HELLO

Whether you're a fan of my OSCARBLOGGER site, or if you're just casting your way 'round the web, I hope you enjoy my new blog: WHISPERING IN A WIND TUNNEL. Here I will discuss issues of politics, religion, race, gay rights, gender, you know, the big stuff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

PARIS

File:Old Frayed French Flag (6032746234).jpgThe horrific attacks in Paris on Friday are almost impossible to understand.  How can people in our modern, civilized world just start murdering innocent strangers?  The terrorist attacks claimed the lives of dozens of people and injured dozens more.  How did the world come to this point?
The hatred and the anger behind the attacks actually have their roots in a violent schism that occurred centuries ago.  After the death of the prophet Muhammad in AD 632 his followers were divided as to who should be his successor.  This division led to the formation of the majority Sunnis and the minority Shias, a division that has been compared to the Protestant and Catholic division in the Christian faith, and one that has, like that Christian one, tragically sometimes led to violence over the centuries.
So what does this have to do with Isis?  Well,  Saddam Hussein, the former leader of the country, was a Sunni.  Although he mostly ran a secular government, he used his position of power to favor his fellow Sunnis, even though the Shias were in the majority in the country.  Not surprisingly, when he has thrown out of power in the US led invasion of 2003, the first post war election put a Shia, Nouri Al-Maliki. Equally unsurprisingly, he was perceived as favoring Shias over Sunnis, which lead to the sadly inevitable rise of Isis.
So now that we know how Isis began, how do we get rid of them?  Fighting terrorism is incredibly complicated due to the fact  that bombing attacks often kill innocent civilians, which is not only morally wrong, but also leads to the radicalization of otherwise non violent people.  But we can't do nothing! Even a peacenik like me  has to accept that a brutally violent group like Isis must be brought to justice, so I support continued ally bombing that is careful and targeted, which can and will be increased.  In many ways these horrible attacks may sow the seeds of Isis's destruction in their boldness and brutality. 
Sadly, another effect of these attacks is the Republican party has grabbed onto the chance to demonize all Muslims by saying America should not allow in the 10,000 Syrian refugees that are fleeing Isis and were scheduled to come here.  This is typical right wing fear mongering; all those refugees will be carefully vetted, and they themselves are running from the very terrorists we claim to hate.  When western leaders spread fear of all Muslims, they are inadvertently giving them propaganda victories that can increase their numbers.  The US can simultaneously attack the terrorists  and aid the victims.  It's the right thing to do. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

A RACE TO THE BOTTOM ON IMMIGRATION



As Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls for the Republican Presidential nomination, while also garnering most of the media attention (all without ever running a single political ad) other candidates have resolved to trying to outflank him on the issue of immigration by going even further to the right.  While it seems impossible to believe that anyone could go beyond Trump's plan to build a "beautiful" wall with Mexico that they would somehow pay for, and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, danged if two candidates haven't come up with something even less plausible and more stupid than his ideas.
First, there's New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said that he would hire the president of Federal Express to devise a way to track immigrants that come to America so we can know when they overstay their visas.  While he later said he wasn't actually comparing immigrants to packages, the analogy is inescapable.  Dehumanizing immigrants  is the name of the game for most of the Republican party today.  Not to mention the fact that such a system is unconstitutional and immoral.  It's also unworkable.  Does he really expect every person visiting the US to get some kind of microchip implanted in themselves?  I can't possibly imagine that he thinks such a plan is possible, but considering the most recent NY Times polls put him at 12th. place out of 16 candidates in Iowa and 6th. in New Hampshire, this kind of desperate  grab for some of Trump's anti-immigrant thunder is to be expected.
An even possibly dumber plan came from Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker recently: during an interview on Meet the Press,  he honestly suggested that he was open to the idea of building a wall along the American border with Canada. Seeing as how the US border with Canada is over 4,000 miles long, more than twice as long as the one with Mexico, this seems more than a little crazy.  Although a Walker spokesman inevitably tried to walk back his comments after they were roundly mocked (another candidate, Rand Paul, called the idea "pretty dumb"), they were spoken during a national interview and therefore can't be easily denied.


While it's easy to laugh at such ridiculous propositions, the sad fact of the matter is that these are two men running for the chance to be the most powerful person in the world.  And that, sadly, instead of taking the high road against the crazed candidacy of Donald Trump, they have chosen to play up to the xenophobic and racist elements of their party in their attempt to gain the presidency by spewing crazy ideas that they must know are never going to happen.
While I think Trump's campaign will sputter out before he wins the nomination, part of me thinks that the Republican party deserves a standard bearer with no political experience, a massive ego and a propensity to tell lies without apology.  In fact, he just may be the perfect embodiment of the party.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

AMBUSH VIDEO & PLANNED PARENTHOOD



Although I tend to agree with his politics, I'm not a big fan of  left wing  filmmaker Michael Moore; too often, in my opinion, he seems to be a progressive version of Rush Limbaugh. Like Limbaugh, he dumbs complex issues down, plays around with facts, has a healthy ego, and claims to speak for the average Joe, despite having a lucrative media empire. Moore first became famous when he starred in and directed the documentary ROGER & ME, and that film featured what would become his trademark: the ambush interview.  With camera crew in tow, Moore pursues someone he doesn't agree with (in that movie's case, it was Roger Smith, CEO of General Motors), hoping to shove a microphone in their face and ask slanted and difficult questions.  It's a technique that provides  a win-win situation for Moore: if the person speaks to him, he gets to make them  squirm  on camera, and if they don't talk, he  can paint them as  a coward.  Now while I'm all in favor of public and political figures having to give unfriendly interviews, Moore's unplanned  style often seems more like bullying than actually interviewing, especially in the film BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, which found him bluffing his way into an awkward interview with an ailing Charlton Heston.  Not surprisingly, Moore's style has been picked up by others, especially Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, who sends out camera crews to try and humiliate political figures who choose not to be  yelled at by him on his show, proving that bullies have no political preference.

But how could you say no to that face?

Along with ambush journalism, I also have a problem with the hidden camera videos that pop up from time in our political discourse (for whatever reason, they mostly seem to be coming from the right).  The inevitable problem with these videos is that they are skillfully edited to confirm the point of view of the people filming. The most horrible example of this was when Shirley Sherrod an African American state director of rural development, was filmed talking in front of the NAACP making comments that at first look appeared to admit that she favored black people in need more than white people; those comments lead to her being fired.  Sadly, it wasn't until later that the complete context of her comments, which showed her  completely refuting her biased statements were released, but the damage was already done.  More recently, an anti abortion group secretly recorded a conversation with a member of Planned Parenthood in which she discussed the donation of fetal tissue for research.  While the members of the group claim that she is seen negotiating the sale of fetal organs, which is illegal, the reality is she's only discussing being reimbursed for the cost of the shipment of the organs.  (A complete version of the video reveals that she specifically went out of her way to mention that no profit would be made).  Although the graphic nature of her conversation may be stomach churning to some, it should be pointed out that the fetal tissue in question was donated by the women getting the abortions.  Furthermore, the research being done with the tissue could lead to breakthroughs in diseases like Parkinsons.  So, to put it another way, a member of Planned Parenthood discussed sending donated tissue from a perfectly legal procedure, to aid in disease research.  To me, this is no scandal.
But, of course, conservatives don't see that way.  Planned Parenthood has been around for years, from the first birth control clinic opened in America by Margaret Sanger in New York in 1916, to its modern incarnation, which started taking Government funds in 1970.  Although abortions are only about three percent of its total mission, and none of the government money it receives goes towards providing those abortions, it still remains on the conservative chopping block.  The frustrating thing about this is  that, through its birth control services, Planned Parenthood prevents far more abortions than it provides.  The raw numbers are: in 2009, it provided around 300,000 abortions while providing over four million birth control services.  It's safe to say that, without that birth control, there would be many unwanted pregnancies for low income women that would have ended in abortions. 
If that's the case, why has Planned Parenthood become such a lightning rod for conservatives?  Part of this is because while directly overturning of Roe vs. Wade seems unachievable,  every possible road block to abortion is being put up by conservative legislatures across the country, and also bashing an obviously pro choice organization like Planned Parenthood also offers an easy way for Republican politicians to play up to the religious right that is still so important in their party.  It should be mentioned that, while condemning Planned Parenthood, Republicans will often vaguely mention that their funding should  to go to other health care health organizations, without actually saying how that would happen. 

To me, the Republican desire to defund a government organization that helps poor women with health care needs shows the lie at the heart of the so called "pro life" philosophy.  Why do these people who claim to care so much about human life have no interest in making sure that every pregnant woman gets pre and post natal care, to ensure a healthier pregnancy? And why not fight for health care coverage and national daycare for every child in America?  Instead they demonize people on food stamps and resist expanding Medicaid coverage to more poor people.   Some culture of life!
While I do think there are some anti-abortionists who truly oppose the procedure because they think its murder, I think the real heart of the matter is that many of them think that women shouldn't be having sex for any reason other than married procreation.  For example, in his 1995 book PROFILES IN CHARACTER, in a chapter entitled "The Restoration of Shame", future Presidential candidate Jeb Bush wrote that:" One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame."  Yes, here in 2015 we have a Presidential candidate who honestly wants to return to the days of THE SCARLET LETTER. There's a reason why no Republican Presidential candidate has won a majority of the women's vote since 1988, and it doesn't look likely this time either.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

THE OUTLIERS



Recently, the absurdly premature and mostly dull 2016 presidential campaign (which may seriously result in a Bush versus a Clinton!) has become more entertaining by the emergence of two candidates from both parties who are pushing  buttons on both the left and the right: first, there's Senator Bernie Sanders.  Although technically an independent, Sanders has decided to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination.  The Vermont Senator is the only member of congress to proudly call himself a European style Socialist, and his populist message of dealing with the nation's great issue of economic inequality has caught on.  The number of people at his rallies has steadily increased, as has his ratings in the polls.  With his often unruly crest of white hair and frequently hectoring style of speech, Sanders often comes across as part Old Testament prophet and part crazy uncle (if your uncle were left wing), and at almost 74 years old he's probably too old to put in a serious run for the presidency.  Given all that, I'm still a big fan of the guy, especially when he honestly states that he thinks America can improve and learn from European Socialist ideas, and if he pushes Hillary Clinton into adopting more progressive views, all the better.  Clinton has, for the most part, mostly ignored Sanders, which makes sense: despite his surge in the polls, she still retains a healthy lead over him and all the other Democratic candidates.  Not to mention the fact that, sadly, the very thing I like about Sanders over Clinton is what will doom his quixotic campaign: he has turned down all Wall Street and corporate campaign donations, and, after the misguided Citizen's United Supreme Court ruling, raising hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy donors is the only way to the white house in our modern system.  And Clinton already has a huge money machine running that she could drown Sanders in if she needs too, and that should end things.
Or will it?  Being an independent, is it possible that Sanders will run as a third party candidate?  I certainly hope not.  I can still remember what happened in the crazy 2000 presidential election when Ralph Nader ran as a Green party candidate and succeeded to siphon enough votes away from Al Gore to give the white house to George W Bush.  I myself voted for Nader because after 8 years of Bill Clinton going along with the Republicans on one issue after another, I felt there wasn't enough of a difference between the parties.  I now see the error of my ways!  Bush was far more conservative than Clinton, and the damage his presidency did to both the country and the world are still being felt. So while I'm an admirer of Bernie Sanders, I sincerely hope that he doesn't push the election towards whatever Republican candidate is running.


Ah, and then there's Donald Trump, the loud mouthed, boastful man who has elbowed his way into the Republican candidate clown car through sheer force of will and ego.  Amazingly, this real estate and media mogul who has never held any political office ever is working his way to the top of the polls over the 15 other Republican candidates running.  His main claim to fame is that he is a rich, successful businessman, which of course has nothing to do with running a country and ignores the fact that he's declared bankruptcy more than once.
But that's not the worst of it.  The real horrible thing about him is why he's leading in the polls. During his campaign announcement speech Trump made this inflammatory, offensive and factually incorrect statement:

  "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best..they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people(!), but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting."

Sadly, these statements, no matter how false, represent the racist and xenophobic attitudes of many people in the Republican party.  His current popularity shows that.  And that fact that most of the other Republican candidates have given only tepid criticism at best over these comments reveals that they all know it.  Which may spell doom for the future of the party.
It's hard to believe, but it wasn't always this way; after Barak Obama won reelection  in 2012, partly due to the fact that he got a whopping 77% of the Latino vote, there was a movement in the Republican party to compromise on the issue of immigration reform, simply out of self preservation.  Wise party members realized that alienating the fastest growing demographic members of the country amounted to political suicide.  But nothing happened, and three years later and here's Trump with a razor blade to the party's wrist.  And he's exactly what the Republicans deserve.  While Trump's candidacy may bring back memories of Ross Perot, the billionaire who ran for president back in 1992 with a similar platform of wealth = power, I also can't help but be reminded of David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan who was briefly popular in the in the 1990's in the Republican  party, much to it's chagrin.  (As Duke himself was proud to point out, when he ran for the office of Governor of Louisisana in 1991, he won a majority of the white vote). Although Trump's personal history isn't as loathsome as Duke's, like Duke, Trump isn't really saying anything that other Republicans aren't saying, he's just more blunt about it.  The fact of the matter is that, it is now as it was in the 90's, Republican presidential candidates can't win the party's nomination without playing up in some part to it's base of white Southern men who grew up at a time when segregation was the law of the land and who miss those good old days.  Look, I don't want to say that all older white Southern men in the Republican party are racists, but at the end of the day, the proof is in the poll numbers.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

3 SIMPLE IDEAS


Ok, let's take a break from politics for a moment and talk about common sense.  Here are three things that America could change about itself that would make the country better, and that, for some dumb reason, we can't seem to do.

#1. STOP JUMPING BACK AND FORTH WITH DAYLIGHT SAVINGS.

Daylight savings first began around a hundred years ago as a move to preserve daylight and save fuel.  It began in Germany and is now used in 70 countries around the world, including, of course, the US.  While it may have saved some fuel a long time ago, we live in a much different world now (for example, an extra hour of sunlight in many places means an extra hour of using air conditioning).  Even worse, that lost hour of sleep makes a difference: every year the number of car and work related accidents go up the week after the "spring forward", and worker productivity goes down.  Although the percentage of change on these things is small, so what?  Isn't avoiding any increase of potentially dangerous accidents a good thing? So why go back and forth?  Why not pick one time setting and stick with it?  This seems to be one of those things that has been going on for so long that most people just accept it and don't much think about it.  But it's just plain silly.  One argument I've heard against keeping daylight savings year round is that kids will eventually have to go to school in the morning in the dark, which leads to my next point...

#2. QUIT SENDING KIDS TO SCHOOL ON FARMER'S HOURS

Making schooling mandatory began as far back as 1852 in the US.  To accommodate the fact that many students lived on farms and needed to get home early to help out, schools began and ended at early hours.  To this day, most schools follow the schedule of starting between 8-8:30 AM and ending between 3-3:30 PM.  But most children today don't work on farms, and this set in stone schedule is hurting our educational system overall.  Although the effort of getting up early is not such a burden on younger children, it's very difficult for teenagers.  Multiple studies have shown that teens need more sleep than adults, and that they are essentially programmed to stay up late and sleep in.  Over the years, when attempts have been made to push back school schedules for teens to deal with this, the results have been positive: according to the Center for Public Education's website, pushing back the school day results in higher attendance, less sleeping in class, and even less student depression.  Not to mention the fact that teens tend to get in the most trouble in that time period after school before their parents get home, when there's no real adult supervision of them. Pushing back school hours would for less unstructured time for teens and less general chances for mischief.  Now making this change would require teachers, school administrators and custodians to alter their own work schedules, but since happier students would make their jobs easier, I don't see why they should object to it so much.  So, once again, why not do something that would clearly have a positive benefit? 

#3. SWITCH TO THE METRIC SYSTEM ALREADY

Recently. long shot Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee mentioned something in his campaign launch speech that was a bit surprising: "Here’s a bold embrace of internationalism: let’s join the rest of the world and go metric".... "Only Myanmar, Liberia and the United States aren’t metric and it will help our economy!"  He was inevitably mocked for bringing up an issue few Americans feel strongly about.  And yet he had a point.  The metric system is an easier and more logical system than our current one(often called the British Imperial system), yet we cling to it except for a few things here and there(like in the pharmaceutical industry).  Part of our rejection of the metric system comes from the fact that it was developed by the French in late 1700's at a time when French-American relations were not good.  Centuries later, in the 1970's, there was a definite attempt to convert America to metrics (I can remember TV commercials promoting it from my childhood).  Laws were passed, but because they were voluntary, little changed.  Part of the problem is that there would be some expense involved in altering maps and such, but the main reason seems to be what some people call "American exceptional-ism". That is, the strong, often stubborn feeling Americans have that we have to be different.  Just as Americans shrug their shoulders at thousands of hand gun deaths annually as "the price of freedom", so do they defiantly resist a system of weights and measure used by other countries.  But the metric system is better, and our continued usage of our outdated system often puts the country at odds with others.  In an amazing example, back in 1999 NASA lost a 125 million dollar Mars orbiter because Lockheed Martin, the company that created it, used the American system while NASA used the metric system, causing confusion.  Can't a waste of over a hundred million tax dollars because of flummoxed rocket scientists be seen as some kind of clarion call for the country?  Apparently not since it happened over fifteen years ago.....grrrr!
A recent study from Northwestern University builds on this research, finding that high school students performed better later in the day than early in the morning, and most high school schedules contribute to sleep deprivation among students (Tonn, 2006). - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing-a-school/Copy-of-Making-time-At-a-glance/Making-time-What-research-says-about-re-organizing-school-schedules.html#sthash.ObShZR0n.dpuf
A recent study from Northwestern University builds on this research, finding that high school students performed better later in the day than early in the morning, and most high school schedules contribute to sleep deprivation among students (Tonn, 2006). - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing-a-school/Copy-of-Making-time-At-a-glance/Making-time-What-research-says-about-re-organizing-school-schedules.html#sthash.ObShZR0n.dpuf
A recent study from Northwestern University builds on this research, finding that high school students performed better later in the day than early in the morning, and most high school schedules contribute to sleep deprivation among students (Tonn, 2006). - See more at: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing-a-school/Copy-of-Making-time-At-a-glance/Making-time-What-research-says-about-re-organizing-school-schedules.html#sthash.ObShZR0n.dpuf

Monday, June 29, 2015

A DOUBLE BLAST OF COMMON SENSE


Here's a few words I thought I'd never say:  Rush Limbaugh posted something on Facebook recently that was genuinely honest and insightful.  He wrote:

"Now that I've outgrown the 25-54 demographic, I'm no longer confident that the way I see the world is the way everybody else does. I've gotten old enough now that there are younger people, generationally(sic) younger, who have an entirely different view, an entirely different experience."
It's truly surprising to find someone who has gotten very wealthy off mean spirited, thinly veiled racist, sexist and homophobic attacks admit that his time has passed.  While I wish it had happened sooner, I'm glad that it's happened and that he and other extremist right wing media figures will slide into irrelevancy.

The face of reason, for once


And no recent events confirm Limbaugh's prediction better than the two Supreme Court rulings that have just come down.  First, on June 25th. Obamacare was once again spared in a 6-3 vote.  This ruling was a bit surprising because many conservatives felt that Chief Justice John Roberts was going to "redeem" himself by gutting the same law that he voted to uphold in the first ruling on Obamacare years ago.  Instead, not only did he vote for it but so did swing vote  Justice Kennedy, making it not even close.  The case was based literally on a typo in the bill that because of various legislative maneuvers in congress, could not be easily fixed.  While the Supreme Court never should have heard this case in the first place, upholding the Affordable Care Act is a good thing.  While some improvements clearly should be made to Obamacare, the fact of the matter is that millions of Americans now have healthcare because of it.
And the Obamacare ruling was followed by an even bigger decision: the US has now joined twenty two other countries in making gay marriage legal.  This great blow for common sense equality is a stunning turn around for the country.  It's amazing to think that just 11 years ago, with the Iraq war crumbling, George W Bush was sadly able to squeak out a reelection victory by using gay marriage as a wedge issue.  And now the tide has turned, and a majority of the American public agree with the court's ruling.   Conservatives can yell all they want, it's a new day of equality in America.
And then there's the Confederate flag; in the wake of the horrific shootings of 9 innocent people in South Carolina, the fact that the shooter Dylann Roof had pictures of himself holding the Confederate flag and posted a racist tirade online caused many politicians to reconsider the waving of a flag that, to many people, remains a symbol of bigotry.  Surprisingly, even Republicans like South Carolina Govenor Nikki Haley and Senator Lindsay Graham have said that the flag should be taken down.  This conversation is long overdue: although it's perfectly fine for someone to wave that flag on their own property, having it in front of government buildings sends an ugly message.   Amazingly, the movement to remove it has been swift and overwhelming, with social media outlets swamping the state government, and even corporate groups like the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance support the removal.  For years white southerners have argued that the flag is just a symbol of rebellion and pride, but that argument seems weak given Roof's and other white supremacists embrace of it.  While I wish the tragic shooting could have resulted in some common sense gun control, if bringing down the flag springs from it, then at least there will be an important symbolic change.  It's time for the South to admit the Civil War was about slavery and the right side won.  And that was over a hundred years ago.  Get over it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

HOW MANY TIMES?



In the aftermath of the horrific killing of nine innocent church goers in South Carolina, a question arises and remains unanswered: How many times?  How many times will we hear about the mass shooting of innocent people and do nothing?  Why does America allow easy gun access to dangerous people? How long will the National Rifle Association continue to have a strangle grip on congress? 
While this current shooting raises other ugly issues (like racism and the confederate flag) let's look at the issue of gun control.  Groups like the NRA who oppose even the slightest kind of control point to the Second Amendment of the Constitution as the absolute bench mark of freedom.  While that amendment does say that American citizens have "the right to bear arms",  just how that was supposed to be inferred is up for debate.  Some pro gun control groups have claimed that this was only in regards to individual  states needing to have a militia.  But the NRA, or course, maintains that the country's  fore fathers opposed any limits on gun ownership.
Personally, I don't think that we can ever really know exactly what our fore fathers intended, and honestly, I don't really care.  It bothers me that some people look at our constitution the same way that fundamentalist Christians look at the bible.  Many of our country's founding fore fathers had slaves.  None of them thought that women should vote.  Were they just products of their time?  Sure, but that's just the point, times change.  There was no way that they could, in their time, foresee and understand the invention of weapons like assault rifles, not when they lived in an era of single shot flintlock weapons.  So why does their feelings about comparatively primitive rifles matter in an era of bigger, faster, deadlier guns?
Now I personally hate guns and would never own one, but I am also a realist; the American gun culture is too strong in many parts of the country for any kind of an outright ban on hand guns to work  like they have in many other countries.  There are just too many people who will refuse to follow the law, which would result in the government having to enforce it with often deadly results.
But I don't  see why every gun owner shouldn't have to get a license and register their gun the same way that we have to with our cars.  Having 16 year olds have to pass a written test and then a driving test before they get a license, which then  has to be renewed every few years seems perfectly rational.  Why can't we do the same thing with guns?  If a car driven by an unlicensed driver is dangerous, isn't a gun owned by an unlicensed owner also dangerous?
The answer that's usually given is that licensing guns would be the first step to taking them away, even though there is no proof of that.  A law banning all guns would have to pass congress, and the NRA is one of the most powerful lobbyist groups in the country, so there's little chance of that happening. 
Along with opposing even the weakest kind of gun laws, the NRA also fans the flames of fear by telling their members that whenever a Democratic president is in office, the government is just waiting to send in government thugs to take their guns away, even though the only gun control legislation that president Obama has tried to pass was a simple expansion of already existing background checks to include guns bought at gun shows.  And even that went down to defeat.  So the idea that Obama, or any Democrat wants to crack down on "law abiding gun owners" is absurd.
Equally absurd is the idea that the people of America need to have guns to overthrow the government.  The idea that a bunch of citizens with guns could storm the nation's capital and somehow defeat a president protected by the largest military in the world is laughable.  Even more ridiculous is the notion that people taking over the US government through force would be a good thing.  Just look at history: in the twentieth century there were quite a few examples of people violently over throwing their national governments all around the world.  Were any of them an improvement?  The Czars in Russia were overthrown and replaced by the Communists, which lead to the brutality of Joseph Stalin.  Batista in Cuba was overthrown and replaced with the dictator Fidel Castro.  A CIA backed coup in Iran led to the ousting of democratically elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh and the installing of the Shah of Iran, who got rid of elections; he was himself violently over thrown and replaced with the current repressive Mullah government.  And I could go on.  I think it's safe to say that Government rule through violence is generally not a good thing in the modern world, despite what the NRA says.
And don't forget, although the NRA claims to be an organization made of gun owning citizens, every year gun selling companies donate millions of dollars to the group, seeing  any limitation on gun sales as an cutting into their corporate profits.  Yes, at the end of the day the NRA opposes common sense gun laws because their major donors want to reserve the right to profit from selling guns to criminals who will use those guns to kill.  Honestly, I don't know how gun company executives can sleep at night.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

MOVING FORWARD



A recent Pew Research poll shows that the number of Americans who describe their religious affiliation as "none of the above" has been consistently growing in this country in the past few years and now stands at around 20%, a growth of about 6% since 2007.  Meanwhile self identified Christians have fallen in that same time period from around 78% to 70%.  Now obviously 70% is still a pretty hefty majority, and Americans still tend to be more religious in general than most other people in industrialized nations, but a growing trend is a growing trend.  Combine these findings with a new poll from Gallup that shows that self described social liberals are now, for the first time since the poll began in 1999, tied with self described social conservatives at 31% in America, and it appears that the country may no longer be simply described as "center right" as it has been for so many years by the media.
And this trend doesn't seem limited to America: recently Ireland became the first country in the world to allow gay marriage by popular vote (and that vote wasn't even close, with 62% of Irish voters voting in favor of it), adding Ireland to the 18 other countries where it was already legal.  Even the reelection of prime minister David Cameron in England shows how the world has moved: he was a conservative candidate who supported gay marriage, fighting climate change, and cutting taxes for minimum wage workers.  Add to that the often openly progressive views espoused by the recently elected Pope Francis, and it appears that there really is something in the air.

The Emerald Isle goes Rainbow

As a progressive non believer, I'm very happy with the way the first world seems to be going these days (although I wish the US would catch up to our European allies on issues like health care and climate change), but I do often wonder why this trend has begun.  Part of it, I think, is simple human evolution: as we find out more and more about the universe, as technology and science advances in leaps and bounds, religious beliefs created centuries before have become less and less relevant.  Although there will always be people who cling to the past, the general movement in the first world is towards enlightenment, and even those who are religious understand that belief should be a matter of personal feelings and not something imposed on others politically.
Some have theorized that this may be due to the entrance of women into the working world in the past few decades; in general, women are more religious than men and are also more likely to connect to a church group socially.  But today's working women don't have the time to make those connections like they did in the past.  It's a possibility. 
Another factor is the rise of the internet and social media in general; although the web has had some negative effects over the years, like giving voice to trolls and allowing groups like white supremacists to meet up, for the most part it has been a force for a progressive movement forward.  For years, gays, atheists and other misfits in small towns around the world felt that they were all alone; the internet has provided them all a sense of community and togetherness.  Also, the  enormous amount of access to information the net provides can bring facts to people who might not get them otherwise.  There was  a New York Times article in 2013  that discussed how converts to the Mormon faith were often shocked to discover online that the religion's founder Joseph Smith had around 40 wives; not surprisingly the church had hidden that negative bit of news for years, but that kind of sweeping under the rug can't last in our modern era.
I myself had a similar experience regarding the religious school that my parents sent me to when I was child, which was Lutheran.  At that school, we were told the history of Martin Luther's founding of the church and other often glowing descriptions of his life.  It wasn't until years later that I discovered online that Luther was a virulent anti Semite who had  had an influence on Nazi Germany centuries after his death; although I was no longer  affiliated with the church,  I was angered at the school's attempt to avoid the ugly truth about the church's founder.  My story and others like it show that the real history of religion cannot be hidden like it has been in the past, and the fact that 62% of voters in a heavily Catholic country like Ireland can ignore the church on gay marriage shows the waning influence of religion.  Progress is often slow, but the world is mostly moving in the right direction.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

SPORTS LOVE


Why do people love sports so much?  Even asking the question seems odd to many people. Sporting events are  popular all around the world, cutting through all demographics and cultures, with professional athletes making huge amounts of money and breathing the same rarified celebrity air that movie stars and pop stars do.  For most sports fans, their fandom is more a state of being than a choice; you might as well ask someone why they're right handed.
But ask I will.  Step back and take a look at professional sports objectively: here you have people cheering and feeling a deep emotional connection with a group of athletes who have been designated to represent a certain location.  Most of those screaming fans will never meet any of the players, many of whom do not even come from the place that they play for.  And every year, teams bring in new players for fans to cheer for, and the fans don't care who those players are as long as they're on your team and play well.  Fans even have the strange experience of cheering for one player one year, and then booing for that same player the next when he's traded to a rival team.
People like myself who aren't sports fans can be a bit overwhelmed by the level of interest and devotion people show, from fans sitting in freezing cold weather just to watch a game they could be watching on TV, to kids spending money on athletic playing cards, to even fights and riots between rival fans, that devotion at times seems downright crazy.  And while us non fans can rant about what a waste of time watching sports is, we're fighting a losing battle, with athletic events like the Superbowl and The World's Cup drawing enormous media attention every time  they arrive.

Boy, I hope their team won

But I ask again, why?  It would appear that an interest in sports is primal; some of the earliest and most primitive of human societies engaged in physical contests.  They probably served an important purpose at that time; our ancient ancestors were mainly hunters , and playing games that developed skills like spear throwing was a way for the hunters to keep themselves sharp and train younger members of the tribe.  Since those hunters were almost exclusively men, it also gave them a chance to display to the women the various physical attributes (speed, strength) that would make them a good provider and mate, which would someday lead to  the stereotype of the star quarterback that all the girls want to date.  Sports coming from mostly hunting training would also explain why there are so few truly famous female athletes (Oh sure, there are many women playing sports like basketball and soccer, but the possibility of a female athlete reaching the level of fame that, say,  Michael Jordan  or Tiger Woods have, is far from likely.)
Sports played another role in primitive societies in that they allowed rival tribes to compete in a non violent fashion when war was deemed too difficult.  That would explain the  regional ties that sports fans have with their teams, that strong sense of identification probably has its descendent from times when athletic contests really were important and success for a group of athletes meant success for the entire tribe.  So, while sports is not my thing, I don't think there's anything wrong with enjoying them, unless, of course, things go too far.

Pictured above, Minnesota hockey fans take things too far

However,  controversy  has recently hit the sports world in America.  Football, our most popular sport, is under attack.  Recently, something that should have always been obvious, has been proven; having 350lb men crush you into the ground repeatedly can cause both physical and mental damage, no matter how much padding you're wearing.  While injury have always been a part of the sport, it is know known that the National Football League has been lying to players for years over the extent of those injuries, with some people going so far as to compare the NFL with tobacco companies that lied about the effects of tobacco for years.  A settlement of around nine hundred million dollars was finally paid out to some eighteen thousand players.
But even with that settlement behind it, the NFL is still in trouble.  While it continues to rake in billions of dollars every year, its future is in doubt, and the game's attempt at damage control continues. Thankfully, the days of defensive players trying to help their team by making particularly vicious tackles on star players to try and take them out of the game are no more in football. Recently, the NFL  tried to pass new rules on defensive tackling that avoid the head shots that can cause deeply damaging concussions.  While this is understandable,  it seems contradictory in a sport where fans cheer for brutal tackles and pile ons.  
How does the future of the NFL hold? Since we know now the deep risks involved in the sport, how many parents will let their children play?  The New York Times reports that a recent Bloomberg poll found that half of all Americans do not want their children playing football.  Are a few moments of possible glory and excitement worth the risks of terrible injuries? Another part of the NFL's damage control is holding group meetings aimed at mother's trying to convince them that the game is now safe.  Also, in what may qualify as the world's most obvious move, more and more children's football leagues are moving away from tackle games to touch or flag football. (It seems amazing to me that people actually think it's a good idea for children, some well under the age of 12, to play a full contact sport).  But, at the end of the day, the NFL admits that a stunning 30% of players will suffer from serious mental issues in their life times, and there's really no way around that. It's no surprise that  best selling author (and former football fan) Malcom Gladwell recently called football a "moral abomination", and even legendary tough guy coach Mike Ditka, on a recent episode of HBO's Real Sports, admitted he wouldn't let his own sons play football, simply saying "I think the risk isn't worth the reward."
Personally, I hope football's days are numbered, and that it dwindles in popularity until it essentially dies out, like the once popular sport of boxing has slowly been doing.  There's enough excitement in baseball, basketball and other sports for people to leave the more vicious sports behind.