Category Archives: Civil Discourse

Into the Looking Glass


I watched a video this week that I think was very powerful.  I would really like you to take the 7 minutes 37 seconds of your life to watch it, and then let us have an intimate little chat, shall we?

Let me start by saying, I am one of either the lucky ones or the strong ones.  Take your pick.  Either way, I have been through my share, and I do not need anyone’s pity or even sympathy.  At this point, I will give at least as good as I get, and I don’t necessarily say that with any pride.  I simply state it as fact. To be honest, I recognize that sometimes, I can go overboard and tend to escalate the situation, because I simply refuse to back down.  As my father said, I didn’t learn to duck, even when I should.

Understand?

So, yeah, that’s me now.  It wasn’t always so.  In elementary school and all the way up until about half way through the 8th grade even, I was the target of the neighborhood bullies.  Yep.  I was beaten and verbally abused.  I was the nerd.  And, I took it.  I did; I did.  Something happened one day out on the track field, and I am only vaguely aware of the specifics of the events.  It isn’t the haze of time.  I wasn’t entirely certain what happened even on that day.  I remember leaning on the fence out at the track field, and the little shit, neighborhood bully, Marcel, came up behind me.  He grabbed me in a “full Nelson”, locking his arms through mine and behind my head.  From there, I am not sure how, but I got out and the next thing I know, I have him down on the track. I’m using the asphalt as a grater for his face.  A few moments later, after some screaming from the crowd, the coaches were separating us.  I’m not sure who was more shocked – Marcel or I.  I went over and sat under a tree.  And, that, was the end of that shit.

A lot of other kids haven’t found it in themselves to do the same.  That certainly isn’t to say that I haven’t dealt with other situations.  Other people who thought they were going to bully or intimidate me, or others, into control of a situation.  It is only to say, that was the last time that was going to have any effect on me.

Do you grok?

Martin Niemöller

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,    First they came for

habe ich geschwiegen,                                   the communists,

ich war ja kein Kommunist.                         and I didn’t speak out

.                                                                           because I wasn’t a

.                                                                          communist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, Then they came for the

habe ich geschwiegen,                                     socialists,

ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.                    and I didn’t speak out

.                                                                             because I wasn’t a

.                                                                             socialist.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,                Then they came for the

habe ich geschwiegen,                                     trade unionists,

ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.                     and I didn’t speak out

.                                                                             because I wasn’t a trade

.                                                                             unionist.

Als sie mich holten,                                            Then they came for me,

gab es keinen mehr,                                            and there was no one left

der protestieren konnte.                                   to speak for me.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

When I was 12 in 1984, a full 20 years after the voting rights act that the SCOTUS so injudiciously recently gutted, I was playing in my yard with my brother who was 11.  We lived in a predominately black neighborhood, and we were the minority.  A black family had just moved in next door, with a young daughter.  She was maybe 9 or so.  She came up to the fence tentatively.  Almost fearfully, and asked, “Are you allowed to play with black children?”  Did you read that?!  It brings tears to my eyes as I type it now 28 years later.  “Are you allowed to play with black children?”  That child should never have had that thought much less have had to ask it, and yet, she already knew that in some places, that would have caused problems.  Problems not only for her, but for her family.

How deep does the rabbit hole go?
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Divide and Fall


Yes.  Lately this space has been more focused on the social analysis with a bit of lean towards the politics.  That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise really.  These things are tightly related, and they are important also.  But, really, what of any true importance is new in the news lately?

Are we going to rehash the gun argument?  Right now, I’m tired of arguing with those on the right who would like to pick and choose from the 2nd Amendment so that they re-write it into a new version without any intelligence or reason, and who are too ignorant (or just plain stupid) and somehow think that because I am unabashedly liberal that I am a “gun grabber”.  Those who do not listen to what I have said, or read what I have written, but somehow think they know.  These are generally people who are too blinded by their own positions to actually hear anyone else anyway.  I am equally tired of arguing with people on the other side who inveigh about the need to enact better controls, but aren’t actually willing to do anything more than bitch and moan about it.  So, no, I don’t think so.

The Benghazi incident?  There is no larger political story there, folks.  This is yet another manufactured crisis that Fox news has made up to attack the center right and try to drag things even further to the right.  Enough about that.

No, today, we’re going to talk about divisiveness.  I’ve written on this as parts of other topics.  I cannot with any real honesty say whether this is increasing or not.  It is my feeling that it is.  Yet, I also suspect that it only seems that way, and to anyone who has been paying attention, we have always been very divided.

In looking back through history, and I am not going to be teaching a history course today, we see a long line of division used as distraction.  Divide and conquer, no?  We go all the way back to our earliest, most basic pack days and we find those classic divisions of “us” and “them”.  Now, we are still dividing and classifying.  To some extent this is necessary and useful.  It aids in our survival, for example, to know who our friends and our opponents are if we are actually in a combat situation.

The problem though is that we often make too large a category.  As I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered the other day, I was struck by this again.  It was about the actor, Riz Ahmed, but it was only really about him, because of a newly released movie, Reluctant Fundamentalist.  Anyway, the point is this bit from that 5 minute story:

And it’s no surprise that Ahmed is making his American debut with a film as bold as The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It’s about the current fault lines between East and West, Muslim and American, ‘us versus them.’ Those deeper themes fueled director Mira Nair.

Did you catch that or are you so inured to this very problem that you missed it?  I’m going to let that sit for a minute.  We’ll come back.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook.  It was brief, but it was the same issue.  It was started by his posting of a meme of support for Lt Colonel Matthew Dooley.  You may or may not have heard of Lt. Col. Dooley.  To those on the far right, Dooley is being presented as a holy martyr.  (Despite the incident of his martyrdom having happened a year ago.)  He spent years in the US Army, graduating from West Point in 1994, and serving “with distinction” since, including teaching at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va from 2010 until his removal in 2012. Those are the bare facts.  What is being circulated from there by the right is that he is being persecuted by, and I quote my right-wing friend on this one, “Our pro-Jihadist President”.  He is being targeted, the lie, er, argument goes because, “The course “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism” ,which was suggested and approved by the Joint Forces Staff College, caught the attention of several Islamic Groups, and they wanted to make an example of him.  They collectively wrote a letter expressing their outrage, and the Pro-Islamic Obama Administration was all too happy to assist.”
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Put Away Childish Things


Recently I have been having an ongoing discussion wherein I have maintained that one of the most significant differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals are concerned with protecting the rights of everyone, whereas conservatives are primarily concerned only with protecting their own rights.

Let me be very clear about that, by rephrasing it, since we are talking about a spectrum.  In general, as one moves further along the spectrum from conservative to liberal then one can be expected to become less and less selfish and more concerned with the larger community, as well.  In other words, one grows up, and becomes mature enough to think beyond one’s own bedroom and toys, and capable of being responsible for the larger household and belongings of the family.

Yes, I did, in fact, just compare conservatives to children, because over the years that is precisely what they have shown themselves to be.  There may have been a time when that wasn’t the case.  I am trying to be generous by saying that, but it is not, as a general rule, true any more.

So, let’s look at some examples, shall we?  One of the “most-well known liberal” groups in America is the American Civil Liberties Organization.  What is it that makes this group liberal?  Well, primarily it is that they have consistently fought for the rights of everyone in America.  They have done so without regard to ideology, so long as those rights are within the bounds of the Constitution.  This does mean that they have not always stood as staunch supporters of the status quo.

The ACLU has provided legal counsel in support of students’ rights, minority rights, and marriage rights.  The ACLU has supported the bulwark between church and state.  The ACLU has represented the Ku Klux Klan, the Westboro Baptist Church, National Man Boy Love Association, as well as students and other private individuals.  The thing about the ACLU is that as an organization they consistently stand by their principles and will defend the rights of even those individuals and groups that are most repugnant to the members, if those rights are being violated by representatives of the state.  I personally find all of those groups offensive, and yet, I would also personally stand up for their right to speak.  Of course, I would also counter them, and speak back, because that is what free speech is.

Compare that standard to the American Civil Rights Union.  A group that most of us have probably never heard of.  It was founded in 1998 by a former Reagan lackey official, in response to the ACLU being too liberal.  Its board is stocked with former Reagan officials, and will be until they start to die off.  The ACRU is a conservative activist group that masquerades as a civil rights legal foundation.  A screenshot of their home page taken on 4/14/2013 shows that they are not discussing the court cases which they are working on.  They are not talking about the key civil rights issues that they are fighting for.  No.  They are instead hyping their political activism.  They are entitled to do so, of course.  However, in doing so, they make it clear that they are not a civil rights organization, and further illustrate my point.

What cases have they worked on?  It doesn’t appear they have actually done anything.  They have filed many briefs though.  They’ve filed briefs against the ACA, against marriage equality, and in support of the 2nd amendment in various cases.  They defended the Boy Scouts of America’s right to discriminate against gay troop leaders.  And, so on.
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An Island Of Care In An Ocean Of Doesn’t


When I started this blog a little over 15 months ago, I had grand expectations of presenting details and facts and having reasoned discussions.  I was quickly reminded that I have a tendency to give people far too much credit for a number of things, which often comes back to bite me in the tokhes.  I tend to expect that people are going to be reasonable, responsive to new information, flexible, and interested in actual facts.  The truth is that most Americans are not actually interested in facts.  Nor are most Americans particularly responsive to new information.  Reasonable?  Nooooo.  This does not leap to mind when most people think of Americans.  Neither in America nor around the world.

Most people go into a situation with their mind already made up, and no amount of information is going to change it.  It would take an extraordinary situation or experience to create any real change within that mind.   More than that, though, it takes a rare individual.

So, for example, you have Dick Cheney, the former Vice-President (since most Americans were unable to identify him was while he was in office), and a truly evil man, who has a lesbian daughter, but maintains that, while he claims to love her, that does not mean she should have the same rights as the rest of America.  Then, you have the much more rare case of Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who “coming to terms” with the reality of his gay son, decides that means his son deserves the same equal rights as every heterosexual in this country.

These two examples picked from millions that could have been chosen, illustrate the two extremes.  On the one hand, we have the much more common, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.  My mind is already made up.” and on the other, we see someone who, much to the surprise (shock even) of many, completely reversed a previous stance in response to new information.  I think that Sen. Portman still holds many positions that are wrong, but on this he puts it very well:

”That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.”

Notice, in particular, that last sentence, because that is the point today.  As much as the issue of marriage equality needs to be addressed in this country, and around the world, that is not the point today.  (I have previously written on that subject, and probably will again.)  I applaud Sen. Portman for showing that he is capable of thinking a subject through, and reaching a new conclusion.  I think that this is very likely a man that while I may very strenuously disagree with his conclusions on a number of other topics, I could at least respect him.  Now, I do grant that a Senator who can’t go through this reasoned process before it hits his own family, so to speak, is not the best choice for a senator, but at least he,as a man, is eventually capable.

I want to make one final point about Sen. Portman, it is this: it is clear that these are not just words from him.  You see, Sen. Portman has previously been such an outspoken opponent that previously some students protested his being the speaker at their commencement, specifically because of this issue.  To even speak the words now is a dramatic change.  Of course, he has to follow through from here with action to be truly meaningful.  But, I am straying, and while that is an important avenue to go down, as I said, it is not where we want to go today.

So, facts rarely persuade people any more.  Maybe they never really did.  Perhaps that too is part of the “goldening” of the past that we are prone to do.  That process that humans tend to go through where we have this nostalgia for and memory of everything in the past being somehow better, and in fact, better than it actually was.
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Chicken Little Say


The SCIAMAGE space has extended an offer to a number of people from a variety of backgrounds and political view points to submit pieces for inclusion in this space.  They have each been told essentially the same thing, though the specific words may have varied ever so slightly.  Basically though, regardless of the words chosen, what they have been told is their piece will undergo only slight editing, and that will only be for spelling and formatting.  It will never be for grammar (unless requested) as that comes too close to style and that would come to close to voice.  Though I might wish to comment on it, I do not wish to interject my voice into theirs.  It will never be edited for content, as that would impede on free exchange of ideas, and that would defeat the purpose.  It may not, however, include patently false information.  Oh, and only once, have I actually suggested a topic.  Other than that one time, I have left the topics wide open for the guest writer to select.

The group invited has included people of widely different political views, and very different socioeconomic and technological backgrounds.  There are, of course, a few things they each have in common. One thing is that they can all get very passionate about what they believe and hold to be true, while not making it personal.  They can also hold a reasonable conversation.  They are capable of distinguishing, typically, between fact, fiction, and belief.  They will typically be able to provide evidence to support or at least attempt to provide evidence to support their position.  Etc.  In other words, they are reasonable and intelligent people who are capable of having reasonable and intelligent conversations.

If you think that you would like to submit a piece for inclusion in this space, please contact the SCIAMAGE through the links below.

Today, the SCIAMAGE space is pleased to bring you the first response to this offer.  Jeffrey Jones, is a man of varied background.  A father, a former instructor, currently working with a defense contractor (we can’t tell you more, or we’d have to kill you under the current NDAA and justification for drone use, and we wouldn’t want to have to do that!!), a gamer (board, role, and online), educated, diverse interests, Buddhist, traveler, and much more.  And, on a personal note, a hell of a Mensch.   That’s really more than you need by way of an introduction, because the piece that Jeff has provided stands on its own without any introduction.  It could well have been written by any man, woman, or child in America today, who pauses to look around.  Any man, woman, or child who stops to think, and doesn’t forget to start again.

And, without further ado, please, enjoy today’s SCIAMAGE guest column from Jeffrey Jones.

CHICKEN LITTLE SAY…

It’s time that this rampant hyperbole about being under attack ended. It’s sole purpose is to rouse the ignorant and muddy the waters about the evolution of life for humans.

The theory goes that various groups are under attack because the way they have led their lives, or gone about their business, or the manner in which they have acted for no good reason, apart perhaps from jealousy, or fear or propaganda. It certainly could not be that these things are no longer acceptable to the rest of us.

White people are under attack because they are no longer in the vast majority here in America. But is that true? As of the 2010 census results:

Race / Ethnicity Number Percentage of U.S. population
Americans 308,745,538 100.0 %
White or European American 223,553,265 72.4 %
Black or African American 38,929,319 12.6 %
Asian American 14,674,252 4.8 %
Amer. Ind. or Alaska Native 2,932,248 0.9 %
Hawaiian/Pac. Islander 540,013 0.2 %
Some other race 19,107,368 6.2 %
Two or more races 9,009,073 2.9 %

72.4% of Americans identify themselves as Caucasian. And, they are under attack because it used to be more.  You’ll note that Hispanic or Latino is not included in this chart, as, according to the Census Bureau, “Persons whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.”  But 16.4% of all races identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino.  In 1960, non-Hispanic white persons made up 85% of the American population, by 2042 they are projected to have lost the strong majority, only accounting for 46.3% of the population, still the largest group, but not a solid, over-powering majority.

Why is this a scary set of statistics? Why is the natural progress of life a “threat” to the comfortable majority?
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Fallacious Arguments on a Slippery Slope Lead to Foolish Appearances


There are many foolish arguments made every day and in so many contexts. Arguments in the supposedly “reasoned” sense.  Not arguments in the childish, “No, you didn’t. Yes, I did” sense, though we do see plenty of that, as well.

So, for example, we see the “Criminals don’t obey laws” argument against any sort of gun control, and this is supposed to stop the discussion, because there are supposedly enough laws already.  Of course, this is stupid.  The basic fallacy is in the construct itself.  They are criminals because they didn’t obey the laws.  Not vice versa.  This is not a stereotypical chicken verses egg argument.  No, what little validity in it is that once one has started to break some laws it does psychologically become easier to break some others, but this is neither a straight line progression, nor is it a complete break such that all lines are broken.

The old saw that, “There is no honor amongst thieves” is a bunch of hooey that really only serves to make sanctimonious do-gooders feel superior because they are following the laws that they have laid down upon everyone else.  There is actually a great deal of honor among those who would break the laws of the “upper world”.  To live in the “under world” that we have created, requires that one be very honorable, because to be without honor, is often to be dead very quickly.  Particularly if one is floating around anywhere other than the basic get along stream of junkies.  Outside of that, one’s word is more important than in almost any other realm you can imagine in this western world, and the consequence is not just being shunned.  The consequences can be dire.  But, I am straying into the psychology of criminology and the anthropology of the underworld far more than I intended to, and more than is required to make the point.  The point is that, in that world, the ability to count on someone’s word is more frequently literally a matter of life and death, whereas in the “upper world” it is, the vast majority of the time, all talk.

I saw a piece this week that made me think about this again.  It was beautifully written and, yet, all too many people will dismiss it.  A short little piece posted by Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker.  A Letter from Kim Jong-Un pretty wonderfully highlighted another couple stupid arguments being made in this same context.

In the immortal words of my dad, the glorious Kim Jong-il: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

and

If you join today, we will waive the initiation fee and send you this bumper sticker: “Nuclear weapons don’t kill people. People kill people who don’t have nuclear weapons.”

My grandfather used to say, “Locks only keep honest people out.”  To some extent that’s true.  However, the other side of that is that it makes it more difficult, and to parody the right-wing’s arguments, “We keep our money locked up, don’t we?”  Gah!

So, what then are the answers?  We need to stop the bullshit arguments.  We need to have a real, adult conversation.  We need to have a multi-dimensional approach.  The real answers are going to start at home.  Start with teaching our children to be responsible, caring, compassionate, human beings that contribute to society rather than just looking at society, the world, and each other in terms of what they can take from it.

In a legal sense though, there are things we can and need to do:

    • Strengthen and enforce the laws which are on the books already.  The so-called gun show loop holes.
    • Require universal background check regardless of how or where the gun is sold.
    • Issue FEDERAL licenses to purchase a gun.  This should probably come in categories, much like a driver’s license.  I would have this run through the Health and Safety, and do whatever reorganization would be required to make that happen.

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Roll up your sleeves, put away the toys, and lets do this!


Do you ever get tired of having the same conversations over and over again?  That overwhelming déjà moo striking you like a ton of bricks?  I know I do.  There are legitimate reasons to repeat a conversation.  For example, when there are new conditions, new facts, or if one has new students and needs to teach them.  However, this is so often not the case.  Particularly when the topic and context is our national political scene.

So, we discuss “gun control”, again, and one loud segment screams “You can have my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands,” as though confiscation is what reasonable people mean when they’re discussing gun control.  Reasonable people start to discuss ways that we could try to keep guns in the hands of responsible, sane people, out of the hands of insane, impulsive people, and from needlessly killing innocents.  And, yes, I suppose that there is likely a small segment who does advocate for the collection and destruction of all of the guns.  Though, honestly, I can’t find them anywhere other than in the ravings of the lunatic right-wing paranoiacs.  We go through this dance every few years, but the truth is that nothing has really changed in regards to guns themselves over the last half-century or so.  There has been some technological improvement in the ammunition and some in the firing rate, but essentially, we are still using the same guns we were using nearly a hundred years ago.  In fact, in some cases, we are literally using the same guns.  So, what has changed?  That is where our real focus needs to be, but as with so many things, we can’t get past the trees to see the forest.

Besides, that would mean looking in the mirror and taking responsibility.  That would mean, that we stop blaming the “schools”, the “government”, “Hollywood”, etc and accept our own personal responsibility in the choices that we have made as individuals, as parents, and as a society.  I am going to come back this in a moment.

It’s not just with guns that we keep having these same discussions, is it?  How many times in the last 15 years or so have we had national conversations about reforming the electoral process or campaign finance reform?  How successful has that been?  Why?  Because the people we send to do the job really have no interest in doing the job, and we, as a society, have not maintained any real interest in achieving a result either.  Think about where you work.  Let’s assume for the sake of discussion, and because I am sure that you are a responsible person, that you diligently work throughout the day, as you should.  When you look around though, I am sure you see a number of your co-workers who are frequently not.  They’re talking to others, taking extra breaks, surfing the internet, filing their nails, etc.  At a larger scale, this is essentially what happens with campaign finance reform, and all of the other things that we send our “leaders” to Washington, state capitals, and even the local county and city halls to change and address.  We send them there, and then there is no real oversight, so they get side-tracked with the perks or games playing.  The few who may care are incapable of accomplishing much because the others are too busy playing.  Until the deadlines approach.  At that point though, now all eyes are on them, and they have to seem to be doing their jobs to the best of their ability.  Which, sadly, they have been all along.
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