How Anti-Obama Republicans In Congress Have Effectively Poisoned The Country—In Two Sentences

There it was right there in a Reuters story about how 24% of Americans—24 bleeping percent—“strongly supported or tended to support” their particular states leaving the union. There it was right there for all of us who have followed politics since the age of Obama to see. Right there in two sad sentences from the story:

I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference anymore which political party is running things. Nothing gets done.

That was said by a confused man named Roy Gustafson, from Camden, South Carolina. Roy, the story goes, is “on disability payments” and is quoted as saying, “The state would be better off handling things on its own.”

I will try to ignore the utter ignorance behind the idea that any state in this union would be better off “on its own.” And I will try to ignore the sad misapprehension of reality that a man on federal “disability payments” possesses when he says things would be better if there were no federal government to which his state owed its allegiance, a state, by the way, dominated by Tea Party Republicans who would most surely cut off his disability payments faster than old Roy could say “secession.”

Just look at those first two sentences: It doesn’t matter “which political party is running things. Nothing gets done.” That, my friends, is the product of years of Republican obstruction and obfuscation (despite the recent legislative endorsement of part of President Obama’s ISIL strategy).

And you have to hand it to Republicans. For all their tactics in Congress, for all their vacations and filibusters and wasted time on doomed-to-fail legislation regarding ObamaCare and abortion, too many people still don’t recognize whose fault it is that “nothing gets done.” In fact, a large number of folks will run, not walk, to the nearest polling place in November and attempt to put even more Republicans in Congress.


Apple Just Made The World Safer For Terrorists

Has it become un-American to want to catch the bad guys? Think hard about this lede from a Washington Post story titled, “Apple will no longer unlock most iPhones, iPads for police, even with search warrants“:

Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant — taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user information.

I would guess that bit of news warms the hearts of terrorists everywhere, not to mention other criminals who can now avail themselves of the latest technology knowing there is a greatly reduced risk of getting caught via the use of smartphones. Apple, and no doubt other tech companies will follow its lead, couldn’t help the good guys even if it wanted to. To hell with law enforcement, we Americans demand our privacy!

Or do we? We routinely give corporations, like Google and Facebook, lots and lots of information about ourselves, which they use to make money. Most people don’t think twice about sharing that information. And once it is in the hands of these non-government entities that exploit our generosity, then we no longer have control of it. And we do all of this voluntarily.

Yet, many people almost lost their minds, not to mention their faith in good government, when it was revealed, through illegal leaks by Edward Snowden, that the National Security Agency was conducting electronic surveillance and going to court to force tech companies to turn over data that might help take the terror out of terrorism. I argued with some of those people on this blog. One would have thought all hope for the future was lost just because the government was doing what it is supposed to do: helping to protect us against bad people.

It is certainly true that since the dawn of smartphones, more than five years ago, people have increasingly used them to store all sorts of information, some of it intensely private. And it is certainly true that Americans should expect such information to remain invisible to government eyes, unless there is a compelling reason to examine it. The Supreme Court earlier this year rightly decided that the police had to have a search warrant to gather data from mobile devices. Now, after Apple’s announcement, that ruling will soon be as out-of-date as, well, landline phones. Ten thousand court orders won’t do any good. Apple has blinded itself and done so on purpose. And its inability to see means the government can’t see either:

Ronald T. Hosko, the former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, called the move by Apple “problematic,” saying it will contribute to the steady decrease of law enforcement’s ability to collect key evidence — to solve crimes and prevent them. The agency long has publicly worried about the “going dark” problem, in which the rising use of encryption across a range of services has undermined government’s ability to conduct surveillance, even when it is legally authorized.

“Our ability to act on data that does exist . . . is critical to our success,” Hosko said. He suggested that it would take a major event, such as a terrorist attack, to cause the pendulum to swing back toward giving authorities access to a broad range of digital information.

Given what Apple has done, it is hard to see how that pendulum can swing back. The world is now a lot safer for the bad guys, especially terrorists who use smartphones for recruitment and planning attacks. Those wonderful little devices we all carry around with us are now, for a select few, much better weapons than ever.

isis phone

Spare The Rod And Ignore The Bible

The Minnesota Vikings’ owner has admitted that he made a mistake when his team reinstated Adrian Peterson, its star running back and one of the league’s best, after first deciding to keep Peterson from participating in team activities, when it became known he had been indicted last week for injuring his 4-year-old son by beating him with a “switch,” aPhotos from the Houston Police Department showing injuries of Adrian Peterson's allegedly abused son. slender tree branch often used for disciplining kids.

My dad used a switch on me now and then when I was growing up in southeast Kansas in the 1960s, and it is, apparently, still fairly common in some parts of the country to beat children with them.

I heard Goldie Taylor, an often insightful African-American pundit, on public radio this morning explaining, in a way that partly echoed Charles Barkley’s comments on the issue, that for a lot of black folks in the South, beating their kids is a part of their culture, some of it stemming from the phrase used in black churches, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” a phrase that most people think is in the Bible. Actually that phrase isn’t in the Bible, but what is, from Proverbs 13:24 (King James Version), is this:

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

That seems clear enough, no? Beating your kid with a stick is a way of showing him (or, presumably, her) love. But Goldie Taylor, parting ways with Charles Barkley, tried to explain that the “rod” in that phrase was not an instrument of punishment, but something shepherds used to gently guide their sheep, not beat them. It was, she said, a source of comfort not pain (“thy rod and thy staff comfort me,” from the 23rd Psalm), and the misinterpretation of that Bible-inspired phrase was erroneously used to justify the whipping of children by their parents, parents like Adrian Peterson, who, he said, had parents that beat him in the same way.


Here is the King James Version of another passage in the Bible, Proverbs 23:13-14:

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Nothing in the Bible is clearer than that. No amount of sugar-coating the Bible can alter the meaning of that passage. Beating your kids is not only okay, says the God of the Bible, it is part of a divine strategy to keep them from going to hell (a place which, oddly, the God of the Bible created as punishment for the disobedient). And, for those of you who are not familiar with such things, that stuff is taught in evangelical and fundamentalist churches all over America, not just in the South and not just in black churches. I was taught it and I, on rare occasions, practiced it on two of my three children, acts for which I am now utterly ashamed.

We know better these days. We have learned something about the effects of trying to beat obedience into our kids. We are evolving culturally. Violence against our children doesn’t do any real good, but does do a lot of real harm. In this case, given the publicity it has received, it may be that some unintentional social good can come from what happened to Adrian Peterson’s 4-year-old son, namely that it is no longer acceptable, anywhere, to beat kids with a rod, a stick, a switch, or even the hand.  And more than that, perhaps another good is in sight: more people will realize that the Bible is full of bad advice, a strong indication that the much-revered book is a product of ignorant and narrow-minded men, and not an infallible Word from the God of the universe.


[photo: Adrian Peterson's son and his injuries, from Houston police department]

Obama And The World’s White Blood Cells

The world is in the midst of the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. Ebola is a rare virus that infects and eventually kills a majority of its victims. Some species of Ebola are more deadly than others, with one species killing almost 8 in 10 of the people it infects. There is often a lot of bleeding associated with an Ebola infection, like bleeding “from the eyes nose, ears, mouth, and rectum.” Here is one description of why Ebola is such a killer:

One of the main things that seems to make Ebola viruses especially deadly is that they seem to be able to evade much of the human immune system. Among other problems, white blood cells from the immune system are often seen to die off in patients. And if the body can’t fight fully back, the virus can just keep taking over.

In order to beat Ebola, bodies need a strong immune system—especially white blood cells—to fight back.

We, the United States of America, are part of the immune system of another fight against a deadly virus infecting a part of the world: Islamist terrorism. Currently its most deadly species is ISIL.

I have heard a lot of talk since Obama’s speech on Wednesday, outlining his approach to confronting the phony “Islamic State.” Some of that talk focused on the strategy, some of it focused on the legality, and some of it focused on whether we actually have a real coalition of nations, especially Arab states, sufficient to warrant going forward with any hopes of ebola flagsuccess. But despite all the debates, both legitimate and otherwise, we should never lose sight of the fact that if we fail to act against this spreading infection, no matter who is with us, it will have consequences we won’t like.

Right now, the Ebola virus is attacking people in West Africa, far, far way from the United States. There is little chance, at the moment, that we will be impacted by Ebola here at home. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have an interest in helping fight it in West Africa. The world is connected by airplanes. Everywhere. Ebola can have a first class ticket to nearly any destination in the world. And even though the United States doesn’t have much to fear from Ebola directly—we have the resources and technology necessary to keep a widespread outbreak from happening here—we do have national interests, both economic and moral, in not allowing Ebola to spread its infection to other parts of the world.

It’s the same way with the spread of the ISIL virus.

That’s why I was shocked to hear Jeffrey Sachs, a liberal, say on television this morning that he thought President Obama’s plan to attack ISIL was “absurd.” Not misguided or unconstitutional or insufficient, but absurd. Sachs was on television because he wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled, “Let the Middle East Fight Its Own War on ISIS,” in which he says:

…Obama is leading us into a prolonged trap; the fight against ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL) is a fight that the region itself should lead…Yet again, as with George W. Bush, Obama will needlessly set the US up as the leader of a crusade against Islam…President Obama is getting us still deeper into this never-ending battle with monsters stoked by our own ill-advised policies…So why is Obama leading us further down this failed path? The US fights these failed wars mainly because of domestic politics….We can’t win this war any more that we could win the Vietnam War, but Obama dare not “lose” the war on terror before the next election…These wars are therefore as open-ended as they are futile…If the US had a real strategy for national success, we would let the Middle East face and resolve its own crises, and demand a UN framework for action.

Those kinds of sentiments are voiced by people who don’t view ISIL as a deadly virus that can spread to other regions of the world. But at the heart of those sentiments is a dangerous isolationist idea. It is a dangerous thing to say to countries in the Middle East that they are essentially on their own in the fight against ISIL. It’s not really our problem. We don’t have to worry about it here at home, so to hell with the rest of you. We’re tired of fighting your battles.

flag and cellsYet, just a moment’s thought would reveal what would happen, if we, and other nations around the world, felt the same way about Ebola, if we told the governments of Liberia, or Guinea, or Sierra Leone that Ebola was their problem, that if they wanted to fight it they should fight it themselves without our help. Ebola would spread. And kill.

Thankfully, we are not abandoning West Africa in its fight against Ebola. We, along with Great Britain, are even sending troops and other resources there to fight the spread of that deadly virus. And now President Obama, having begun the fight against a similarly deadly virus in Iraq, is poised to act against ISIL in Syria.

The world of nations is one body now. Islamist terrorism is a deadly, deadly pathogen that has infected a part of the world body. It’s current and most bloodthirsty strain is ISIL. We, the people of United States, are an integral part of the world’s immune system. We are its white blood cells. To ignore that reality is to invite more death and devastation, not less.


Poll Junkies

Yesterday I was discussing public polling and how the results don’t always reflect an understanding of the facts. Since then, we have had MSNBC all morning fussing over the latest polls, including this one:

NBC/WSJ/Telemundo Poll: Latino Voters More Sour On Country, Obama

Even as pissed off as some Latinos are over President Obama’s unwise decision to postpone his promised executive actions on immigration, they still have some grasp of what is going on. But you wouldn’t know it from the headline above. That headline, and others like it, reflect the way the poll was introduced on MSNBC this morning. It was mostly about Latinos “souring” on the country and on President Obama. The headline, though, could have been,

Latinos Disappointed with Obama, But Still Very, Very Sour On The Republican Party

Why? Because of these two paragraphs near the end of the story:

Over six in ten Latinos prefer to see a Democrat-controlled Congress, compared to 28 percent who want to see the Republicans in charge. This is seen in their take on which party handles issues better; 53 percent think the Democratic Party looks out for the interests of women, compared to 11 percent who say that about Republicans. 

On immigration, 41 percent think the Democratic party looks out for their interests as opposed to 19 percent who favor the Republican party. Still, immigration is one area where the majority of Latinos – as opposed to other groups in the country – favor legislation or executive action to change the current laws and policies.

So, I suppose the problem is not so much with the polling, but with the presentation of the results. If a reader only read that “Latino Voters More Sour On Country, Obama” headline, he or she would get one message. But reading the entire article, the reader gets a different one. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves. The way a headline hovers over a story affects how people read it, if they bother to read it at all. Some folks just scan the headlines, thinking they’re getting the “news.”

NBC and the Wall Street Journal also have a new poll out that they find worthy of our attention:

The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows that the past few months of foreign-policy crises — especially regarding ISIS and Ukraine — have taken a toll on President Obama and his party. Just 32% approve of his handling of foreign policy, an all-time low in the survey; the GOP has an 18-point advantage on which party deals best on foreign policy, an 11-point jump from a year ago; and Republicans hold a whopping 38-point lead on which party best ensures a strong national defense, their largest lead on this question in more than 10 years.

If that depressing paragraph doesn’t tell you why snapshot polls during certain world events mean absolutely nothing, besides merely registering frustration and ignorance on the part of many Americans, then nothing will. The idea that the obstructionist Republican Party “has an 18-point advantage” over Democrats on any issue, much less foreign policy, defies explanation, unless one resorts to chalking it up to ignorance.

And please, someone, anyone, tell me why Republicans have enjoyed “an 11-point jump from a year ago”? Or how could Republicans, who brought us the sequester that has cut into the Pentagon budget with a blunt ax and who committed trillions to an unnecessary war in Iraq that started most of the messes we see, possibly “hold a whopping 38-point lead” on ensuring a strong national defense? Can people be that ignorant, that tuned out, not to say that stupid? God, let’s hope not. We’ve suffered enough.

That “exclusive poll” presented by NBC and The Wall Street Journal also, “reveals that 47% of Americans believe the country is less safe now than before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” Really? Based on what? Ten or fifteen thousand ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria now worrying every day about where the next American missile will fall and take out a few more of the bastards? Nothing, absolutely nothing, has happened here in the homeland recently that would lead a rational person to conclude that we are less safe now than when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was ignoring Osama bin Laden in the summer of 2001. We are much more safe, in terms of terrorist attacks. That’s not even arguable.

Oh, and do you want a good headline based on a poll? Try these beauties:


bloomberg poll

Wow! Really? Man, that is big, big news. The Europeans have abandoned and deserted the most powerful leader in the world! What do we do now?

Well, let’s begin by reading the actual article, originating with the respectable Bloomberg News, that those ridiculously false headlines announced, including this little finding:

Obama’s European approval rating dropped to 64 percent, sliding for the fifth straight year from 85 percent when he took office…

Oh, so Europeans have abandoned the President, they have deserted him, yet 64% of them still approve of the job he is doing? Get that? Sixty-four percent think he’s doing a good job! That is a strange kind of abandonment and desertion. Actually, if you bother to go look at the poll itself, you will find that President Obama’s approval rating regarding his “international policies” only dropped from 69% to 64% since 2013. Considering all that has happened in the world since then, I find that utterly remarkable. Thus, the headline should have been:

President Obama Remains Very Popular in Europe, Despite World Events

But that headline just doesn’t fit in with the fashion of the day, which is, right now, to pile on President Obama as he struggles through some tough times on the foreign front. Let me be clear, though. Journalists shouldn’t be cheerleaders for any president or political party. They should tell it like it is. But neither should they be cheerleaders for pessimism, especially when they have to go out of their way to create it themselves.

TV Media: Don’t Let The Facts Get In The Way Of A Pessimistic Poll

If you watch a lot of cable news, you know that whenever there’s a poll that comes out it is suddenly “news.” Networks spend a lot of money on polling and they aren’t going to waste it by ignoring the results. I have even heard news channels report on rivals’ polls, such is the need to fill air time with mostly meaningless snapshots of public opinion.

Most of the snapshots lately have shown some bad news for President Obama, both regarding foreign policy and things here at home, including the economy. But that’s not surprising considering the trouble in the world and the relentless beating he takes on Fox and its creepy companion, talk radio, 24 hours a day, every day.

The right in this country, because it has a theological conviction that the media are on the side of the devil, Barack Hussein Obama, thinks the networks are actually protecting him from the results of their own polling. Breitbart, one of the papal outposts of right-wing paranoia, posted a piece today with this headline:


The “study” was done by The Media Research Center, which is an outfit designed to intimidate journalists and networks into practicing “both sides are equally guilty” journalism, a strategy that works quite well for the right I might add. The story ends with this:

The media is not dumb. During the Bush years, the media knew that pounding these numbers to death would only serve to sour the public even more on the Bush presidency. A frenzy of pessimism breeds pessimism.

This same media is obviously willing to go to extraordinary, even absurd lengths, to protect Obama from that same feeding frenzy.

While it is obviously absurd to think the media (it’s not really one thing, but let’s pretend it is) is/are protecting the President, I can agree with the writer that “pessimism breeds pessimism.” That is why the country, fed a steady diet of pessimism for so long, is so down on itself and the President, despite the good economic news. Oh, you didn’t know there was good economic news? That’s the point. You may not have known about it, since news reports, especially on cable news channels, tend to focus on all the negative aspects of the economy (which there are too many, to be sure), while ignoring the reality of what has happened since President Obama came into office.

On that note, here goes, courtesy of Adam Hartung at Forbes (you should really read his entire post, “Obama Outperforms Reagan On Jobs, Growth And Investing”) and his guest, Bob Deitrick, CEO and author:

“Jobless claims [for August] were just over 300,000; lowest since 2007.  Despite the lower than expected August jobs number [142,000 jobs were created], America will create about 2.5 million new jobs in 2014.”

♦ “This is the best private sector jobs creation performance in American history”:

Unemployment Reagan v Obama

♦ Here is a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing labor participation since 1948:Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - Databases, Tables and Calculators by Subject“As this chart…shows, as the Baby Boomers entered the workforce and societal acceptance of women working changed, labor participation grew.

“Now that ‘Boomers’ are retiring we are seeing the percentage of those seeking employment decline. This has nothing to do with job availability, and everything to do with a highly predictable aging demographic.

“What’s now clear is that the Obama administration policies have outperformed the Reagan administration policies for job creation and unemployment reduction. Even though Reagan had the benefit of a growing Boomer class to ignite economic growth, while Obama has been forced to deal with a retiring workforce developing special needs. During the eight years preceding Obama there was a net reduction in jobs in America. We now are rapidly moving toward higher, sustainable jobs growth.”

♦ “…the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) released its manufacturing report, and it surprised nearly everyone.  The latest Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) scored 59, two points higher than July and about that much higher than prognosticators expected.  This represents 63 straight months of economic expansion, and 25 consecutive months of manufacturing expansion.”

♦ “As the last 15 months have proven, jobs and economy are improving, and investors are benefiting”:

Investment Returns Reagan v Obama“While most Americans think they are not involved with the stock market, truthfully they are.  Via their 401K, pension plan and employer savings accounts 2/3 of Americans have a clear vested interest in stock performance.

“As this chart shows, over the first 67 months of their presidencies there is a clear “winner” from an investor’s viewpoint. A dollar invested when Reagan assumed the presidency would have yielded a staggering 190% return.  Such returns were unheard of prior to his leadership.

“However, it is undeniable that President Obama has surpassed the previous president.  Investors have gained a remarkable 220% over the last 5.5 years!  This level of investor growth is unprecedented by any administration, and has proven quite beneficial for everyone.

“In 2009, with pension funds underfunded and most private retirement accounts savaged by the financial meltdown and Wall Street losses, Boomers and Seniors were resigned to never retiring.  The nest egg appeared gone, leaving the ‘chickens’ to keep working.  But now that the coffers have been reloaded increasingly people age 55 – 70 are happily discovering they can quit their old jobs and spend time with family, relax, enjoy hobbies or start new at-home businesses from their laptops or tablets.  It is due to a skyrocketing stock market that people can now pursue these dreams and reduce the labor participation rates for ‘better pastures.”

The next time you hear some journalist on the telly talking about how Americans don’t approve of Obama’s handling of the economy (and by and large they don’t), remind yourself to do a better job of explaining to your family, friends, and co-workers that things are much, much better than they think. And if you really want to piss off right-wingers you know, don’t forget to tell them that:

“Obama Outperforms Reagan On Jobs, Growth And Investing”


h/t: Drew Graham


How Washington Journalists Think

During his interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, President Obama said the United States is now ready “to start going on some offense” against ISIL. He announced that on Wednesday he will “make a speech and describe what our game plan’s going to be going forward.” He said that his planned action “is not the equivalent of the Iraq war.” And this time he says we have “a broad-based coalition internationally and regionally to be able to deal with the problem.”

But apparently, according to some critics, he shouldn’t have dared utter the following about his message to Americans on Wednesday:

But this is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops.

Later Mr. Obama said:

The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground, I think would be a profound mistake. And I want to be very clear and very explicit about that.

No, no, no, these critics say. Obama shouldn’t be “tipping his hand to ISIS” that way. Such an announcement is “priceless intelligence” that cost them nothing. And presumably because he is such a dumbass, Obama just gave it away for free. What’s wrong with that guy? Why doesn’t he know better?

Leaving aside the obvious point that ISIS gets exactly zero benefit in knowing that its fighters probably won’t be seeing the boots of Americans as they die for Allah, I want to call your attention to the person behind the critical notion above, a journalist named Ron Fournier.

He is the Senior Political Columnist and Editorial Director of National Journal, a publication for Washington insiders like, well, Ron Fournier. He appears often on Morning Joe and elsewhere on cable and presents himself as something of a non-partisan, non-ideological voice for common sense who is willing to criticize both sides. In this case, however, his criticism of Obama sounds like, well, Bill Kristol or Mike Rogers or Rick Perry.

Fournier, though, along with most of the other people who think Obama should not take off the table the possibility of American combat troops fighting in Iraq and Syria, don’t actually say they want those troops inserted into that mess. Most of Obama’s critics are very, very careful to say, as Fournier did,

I am not advocating the deployment of ground troops.

How courageous.

Because Fournier is a Washington insider, he can’t help but look at Obama’s no-boots assurance to the American people as a political move:

Is the no-troops-on-the-ground pledge an effort to satiate antiwar Democrats in the run-up to congressional elections in November, when control of the Senate is at stake? Or is less-cynical thinking afoot?

That’s the way insider types talk when they want to accuse Obama of something without actually accusing him of it. Since Fournier never actually answers the question he asks (and never names those “anti-war” Democrats who need satiated, likely because there just aren’t that many of them around), he gets to have it both ways. He does, though, offer us his Washingtonian explanation for all this hand-wringing over Obama’s alleged gift to ISIS:

Obama’s motive is important, because it goes to the durability of his promise. This should concern doves as much as hawks. If a factor as wispy as politics is driving the president’s thinking now, it stands to reason that Obama could, one day, consider the promise pliable. What happens if his fledgling coalition doesn’t stop ISIS? What if public opinion shifts a bit? This is how slippery slopes are built.

Notice that handy little “if” in that sentence. There is no evidence that Obama is trying “to satiate antiwar Democrats in the run-up to congressional elections in November,” as Fournier suggested he might be, but that “if” gives him license to suggest something dark and sinister is going on or, worse, might go on in the future that Fournier can claim he saw coming. If all that happens, if Obama changes his mind due to changes in the fight against ISIS and actually uses combat forces in a big way, Fournier is practically guaranteed a spot on all the cable shows as the sage of Washington journalists.

The truth, however, is likely as simple as this: President Obama said what he said about not putting American boots on the ground because he doesn’t think it is necessary or wise to put American boots on the ground, especially when there are other boots available, boots worn by people who have much to lose if they don’t aggressively take up the fight against the barbarians who have invaded their homelands.

But simply saying that won’t get a Washington insider a gig on cable TV.

C. S. Lewis, The Selfless Brain, And The Rational Approach To Spirituality

When I was an evangelical Christian, my thinking on spiritual matters was very much influenced by C. S. Lewis, who was the most famous Christian apologist of the 20th century. In fact, people, and not just evangelical protestant people, still buy and read both his fiction and non-fiction books in this century, a tribute to not only his writing ability, but his endurance as a respected Christian thinker.

His most popular apologetical work is the classic Mere Christianity, many parts of which I have read dozens and dozens of times. The book, essentially a compilation of BBC radio talks he gave during World War II, presents arguments for Christianity that the average person can understand. The reason I mention C. S. Lewis and that book is because of a fascinating interview with Sam Harris that appeared yesterday on The New York Times’ “Opinionator” page. That interview, which I will get to in a minute, made me think of the following passage from Mere Christianity, which I edited for brevity:

At the beginning I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self….

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether….

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.

That’s a fairly orthodox way of stating what “following Christ” means, or should mean, to serious Christians. So, with that in mind, let’s move on to that Times interview of Sam Harris.

Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher and one of the most interesting thinkers in the country today, is mostly famous for critiquing, often mercilessly, the central claims of fWaking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religionundamentalist religion, especially its Christian and Islamic forms. Like Mere Christianity, I have also read parts of Harris’ first book, The End of Faith, many times. He followed that up with Letter to a Christian Nation, and has expressed his science-based criticism of fundamentalism and theistic religion in several debates, discussions, and interviews that can be found on YouTube and elsewhere. (He also has written two excellent books on free will and the intersection of science and morality, which I urge those interested in those subjects to read.)

Harris has a new book out (which I have not yet read), this one on a subject that might surprise many people, but shouldn’t if you carefully read his other works. In Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion, he tries to demonstrate, “that a certain form of spirituality is integral to understanding the nature of our minds.” The shape of that understanding, and its relationship to that Lewis quote above, can be glimpsed in the interview that Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, did with Harris for the Times. Here is part of it:

G.G.: You deny the existence of the self, understood as “an inner subject thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experiences.” You say, further, that the experience of meditation (as practiced, for example, in Buddhism) shows that there is no self.  But you also admit that we all “feel like an internal self at almost every waking moment.” Why should a relatively rare — and deliberately cultivated — experience of no-self trump this almost constant feeling of a self?

S.H.: Because what does not survive scrutiny cannot be real. Perhaps you can see the same effect in this perceptual illusion:

It certainly looks like there is a white square in the center of this figure, but when we study the image, it becomes clear that there are only four partial circles. The square has been imposed by our visual system, whose edge detectors have been fooled. Can we know that the black shapes are more real than the white one? Yes, because the square doesn’t survive our efforts to locate it — its edges literally disappear. A little investigation and we see that its form has been merely implied.

What could we say to a skeptic who insisted that the white square is just as real as the three-quarter circles and that its disappearance is nothing more than, as you say, “a relatively rare — and deliberately cultivated — experience”? All we could do is urge him to look more closely.

The same is true about the conventional sense of self — the feeling of being a subject inside your head, a locus of consciousness behind your eyes, a thinker in addition to the flow of thoughts. This form of subjectivity does not survive scrutiny. If you really look for what you are calling “I,” this feeling will disappear. In fact, it is easier to experience consciousness without the feeling of self than it is to banish the white square in the above image.

Later in the interview, Harris expresses in another way his argument against the notion that there is a self or an “I”or a “sense of being a subject” inside our bodies:

The moment that you truly break the spell of thought, you can notice what consciousness is like between thoughts — that is, prior to the arising of the next one. And consciousness does not feel like a self. It does not feel like “I.” In fact, the feeling of being a self is just another appearance in consciousness (how else could you feel it?).

Breaking that “spell of thought,” cutting through the illusion that there is a little “me” or “soul” inside our heads or elsewhere, is really what meditation—the kind without “invisible entities, spiritual energies, other planes of existence and so forth”—is all about, Harris insists:

Consciousness exists (whatever its relationship to the physical world happens to be), and it is the experiential basis of both the examined and the unexamined life. If you turn consciousness upon itself in this moment, you will discover that your mind tends to wander into thought. If you look closely at thoughts themselves, you will notice that they continually arise and pass away. If you look for the thinker of these thoughts, you will not find one. And the sense that you have — “What the hell is Harris talking about? I’m the thinker!”— is just another thought, arising in consciousness.

If you repeatedly turn consciousness upon itself in this way, you will discover that the feeling of being a self disappears. There is nothing Buddhist about such inquiry, and nothing need be believed on insufficient evidence to pursue it. One need only accept the following premise: If you want to know what your mind is really like, it makes sense to pay close attention to it.

Recall that C. S. Lewis’ said the first step in truly becoming like Christ “is to try to forget about the self altogether.” But then he says, “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.” Undoubtedly, Harris would say that such a notion of expunging one’s self in favor of another self in Christ is as misguided as simply sticking with the illusion of the first self. And, also undoubtedly, not many people predisposed to believe in the idea of a soul or self at the center of their consciousness will be convinced by Harris’ arguments.

But before one rejects Harris on this subject, one should remember that he is a neuroscientist. He knows a thing or two about the brain and what science has discovered about how it works, after more than a century of examining it. And I will quote something he said in that Times interview that everyone should consider, especially those folks among us who are inclined to make “faith-based assumptions about what exists outside of our own experience”: of this kind are generally suspect because they are based on experiences that are open to rival interpretations. We know, for instance, that people can be led to feel an unseen presence simply by having specific regions of their brains stimulated in the lab. And those who suffer from epilepsy, especially in the temporal lobe, have all kinds of visionary experiences.

Think about that. A doctor poking around in your brain can make you feel like We Are Not Alone. Mind-blowing stuff.

As for more on our experiences of the metaphysical and how they appear to be generated, researchers at the University of Missouri “have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” according to a professor of health psychology, Dr. Brick Johnstone. He added,

Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.

As far as that disputed “self” we have been discussing, Dr. Johnstone said,

Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self. Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self.

Leaving aside the temptation to snarkily associate “impairment” with enhanced spiritual experiences, I will close by noting that other studies, involving non-impaired people, those who devotedly practice meditation and prayer, have shown that they can purposely reduce the influence of the right side of their brains and thus enhance their spiritual experiences. That seems to me what Harris is essentially arguing.

From all of this the question arises: Is that a good thing? Is earnestly pursuing experiences of self-transcendence or spirituality something all of us should do? Beats me. I’ll have to spend more time thinking about it. But I will let Harris have the last word for now:

A rational approach to spirituality seems to be what is missing from secularism and from the lives of most of the people I meet.


Fanaticism In Missouri

Let’s start today’s adventure into the strange world of fanatical belief with Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame. As Daily Kos reported, Robertson, who is 84 years old, took a question on his program from a woman who, along with her husband, is also in her eighties. She said the couple had an old car that had just broken down and they had to borrow the money to fix it. Plus, they “both need dental work, but can’t afford it.” Add to that the claim that they have to use their “credit card to pay for medical needs.” They wonder what they could be doing wrong, since they have demonstrated their faith by declaring “that this is our time of prosperity”—a confessional requirement in the so-called “prosperity gospel” business movement. She said they also “have no unforgiveness” in their lives, which answers an excuse prosperity gospel preachers offer to their followers who don’t experience any promised prosperity.

Oh, and most important, she says she and her husband “give willingly and our tithe is over 10 percent.”

Got it? These older folks love Jesus, give a helluva lot of their income to God, and have a junky car and no money of their own to pay for their health needs. So, naturally, Robertson, who specializes in giving wise Godly counsel, gave these desperate folks some wise Godly counsel:

Ask God to show you some ways of making money. There are many ways of making money, even at 80 years old. You know, you can get on the telephone, people are hiring.

Words fail me.

Our next adventure in fanaticism, though, deserves many words. It is happening here in Missouri.

Mother Jones published an article today (“Missouri Republicans Are About to Pass One of the Harshest Abortion Laws in the Country“) that reports on the fact that next week Missouri legislators, most of them fanatical Republicans, will meet in a special session to attempt, among other outrageous things, to override Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of their fanatical legislation that would essentially rob Missouri women of their right to exercise what reproductive rights they have left in this state. As MJ notes, that legislation “would force women seeking an abortion—including victims of rape and incest—to wait 72 hours between their first visit to a clinic and the procedure itself.”

Yes, even victims of rape or incest would have to wait three days—currently they are forced to wait 24 hours—to avail themselves of their fading constitutional right to not be further violated by having to bear the offspring of rapists or relatives. But that is only the latest restriction on reproductive rights here in this state:

Missouri lawmakers proposed more than two dozen abortion restrictions this year, all of them targeted at the St. Louis clinic. Missouri already has more abortion-related restrictions on the book than almost any other state in the country. Abortion providers must offer women the opportunity to view an ultrasound of the fetus, and abortion clinics in Missouri must meet the requirements of an ambulatory surgical center; these requirements are expensive to meet and they are not medically necessary for most abortions. These laws have resulted in the closure of all but one of the state’s clinics.

The sponsor of the bill in the House, a man—I repeat: a man—from nearby Nixa, Missouri, said,

Taking it from one day to three days? I don’t think it’s creating an extra obstacle for the mothers.

I wonder if this man, whose name is Kevin Elmer and who was elected in 2010, the year that just keeps giving and giving, would want to wait for three days if he had been raped and impregnated? Oh, sorry. Not applicable. And that is the point. But it doesn’t stop Mr. Elmer, and apparently nearly every Republican man (and woman) in the legislature, from taking it upon themselves to force their fanaticism on Missouri women.

Elmer says:

I believe that life begins at conception. And I’m not to discriminate against any life because of how it was conceived. I don’t disregard the significance of the tragic events that those women suffer from. But we’re still weighing that against the right of the unborn child to live…We’re asking all mothers just to give it another 48 hours to think about what is it they’re doing when they kill their unborn child.

First of all, Republicans aren’t “asking” the “mothers” to do anything. They are forcing them. Forcing them to “think.” Forcing them to think about killing “their unborn child.” Now, it seems to me that if you really believe in your bones that zygotes or embryos or fetuses are unborn children, then allowing women—”mothers” in Elmer’s certainty-plagued eyes—one day or three days or thirty days is too many days. They simply shouldn’t be allowed to kill their kids at any time, for any reason. It is absurd to say that mothers have permission to kill their children—if they take sufficient time to think about it. But that is what these confused zealots are actually saying.

Let’s be clear. What Republicans are doing, all over the country, is using the power of government, through various restrictions on female reproductive rights, to essentially force women, even women who have been impregnated by rapists, to become mothers.

Oddly, when Mr. Elmer was running for office, he said the following:

I believe in smaller government that is limited in its taxes, regulation of businesses and controls of local communities…People know what is best for their families and businesses not the collective thought of a government. 

Okay. Now, again, words fail me.



Remarks And Asides

A guy named José Zamora was having trouble landing a job. For months he sent out hundreds of résumés via email and received no responses. Then he decided, with a stroke of practical brilliance, to alter his resume to fit cultural norms in 21st-century America. He became Joe Zamora. Needless to say, Joe got a lot of responses.

No racism in this country, my friends. Just a fondness for Joés, uh, I mean Joes.


To further prove there is no racism in this country, someone calling herself Xena of Amphipolis, commented on the YouTube video where José told his little American story:

I don’t care what this asshole’s name is.  I would never hire a gangbanger – especially one who talks like that.

The best reply, though, was a truth-teller named Cyan Rivera:

If you’re tired of hearing about the race issue in America, imagine how ex[h]austing it is living it.


Speaking of exhaustion, how tired are we of reading stories like this:

Russian Bank Hires Former Senators Trent Lott, John Breaux To Lobby Against U.S. Sanctions

Those Russians are pretty smart folks. They know that hiring current vacation-happy legislators would be a waste of time. So, bypass the do-nothings and go right to where all the action is in Washington. Lobbyists apparently never take time off.


Speaking of Washington, we, the American public, have spent nearly 30 years living with Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court (thanks, Reagan fans!). But as bad as that has been, and it has been really bad, it is not as bad as what happened to Henry Lee McCollum, an African-American with an IQ no higher than 70,  who spent almost 30 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit:

A North Carolina death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence on Tuesday was once held up by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as an example of someone who deserved to die.

Not only was McCollum the victim of a horrifically zealous prosecutor and a flawed justice system, he became intellectual fodder for a flawed Justice of the Supreme Court.


Speaking of zealots:

Black LGBT Activist Arrested For Distributing Voting Rights Information

The activist should stop whining, of course. He’s lucky to be alive to tell about his encounter with white policemen, especially in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Henry Kissinger, who, yes, is still alive, wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal that included this:

A world order of states affirming individual dignity and participatory governance, and cooperating internationally in accordance with agreed-upon rules, can be our hope and should be our inspiration.

Uh-oh. Yep, you guessed it:


 Yes, because there is something terribly wrong with the world’s nations affirming human dignity and democracy and cooperating with each other. Can’t have that. One Breitbart commenter wrote:

Kissinger is Bilderberg EVIL!!

I’m not sure if Bilderberg EVIL! is worse than Obama EVIL! but I am sure it is pretty bad stuff.


From London’s The Telegraph comes this surprising headline about 26- to 35-year-old Brits:

Half of young women can’t ‘locate their vaginas’

Now, I don’t consider such news from Britain all that disturbing. After all, here in America half of our legislators don’t know their asses from holes in the ground.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which half.


Finally, on a happy note, I will leave you with this from Rolling Stone:

The Arab World’s Version of the Ice Bucket Challenge: Burning ISIS Flags

No “Dispassionate Analysis” Here

dispassionate: not influenced by strong feeling

The Huffington Post published today a short piece by Jack Mirkinson (its Senior Media Editor) titled,

Geraldo Rivera Thinks The US Should ‘Behead’ ISIS Beheaders

The author was, apparently, taken aback by Geraldo Rivera’s reaction to the beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff:

geraldo rivera tweetsI guess I should say that I stand second to nobody in my distaste for Mr. Rivera, a regular on Fox “News.” And I suppose I should say that it is obviously not acceptable that any U.S. policy involve beheading even “the ISIS butchers.” Of course that is ridiculous. But the HuffPo piece ended with this advice:

Anyone looking for dispassionate analysis would be wise to look elsewhere.

I thought about that for a minute. Two American journalists have had their heads crudely and savagely sawed off by a psychopathic Islamist terrorist, who then posted the acts on the Internet with mocking commentary and threats of killing more Americans, and the suggestion is that there is something wrong with an analysis that includes a little passion, a little emotion? Huh?

And just what would “dispassionate analysis” look like in this context? How is it possible to analyze this situation without accounting for the brutality of the acts? Without having strong feelings about them?

A leftish commenter wrote in, remarking on my last piece on the murder of Steven Sotloff, to say:

Here in America, our barbarians use drones and planes.

Talk about a dispassionate analysis. Is that what some on the left think of their own country? That our leaders are on the same moral plane with people who do such things as were done to James Foley and Steven Sotloff and thousands of others in both Syria and Iraq? Surely it matters what motivation was-is behind the use of those American drones and planes, doesn’t it? And surely it matters that those ISIL killers couldn’t care less about the civilian population of any country, much less make huge efforts to avoid civilian casualties, as the U.S. does in its fight against terrorist groups like ISIL?  And surely it matters that there is a glaring qualitative difference between psychopaths and those trying to bring the psychopaths to justice, right? Should I even have to write that sentence?

Obviously we want those who are planning the attacks on ISIL in Syria (we are already attacking ISIL in Iraq) to analyze the situation carefully, thoughtfully, deliberately. Nobody is saying that the U.S. military should just start carpet bombing the entire region out of some kind of collective anger or national pride or simply frustration. But I, for one, hope like hell the civilian and military planners are also doing their planning with strong feelings that what they are doing is the right thing, is part of what it means to bring justice to psychopathic killers. Passion and planning don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Finally, I hope President Obama has strong feelings about what he is certainly thinking about doing, and, more than that, I hope he expresses those subjective feelings to the American people, as well as the objective purpose of any actions. It is proper, even necessary in times like these, to do both.  This isn’t a time for the President to play it cool in public or worry about whether it looks like the terrorists got under his skin. Goddammit, if this doesn’t get under his skin then it is hard to see what would. All of us, especially our leaders, ought to be passionate, damn passionate, about justice, especially when we have it in our power—deliberatively applied power—to provide it in this case.

“To Follow The Example Set By The Prophet Muhammad”

Despite public pleas from his desperate mother, journalist Steven Sotloff was apparently murdered by fundamentalist thugs somewhere in Syria. And as 21st-century Islamist terrorist freaks are prone to do, they published a video of his grisly execution.

Steven’s mother Shirley Sotloff had just recently asked the ISIL bastards to release her son, even calling Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—who laughingly thinks he is head of an “Islamic State”—by his self-bestowed title, “caliph,” which is the name given to the head of state in a Caliphate. I don’t blame her for trying. I don’t blame her for saying anything to get her son back. I would have called that murderous Baghdadi bastard the Islamic Mother Theresa if that would have secured my son’s freedom. Like Mrs. Sotloff, I would have tried to appeal to Baghdadi’s Islamic faith and ask him “to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected People of the Book” and “to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.” Yes, I would have said all that, and more, including what the now-grieving mother offered up to Baghdadi last week:

Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He is an innocent journalist.

Of course none of those words mattered to Baghdadi or the piece-of-shit thug with a British accent who did the dirty work, perhaps murdering Sotloff before his mother made her appeal, an appeal that included an insistence that her son “traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants.” None of that mattered because there is no such a thing as an “innocent” person outside the theological tribe these people belong to. If you are not one of them, if you don’t follow their version of Islam, then you are ipso facto guilty and subject to execution in the name of a strangely unmerciful Allah.

I am confident that President Obama, even has he continues an air assault on ISIL in Iraq, will soon expand the effort into Syria, where, hopefully, one day that blood-loving zealot who murdered Steven Sotloff, along with the delusional leader of ISIL and the rest of his Allah-invoking fighters, will look up and, just for a sweet, sweet moment, see a missile coming their way with a big American flag painted on it.

Steven Sotloff is a freelance journalist being held captive by ISIS militants.

Tased And Confused

Yet another video has surfaced that shows that being a black man in America comes with special responsibilities, like, say, staying out of public spaces so as not to arouse the suspicions of white policemen. Depending on the day and the city, arousing the suspicions of white policemen may get you tased and arrested or, well, killed.

Fortunately for the guy in the video below, Christopher Lollie, he was only tased and arrested. I guess it was his lucky day.

I suspect that most of the readers of this blog will find the video quite disturbing, as it not only demonstrates how stupidly reactionary some cops can be, but how racial profiling works in the real world and why it is un-American. But I also want you to think about something else. Tea Party enthusiasts and sympathizers say they hate big government. Some of them even went so far as to defend militia types earlier this year when they took up arms against federal agents in Nevada, after Cliven Bundy decided he was entitled to graze his cattle for free on federal land and then would not recognize federal authority to stop him. Many people made the point at the time that had the New Black Panthers taken up arms to defend a black freeloader, the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world would have declared the end of civilization. But the Bundy case was a white man standing up against, let’s face it, a not-very-white Barack Obama. Thus, in that case big government police were the bad guys and gun-toting government-haters were the good guys.

To be at least somewhat consistent, if Tea Party conservatives—and they do most of the talking for Republicans these days—were genuinely disturbed by big government and its overreach, they should be outraged at what happened to Christopher Lollie at the hands of St. Paul, Minnesota, cops, who are, after all, government employees. But I doubt you will find too many of them who are willing to express outrage. My guess is that most of them will say that Lollie should have just done what he was told by the police and nothing would have happened to him. Because, ya know, black people have no rights that white policemen are bound to respect, and Lollie should have known and understood that reality and been willing to live with it. For his own good.

The truth is that when it comes to most conservatives, they don’t like big government when it is dispensing food stamps to black people. Oh, they hate that kind of government. But they like big government when it is dispensing Taser-powered electricity to black people just before hauling them off to jail. Or, as in Ferguson and elsewhere, shooting them dead in the streets.


Beware Of Dogmatists

dog·ma·tism: the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.

When writing critically about religion, it is sometimes hard to adequately convey both the idea that fundamentalism is undesirable and dangerous and that other, less dogmatic, forms of spirituality can be, and often are, forces for good. People often conclude from some of my criticisms of religious faith: “You hate religion, period.” Well, I don’t. There are many religion-motivated people who do a lot of good in our communities. Each and every day. Thus, allow me to explain, in more detail, where I’m coming from. Then, I promise, I will resume my blogging on politics.

What I don’t like, and what I believe all thinking people should aggressively attack, is any form of religion that does not admit to what a couple of commenters on my latest piece (“‘Without God, I Am No One’—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention“) called “humility,” the idea that one’s vision of God is not necessarily the correct one and that “the next person may understand God even better than I do.”  I have no quarrel with anyone who holds religious views in that context.

My quarrel is with the dogmatists. I believe, and I think the evidence from history supports it, that religious dogmatism is mostly a destructive force, even if it isn’t (these days) always manifested in violence against others. I ambrose biercehappen to think that dedicating precious time and minds and other resources to discussing or settling dogmatism-inspired controversies is a colossal waste, a form of destruction. (And I am one who has spent a lot of time exploring the meandering contours of Christian theology.) So, I want to be clear that the form of religion I dislike is not the kind that admits to uncertainty or doubt. With increasing passion, I am attacking the kind of religious dogma expressed by people like Douglas McCain, whose fanaticism and dogmatism may have finally led him to Syria to kill and be killed in the name of his religion, but who first began by embracing incontrovertible beliefs and essentially enslaving himself to his unquestionable notion of God.

Evidence should always be our guide, wherever it leads. As a former evangelical Christian, I am now open to evidence that God exists or that he doesn’t exist. I have to admit that most of the evidence is for the latter, but I’m not dogmatic about it. I have before described myself as a theist, even though my faith is really a hope that there exists a being who will enforce common notions of justice at some point in the life of this universe or beyond. Really, I suppose, I am an agnostic. I don’t know if it is even possible to discover the existence or non-existence of God. But I do know that I don’t have much faith that a collection of old writings, written by ignorant and bigoted men, has anything at all to do with finding God. In fact, in so many ways, they lead the other way.

One commenter wrote,

It is entirely possible to be a serious, devout Christian and still maintain an awareness that, however binding you may personally find the Bible, the next person is entitled [to] view things differently.

Of course that is true. Most serious, devout American Christians do believe people are entitled to view things differently. After all, we live in a country with a secular Constitution that values no religion over another, and most of us have been taught to respect the religious views of others.

But my argument is not about whether this or that religious dogmatist thinks others are or are not entitled to hold one view or another. I am not saying that zealous believers necessarily want the government to step in and demand that people become fellow fundamentalists and fanatics. My argument is with the zealotry, the fundamentalism, the fanaticism itself. It is about whether we should continue to leave unchallenged the views of people who say things like, “Without God, I am no one,” or, “The Bible is all I need in this life,” people who enslave themselves to their necessarily imperfect idea of God. And I especially think we should challenge the views of people who teach their children such dangerous and injurious ideas. Deliberately closing the minds of children, essentially drowning their imaginations in dogmatism, shouldn’t be something our 21st-century culture accepts in silence. We should object to it, and loudly.

In addition to all that, I think we should challenge religious dogma because—and this may be painful for some to hear—there is an element of narcissism involved in its expression. If you think about it, it is an amazing expression of egotism, even if it is in our culture a regrettably acceptable expression of egotism, to say after some personal escape from calamity, “God blessed me today.” Let me give you an example.

The Christian medical missionary, Dr. Kent Brantly, was recently released from the hospital, to much fanfare, after he was apparently cured of Ebola. No one can say for sure that it was the experimental drug he was given or whether it was his own immune system or some other treatment or mechanism that made him well. It even may have been the prayers that people offered up to God that did the trick. That is certainly what Dr. Brantly claimed:

…there were thousands, maybe even millions of people around the world praying for me throughout that week, and even still today…what I can tell you is that I serve a faithful God who answers prayers…Through the care of the Samaritan’s Purse and SIM missionary team in Liberia, the use of an experimental drug, and the expertise and resources of the health care team at Emory University Hospital, God saved my life—a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.

“God saved my life.” How often have we heard people say that? After the 2011 tornado here in Joplin, I heard that a lot. And I always wondered what those other people, those who didn’t survive the tornado, did to not deserve God saving their lives. And I wondered, when I heard Dr. Brantly talk, why those other people, now in the thousands, who have died or will die at the viral hands of Ebola, did to not deserve God’s blessings? Is Dr. Brantly’s life worth more to God than those others? Are those who survived the Joplin tornado worth more to God than those who didn’t?

People who claim that “God saved my life” should be challenged to explain why others were undeserving of such salvation. They should be challenged to explain why they were so special to the Creator Of The Universe. We would certainly challenge them if they said, “God exempted me from income taxes,” or “God has a plan for my life that includes being President of the United States.”

I submit to you that in any other context what Dr. Brantly said, and what some of those who survived the Joplin tornado said, would be taken as expressions of an unhealthy narcissism. But we don’t bat an eye when people talk that way about God saving them after an illness, a car wreck, or a horrific storm. And my argument is that we should bat an eye. In fact, both eyes, and say, “How do you know?” Or, more to the point, “How can you know?”

I will end this with a YouTube video that was put together by someone named Devon Tracey, an atheist (unfortunately, a much too dogmatic atheist) who took a presentation by Sam Harris and cleverly matched it with images and other video to make Harris’ speech on God and morality much more entertaining. Although there are some points I would quibble with, I urge you to watch with batting eyes:

“Without God, I Am No One”—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention

Fundamentalism kills. In more ways than one.

NBC News has reported that an American—a 33-year-old who was born in Illinois, raised in Minnesota, and studied in California—has now died in Syria, as a fighter for the barbaric jihadist group, ISIL. He was killed by another group of anti-Assad fighters, the Free Syrian Army.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, according to those who knew him, was a “a good guy who loved his family and friends,” a smiling joker who loved music, liked to dance and play basketball. “He was a goofball in high school,” one of his classmates told NBC.

Sometime in 2004, though, Douglas McCain apparently started taking religion seriously, as many Americans do. He posted on Twitter in May: “I reverted to Islam 10 years ago and I must say In sha Allah I will never look back the best thing that ever happen to me.”In sha’Allah” essentially means “God willing.” Lots and lots of people, especially Christian people, say “God willing” and say that their faith is “the best thing that ever happened” to them. It’s pretty common and not all that radical, unfortunately.

McCain also posted a picture of himself holding a Quran, with the caption,

The quran is all I need in this life of sin.

If you replace “quran” with “Bible,” then you have a typical statement from many American Christians, a statement I have heard countless times in one form or another. Again, although it is unfortunate, there is nothing all that radical about someone claiming that an old, old book is all they need in this life, of sin or otherwise.

Another social media posting from McCain expressed what he believed was the source of his existence:

Allah keeps me going day and night. Without Allah, I am no one.

Let’s remember that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” In other words, what McCain posted was this:

God keeps me going day and night. Without God, I am no one.

Again, I have heard that same idea expressed numerous times by Christians I have known. Right now you can check out your own Facebook page, if you have one, and probably see a version of it someone has posted. It is all too common to hear people, people who live in your neighborhood and share space in your community, say such things. As I said, it is unfortunate that such sentiments are so prevalent among us.

It isn’t exactly clear how Douglas McCain went from expressing such things, such things that a lot of people express on any given day in America, to actually joining a group of bloodthirsty jihadist killers in Syria. It’s not clear Image: A Facebook profile photo of man identified by NBC News as Douglas McAuthur McCainhow he became “Duale ThaslaveofAllah,” which reportedly was his Facebook name. We will probably never know the mechanics of how that transformation happened, even though it would help us all to know.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people who say the things that Douglas McCain said don’t end up either killing for, or dying for, their deity. Those who think their religion is the best thing that ever happened to them, or who believe an ancient book is all they need to guide them, or who believe that they are nothing without God—a being they have never seen and can’t possibly “know”—most of the time live their lives relatively peacefully, many of them even doing a lot of good in the world.

But I have come to believe that we, those of us who have not utterly surrendered our minds to an unseen—and presumably unseeable—deity, those of us who maintain that any religious views should be accompanied by some degree of doubt and uncertainty, must call out those who say things like Douglas McCain said.

It is time that we make people—especially our young people—uncomfortable when they say things like, “Without God, I am no one.” It’s time we call bullshit on such sentiments. It is time we take on parents who teach their children that they are nothing without God. Or teach them that an ancient, pre-scientific book is an infallible source of information, especially about God, or history, or morals. It is time we stop being afraid of criticizing people’s religious beliefs, if those religious beliefs include offering up their minds, or the minds of their children, as slaves to some Bible- or Quran-revealed divine being.

Because even though we don’t know what exactly led to Douglas McAuthur McCain giving his body to a radicalized and militarized incarnation of Islam, we know that it began with him seriously surrendering his mind to Allah, to God, to a bloodthirsty being first brought to us by ancient and ignorant people who told us their God once murdered “every living thing on the face of the earth” (the Bible) and who told us that God will punish unbelievers “with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter” (Quran).

We should do our best to make sure that people understand what it means to completely turn their lives over to the very flawed star of a faith that first came into being in the Bronze Age. Perhaps, and only perhaps, we may be able to prevent more Douglas McCains from wanting to kill and die in the name of God.

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall On “The Worst People On Earth”

“Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?”

“I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'”

“I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall”

—Bob Dylan

At times they cut the throats of children, or hang them or shoot them. At other times they, quite literally, saw off with dull knives the heads of men, women, and children, or hang them or shoot them. They rape. They rampage. They slaughter. And they openly teach their own children that such bloodthirsty acts are noble and godly, and a necessary and proper way to praise and honor Allah.


This photo, of a seven-year-old boy clad in a kids’ Polo golf shirt and struggling to hold up a severed head, was posted on Twitter by a proud dad. That proud dad’s name I won’t share with you. That’s exactly what this sick creep, a loser who left Australia with his family to become a jihadist in Syria, wants. This proud dad represents the kind of people I have described. In a very rare moment of agreement with a conservative columnist, I second Charles Krauthammer:

These are the worst people on earth.

These “people” are, of course, members of ISIL. And as Krauthammer said,

These are not the usual bad guys out for land, plunder, or power. These are primitive cultists who celebrate slaughter, glory in bloodlust, and slit the throats of innocents as a kind of sacrament.

And trust me, after doing some research on what ISIL has done in the past year or so, all of that is a serious understatement.

Speaking more clinically, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said of these jihadists,

This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of- days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.

“Eventually” has already started. And those limited U.S. air strikes against ISIL have done a lot of good. More, many, many more, need to follow. And follow.

I heard someone say the other day that, when it comes to going after the ISIL bastards, he would countenance a hefty raise in his taxes. Me, too. I would gladly pay much more in taxes, if I knew the money was going toward missiles and bombs that would rain down hard, like a land-cleansing monsoon of justice, on the heads of these fundamentalist Islamists. On the heads of anti-humans who, in the name of Allah-God, commit intolerable, and I mean intolerable, acts of terror against not only Christians and people of other faiths, but of fellow Muslims.

President Obama, very soon, needs to address the country and make the case that the United States should, along with the Iraqi military who would provide the foot soldiers for such an effort, make a decisive war on the so-called “Islamic State.” We should also undertake air strikes in what used to be Syrian territory in order to hit ISIL there. No need to worry about borders at this point. They have essentially been erased. If other nations around the world want to join us, and they should, that would be better still. If they don’t, if they continue to tolerate these barbarians and continue to pay them ransoms for hostages or otherwise support them, then to hell with them. We can still act.

I would ask my fellow liberals again, many of whom are confidently balking at such a move by President Obama, just what the hell is our military for, if not to protect the interests of our own citizens right now—one of the best of them was just openly and barbarically beheaded by these bastards, after a failed mission to rescue him—and in the future, when a stronger ISIL may in fact, rather in the poisoned imaginations of these jihadists, actually have a real state? Not to mention help protect the interests of our friends, the Kurdish people? And help protect the rest of the Iraqis, to whom we owe at least something, after we destroyed their country and raised up and supported Nouri al-Maliki, who then helped make Iraq a place where ISIL could do its demonic work? And, finally, what is our military for if not to help ensure that the word civilization retains its meaning in this century?

Now is the time to rid the world of these, its worst people.

“Barking Orders At A Person With Serious Mental Illness Doesn’t Work”

Let’s move a few miles away from Ferguson to the city of St. Louis.

On Tuesday I listened to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson describe the shooting of yet another young black man, Kajieme Powell, who was killed that afternoon by St. Louis police, after he refused to put down a knife as he moved toward officers.

Those officers were responding to a call made by a store owner, who said Powell had stolen some energy drinks and pastries and was behaving strangely. Powell was, Chief Dotson said, chief dotson and overhand grip“acting erratically, walking back and forth, up and down the street” while talking to himself. When officers arrived, Dotson said they exited their vehicles without initially drawing their weapons. He also said that Powell did not respond to“verbal commands to drop his weapon” and walked toward the officers, yelling, “Shoot me now! Kill me now!”  And, most important, according to Dotson’s version of what happened, the officers shot Powell because he had “closed within three to four feet with the knife in what is described as an ‘overhand grip.'”

At the time, the explanation seemed reasonable to me. It seemed the shooting was justifiable. Claiming the man was only three or four feet away with a knife menacingly raised in the air seemed to leave the officers little choice. It seemed like a case in which a disturbed young man—neighbors later said he was mentally ill—had threatened the lives of two policemen and they responded with life-taking and life-saving force. But that was the picture the policemen painted of the scene, which often is the only view we get in matters like these.

But not this time.

As you probably already know, someone had a video camera and captured the shooting. And that video shows that what Chief Dotson said wasn’t entirely accurate. And where it wasn’t accurate, it happens to skew in favor of the shooters, the cops. In case you haven’t seen it and want to, here is the video of the killing (be warned, it is graphic):

As you can see, the officers got out of their vehicles with their guns drawn, contrary to what Chief Dotson claimed. And as you can see, Powell did not have the knife up in an “overhand grip.” Nor was he within three or four feet of the officers. And something Chief Dotson did not explain at his press conference on Tuesday was why the officers, between both of them, fired nine shots into Powell, at least two of them after he was down on the ground and clearly not a threat. Those last two shots are perhaps the most disturbing thing, among many things, about the video. Those last two shots certainly seemed gratuitous and seemed like one or both of the officers were in some kind of adrenaline-fueled shoot mode that they could not easily turn off.

The police union told St. Louis Public Radio that the video, which was released by the police chief with the union’s consent, was “exculpatory.” I suppose that is in the eye of the beholder. What I see when I see that video is a disturbed young man, who those around him find mildly amusing. The fact that he has a knife, of course, makes him a dangerous and disturbed young man. But all over this country, each and every day, police confront dangerous and disturbed people. And at least some of the time, perhaps much of the time, things don’t end up like they did in St. Louis. Why is that? Why did these two officers respond the way they did? Why did they get out of their patrol car with weapons drawn? Where were their Tasars? And why have most people in law enforcement, perhaps some who would not have responded as those two St. Louis cops did, defended what happened on that St. Louis street on a Tuesday afternoon?

I suppose it all comes down to perception. And cops seem to have a different way of looking at their jobs than those of us who have never been in the position of a gun-toting authority. But surely it is not unreasonable to expect more out of the police than what they gave us in St. Louis. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect a little more patience from them, at least a little more than 15 or 20 seconds, when dealing with what they had to know was a disturbed man—who else yells at guns-drawn policemen, “Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me now, motherfucker!”?

Policemen wear uniforms for a reason. Those uniforms show that they are in a special category of people, people who have the authority to kill in the name of not only the law, but in the name of all of us. When they draw their weapons and aim them, much less shoot, we have every right to expect that they do so only when necessary. We have every right, as citizens, to hold our police to high standards of conduct.

But cops are only as good as the training they receive. Here what Salon’s Joanna Rothkof has to say:

The stigmatization and lack of information surrounding mental illness directly affects the criminal justice system, resulting in inadequate treatment, inappropriate prison time and numerous deaths at the hands of police. Prisons are home to 10 times more mentally ill Americans than state psychiatric hospitals. The Los Angeles County Jail is the largest provider of mental healthcare in the country. Appallingly, 50 percent of Americans killed by the police every year are mentally ill, and this largely has to do with police training.

That is shocking. If police aren’t receiving adequate training related to dealing with the mentally ill, then it seems unfair to blame them when they pull up to a situation, like in St. Louis, and demand compliance from someone who simply can’t comply in the same way you or I could. Rothkof quotes a report (“How lack of police training can be deadly for the mentally ill“) by Aaron Ernst and Christof Putzel:

“Traditional law enforcement tactics are rooted in logic, in reasoning – and in issuing commands for someone to comply so that we can make the situation safe right now by taking a person into custody,” said Douglas County Police Capt. Attila Denes, who has spent much of his career in the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado trying to improve police interaction with the mentally ill. “But barking orders at a person with serious mental illness doesn’t work.”

Of course it doesn’t work. But it goes on every day. And, in the end, if we the people allow it to go on, if we don’t insist that our police officers get the training they most desperately need and then hold them to a high standard of conduct, we will continue to see cops killing mentally ill people and then having to defend themselves against the perception that something else could have, should have, been done.

“No Just God Would Stand For What They Did”

“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”

—President Obama, August 20, 2014

If I were a member of ISIL, the wicked Islamist group that even other terrorists find intolerable, I wouldn’t be planning any “Islamic State” celebrations anytime soon. Or ever.

No amount of prayer to Allah, or whoever it is that these fanatics pray to when they are not killing and raping, will stop what will, eventually, happen to them. President Obama, speaking a short time ago on the execution of journalist James Foley, in a way that did not well hide his subterranean, and righteous, anger, said this:

Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declare their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim, out of expediency, that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is, they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

And people like this ultimately fail.

And these people will ultimately fail because of us, because of the United States of America. If there is a God, and if he is just, we will be his primary instrument of justice. The President, as anyone who watched him give his remarks could see, has had enough of ISIL, calling it a “cancer” that must be extracted “so that it does not spread,” and saying:

We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

Time will tell just what “everything that we can” means. But President Obama has, rightly, put himself and the country on the right side of history by declaring that “a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” And for those, especially my friends on the left, who don’t think he is on the right side of history, then they should declare just what kind of values, what kind of principles, this country and the civilized world actually do stand for.

More than that, those who oppose the United States helping to root out ISIL—killing every single member if necessary—have a duty to explain exactly what “civilization” means, if a group like ISIL is allowed to openly and proudly murder and rape in civilization’s cradle, when we—Americans—most certainly can do something about it.

What A Nail Sees

A reader wrote a comment on my post about what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri,(“GoveWhat a nail seesrnor Jay Nixon Should Call Out The National Guard—To Protect The Citizens of Missouri From The Police“) that went like this:

The events occurring there only show the militarization of many police forces across the US. Surplus automatic army weapons and armored vehicles give local cops an opportunity to use them as lethal weapons. Remember the adage, “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

My response:

Yes. And when you feel like a nail, as many African-Americans do, everything coming at you looks like a hammer.

If you don’t understand that, if you can’t fathom what it might be like to be the nail and also believe, with good reason, that those charged with enforcing the laws of this society have hammering on their minds, then you don’t understand what is going on in Ferguson and elsewhere across the country.

Governor Nixon Steps In

“What’s gone on here over the last few days is not what Missouri is about, it is not what Ferguson is about. This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families and go to church, a diverse community, a Missouri community. But lately it has looked a little bit more like a war zone, and that is unacceptable.”

—Missouri Governor Jay Nixon at a press conference in Ferguson on Thursday

Things may be getting better in Ferguson:

Jay Nixon announcement

From The Washington Post:

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has given control of security operations in Ferguson to Missouri State Highway Patrol. Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, who heads the highway patrol’s troop in the region, and will now direct the law enforcement response in the riot-riven city.

Johnson—unlike the overwhelming majority of police officers who have been on the scene—is African American—like the majority of people living in Ferguson. He also happens to be a 27-year veteran of the highway patrol who says he grew up in the community and has made it his home. He also said something that should have hope-generating relevance and comfort-generating resonance for Ferguson citizens and protesters:

I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and our officers will respect both of those.


And thank you, Governor Nixon.

huffpo banner

Governor Jay Nixon Should Call Out The National Guard—To Protect The Citizens of Missouri From The Police

Posted at 11:10 p.m. local time on August 13, 2014:

On Tuesday night Governor Nixon publicly admitted that he “prayed for the parents and loved ones of Michael Brown,” the 18-year-old-African American gunned down by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. He said he also “prayed for the residents and businesses and children” of the community. He further claimed that he had “prayed for justice” and “for wisdom” and “for peace.”

Well, there is no peace in Ferguson. There isn’t much wisdom, and certainly, at least right now, no justice.

What looks like an occupying force, complete with military-esque armaments and attitude, has threatened the citizens of Ferguson, trampling not only their constitutional rights, but arresting and teargassing reporters who were guilty only of committing journalism. That occupying force is local police. Missouri cops.

This has to be stopped.

Where is not only the Democratic governor of our state, but where is our Democratic attorney general, Chris Koster? He’s the top law enforcement official in the state. His job is to protect Missouri citizens, even if that job involves protecting those citizens from Missouri cops. The attorney general’s only statement on what happened in Ferguson, as far as I can tell, is this:

I support Governor Nixon’s call for a thorough, independent investigation by the United States Department of Justice of the circumstances leading to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. An outside inquiry led by the DOJ provides both impartiality and credibility to the inquiry’s ultimate findings.

That’s as it should be. But what about the conduct of the local police departments after the shooting? What about this:

Occupation of Ferguson Mo

What happened on Wednesday night here in Missouri is outrageous. We employ a governor, who is the commander-in-chief of the Missouri Army National Guard, and attorney general to deal with such matters. They should stop hiding behind prayers and the federal Department of Justice and do their state jobs. Word is out that Governor Nixon has decided to go to Ferguson on Thursday. Good.

But he should be bringing the National Guard with him.

[Top photo: AP]

“Takin’ It To The Streets” In Ferguson, Missouri?

“There was an eerie flashback to 1965 in parts of the St. Louis region Sunday. Riot gear. Tear gas. German shepherds. Looting. Stores on fire. Dozens arrested.”

—Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Today, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was supposed to start classes at Vatterott College, presumably to pursue his version of the vanishing American Dream. According to a childhood friend, he wanted to start his own business, “make something out of nothing.” But Michael BrownMichael Brown is dead. On Saturday, in the early afternoon, a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, shot him multiple times and killed him, even though he was not armed. Reportedly, his uncovered corpse was left in the street for four hours. There are conflicting versions of what happened, with the police saying there was a struggle for an officer’s weapon and witnesses saying the black teenager was shot while he was running away, frightened, with his hands in the air.

Senator Claire McCaskill said she was praying that the “God-loving people of Ferguson will find peace and patience as we wait for the results of what will be numerous and thorough investigations of what happened.” Senator Roy Blunt said that Michael Brown’s “recent high school graduation should have been a beginning of better things. 

Ferguson, population 21,000, is part of greater St. Louis, and advertises that it is, “Proud to be a Playful City USA community!” Last night there was nothing playful about the rioting and looting that went on during what was supposed to be a consciousness-raising vigil for the dead young man, who was on his way to his grandmother’s house when he was killed. During tFerguson QuickTrip lootedhe mayhem, a couple of policemen were injured, one after a brick was thrown at him, and many police cars were damaged. Shots were fired at officers and at a police helicopter, though apparently all missed their targets. There have been 32 arrests so far, with more on the way, according to police.

The mayor of Ferguson and its police chief said they were sure the rioters and looters were not from Ferguson, but came from other communities just to take advantage of the situation. Many local residents who were there said the same thing, and most of those interviewed by reporters were appalled at how the night developed, as USA Today reported:

 “Most came here for a peaceful protest but it takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch,” said Deanel Trout, 53, who has lived in Ferguson for 14 years. “I can understand the anger and unrest, but I can’t understand the violence and looting.”

And that is exactly right. Anger and unrest may be appropriate, but violence and looting never is. And that is the problem with this situation. People will tend to focus on the latter as an excuse to ignore the underlying causes of the former. In so many communities, black people have a sense that the lives of their children don’t matter all that much to the aRiot breaks out, store looteduthorities, whether those authorities be police officers or politicians. And in some more dire situations, the children themselves don’t see much point in participating in a civilization that they believe not only ignores their interests, but is outright hostile to them. CNN caught a local cop on camera yelling at protesters in Ferguson: “Bring it, you fucking animals! Bring it!”

According to the Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post Dispatch,

Ferguson…is an inner-ring suburb, a place where it’s easy for the economic recovery to bypass the poor. It’s a city of 6 square miles, about 10 miles north of downtown. About two-thirds of the residents are African-American. The median income is $37,000, roughly $10,000 less than the state average. Nearly a quarter of residents live below the poverty level, compared with 15 percent statewide.

It’s part of north St. Louis county, where whites left en masse beginning in the 1960s, creating one of the most extreme cases of “white flight” in the country. But many who remained in power are still white, including much of the law enforcement. A local lawyer said whenever she goes into the North County courthouse all the defendants are always black, the cops always white.

Sultan claims that,

The most economically depressed and violence-torn parts of the city and county, predominantly black neighborhoods, are largely ignored by the civic establishment, unless to explain why the city’s high rank in violent crime isn’t an accurate depiction of the region.

Until we can tell our children — and ourselves — a more honest story about race in this region, we will be left with far worse tragedies to explain.

Hopefully, we will soon find out whether this killing was justified. For now, as Aisha Sultan points out,

For those who have been on the receiving end of disrespect, mistrust, suspicion or brutality, the impulse is to believe Brown was brutally gunned down.

For those who are fearful anytime they cross into the city limits, most likely only for a sporting event, the young man must have done something to “deserve” his fate. 

The FBI is opening an investigation of the shooting. Senator McCaskill said that Missourians “will not be satisfied until we have a complete and transparent understanding of all the facts and circumstances that led to this young man’s death.” Along with that, we need some kind of understanding of why it is that there exists in some American communities, whether it be Ferguson or elsewhere, a group of people who think that violence and looting are acceptable responses to real or perceived injustices. We need to figure out if listening to grievances and addressing the injustices will help reduce the violent responses.

We also need to know why it is, as American Progress points out, that, “1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.” Or why it is that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime,” and “African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.”

And on and on. There is much to know and understand. Including why it is that a lot of Americans think angry blacks protesting the killing of a teenager in Missouri are thugs and angry whites threatening federal officers on a ranch in Nevada are patriots.

You have probably heard of one of Ferguson’s most famous citizens, Grammy Award winner Michael McDonald, who was born and raised there. McDonald sang a lot of hits for The Doobie Brothers, and, ironically, the first hit he had with that band was one he wrote, Takin’ It To The Streets:

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living Hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon, the time will tell

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets

Take this message to my brother
You will find him everywhere
Wherever people live together
Tied in poverty’s despair

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets

[Photos: top, from a posting on Facebook; riot photos, from; Doobies, Warner Brothers]

Conservative Pundits: Our G-dropping President Is Too Callow For The Job

More than a week ago, President Obama was here in Missouri, in Kansas City. He gave a great speech to a packed house at the old Uptown Theater. The ending, where the President said he did not “believe in a cynical America” but “in an optimistic America that is making progress,” was typical Obama. After all the difficult years in office, after all the foreign and domestic crises, after ten thousand shivs of disrespect from resentful Republicans have been buried in his back, he still bleeds hope. He still resists the temptation of cynicism. He still believes in the country’s future.

But it was a lighter moment during the speech in KC that received most of the attention:

So some of the things we’re doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit.  (Applause.)  Just come on.  Come on and help out a little bit.  Stop bein’ mad all the time.  (Applause.)  Stop just hatin’ all the time.  Come on.  (Applause.)  Let’s get some work done together.  (Applause.)   

They did pass this workforce training act, and it was bipartisan.  There were Republicans and Democrats, and everybody was all pleased.  They came, we had a bill signing, and they were all in their suits.  I said, doesn’t this feel good?  (Laughter.)  We’re doing something.  It’s like, useful.  Nobody is shouting at each other.  (Laughter.)  It was really nice.  I said, let’s do this again.  Let’s do it more often.  (Applause.) 

I know they’re not that happy that I’m President, but that’s okay.  (Laughter.)  Come on.  I’ve only got a couple of years left.  Come on, let’s get some work done.  Then you can be mad at the next President. 

He then makes fun of Republicans for deciding to sue him “for doing my job.” Clearly, he was having a good time, even though he used the playful bit to make a more serious point:

I want Congress to do its job and make life a little better for the Americans who sent them there in the first place. 

That Kansas City speech has now caused two different conservative pundits to reach into their bag of stupid and pull out a column. First it was Peggy Noonan, who used to write eloquent speeches for Ronald Reagan. These days her eloquence has either been murdered or died of natural causes. In its place we have the following racially-infected pap she wrote about President Obama making our “divisions deeper” by doing what he did in Kansas City:

He shouldn’t be out there dropping his g’s, slouching around a podium, complaining about his ill treatment, describing his opponents with disdain: “Stop just hatin’ all the time.”

Now, you can search that Kansas City speech from now until Osama bin Laden comes back from his midnight swim and you won’t find the slightest bit of “disdain” for his opponents. What you will find is a speech full of justifiable criticism of Republicans in Congress, which most on the right, reflecting their own feelings for Obama, necessarily interpret as disdain. All of the disdain is and always has been on the other side, as any honest observer of the Obama presidency can tell you.

Conservatives don’t like this man. They never have. They never will. They have utterly—utterly—despised him from the beginning. He can’t even have a little fun with them without right-wing pundits impregnating it with some kind of negative historical significance. Talk about your cynicism. Obama “dropping his g’s” and “slouching around” means, apparently, that we have an illiterate street thug in the White’s House purposely pissing off the real owners.

Then comes Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and an opinion columnist for Politico. His most recent column was titled, “The Callow President.” Before we go on, I will supply you with a handy definition of “callow” from Merriam-Webster:

—used to describe a young person who does not have much experience and does not know how to behave the way adults behave

From that I think you can see where little Richie is going: back to that Kansas City speech. Lowry begins his column this way:

“Stop just hatin’ all the time.” If you haven’t been following the news, you might not know whether this bon mot was uttered by a character on the ABC Family show “Pretty Little Liars” or by the president of the United States.

Of course, it was the leader of the free world at a Kansas City rally last week, imploring congressional Republicans to start cooperating with him. The line struck a characteristically — and tellingly — juvenile and plaintive note.

Lowry next tells us how “certainly true” it is that Obama is a lefty who won’t admit to it, then he writes something that he no doubt thought was a brilliant insight into the mind of our first black president:

the deepest truth about Obama is that there is no depth. He’s smart without being wise. He’s glib without being eloquent. He’s a celebrity without being interesting. He’s callow.

In one column, Lowry disavows all that conservatives have told us about Obama for five or six years: that he is cleverly crafting a plot to undermine and then destroy the country as we know it; that he wants to transform America into Amerika or into some kind of socialist paradise. Now we find out that he isn’t capable of such a thing, that there is no depth to him. He is simply a boy in a man’s job. “The notion that Obama might be a grand historical figure was always an illusion,” says the same guy who, after Sarah Palin’s lackluster debate with Joe Biden in 2008, gushed like a masturbation-ready teenager:

I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. 

Whether he was mesmerized by the sparkling smile on the face of a quasi-vacuous Sarah Palin, whether he was hit in the head and knocked unconscious by little ricocheting starbursts, it is clear that the writer of that disturbing prose, one Rich Lowry, should never, never, never, never, never pretend he knows anything about grand historical figures, even if he, and Peggy Noonan, know a great deal about illusions.

[photos: White House]

Real Grounds For Impeachment

When asked a question yesterday about the “untested and unapproved drug” that was given to those two unfortunate American missionaries who were infected with Ebola, President Obama offered up what is certainly, to the goodly and godly number of science-haters in the Tea Party-controlled House, real grounds for his impeachment. He answered:

I think we’ve got to let the science guide us.

How dare he say something so ridiculous, so secular, so anti-God. Let the science guide us? Please. Why would we do that when we have Donald Trump, former front-running Republican presidential candidate, to lead the way? Last week Trump tweeted—with the confidence he always possesses, especially when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—the following:

The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!

Take that, you Jesus-loving do-gooders!

Despite Trump’s insistence that Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol stay in West Africa, they didn’t. They’re here, as everyone now knows. And the experimental drug they were given seems to be working, although no one can be sure that their improving health is due to the drug or due to something else, like, say, prayer. Dr. Brantly’s wife released a statement on July 31st that included the following:

Thank you to our good friends and thousands more who have been in constant prayer and fasting for Kent’s deliverance from this disease.

Franklin Graham, who runs Samaritan’s Purse, the missionary group for whom Dr. Brantly was working, said this:

Please keep praying and thank God for all He is doing.

So, was it that science-birthed, government-funded experimental drug that improved the situation, or was it prayer and fasting? Here is an excerpt from a CNN article:

Within an hour of receiving the medication, Brantly’s condition dramatically improved. He began breathing easier; the rash over his trunk faded away. One of his doctors described the events as “miraculous.”

By the next morning, Brantly was able to take a shower on his own before getting on a specially designed Gulfstream air ambulance jet to be evacuated to the United States.

Writebol also received a vial of the medication. Her response was not as remarkable, according to sources familiar with the treatment. However, doctors on Sunday administered Writebol a second dose of the medication, which resulted in significant improvement.

She was stable enough to be evacuated back to the United States.

By that account, it appears it was science that came to the rescue in these cases. Unless, of course, God decided to act at the same time the drug was administered. No one, not even the greatest atheist-scientist in the world, can actually rule out that possibility. It could very well be the case that God, for whatever divine reason, purposely waited to do something for his two servants until that experimental drug could be delivered to them. It’s possible.

But it ain’t likely.

In fact, it is a good bet, an overwhelmingly good bet, that if the government hadn’t forked over some cash to fund scientific research into Ebola treatments (the private sector finding no profit in it and, thus, no real interest), then Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol would likely be dead. And they would likely be dead even if all 7 billion of us fasted and beseeched God, Allah, or Donald Trump to do something about it. The little “t” truth is, as far as enhancing our personal and collective well-being goes, science is really all we have. We can profess our faith in God and beat his door down in prayer, but when it comes down to it, when we are in need, like those two missionaries were in need, our faith in science is what matters most. And, as President Obama said, it should be our guide, even if saying so might get him impeached.

And speaking of impeachment, maybe it is time to impeach (read: “call to account”) God himself.

I want to share with you an article written by Greta Christina for AlterNet (also published on Her piece (“Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution”) is not an attack on “extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting” believers. Anyone with an eighth-grade education and a slightly open mind can dope-slap those folks. Instead, Christina addresses “progressive and moderate religious believers” who say, “Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

She presents four big reasons why that position is “untenable,” why it “is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence.” I will leave it to you to read her entire argument, which functions as articles of impeachment against the Almighty, but I did want to offer you here an excerpt from the piece, a part of it that comes from what science, our only real way of knowing things, has discovered. She is arguing that there is “a whole lot of evidence against” the idea that God is the designer of the life we know and then off she goes with a list of design flaws:

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pegnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and as many as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

That’s a fair question. And it is also a fair question to ask why God—to whom millions earnestly prayed in hopes that he would deliver Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol from the ravages of Ebola—engineered, or allowed to come into existence, such a nasty and deadly virus in the first place.

Blind Eye

“It’s high time folks started calling out the Democrats for their racial appeals.”

—Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, of, uh, Alabama

For years now I have written about white angst, about how, especially in the age of Obama, white folks have gone politically berserk over the prospect of the tanning of American demographics. That angst, I have argued, helps explain the energy of the various Tea Party insurgencies, animated by, as I like to put it, fear of the Scary Negro in the White’s House.

Finally, some whiter-than-the-wind-driven-snow Tea Party Republican in Congress, Rep. Mo Brooks—who came to the House in that infamous and game-changing 2010 election—has just come right out and said it: Democrats are waging a “war on whites.” And, of course, this war is being led by un-snowy Barack Obama, winner of two national elections in which, the pale Alabama congressman claims, the winner engaged in a strategy of dividing the American electorate by “race” and “sex” and “greed” and “envy” and “class warfare” and “all those kinds of things.”

Republicans, obviously, have had nothing to do with dividing the country by race (ignore them claiming that the impeachable Barack Obama is an illegitimate president who may or may not have been born on the Dark—having nothing to do with his complexion—Continent, and ignore them legislating that pigmented kids from Central America need to exit this Jesus-blessed land pronto) or sex (ignore them demanding that the government probe vaginas before women earn their constitutionally-protected reproductive rights) or greed (ignore them running offense for Wall Street quintillionaires) or envy (ignore them arguing that Democratic voters covet the wealthy’s dough) or class warfare (ignore them insisting that if you’re not rich, you didn’t work hard enough). Yep. If you look through your blind eye, you can see that Republicans had nothing to do with dividing Americans.

Speaking of blind eyes, The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith points out a part of Mo Brooks’ commentary that many have overlooked. About the immigration issue, Brooks, who told Chris Hayes last Friday that he wants all of the millions of undocumented immigrants deported, said on Monday:

It doesn’t make any difference if you’re a white American, a black American, a Hispanic American, an Asian-American or if you’re a woman or a man. Every single demographic group is hurt by falling wages and lost jobs. Democrats, they have to demagogue on this and try and turn it into a racial issue, which is an emotional issue, rather than a thoughtful issue. If it becomes a thoughtful issue, then we win and we win big. And they lose and they lose big.

Smith writes:

It’s the type of language used to dismiss the real-world concerns of those of us who live on the oppressed side of racism in America. Our issues aren’t considered serious intellectual questions but emotional reactions that are to be dealt with personally. But any discussion of jobs and wages that doesn’t consider race (or gender) is intellectually dishonest. To pretend there are not groups of people who are disproportionately disadvantaged under our current economic model and that our ongoing legacy of racism and white supremacy are not contributing factors means you are not actually looking for solutions. You’re turning the same blind eye that has allowed the suffering in the first place.

Idiomatically, the phrase “turn a blind eye” means to deliberately ignore something or pretend not to see it. This is what Republicans are trying to ignore or pretend they don’t see:

And the blind eye doesn’t see the following numbers, including from Mo Brooks’ Alabama and my own state of Missouri:


Yes, as you can see with your good eye, Democrats are waging quite a war on whites.



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