CAT | Op-eds
I started out last Monday writing my weekly movie review when a report of terrorist activity in Montevideo, Minnesota landed on my desk.
The FBI press release had it that someone named Buford “Bucky” Rogers had been arrested in a raid on his parent’s trailer home on Friday. The FBI claimed they’d seized lots of guns, including a Romanian AKM assault rifle, Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs.
It’s a bit outside of our coverage area but it seemed serious, so up I went and spent most of the day in the trailer park outside of town, talking to the Rogers family, a.k.a. “The Black Snake Militia” and their neighbors, and watching the TV news people from as far away as Minneapolis and Sioux Falls come and go.
Since then I’ve caught the news reports of the terrorist plot as it’s gone national. The FBI claims they’ve saved Lord knows how many lives.
It’s all bull$#!+ and a lot of so-called journalists should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves!
The “terrorists” are father Jeff Rogers, a man four years younger than I am who looks 20 years older. He’s wheezy, out of shape, and had open heart surgery not long ago. His son Shawn is 17, though neighbors told me they guessed his age at 13-14, which should give you an idea how dangerous he looks. As it turns out Bucky doesn’t live there but with his girlfriend and their 10-month-old baby in town, which is actually where he was arrested.
These people aren’t terrorists. They’re dumb as stumps, nutty as fruitcakes – but probably harmless.
The talking heads pointed their cameras at the family, asked a few questions – and sat back and watched them rave about implanted microchips and their “militia.” Because everybody wants to be a movie star, and this was likely the most attention they’d gotten in their lives.
But they’ve got guns!
All of them legal and registered to Jeff. A sizable collection but no bigger than those of friends of mine who include teachers, county commissioners, farmers, and cops.
They wear camouflage!
For God’s sake, cammie is the right-wing equivalent of “Che” T-shirts and “Mao” paraphernalia. “Look at me! I’m wearing the battle dress of a military I don’t remotely qualify to join.”
Nobody gets upset when college students parade around campus wearing the faces of mass murderers on their shirts. Nobody cries “racist” that one was the greatest murderer of Hispanics in the 20th century.
Why the hell aren’t journalists asking intelligent questions?
If the FBI found bombs in the trailer home – why aren’t the Rogers family in custody? According to Jeff, they weren’t even mirandized.
Molotov cocktails? That’s an incendiary made by filling a bottle with gasoline and stuffing a rag in the neck for a fuse.
Nobody stores Molotov cocktails! They keep cans of gas, rags, and bottles around and assemble them as needed!
Shawn Rogers said the FBI carted off a box of scrap plumbing pipe. I believe him, The Rogers seem to eek out Jeff’s disability pension by collecting and selling scrap. I got Jeff Rogers to open the “bomb factory” shed – it’s a junk heap!
Some reports more cautiously said they had “bomb making materials” in their house.
That I believe. But then again, so do I – and so do you. Between your kitchen and your bathroom you have the ingredients for at least two high explosives which I won’t name, but they go off at a harsh look. Everybody is one chemistry lesson away from a bomb.
Bucky Rogers I haven’t met. Word from people in the school system is he was a trouble maker but not scary in school, but his little brother is rather liked by his teachers.
Bucky was on probation for burglary, but didn’t do time. He mouthed off a lot on Facebook in ways that could be seen as threats. The FBI said he admitted after a Miranda warning to firing his father’s AKM at a gun range.
Gotcha! Probation violation – which is what he’s been charged with so far. So why hasn’t he been charged with making terroristic threats?
Bucky’s parole officer might have taken him aside and told him to dial the nutty stuff down until he was off probation.
Instead the FBI swooped down on Montevideo, roped in several local law enforcement agencies, and when the FBI show up in your office you don’t say “No thanks.” They staged a major operation at considerable expense which I seriously doubt the local law will ever get reimbursed for.
Many readers I’ve talked to are quite sensibly skeptical about the sensationalist news reports. Good on you! The county sheriff has been admirably restrained and rather noncommittal in his public statements. The FBI is often disliked among local law enforcement agencies, but it is not wise to antagonize them.
But why all the commotion? Not to mention the expense.
If I were a right-wing conspiracy nut, I’d suspect that in the aftermath of the Boston bombing the PC Patrol is desperately searching for terrorists who aren’t Muslims. The Rogers are the people America has been taught to fear – white, redneck gun nuts.
But since I’m a cynic I have to wonder if the FBI affidavit didn’t give it away. The agent who signed it said he’d been at the Minneapolis office since he graduated from the academy in 1999. If I had to guess, I’d wonder if someone is tired of being stuck out in the boonies and sees a big score that’ll get him back to the bright lights in the big city.
Note: This is the self-syndicated column I submitted to my subscriber(s) for this week. I usually wait a while before posting on my blog to give the print-only outlets a head start. Currently this is re-posted on the websites of rural newspapers in a five-state area in the upper midwest.
I am expecting the compost to hit the thresher over this one. We’ll see, and stay tuned for part 2.
Note: This is my weekly op-ed.
“What are you talking about?” (I hear you say.) “All we do is argue these days. About gun control, abortion, Obamacare…”
No, we don’t argue about these things at all. Or at best, only one side argues.
“What? Doesn’t it take two to argue? Or fight, make up, or tango?”
Let me back up a bit.
I’m using “argument” in the formal sense used in logic. You have a set of statements, one of which is the conclusion. You’re claiming if all the other statements are true, the conclusion has to be true.
I thought of this a few nights ago when a teacher friend of mine was venting about an exchange he had in the teachers’ lounge.
The issue was gun control legislation, but it could have been anything.
What frustrated him was another teacher making assertions about what he should or should not be legally allowed to have, based on feelings, uninformed opinions, and flat-out assertions of what is or isn’t freedom.
“Is this what passes for argument among these people?” he said.
I’ve run into the exact same phenomenon. And what’s worrisome is, an awful lot among academics. You know, those people who are preparing our children to deal with the world?
I have an acquaintance I’ve known for well over 30 years who teaches history in an eastern college.
He vents a lot on Facebook, and recently something struck me.
In more than 30 years I have never heard him construct an argument. What he does is attack the sources he disagrees with. Sometimes he asserts dark and shady secrets in their past, having nothing to do with their opinions or positions. But lately it’s been simple name-calling: “idiots,” “fools” etc.
I hear this a lot, from a lot of different people. What passes as argument takes the form of an attack, not on the opinion but the person holding the opinion.
In formal logic this is called the ad hominem (“to the man”) fallacy, and can take few different forms.
The one I see quite often in political arguments starts with assuming the conclusion, then claiming if you disagree you are a terrible person.
I’ll use the example of Obamacare. If you are in favor of Obamacare, please remember I’m criticizing what passes for the argument – not the conclusion. That’s the first elementary mistake students make in freshman logic.
“Obamacare will bring down medical costs and make health insurance available to all the uninsured people. People against Obamacare want medical costs to go higher and poor people to have no insurance. That’s because right-wingers are heartless.”
Hold it! Agree or disagree, the argument is not that the claimed benefits are undesirable, but that Obamacare won’t produce them. That it will in fact drive costs higher and make medical care less available.
Secondly, it asserts an ulterior motive for holding a contrary opinion. (The argumentum ad hominem circumstantial.)
May I point out that motive is one thing we cannot know for sure, because it resides in people’s heads, and is what we are most likely to lie about, even to ourselves.
I believe that this inability to argue is more common on the left, though certainly not unknown on the right.
Why? For one, the so-called “conservative” movement is more intellectually diverse than what’s called “liberalism.” (I put liberalism in quotes because I’m old enough to remember when “liberal” meant something far closer to some kinds of conservatism these days, as it still does in Europe.)
Conservatism is in fact at least three or four “movements” in a loose alliance. The opposite ends of that alliance, libertarians and social conservatives positively loathe each other. Consequently, they argue a lot.
For another, establishment liberalism dominates media and the social sciences and humanities in universities.
The result is, right-wingers have to defend their opinion a lot more often than left-wingers, even among themselves. Left-wingers spend most of their time with people who agree with them.
They don’t learn to argue, because they don’t get their daily exercise defending their position.
An old journalist, Frank Meyer once said, “We find comfort among those we agree with, growth among those we disagree with.”
Note: This is my weekly op-ed column.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead and his brother Dzhokhar is in custody, which is the way it ought to be by rights. Yet there are people unhappy about it.
The two brothers were from Chechnya, a majority Muslim territory in the Caucasus, occupied but never completely subdued by Russia since 1834. After the breakup of the Soviet Union the Chechens attempted to win back their independence, a rebellion that was broken with Soviet-style brutality.
Chechnya has been on my radar for a while, since I was living in the former Soviet Bloc countries during the First and Second Chechen Wars. Polish friends of mine were involved in projects to take humanitarian supplies overland to the Chechen resistance leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, before he was killed by the Russians.
The brothers were taken in by the United States as refugees, nurtured, accepted, and educated by this marvelously diverse, tolerant, and welcoming country.
They repaid us by murdering a little boy and two young women, one a guest in our country who was deserving of its protection. They maimed dozens more, then killed a cop and wounded another as they sought to flee.
From the beginning a number of us thought this was most likely the work of Muslim jihadists, though the more responsible waited for more definite indications.
Usually when the terrorism comes from any of the jihadist organizations gathered under the loose coordinating group called Al-Queda there is a claim of responsibility after a short period.
That there wasn’t an announcement wasn’t surprising though. More murders and attempted murders than we are comfortable acknowledging are perpetrated by
Muslims who’ve been living in this country for some time before they explode in what scholar Daniel Pipes labeled “Sudden Jihad Syndrome.”
In these cases we usually find a pattern of radicalization of alienated immigrants fostered by Islamic centers run by jihadist sympathizers, sometimes online as in the case of Major Nidal Hassan, the Ft. Hood murderer.
This presents problems to deal with in terms of immigration policy, police surveillance, etc.
But we can handle it. The response of the people of Boston, the people of America, and friends abroad has been magnificent.
There are reports of runners knocked down by the blast who picked themselves up and staggered over the finish line. Bystanders obeyed their first impulse after the blasts and ran, not away but towards those they saw needed help.
The Boston Red Socks traditionally play “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning. Neil Diamond showed up at Fenway Park and asked to sing it in person.
Runners in the London marathon observed a moment of silence before the beginning of the race, many wore black ribbons.
“We will join together in silence to remember our friends and colleagues for whom a day of joy turned into a day of sadness,” said the announcer. “Let us now show our respect and support for the victims of the tragedy in Boston.”
And something I find both ironic and inspiring, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was treated in Beth Israel Hospital by medical personnel he would have cheerfully murdered.
And then there’s these statements by various prominent journalists in the aftermath of the bombing.
“…if you care about everything from stopping war to reducing the defense budget to protecting civil liberties to passing immigration reform, you should hope the bomber was a white domestic terrorist.” David Sirota, in Salon online magazine
“Normally, domestic terrorist people tend to be on the far right, although that’s not a good category. Extremists, let’s call them that.” Chris Matthews, MSNBC.
“Obviously, nobody knows anything yet, but I would caution folks jumping to conclusions about foreign terrorism to remember that this is the official Patriots Day holiday in Massachusetts, celebrating the Battles at Lexington and Concord…” Charles P. Pierce, Esquire.
“The thinking, as we have been reporting, is that this is a domestic extremist attack. Officials are leaning that way largely because of the timing of the attack. April is a big month for anti-government and right-wing individuals. There’s the Columbine anniversary, there’s Hitler’s birthday, there’s the Oklahoma City bombing, the assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.” Dina Temple-Raston, National Public Radio “counterterrorism correspondent.”
You can find this kind of stuff all over, though many posts are being deleted as fast as possible, along with vicious personal attacks on anyone who first suggested this might be the work of Islamic jihadists.
What kind of people openly prefer to believe that a murderous attack on our country was perpetuated by their own countrymen, make that their first assumption, cling to it as long as possible, and refuse to apologize when proven wrong?
Note: My weekly op-ed.
The late great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein once told a crowd at a convention, “Some of you will see a nuclear war within your lifetime.”
The crowd, to say the least, did not want to hear this.
A few years ago when I was the world’s oldest journalism intern in Washington, D.C., I coined the term “no-name nukes,” in the context of the sentence, “We’re living at Ground Zero for the no-name nuke.”
During my three months residence in D.C. I repeated that statement many times on many occasions.
Not once did anybody ever call me crazy. Heck, not once did anybody ever disagree with me!
Well once actually. A gentleman at the National Press Club thought I was way too optimistic when I said sometime in the next generation a rogue nuke was going to take out D.C.
“Oh I’d say within the next five to ten years,” he said.
I actually got to pose the question to former Secretary of State John Bolton at a small gathering.
Bolton was as forthcoming as it was possible for him to be. He didn’t actually address the question of what we could do if a nuke of unknown origin detonated on our soil, but he did point out where terrorists would get them.
Iran for one of course. Currently run by bona-fide religious crazies who are actually looking forward to Armageddon. How close they are to getting nukes is a matter of some controversy. Some say soon, some say long time to never.
The latter is the more comforting belief, which is why we should consider very carefully whether this is a realistic assessment, or wishful thinking.
Then there’s North Korea. They’re a bandit state with nukes, and Bolton pointed out, they’ll cheerfully sell them to anyone for hard cash.
Now they’re rattling their sabers and threatening to nuke American bases in the Pacific, or even a West Coast city.
It’s hard to tell how seriously to take the Norks. On the one hand, they do a lot of saber rattling. On the other hand, sometimes they do more than just rattle their sabers.
For decade they raided the coast of Japan, kidnapping Japanese citizens. They’ve landed commandos in South Korea for obscure purposes, though we can assume they’re up to no good as they tend to commit suicide to escape capture. They’ve torpedoed South Korean ships and murdered American military personnel at the Demilitarized Zone.
Worse, they’ve done it without consequences.
And that’s nothing compared to what they’ve done to their own people. Estimates of famine-related deaths range between 240,000 and 3,500,000. As many as 200,000 political prisoners are held in North Korean concentration camps under conditions at least as bad as anything in Soviet gulags during Stalin’s reign.
What’s worrisome about this kind of thing is not that it’s evil, but that it makes no sense. What do they gain by this? Evil we can deal with. Crazy is another matter.
If the Norks were merely evil we could appeal to their self-interest, mainly their desire not to be nuked down to bedrock. Same thing that kept the Cold War cold.
Now it could be the Kim family’s kingdom is acting for perfectly sensible reasons. North Korean saber rattling has traditionally prompted massive donations of food from abroad. This could be of no more significance than an infant throwing a tantrum because it’s hungry.
Or maybe they’re just crazy. The scary thing is, we can guess but we just don’t know.
At the end of World War II in the Pacific, after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the U.S. government heard nothing from the Japanese for three days. So they dropped another one. Five days later as a third bomb was being assembled, the emperor broadcast his decision to surrender – and there was an attempted military coup by diehards who dreamed of a glorious death for their entire nation!
And the Japanese weren’t crazy, just alien to our ways of thinking.
It didn’t make a big splash, but we’ve been threatened with nukes before. During the Clinton administration the Chinese were saying openly but without bluster that they figured we weren’t as attached to Taiwan as much as we were to Los Angeles or San Francisco.
That was scary enough, but made sense. The Chinese stated what they wanted, and their judgment of the risks involved. They might be wrong, but their reasoning was perfectly straightforward.
About the North Koreans we mostly just don’t know. A history of oriental despotism, plus two generations of Japanese occupation, plus three generations of communism equals… what?
Note: This is my syndicated column.
Well, we know the rest of that old saying isn’t true. Words hurt. Sometimes a lot, depending on who says them.
In every society children are taught social rules for what kinds of speech are appropriate, when and with whom. Rules backed by sanctions ranging from dirty looks to social ostracism, or in extreme cases an educational beat down.
These days though, speech is policed on many university campuses by speech codes – and “policed” is no idle metaphor for speech deemed “offensive.”
Recently my attention was drawn to this website “Microaggressions” http://www.microaggressions.com/
According to the creators, “Microaggressions are the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities.”
The site solicits contributions from people with “marginalized identities” about ways people have conveyed their oppressive ideologies.
Already I’m not liking this. But maybe that’s because I get antsy when people start talking about offensive speech in ways that seem to indicate a need for legal remedy rather than say, a punch in the nose.
But have a look at the site by all means. There’s a mix of valid, invalid, too-easily offended, and some that infuriate you with how thoughtlessly cruel people can be.
A random sample:
*”Entered an informal backgammon tournament (8 players, all men but me) and won my first round. Was told by another player that I was “good…for a woman.” My vanquished opponent called him out on that – and noted that it was likely the attitude why more women don’t play.”
Valid, irritating, what an idiot. Note that the idiot was called on it though.
*”I go to a McDonalds for lunch break, alone. I sit down at an empty table next to an elderly man, who immediately comments, “What a pretty little thing, I wonder if she’s waiting for her man to come along.” Made me feel like my only purpose is to be some man’s ornament.”
Annoying, but can we give the geezer a break? He’s from another age, probably lonely and trying to start a conversation with an attractive lady. Overreacting.
*”’I wish I could bring my dog out to eat with me!’ Teenage girl and mother to me at a Chinese restaurant; I’m a 23 year old male with a service dog.”
Overreacting, get over it, they were trying to be nice. Perhaps a bit clumsily.
*”I was walking behind a male coworker when he stopped in his tracks and began backing up into me, dancing, while singing “Big Booty Bitches.” I’m a woman. Made me uncomfortable, angry, demeaned.”
In a more civilized age any gentleman within range would have offered to thrash this boor. Regrettably in this age you can get into lots of trouble for that – but a job complaint is definitely in order.
*”’If she wears those shorts out there, it’s her own fault if she gets into ‘trouble.’ My grandmother referring to my shorts on a cruise in Turkey. Apparently if I wear short shorts out, I’m asking to be raped. I’m 18. Made me feel upset, exposed, scared.”
GRANNY IS RIGHT YOU TWIT! Do not go to another country, with a radically different culture, and expect them to abide by YOUR rules.
*”’My first words to her were what any father would say to their own daughter: What were you thinking walking alone like that!’ The director of Campus Security in a lecture to first-years. The girl she was talking about was sexually assaulted when she was walking back to campus at night. 300 students, no one objected.”
No, those would not be my first words to my daughter. They’re true, and will eventually have to be said, but there is a time and a place for everything.
*”’Well, there are many meanings of the word [rape] other than what you’re talking about.’
Comment made by my MFA program director when I asked her not to use the word ‘rape’ casually in class, after sharing that I am a survivor of sexual assault. Earlier that day she had referred to something jokingly as ‘internet rape,’ and I was so triggered that I had to leave class and cry in the hallway.”
Heartbreaking. What a clueless idiot the instructor was.
*”The learn-to-speak-German tapes I’ve been listening to will ask me to “Say ______ in German” and then will ask me to say the same thing “as if you were a woman” (because some aspects of the grammar are gendered and would be different depending on the speaker). But I already am a woman.”
It’s called “grammar.” Take it up with the Germans if it offends you.
Note: My syndicated column of a couple weeks back. I sometimes forget to archive them here right off, but better late…
On March 13, the white smoke let the waiting world know the conclave of cardinals had elected a new pope, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on 28 February.
The new pope is a Jesuit, which is the first interesting thing about the election. The Jesuits, though technically in subordination to the pope, have throughout history often functioned as a separate center of power within the Roman Catholic Church. Though Pope John Paul II was known for demanding, and getting, the subordination of the order, for the first time the two centers of power will be united in one person.
The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio let it be known he wished to be called Francis, following the precedent established by John Paul I of picking a name never worn by a previous pope.
This he said, was in honor of the beloved St. Francis of Assisi, called by some cynics, “history’s only practicing Christian.”
“The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man,” the Pope said. “How I would like a poor Church, and for the poor”.
Francesco d’Assisi was born a privileged brat who grew up to be a carouser, a brawler, and a wencher until he had a conversion experience during his service as a soldier for his city. Many men go to war and come home crazy. Francis went to war and came home sane.
Though a lot of people at the time must have thought he was pretty crazy. Francis, who by the way was never ordained, preached sermons to the birds and animals he loved, and wrote hymns to “my brother the sun, my sister the moon.”
There is also the famous story of how Francis went to Egypt to try and convert the Sultan. He failed but the Sultan was so impressed with Francis that he sent him away laden with rich gifts, which Francis used to help the poor.
Interestingly, some Sufi writers, members of that mystical brotherhood within Islam that claims they seek the truth behind all religion, have a different take on the story. According to Sufi writer Idries Shah, Francis was not on a mission of conversion, he was paying a visit to a brother in the same lodge for an evening of conversation.
This is interesting in the light of the good relations Pope Francis has with both the Islamic and Jewish communities in his native Argentina.
But there is another St. Francis that means something to the new pope, St. Francis de Sales. As a young priest, Bergoglio was mentored by a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest, Stefan Czmil of the Salesian Order, and as a result knows the Byzantine liturgy.
St. Francis de Sales is by the way, the patron saint of writers and journalists, known for spreading the faith through pamphleteering and gentle persuasion.
The new pope is going to need the aid of St. Francis de Sales. The Roman Catholic church is under sustained assault from within and without.
The election of a traditional conservative Catholic is not going to please leftist atheists who want a strong Christianity to disappear, or yield to the cult of the almighty state.
It’s going to discomfort American cafeteria-Catholics who wish the church would endorse a “one from column A and one from column B” approach to doctrine.
The new pope is going to have to deal with the elephant in the room, the still-unresolved issue of clerical child abuse. And sooner or later someone is going to have to address what is increasingly obvious but never mentioned; that there is an ongoing, more-or-less organized campaign by pedophiles to infiltrate the Catholic clergy. (If you don’t think pedophilia is organized, Google “NAMBLA,” but prepare to lose your lunch.)
The new pope may or may not be able to get a handle on the recurring problem of corruption involving Vatican finances.
Whatever he does or does not accomplish, a lot of people are going to be disappointed.
I wish this new pope well. Evidence suggests he is a good man, and we need good men in positions of spiritual and temporal power. For those who expect miracles I recommend contemplation of two things.
One, any center of power and wealth is subject to corruption, for the simple fact that we are men, fallible and corruptible. The Church has always known this and has always maintained an awareness that there are two churches: one temporal and subject to the sins of our nature, the other spiritual which is the ideal men strive for.
The other is that in the Church we have an organization whose central purpose is to last until the end of time – literally. While acknowledging that change happens, and hoping that it might be for the better, one does not want to go around making irrevocable changes for what may turn out to be passing fads.
Note: This is a recent syndicated column.
“We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who disagree.”
- Frank Meyer
I have a great many friends I do not agree with on a great many issues.
Once upon a time that statement would have been considered banal, and likely met with a “So what?”
Alas, in this day and age we seem to be self-segregating, not according to race or religion, but opinion. And those opinions are identified with certain professions and sectors of the economy.
For example what would you automatically assume if I told you, “I have a friend who is a sociology (English, liberal arts, humanities) professor”?
Friendships across ideological lines are getting harder to maintain these days, and that’s a pity. When we associate only with people we agree with, our ability to defend our opinions atrophies.
Recently I had a Facebook disagreement with a friend I’ve known since he was a boy. He identifies himself as a “progressive.”
I think he’s wrongheaded, naïve, and having known his parents I can’t conceive of how he got that way.
I think he’s well-meaning in his error – to a point. I also see in him motivations of envy towards “the rich” and an overwhelming desire to be important, which as e.e. cummings noted, is the source of a great deal of the harm in this world.
He’s a “progressive” you see. A position I heartily dislike, as much as I like him.
Why should that surprise anyone? Arch-conservative Winston Churchill maintained a long friendship with George Bernard Shaw, a socialist and one-time ardent admirer of both Hitler and Stalin. When Shaw died, Churchill genuinely mourned the passing of one of the few men who could match him in repartee.
What I owe my friend is, that he makes me think more deeply about why I believe what I do. He forces me to refine my argument. Not to convince him, but to clarify it for myself.
To being with, “progressives” – aren’t. They’re living in the past.
There is nothing progressive about the philosophy expressed by those who sail under that label.
Progressivism is a grab bag of very old ideas that have been tried many times before, and caused untold misery.
Progressives believe society must be directed from a head, that society is broken and needs to be fixed – by them.
Progressives believe in the rule of the wise. They have no concept of distributed knowledge, that the world works best when everybody is free to manage his or her little piece of it.
Thus progressives favor the government sector, fear and loathe the private sector.
Progressives see fortunes made from the production of concrete goods and services as tainted, evil. They see money made in sports, entertainment, information technology, law, and government connections as good, worthy, and well-deserved.
Progressives see nature as good, and mankind as separate from nature. A weaver bird building a nest is natural. A couple building a house is not.
Progressives would do anything for the working class – except join it.
It is very difficult to sustain the idea that the world owes you a living when you make your own living from the strength of your arm and the skill of your hands. You might wish it were so, but the aches in your muscles and the dirt under your fingernails tell you differently.
Progressives trust logic over experience. With logic, you can start with certain assumptions and reason to a conclusion that must be true – if your assumptions are correct. Experience is what puts those assumptions to the test.
This leads progressives to assume a conclusion, that a proposed program will achieve the results they say it will: cheap universal health care, high-quality education for all, world peace, etc.
But if the assumption is true, then any disagreement means you oppose the wonderful results.
If you argue a government takeover of medical care will result in poorer quality, less available, and more expensive medical care – they hear it as, “I oppose good quality, readily available, and cheaper medical care.”
And here we get to the heart of it. Progressives believe if you disagree, you’re not just wrong, you’re evil.
Note: This is last week’s syndicated column.
Every now and again a term gets coined and comes into circulation that perfectly describes in shorthand a phenomenon you used to have to use whole sentences, paragraphs, pages or books to describe.
The late psychedelic guru Timothy Leary called these terms “neurologically exact.”
Do you remember the first time you ever heard someone say, “Hey, don’t get uptight”? You didn’t have to ask what they meant, did you?
Well recently I was exposed to a term which perfectly describes a phenomenon whole books have been written about. For example Diana West’s, “The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization,” or David Mamet’s, “The Secret Knowledge.”
I encountered it in the online version of the humor magazine Cracked. I remember Cracked as a sort of poor relation to the much better-known and influential MAD Magazine of beloved memory, before “the usual gang of idiots” died off or retired and MAD was possessed by the Devil, a.k.a. AOL/Time-Warner.
It was in an article titled, “How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World” by David Wong. I’m not sure if Wong invented the term or not, but it’s a good one.
The essence of it was that movies like “The Karate Kid” show someone going from being bad at something to being good at it over the course of a two-minute musical montage, after a sudden enlightening attitude change.
Ever work that way for you?
Me neither. Like Daniel-san I was a skinny kid who got picked on. But I acquired my instructors credentials in two martial arts and intermediate/advanced level skill in a half-dozen others via thousands of dollars spent on lessons and reference materials, and tens of thousands of hours of practice.
I switched professions in mid-life when I was living and working in Eastern Europe in an exciting milieu of dramatic change, civil war, and international intrigue.
After getting some great stories as an amateur I went back to school. I then became an underpaid reporter at my first newspaper – one with less than 12,000 circulation. I’m on my second, somewhat larger paper now.
I cover local government, agriculture, small business etc. It’s called paying dues.
Success in most professions does not require genius. It requires a certain minimum of study, experience and a lot of paying dues.
The classic, reliable way of getting rich for those of us not in on the ground floor of the Next Big Thing, is not at all complicated. Get a job, any job. Gradually increase your earning power via skills training. Do a conspicuously good job. Put aside ten percent of your earnings, regular as clockwork, for years and years. Invest it according to the best advice you can find, which itself takes a lot of research. Get married, stay married, buy a house. By the time you’re ready to retire, barring disaster, you’ll be at least comfortably, maybe very well-off.
And yet, every year a multitude of college students graduate from our institutions of higher learning expecting to own the world, or a substantial piece of it, while they are still young and good-looking.
That’s when they run into effort shock.
Notice that formula for success is not complicated, merely very, very, difficult. It requires sustained patient effort, and delay of immediate gratification, over years. And years. Not to mention the fairly frequent bad luck, or bad judgment, that means you have to start all over again.
This applies to success in all things. How many people can’t stay married, not because of those “irreconcilable differences” but because staying married is hard?
Of course people have always encountered effort shock, but it does seem to be more pronounced these days.
If I had to guess, I’d say modern civilization makes us a little too comfortable. Not many of us grow up on farms anymore where kids are part of the workforce from an early age. We don’t grow up working hard just to stay afloat.
I wouldn’t give up those civilized comforts. On a not-too-spectacular salary I still have a house full of stuff people used to pay fortunes for when I was a kid, if they existed at all.
But sometimes I wish I could make life a little harder for my children. And sometimes I wonder if that’s not going to happen anyway.
Note: This is my weekly column.
My children and I came back from the Twin Cities this past Sunday after spending a weekend at the Mall of America, a journey that was not without incident.
I had a seminar class to teach in Redwood Falls, and on occasions like this I very often have to bring them along if I can’t find a sitter for my six-year-old. Soooo, I promised them if they were patient and sat around the corridor of a school bored out of their minds for seven hours straight, I’d take them to the Mall of America.
By Saturday, a winter storm warning complicated things a bit, so we stayed in a motel and I deferred the decisions whether to return on Sunday or wait another day, given that school would probably be cancelled.
Well fools rush in. I decided to come back on Sunday, after the freezing rain and snow of the night before, knowing the trip would take at least twice as long but still hoping to beat the blizzard.
In winter I do have extra blankets in the car, an emergency kit and entrenching tool of course.
Just outside of Norwood-Young America we hit a patch of slush and dove into the ditch.
But within a few minutes of sliding into the ditch, people started stopping to ask if we needed help. One gentleman got out of his car, walked up to us and told me to shut off the engine because the tail pipe was buried in snow.
Another couple asked if we needed a ride anywhere.
All in all, I think more people stopped than passed by, except when they saw somebody had already stopped.
Of course I have AAA, and of course they did their best, and of course they were swamped. Ultimately they recommended we find a motel for the night.
Having an AAA membership is something I’d recommend for everyone who ever drives outside the city limits. Triple-A is the finest example of non-government social power I can think of. But even they get swamped in weather like this.
Just as we were starting to unpack, no less than two cars stopped, carrying an elderly couple and one young man. They agreed since I had all-wheel drive they could probably get us out.
The elderly gentleman hooked up a tow cable, the young guy started shoveling in the back, with some assistance from my 11-year-old. After waving off yet another driver who stopped to offer assistance, they got us out and on our way.
Nor was that the end of it. Down the road I stopped at an intersection briefly to check a suspicious noise. A driver coming crossways stopped, rolled down his window and asked if I needed help.
A few minutes later AAA called back and asked how we were doing. I told them everything was OK, we’d gotten out with the help of kind strangers.
The operator said, “I’ve been hearing that all night.”
This is not the first time this has happened to me, nor the only place in America. It seems to happen more often in rural areas, but perhaps that’s because in more densely populated places people assume help is more conveniently available.
I was going to say that natural disasters bring out the best in people. But I don’t actually think disaster brings it out.
It’s always there, we just don’t get a chance to see it as often.
Two things happened recently that say a lot about media.
One of course was one of the biggest media events of the new year. Lance Armstrong went on Oprah, twice, and bit his lip, quivered his chin and confessed how hard it was to tell his 13-year-old son that those things everybody is saying about Daddy are true.
Armstrong is former professional bicycle racer who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005. He was disqualified and all honors stripped from him in 2012 for using performance-enhancing drugs.
”I said, `Don’t defend me anymore. Don’t.’” Armstrong said.
Armstrong doubled down on how awful he was after criticism that he wasn’t contrite enough in the first interview.
Coincidentally I came across an Internet meme recently, one of those aphorisms that make you stop and think. “You never make the same mistake twice. The first time it’s a mistake, the second time it’s a choice.”
Armstrong didn’t make a mistake, he engaged in a highly organized criminal enterprise over a period of years. He doped himself, coerced his team mates into doping, bribed, threatened and slandered people who attempted to expose him, and had the chutzpah to have a book written about his noble self and his struggle with cancer – which was very possibly self-inflicted by his doping.
At least he didn’t try to claim credit for writing the book, it’s one of those “with” or “as told to” books, though perhaps by now the author wishes he would.
I, like a great many other people whose own sins weigh heavily upon us, would very much like to believe in redemption. In this case though it’s going to take a little more than quivering his chin on Oprah.
On this bright side, I came across this gem of a story quite by accident.
On Dec. 2, cross-country runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya was in a race in Burlada, Navarre, in Spain. (Anaya is from the Basque minority in Spain.)
Anaya was trailing Kenyan runner, Olympic bronze medalist Abel Mutai, when Mutai stopped ten meters before the finish line, evidently under the impression he’d crossed it already.
Anaya could of course have raced past Mutai for a win, and it most likely would have been confirmed. Hey, you snooze you lose. Fans were shouting at Mutai and telling him to keep going, but he doesn’t speak Spanish.
Instead Anaya dropped back and guided Mutai to the finish line first.
“I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him,” Anaya said.
When I came across this news item the first thing I thought was, “I have to show this to my son.”
I’ve thought of a few other things since then.
Remember that 1981 film “Chariots of Fire”? Scottish runner Eric Liddell, played by Ian Charleson, refuses to run a race in the 1924 Olympics because it will be run on the Sabbath and he takes his religion very seriously. He stands firm, in spite of intense pressure from the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and the British Olympic Committee.
When all is resolved and his racing is re-scheduled in a way he can live with, Liddell lines up on the starting line. An American runner, Jackson Scholz, comes up to him and hands him a note, “He who honors Me, him will I honor. 1 Samuel 2:30.”
Inspired, Liddell went on to run the legs off all of them.
Another story. Back in 2001 I covered the opening of the European Little League center in Kutno, Poland. I got to meet the late Stan “The Man” Musial and top officials of Little League baseball. I was delighted to find that these guys really, really, believe in all that corny stuff about sportsmanship and character building being more important than winning a damn game.
One American national official (my apologies for not remembering his name) told me how proud he was of his son’s behavior, and what a gentleman he was in how he behaved towards an opposing team member he’d accidentally hit with a ball.
What am I getting at?
We like these stories! Didn’t you?
Yes it’s possible to find them. I found Anaya’s story, after I saw it on Facebook and googled his name.
But he didn’t get on Oprah. Who knows, maybe he wouldn’t have gone? He seems to think of what he did as just doing the right thing, without any fuss.
But then again, nobody asked him.