations for getting it wrong.

 

Stage Two, Speculation:

Since there isn’t any real information and by the time there actually is America will have completely lost interest, the important thing is to fill up the media channels with something.

The talking heads and paid conspiracy mongers will wax fat and feculent, they’ll talk about false flag operations and possible links to ISIS and whether or not a white man can be a terrorist, all the while hiding their sly grins behind their plastic outrage while the money rolls in.

News anchors, talk shows, bloggers, pundits, and the endless ill-informed mouth-breathing Yahoo commenter will each and all put forward their opinion of Why He Did It.

The Big Giant Orange Leader will tweet, blaming North Korea and Fake News and somehow, some way, it’ll be Hillary Clinton’s fault. Or maybe Bill’s.

Politicians will each rail loudly against those who would politicize this terrible event – while they themselves politicize the event and blame whoever happens to be convenient.

And already social media is a surging froth of foreign trolls and bot swarms, shaping public opinion, urging on more violence and division, aided and abetted by Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg's utter indifference to anything but profit and their companies’ continuing inability to do anything whatsoever to protect their own users.

By the time the sad truth comes out, if it ever does, whatever it is, nobody will even remember Las Vegas. We’ll be a dozen, two dozen, mass shootings on by then and the only thing Americans will remember about this guy is that he is yet another sterling example of whatever political point they’re trying to make at that particular moment.

For us, the shooter isn’t a real person.

He’s a chimera, an empty shell we can fill with whatever substance best suits our worldview.

We don’t really care why he did it and knowing won’t keep the next massacre from happening.


Stage Three, Comparison:

The conservative channels will start running footage of Columbine, Fort Hood, and Waco. The liberal channels will start running footage of the Giffords shooting and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook.  None of those incidents really has much to do with the current horror – other than easy access to guns – but they are images of bodies and blood and bullets and that’s what counts when you’re explaining how this event is what happens when the End Times are nigh or civilization is on the brink of collapse.

It’s important to associate this mass murder with other horrible events in order to shape public perception in the proper manner regardless of the fact that there is little connection or comparison to be had – other than easy access to guns, that is.

All channels will talk about drugs and depression. There’s no indication as yet that the shooter was taking drugs, or was depressed, but then again there isn’t any indication that he wasn’t either.

And, of course, there’s the PTSD, every media outlet will explain in concerned tones. You know, we should expect more of this kind of thing as veterans start to come unscrewed. Especially if they were bullied as children. Or abused. Or into comic books, or video games, or porn. And, well, even if the guy had nothing to do with the military, it’s important to stress that returning veterans are murderously unstable and something should be done.

The simple truth of the matter is that you don’t walk into a crowd and start shooting people unless you’re, at least to some degree, insane.

They can’t just be nuts, or rather they can be, nuts, but it has to mean something. Somehow. Even though the shooter might be completely insane, America will still demand a sane, rational, understandable reason for their behavior.

Which naturally will lead to endless arguments regarding the sorry state of mental health in this country.

Which, of course, will almost immediately devolve into a debate on healthcare.

Which, of course, will almost immediately turn into a shitfit between political ideologies.

Which means that nothing whatsoever will be done.

Which means that I’ll be forced to update this essay again, and again, and again, and the even more simple truth of the matter is that a society doesn’t allow this sort of thing to go on and on unless it is, at least to some degree, insane.

But you see, the thing is that these shootings all have nothing in common.

Nothing in common, except for one thing.

One thing.

They all have one thing and only one thing only in common.

Guns.



Stage Four, Blame:

The shooters may all be crazy in some fashion or another, but the real insanity here is our continued inability as a nation to face reality.

We are quite literally insane.

We won’t face reality.

We won’t face the single common denominator.

Instead…

Let’s blame Hollywood. Violent movies and violent video games and rock and roll music. That’s what it is.

Let’s blame the families. It’s bad parenting, this guy’s folks should have their asses kicked for raising a psychopath.  But since we can’t do that, we'll punish the shooter’s family by having every single news agency in the world camp out on his mother’s front porch, and we’ll ask her important questions such as “what are you feeling right now?”

Let’s blame the Liberals with their liberalism, their political correctness, their communist Nazism, their coddling of criminals, their gun control and the gay agenda.

Let’s blame the Conservatives with their conservatism, their guns and their bibles and their callous disregard of the human condition. It’s their fault, of course it is.

Let’s blame it on the Me Generation, these selfish little bastards, always with their hands out, me me me. It’s social media, it’s Twitter and Facebook and those self centered bloggers looking for attention.

Let’s blame the Muslims and the godless goat humping atheists and Fast & Furious and bad teachers and Benghazi and the secret manipulations of the Illuminati.

The politicians and their supporters will all, each and every one, gleefully make hay. Oh they’ll all, each and every one, wax poetic over the victims (with the exception of certain predictable talk radio pundits who’ll insinuate that the wounded had it coming for being unprepared and unarmed and ungodly), and they’ll even wipe away sorrowful bitter tears and pause for a moment in patriotic remembrance with their hands over their flinty black hearts with the flags waving and crackling in the cold breeze at just the right camera angle, and they’ll condemn the other guy for politicizing the tragedy, and then they will make just as much political hay out of this as they can because somebody is damned well to blame for this mess.  And it sure isn’t going to be them, no sir, it’s the other guy and his un-American agenda, vote for me!

Somebody is responsible.

The thing is, all of these shootings, including the latest horror, have nothing in common.

Nothing in common, except for one thing.

Guns.

Guns. Guns. Guns. Guns are the common denominator here.

In every case, it’s guns.

You can’t have a mass shooting without guns.

It’s just that goddamned simple.

But we won’t face it.

We won’t do anything about it.

We’ll blame everything but the one single common denominator.

We just  keep on keeping on, expecting something different – and that right there is the very definition of insanity.

As a nation, we are insane.


Stage Five, Bang Bang Crazy:

And so, once again, inevitably, we circle around the wheel to the perennial American argument: 

Guns don’t kill people, crazy people with guns kill people who don’t have guns.

Therefore, we should ban all guns! No, wait, if we ban all guns then only people with guns will have guns so they’ll kill the people who don’t have the guns and then there will only be people with guns left and then they’ll kill each other because if you ban guns only people with guns will be criminals and when the government comes to get our guns only the criminals will be free because liberty equals guns! Also what about bears? OK, then we should give everybody guns! But if everybody has guns then even criminals will have guns and brown people and yellow people and illegal people and crazy people who don’t love Jesus will have guns and they will break into our houses to steal our guns and rape our women and eat our babies and take our liberty so then police and the military will need bigger guns to keep us safe from those people but then we’ll need even bigger guns because otherwise we won’t be safe from the cops who will use their guns to take our freedom! OK, well then how about a reasonable common sense compromise? We all agree that as Americans it’s our basic right to keep and own firearms. But also, some people really, really shouldn’t be allowed to own even a Nerf slingshot, let alone a machine that can punch a couple hundred fist sized holes in a room full of people in under a minute. How about we maybe talk about some kind of reasonable way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists, and crazy people? What! Communist! Nazi! How dare you? Second Amendment! Second Amendment! Every red-blooded true blue American has the God given right to own a fully automatic meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high capacity killing machine if they want to, the Founding Fathers said so! USA! USA! Dead kids? Mass murder? Blood in the streets? That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeedom! Besides if there had only been one, just one, god fearing patriot with his own concealed meat-grinding bone-shattering blood-spattering high-capacity peacemaker there at that massacre, why he’d have stood up in his genuine American made American Flag Shirt of Patriotic American By God Freedom and fired up his laser-sight and he would have put that animal down right goshdarned there! Remember, when seconds count the police are only minutes away and idiotic empty NRA platitudes have saved more lives than Charlton Heston did in all those bible movies. Booyah, Baby, give me a Glock Nine and an extended mag any day. Also, we need more Jesus.

‘Round and round in one long run-on paragraph of fury and hysteria and flag waving spittle flecked madness. America, Fuck ya!


Stage Six, Acceptance:

By the time it’s determined that the shooter’s bloody motivation was just plain incomprehensible to sane reasonable people, most Americans will have long since changed the channel and forgotten about it, lost in the bloody mayhem of the next gun fueled mass murder.

Meanwhile, the NRA will quietly make the rounds on Capitol Hill, handing out checks, and Congress, ever eager to promote the idea that they care, will yet again stage a mock vote to defund healthcare in America or announce a bill that gives billionaires another tax break because they are completely unable to do anything that actually matters other than squabble amongst themselves like spoiled petulant children.

Nothing will be done about the real problem because nothing can be done.

That’s the price you pay for freeeeeeeeeeedom: murderous lunatics with guns.



Besides, it probably won’t happen again.



Stage Seven: Déjà Vu:

See Step One.




Afterword:

Ok, snark off.  Let me be serious.

Nothing, and I mean nothing not even religion or abortion, generates the hate mail that any article on guns does.

As I’ve said here many, many, many times, and will obviously have to say many, many, many more times: I’ve spent my entire life around weapons, all kinds of weapons – some of which you can’t even imagine. I’ve had decades of professional training. I am a professionally trained firearms instructor with decades of experience. And I spent most of my adult life in war zones around the world.

I know something about guns and violence.

I’ll tell you something: the ignorant, illiterate, and cognitively challenged NRA nuts who troll this site every time I post something about guns are the very last people I would allow on my range or allow to handle weapons anywhere near me or mine. If you’re taking orders from Ted Nugent and Tom Selleck you are fucking insane. These people are every bit as insane as the murderous lunatics described in the text above who thought that guns were a solution for their own personal inadequacies.

These people have taken the Second Amendment and perverted it all out of recognition.

However, for the record, the post above does not, repeat does not, advocate for or against any additional laws, regulations, bans, or any other form of gun control.

What I actually said was that all the arguments were oh so tediously predictable. 

What I said was the usual folks would call for gun control.

What I said was then in response the usual folks would scream about Nazis and fascism and explain why nothing ever can work and how dead kids are just the price you pay for freedom.

What I said was that nothing, absolutely nothing, will change. The slaughter will continue. The argument will continue. And nothing will change because we will not let it change, we would rather die than allow a reasoned conversation to take place, let alone any action of any kind.

What I said was that we can’t even have the conversation.

And that is exactly what is happening, because that’s what always happens. Every. Single. Time.

Both sides are perfectly convinced that they are right. That’s it and that’s all. Period. No compromise. No no no. End of discussion and fuck you, Liberals. No, fuck you, Conservatives. 

You cannot reason with unreasonable people and the people on both sides of this ongoing monkey shitfest are profoundly unreasonable people (and now people on both sides will write to argue why they’re right and the other side is wrong, predictably).

People called me a cynic.

They said I was wrong.

But it’s been more than two five years since I wrote the original version of this essay. How many mass murders have happened in that time? How many Americans have died in front of a gun muzzle? Hell, we’re up to four or five mass murders a month now.

We’ve actually had a president shot. We’ve had two members of congress shot.

And nothing, not one goddamned thing, has changed.

I think I’m entitled to say: I told you sons of bitches so.


 


Addendum 1:  Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always.
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush
What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity


Addendum 2: As noted elsewhere, I’ve  been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meijer Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun.  I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family.  Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve graduated from nearly every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I’m an Alaskan, even though I don’t live there anymore, and I typically carry a gun in the wilds of Alaska on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.


A note about commenting:

Comments on this post are now in excess of 200.  When that happens you have to scroll to the bottom of the comment queue and hit “load more.” You may have to do this several times to see all the comments including the nested ones. This is a function of the Blogger platform, I have no control over it. // Jim Wright/Stonekettle Station.