Tuesday, October 31, 2017

John Kelly Courageously Defends Slavery and Treason

Remember when Trump announced John Kelly as the new White House Chief of Staff and everybody breathed a collective sigh of relief? “This isn’t another Trump stooge,” rational American assured themselves, “this is a General, a well-respected career military man.” Hopeful citizens grasped tenuously at this new glimmer of hope. “John Kelly will be a voice of reason in the Trump White House. Finally, there will be an adult in the room.”

So much for hope.

The first sign that we were all wrong about Kelly was when Kelly defended Trump’s botched sympathy call to a fallen soldier’s widow by deliberately and provably (roll that tape!) lying about Rep. Frederica Wilson in a blatant attempt at character assassination. It was a betrayal of that hope he had instilled in rational America, and all we got in return was Sarah Huckabee Sanders shaming reporters for the “inappropriate” act of actually questioning a General.

That was bad enough.

But now, rational Americans woke of on Halloween morning to a cavalcade of racist apologies and convoluted historical revisionism that most of us didn’t expect to hear until Grandpa showed up for Thanksgiving dinner. This self-destruction of John Kelly’s “Voice of Reason” persona occurred during an interview on the debut of Laura Ingraham’s new Fox News show Monday Night, which is why rational American’s didn’t hear about it until the following day. But what they heard was almost as insane and illogical as the average Trump Tweet. First, he was asked if he would consider apologizing for lying about Wilson:

“I'll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not.  I stand by my comments, But I'd just as soon let that go."

Kelly said he’d apologize if necessary, but since he’s a Trump lacky now, lying doesn’t count as something worth apologizing for. Just to double down on his courageous stance against honesty, Kelly trails off by saying he stands by his statement, but would rather forget he ever said it. Spoken like a man of true conviction.

English: Confederate General Robert E. Lee pos...
English: Confederate General Robert E. Lee poses in a late April 1865( http://www.archives.gov/research/civil-war/photos/#portraits ) portrait taken by Mathew Brady in Richmond, Virginia. Lee's surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865, soon before this portrait was taken, marked the end of the American Civil War. Dust and scratches removed by Thegreenj (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The bulk of the well-deserved outrage, however, stems from Ingraham quizzing Kelly on his opinion about the recent rash of removing statues and plaques that commemorate confederate soldiers and leaders. This is a debate that has already been going on for months now, and the only reason the right wing media refuses to let it die is because they can’t stop pandering to the racist minority that has become the GOP’s new base. For most people, the obvious answer to the question is that removing memorials that praise people who actively fought against the government in an attempt to keep slavery legal are a bad idea, because you don’t reward people for doing bad things. John Kelly, however, has proved that even a military man of distinction can still openly abandon morality and logic in order to keep his job. However, not just content to fall back on the “destroying history” argument, Kelly went one step farther and decided to rewrite history before anti-slavery fanatics could destroy it by removing some plaques.

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days.”

So, in the opinion of General Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, we should be commemorating General Lee because he was loyal to his cause. Well now, that’s awfully progressive of Kelly. Now, what was it that General Lee’s loyalty was focused on? Oh yes, overthrowing the United States Government and ensuring the legality of owning human beings as slaves. Well now, wasn’t that noble of Lee? I guess we really shouldn’t judge Lee for trying to destroy America and condemn an entire race to enslavement. It was all about state’s rights back then, after all. That makes the whole treason and slavery angle so much more understandable. But wait, much like a Trump Tweet, Kelly isn’t done digging yet:
Portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, officer of the...
Portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee, officer of the Confederate Army (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Now it's different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

Hmmmm… a lack of compromise. That’s an unusual way of saying “refused to let go of slavery.” I mean, what possible reason could Kelly have for being so obtuse about the cause of the Civil War? If he had just said that “ALL wars” are cause by a lack of compromise, that would have had a bit of truth imbedded in it, and maybe we could give a pass on this one. But no, instead he specifically stated that the Civil War was caused by a lack of compromise. Since he just got done talking about how Loyal Lee was, should we infer that this “compromise” should have occurred on the side of the Confederacy? Somebody should probably ask him to clarify. Oh, and let’s not forget the “men and women of good faith on both sides,” which is almost an exact quote from when Trump came out and said that there were good people involved in white nationalist neo-Nazi organizations, and that we shouldn’t blame them for being racist bigoted assholes. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I’m quoting accurately from the Kelly interview:

“I think we make a mistake, though, and as a society and certainly as, as individuals, when we take what is today accepted as right and wrong and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say what those, you know, what Christopher Columbus did was wrong. You know, 500 years later, it's inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then.”

There’s so much stupid in this sentence, we need to convert it into Trump-friendly bullet points:

  • ·        Morality is relative to when you are born.
  • ·        We as individuals shouldn’t judge the past actions of groups.
  • ·        Right and Wrong was different 100 years ago, so no harm, No foul.
  • ·        The Genocide of Native Americans touched off by Christopher Columbus wasn’t “wrong” because it was so long ago.
  • ·        It’s inconceivable that people would apply current experience and knowledge to past events.

Wow, how convenient! All past atrocities can so easily be dismissed as unfortunate faux pas. I wonder what other historical events we can apply Kelly’s tortured logic to, with 100 years being his given milestone for chalking behavior up to old-timey thinking.

  • ·        Klu Klux Klan? Just passionate nationalists, nothing to blink at.
  • ·        The lynching of black Americans? Technically not 100 years yet, but hang in there!
  • ·        The Holocaust? By Kelly’s estimate, we’re only a few decades away from being able to shrug it off as just “men and women of good faith on both sides.”

Gee, it all seems kind of stupid and cruel when you break down the logic behind the argument. Much like the Confederacy. If the esteemed former General of America’s armed forces is done making excuses for treason and racism, we’d all like to get back to impeaching our disgrace of a president, thank you very much.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Everybody's Entitled to Their Own Opinion
Everybody's Entitled to Their Own Opinion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are several phrases that set me on edge when used in a discussion, conversation, or debate:

“Let’s agree to disagree.” No.

“Both sides do it.” No they don’t.

"You just don’t understand” I do understand. That’s why I disagree with you.

But out of them all, the one that irks me is the inevitable:

“People are entitled to their opinion.”

No. They are not.

First of all, the concept that people are ‘entitled’ to anything is a fallacy, and I don’t mean in a right-wing “entitlement programs” or left wing “white entitlement” sense. We’re talking about the concept of universal entitlements, or rights. People are not automatically imbued with inalienable rights, regardless of what your two-hundred-year-old country’s rulebook says. People are not naturally free, do not automatically deserve respect or equality or happiness or privacy, and definitely not their opinion. There is the potential for all of these, but this potential is not a universal constant as much as it is a possibility based almost entirely on the individual’s surrounding environment, be that environment natural or societal. As a society we can dictate that people SHOULD be treated equal and fairly and decently, but that has nothing to do with nature. In fact, nature repeatedly goes out of its way to show us that she couldn’t give a shit about us or our social contracts. If these assumed “rights” were actually some sort of natural law, would we really need so many human laws, laws we barely obey in the first place? Natural Law boils down to eat or be eaten, Human Law is just there to prevent us from eating each other, and Ape Law is meant to prevent Human Law from fucking up Natural Law. You can’t argue with Ape Law.

So, if people aren’t truly “entitled” to anything, then they can’t be entitled to their opinion, can they? 

Now, for even more clarification, let’s look at that popular generic term “opinion.” What is an opinion? According to a random dictionary, the main definition is:

“…a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”

To drill down even further, an opinion is basically a belief, and beliefs are not based on factual proof or evidence, but instead are contingent on the personal rationalization of the believer. Simply put, believing something, or having an opinion about something, is done so when there’s no proof or evidence to back that belief or opinion. For example:

“I believe in God.”

“I believe in ghosts.”

“I believe that severed rabbit paws bring me good luck.”

“I believe that my race is the master race.”

All of these statements, while possibly involving some degree of anecdotal experience or general knowledge, cannot be definitively proven. Granted, there are some exceptions to this rule. The first example could also be meant to imply faith instead of opinion; when somebody says “I believe in America,” they aren’t stating a belief in America’s existence, which can be proven, but rather a faith in what it stands for, which – of course – is also based on opinion rather than fact.

Of course, you could argue that the words Belief or Opinion could conceivably be used in factually provable statement, but while this is a sound theory, they are not generally applied this way in practice. You could say “I believe the Earth is round,” but you typically would not feel the need to do so, as the rest of the statement is not only provable, but generally accepted as fact. On the other hand, you are more likely to say “In my opinion, the world is flat,” as this statement is provably false.

Map of the Square and Stationary Earth, by Orl...
Map of the Square and Stationary Earth, by Orlando Ferguson (1893) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In fact, God and a Flat Earth neatly encompass the entire scope of the need to designate something as a belief or opinion. In the case of God, even though a large group of people share the belief, there is still no quantifiable evidence to treat God’s existence as a fact. This same principle is adhered to by the scientific community as well, as concepts agreed upon by a large group of scientists – gravity, for example – are described as theories rather than facts. In the case of the Flat Earth, not only is no evidence to prove the belief, there is also no majority to support it.

So, now that we have a better understanding of entitlements and opinions, I think it’s safe to restate that people are NOT entitled their opinions. You have the potential to form an opinion and have it accepted by others, but no guarantee. You can have an opinion, but that does not make it valid, nor does that make it equal to all other opinions. Instead of “Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” you might as well say “Everybody has the potential to be wrong.” And if you are the person espousing a belief in entitled opinions, your potential to be wrong is greater than most.

The other version of this that annoys me even more is when somebody attempts to finish a discussion, debate, or argument by saying “Well, that’s YOUR opinion.” Ironically, the person who launches this gem is usually the least able to factually support their own opinion, resorting to labeling the other person’s argument as inarguable, despite whatever argument has already been provided. Logically, if the person who this statement is directed at actually has no factual basis to support their opinion, the person claiming it as just an opinion wouldn’t need to do so, as their factual evidence would theoretically be able to prove it as such based on its own merit. In the case where neither party has enough factual support to claim victory, the “That’s your opinion” person will invariably resort to the aforementioned “Let’s agree to disagree,” which is code for “I know I’m wrong, but I’m not going to admit it.”

Beyond that, the other major problem with telling somebody that something is just their opinion is that most of what people say is opinion-based to begin with. In fact, so much of our daily communications with others are based on personal opinion that we typically don’t even bother saying it. This is why most casual discussions about anything subjective don’t descend into heated debates over whose opinion is more valid. We understand - at least subconsciously – that its all a load of opinionated beliefs, and so we all just forge through most dialogues with the unspoken agreement that our opinion is accurate, and everybody else with a differing or contradictory one is simply full of shit.

At least, that’s my opinion.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Is America Good Reader?

The End of Books - page 229
The End of Books - page 229 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ten or fifteen years ago, the company I worked for laid me off after ten years for essentially not being happy enough.

Spoiler: A little over a year later, the owner would call me to apologize and beg me to come back to work for him, as it took him nearly a year of doing my job to realize exactly how much of the work I was actually doing. This has absolutely nothing to do with this story, but sometimes you need to flaunt your victories.

In an effort to ease the blow (most likely because even at that point he realized how fucked up his reasons were for firing me), my newly former employer put in a good word for me at the company of one of his business owner friends. Apparently, this is what small business owners do, They make friends with other small business owners, and occasionally meet for breakfast so they can bitch about labor laws and share cigar bar locations with one another. Anyway, the business he introduced me to was a company that tested underground fuel tanks and fuel lines, and they hired me based solely on my newly former employer’s recommendation. I’m not exactly sure how you recommend an employee you just fired to somebody else for employment, but I digress.

The job lasted a month, the traditional probationary period, at the end of which they called me on location and informed me that they would not be keeping me on as an employee because I did not have “a passion” for testing gas station pumps for leaks. I wholeheartedly agreed, and that was the last time I ever worked with gasoline or set foot in the Bronx. But I digress.

This fuel line and tank testing company was based out of Pennsylvania, but provided its services to a number of states along the East Coast, so a typical day would include three or four hours on site, but with an additional four to six hours travel each way. Driving a truck six hours each way in itself is a monotonous and soul-withering experience, but this was compounded by a company policy that restricted passenger employees from sleeping while en route. The official reason for this rule was that a second pair of eyes on the road was a safety precaution that would help prevent accidents, but the more obvious reason was that somebody didn’t like the idea of paying employees for sleeping. That’s what you call “corporate morality.” But I digress.

The End of Books - page 226b
The End of Books - page 226b (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Because of these lengthy daily commutes, and the restrictions against napping as a passenger during a fourteen-hour work day, I got into the habit of bringing along books to read when it was my turn to be the wide awake passenger. To set the record straight, I didn’t bring along any reading material that might be misconstrued as an attempt to be an intellectual show-off. In fact, at the time of this little story, I was reading one of the Wild Cards anthology paperbacks, a collection of short stories about superheroes, and way before superheroes were mainstream cash cows.

So, anyway, it was during a lunch break one of these trips, which I spent sitting in the work truck reading this paperback. There were two other workers on site with me, and one of them approached me as if they intended to start a casual conversation. This was one of the company foremen; I had ridden with him several times already, and had no issues with him other than his tendency to fully enforce the company’s no-sleep policy, yet repeatedly bypass it himself by wearing sunglasses and pretending to be “deep in thought” during return trips. I lowered the book as he approached, and when he reached the truck he placed a hand casually on the open passenger side door, motioned to the book with his eyes, and said:

“So… You read.”

This is an exact quote. He didn’t ask if I read a lot. He didn’t ask what I was reading, or what I usually read. It wasn’t even a question, but more of the cautious statement of an observation. Not quite knowing where he was taking the conversation, or what “you read” was actually supposed to mean, I paused before responding with a nod and a non-confrontational “Yep.”

And with that, he turned and walked away. There was no follow-up question or springboard into a conversation about a lateral topic. He didn’t even respond to my acknowledgement of his statement. He just turned around and walked back to other on-site worker and joined him staring into the hole we currently couldn’t do anything about.

English: All 24 John Griham novels as of June ...
English: All 24 John Griham novels as of June 30, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If there’s a point to this story, it’s that I don’t believe there is an actual push-back against literacy in America, as much as there is a vast divide those who actively read – whether for pleasure or enlightenment – and those who not only don’t read, but don’t really understand the nature of reading. And despite bizarre moments like this, I’ve rarely been the victim of direct hostility over false perceptions of presumed intellectual superiority. The employer who fired me, got me the wonderful gas-line job, then later hired me back (FYI – He laid me off again a few years later when the business almost went bankrupt) was not “a reader,” and not only did he not give me any grief about it, he often asked me to proof-read his emails, and was very supportive when my first book was published. Another former employer wasn’t what you would call well read – his house was decorated with randomly arranged John Grisham hardcovers – but one of my jobs was to write instruction manuals for the software he sold, so that was rarely a source of contention.

The closest I ever came to being harassed or singled out for being literate was when I worked for this evil motherfucker that openly broke payroll laws and had no problem with verbally or physically attacking employees. He was a blatant functional illiterate, only used his computer watching YouTube videos, and the only (obviously unread) book on display in his office was Trump’s ghost-written Art of the Deal. It was an overwhelmingly hostile and demeaning work environment, and during my measly half-hour lunch breaks I would hide out in the company “lounge” (i.e.: extended kitchen) and do some journal writing. One lunch break I looked up to find him hovering over me with this stupid smirk on his face.

“What are you doing?” He asked. I responded that I was writing, even though the pen being dragged over blank pages sort of implied that.

Then he asked “You write in that often?” Again, my current spot in the middle of the thick journal was evidence enough, but I responded with “Yes.”

He just smiled at me again, nodded, then walked away. It wasn’t until five or ten minutes later that I realized he was, in his own way, making fun of me for writing in a book, and it only occurred to me at all because of that idiotic grin of his that he always wore when he thought he was smarter than the person he was talking to. Essentially, the jackass was standing there laughing at me for writing. He didn’t even know what I was writing, mind you. It was the act of writing itself that he found humorous.

As jarring as that moment was at the time, it still manages to support my previous observation that the challenge towards literacy in this country is just basic understanding, and not some kind of intellectual class warfare. The abusive idiot mentioned above (years later he would make the
English: Soviet propaganda poster by Elizaveta...
English: Soviet propaganda poster by Elizaveta Kruglikova advocating female literacy. The top section reads: "Woman! Learn to read and write!" The bottom (meant to be said by the daughter): "Oh, mommy! If you were literate, you could help me!" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 local news when he was arrested for giving his effeminate son – who he once referred to at work as a “walking fallopian tube” – a loaded gun and daring him to use it) wasn’t threatened by my literacy. He wasn’t motivated by feelings of inadequacy or a belief that I was somehow attempting to appear superior to him. The truth is, he was not only convinced that he was smarter than me, but he saw my tendency towards reading and writing as proof that he was better than me. (The reality, of course, is that I was definitely smarter and better than him, but that had nothing to do with literacy, and everything to do with him being an arrogant, racist, abusive, labor law breaking soulless cocksucker slum-lord idiot).

So we’re in a weird area when it comes to promoting literacy in country where a predominant portion of the population is mired in a culture that embraces the idea that books aren’t just stupid, but practically alien.

I’m not a book snob by any stretch of the imagination. I think that film and television are just as capable of providing worthwhile entertainment and thought-provoking learning experiences, and I don’t believe that not knowing how to read or being well read automatically implies ignorance or stupidity. I tend to look at reading like most people regard physical exercise or eating healthy; it’s a good thing to do, and everybody should do it, but not doing it doesn’t make you a bad person. Of course, we also live in a country where the last First Lady’s desire for children to eat healthier was seen by many as controversial and “anti-freedom,” so maybe I should get used to being asked stupid questions during my lunch breaks. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Taking a Stand on the Controversial Knee

I don’t follow football. I don’t watch it, I have no opinion regarding the people who play it, and I exert very little energy towards even acknowledging it as a cultural experience. Outside of the occasional Super Bowl commercial, I have never spent as much time reading about it or listening to heated debates regarding it until the past two weeks. Even when Colin Kaepernick first made the news by kneeling during the national anthem, I didn’t give it a second glance. After all, it isn’t like this country doesn’t get itself all worked up over patriotism and acts of protest. I grew up during the height of the whole flag burning thing. Nothing new to see here. So why am I actually writing about Football players and patriotism? I think you know the reason why.

English: Dorothea Lange picture of Japanese-Am...
English: Dorothea Lange picture of Japanese-American children reciting the pledge of allegiance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Before I touch on that reason, a little backstory on my dog in this hunt. I attended high school at Bloomfield High School in Bloomfield, NJ (And for the record, yes, BHS can go fuck itself). The standing rule at the time (late eighties, early nineties) was that students were required to stand and place their hand on their chest during the Pledge of Allegiance, but they were not required to actually recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I have no idea how or why this specific rule came about, but I do know that I followed these guidelines by standing every morning, but never actually reciting the pledge.

I assure you, I was not protesting anything specific at the time. My reluctance – I can’t truthfully say refusal, since technically nobody was trying to force me – to verbally pledge allegiance to my country of birth had nothing to do with the multiple rational (or even irrational) reasons one might choose to give America the silent treatment, as it were. My reasoning had more to do with the logic, or lack thereof, involved in the entire production. As a fat kid, I had already spent years being emotionally and physically assaulted with constant reminders that I was not considered part of whatever group bullies and their enablers assume to speak for. My pre-high school experiences in communal exclusion made it even harder to swallow the concept of “school pride,” and exposed the hypocrisy in asking me to actively support and root for a group of people that at best didn’t give a shit about me, and at worst actively bullied and shunned me. It wasn’t just the actions of my fellow students that made school spirit a joke, the school itself was often criminally negligent and openly apathetic towards individual students like myself. Forcing me to spend an hour in a crowded auditorium “supporting” the school’s football team (fuck the Bengals) was not just a joke, it was a bad joke.

It wasn’t much of a leap for my teenage self to correlate school spirit with national pride. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any national pride than it was that I didn’t see the logic in a daily mandatory public display of it. As high school students, we had already been taught about the ruthless dictatorships that demanded unwavering allegiance, and how America was so much better than other countries because we were allowed to publicly dissent. As American’s we were allowed to believe in anything we wanted to, even if that meant not believing in the government. Yet here I was, being forced to stand and salute every morning. Not only did this morning ritual of ceremonial worship contradictory to the concept of freedom of speech and thought, it also didn’t make sense in the regard that it didn’t accomplish anything. There is nothing educational about reciting a pledge to avoid punishment, and for the casual observer (which there never was), it would be impossible to discern which students actually believed in the pledge, and how many were just following orders. By the way, you know who else followed orders? That’s right, the Nazis. But I digress…

So fast forward to 2017, in an America where football players are kneeling during the national anthem, and the country is waging yet another heated debate over how free our freedom of speech truly is. And let’s clarify the situation here: This was all originally about ONE ATHLETE kneeling during the national anthem to protest the national trend of unarmed black men and children being killed by law enforcement officers who frequently go unpunished. It wasn’t until the President of the United States decided to weigh in on the whole thing by tweeting that American citizens should be fired from their jobs for exercising their constitutional rights, as well as publicly calling peaceful protesters “sons of bitches,” that dozens of other athletes started taking a knee during the national anthem in support of the first guy that started doing it. In short, all of the kneeling going on now is in support of the right of somebody else to take a knee during a national anthem in protest.
Crazy, huh?

And so, as usual, the original reason for the controversial action is forgotten, and the reason behind the increased support is lost or ignored, by the majority of the people both attacking and defending the most benign act of public civil protest you could possibly imagine. Seriously. Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem is no greater a gesture than me not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in high school. Of course, to be fair, I was just a stupid white kid in a classroom annoyed at being told what to do, while Kaepernick is a wealthy black athlete being watched on national television by an audience that is at least (statistically speaking) partially comprised of bigoted racists. Oh, and the President of the United States didn’t use his platform as a world leader to call me names and demand my expulsion. So there’s that.

Here are some questions you should be asking if you are actively debating this kerfuffle (be sure to do your own research, and please cite your references):

  • Why is the National Anthem played before sporting events?
  • Is it legally mandatory to “respect” a public display of Nationalism?

Here are some additional questions you should ask yourself (research isn’t required, but it is recommended):  

  • How does someone else’s Patriotism, or lack thereof, directly affect you?
  • If your opinion actually matters, does it matter more than, less than, or as much as the kneeling Athlete?
  • Exactly how involved should our country’s leaders be involved in the behavior of professional athletes?
  • Would you be less outraged if the person in question was a white football player kneeling during the National Anthem in support of Cliven Bundy?
  • If a football player kneels during the National Anthem in a forest with nobody to witness it, would Trump still tweet about it?
  • Does someone else’s lack of Patriotism strengthen or diminish your own Patriotism?

For those upset that I have yet to definitively state a binary opinion on the issue that they can easily reject or claim victory over, I defer to my teenage self for an official statement, as I seriously doubt the logic involved has changed much in the last twenty-five years or so:

Being forced to pledge allegiance to something is dumb. Denying someone the freedom to choose how to react to a symbol that stands for freedom of expression is dumb. Being upset because somebody doesn’t worship something the same way you do is dumb. 

But, most importantly, football is dumb.