Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mental Health, Guns, Trump

Mental illness is in the news these days, and I am going to jump in with both feet.

Here's something: it is kind of a cliche to argue that mentally ill people should be restricted from buying guns.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Mentally ill people with guns are bound to be more dangerous than rational Americans like you and me with guns. We only shoot people who deserve it, but crazy people will shoot just about anybody.

The proposal raises two questions to my mind. The easy one first.

The criteria for "mental illness" are vague and differ from state to state. What about people who are troubled and go to a counselor or shrink to discuss their problems? The therapist may be expected to put down a diagnosis so they can bill the insurance company, or maybe they really do need some help or some meds. And maybe they get labeled bipolar or borderline or something, ADHD, depressed -- that would be a lot of people. Maybe they need a week or two of recovery in a mental hospital. Man, that would not be fair, taking a worried man's guns from him like that. I would hate to be the politician who says where they will draw the line.

So that is the first thing that would make it hard to implement a law to keep mentally ill folk from buying guns. It could sweep up a lot of people who are all right. The vast majority of people diagnosed with mental illness are not a threat to anyone.

The second problem though is actually the deal-breaker. Imagine a guy who has never gone to a mental health specialist, never been evaluated, he's cheerful and confident and has friends, he has a job and a family and a normal life. He is sure that Obama is using high-altitude jet contrails to control our minds with chemicals. He knows exactly how the gay agenda is working through the public schools to convert our children to homosexuality. Hillary is a criminal. Planned Parenthood is getting rich off abortions. Obama founded ISIS. The government has a plan to make all of us live under Sharia law. Liberal scientists are helping the communist Chinese and undermining America by lying about the weather... you see where I'm going here?

The question has to do with defining the concept of mental illness. A person walking around in a blinding fog of delusion, bordering on hallucination, might be a raving maniac, and they might just be a Republican -- in many cases these are one and the same thing. One thing you don't want to do is to prove to a crazy person that they're right. Easy buddy, it's just Obama coming for your guns.

You might have seen some of the people around the Internet asking if Donald Trump might be mentally unhealthy. I don't think we normally discriminate against mentally ill people running for office -- they are not required to pass a test or anything -- but it is a good question for concerned voters, and there are some analyses online that seem to suggest he qualifies as clinically diagnosable.

Donald Trump as the candidate for President of the United States represents a large number of people who, among other things, really strongly believe in their right to have lots of guns, any type they want. He may be diagnosably nuts, according to the Internet, and from what I've read about what happens at his rallies, I'd say a lot of the people who'd vote for him might be, too.

So oddly, even while some are saying that the world would be safer if we limited mentally ill people's access to weapons, in a very real sense the lunatics are making their move to take over the asylum.

If you are going to suggest a law that restricts access to guns on the basis of mental health, then you must be prepared for massive pushback, because the idea is political. One side of the political spectrum considers a person who relies on scientific facts, logical inference, and empathy to be dangerous and even treasonous. They feel that educated and experienced "elites" need to be locked up, run out of town, mocked and beaten, even killed, and uneducated white people who think from the gut and hear God speaking to them personally should have military grade weapons behind every door of their house, in their car, and in a holster on their hip.

It looks like about forty percent of Americans are happy to get in step behind Trump. Even if it is not enough to win an election, that is a lot of people. There is nothing he can say that is so crazy that this core group of followers will back away from him. In fact, the crazier he is the more they like him.

ThinkProgress, bless their heart, takes another view of this, which I suppose is how liberals are supposed to think about it. Their view is that it's wrong to call Trump and his followers mentally ill, because it is not respectful of mentally ill people. They say:
The media has a responsibility to consider how to avoid stereotypes when covering mental illness, because research shows that mass media affects how we perceive people with mental illness. And unfortunately, mass media often gets it wrong or associates mental illnesses with negative stereotypes, research consistently shows.
This is an argument that reifies mental illness and presumes that it is always something that happens to you and has to be treated by a doctor, as if an individual has no participation in the construction of their own thinking. We understand there is a continuum ranging from the psychotic who is not able to take care of himself and has no choice in the matter, to the manipulative individual who takes advantage of people, lies repeatedly, abuses his loved ones, and does not accept responsibility for his or her own actions. Both might be classified by a therapist as mentally ill (and one of them is more dangerous than the other when it comes to owning a gun), but there is some point where society holds a person accountable. You don't say he "suffers from irresponsibility."

Think about the Heaven's Gate group, thirty-nine people who committed suicide in the belief that they would be transported to a space-ship that was flying behind the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997. It is not controversial to say that those people were mentally ill. A group of people had access to facts and chose to believe something bizarre, and a lot of people died. Do you think thirty-nine people all caught the same mental disease at the same time? You have to believe that tragedy could have been diverted by some good solid common sense. A group of people can convince themselves that the most outrageously incorrect statements are facts, and they can validate their conviction through emblematic acts, including suicide, homicide, war and genocide, and other forms of violence.

Someone with disordered thinking, who chooses delusion over objectively verifiable facts, who refuses to accept responsibility for their choices or to tell the truth, someone who reacts with violence and threats -- that person has something seriously wrong with them. We do not need to be so in awe of psychologists that we can't form an opinion ourselves. If it is a social judgment, so be it. The rest of us can see that something is wrong, and we have been very tolerant of disturbed cognition masquerading as a respectable belief system. Now we will have an uphill political struggle if we want to keep guns and government out of the hands of people who are certifiably, dangerously nuts.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mass Murder: Who Will Own This Story?

A guy with a foreign-sounding name goes into a gay bar and kills more than fifty people with an AR-15, after calling 911 to say he supports ISIS.

Kills more than fifty gay people with an AR-15.

Let's talk about who is going to own this story, because this touches a lot of nerves. Right now, Sunday afternoon while they're still counting the bodies, the news is literally calling this "potential terrorism." A guy kills fifty-plus innocent people with a machine gun. What is "potential" about that? What do you have to do to qualify as terrorism, if killing fifty-something random strangers isn't it?

Some people have been saying for a while that we need to control guns. Some say there is no practical reason why a normal citizen would need to have a gun like this, that can fire up to nine hundred rounds of deadly lead per minute. Some others talk about requiring some level of competency or certification, or a clean bill of mental health, before you can get a gun. It has been proposed that gun owners should have insurance, like car insurance, in case their gun does some damage. Someone from the other side is sure to say that this would have turned out better if the gay people in the bar were also carrying semi-automatic weapons.

Do you think the gun-control messengers are going to own this story? No, I don't think so, either.

Today gay people are grieving. This was an attack by a homophobe whose father says he was upset when he saw two men kissing. He deliberately targeted a gay bar during Pride Week, and killed as many people as he could. I heard a gay spokesman saying on the radio that gays have always been the targets of violence, and that politicians who enact anti-gay bills are as responsible for this massacre as anyone. The disk jockey cut off the interview at that point and went on to something else.

Do you think LGBT people are going to own this story? No, I don't either.

Experts on terrorism are already telling us how many terrorist attacks there have been and warning that it is getting worse. This guy does have a foreign-sounding name -- his parents came from Afghanistan -- and he apparently told 911 that he supports ISIS. On the other hand, family members say he was not religious and did not show any interest in political or ideological things. They are as surprised as anyone else by what he did.

Who is going to own this story? Clue -- here is CNN's current headline: 50 killed in Florida nightclub, shooter pledged ISIS allegiance.

No gun, no gay. ISIS allegiance.

This story is going to be stoked and maintained in the interest of continuing Americans' fear and hatred of Muslims. It will be used to justify electing crazy paranoid leaders and attacking distant foreign countries. It will be used to increase surveillance and decrease civil rights. It will generate trillions of dollars of profits for defense contractors and lead to American lives being lost in battle, wherever it is that "we" decide to retaliate.

There are a lot of lessons in this incident, a lot to be learned. Why in the world does anyone own a gun like that? Why in the world are we still arguing about whether it's all right to be gay? Why, when someone goes on a murderous homophobic rampage, do we focus on his religion and one unsubstantiated statement that rationalizes American bellicosity?

The media are going to make this a story about Islamic terrorism. That's the world we have made for ourselves.

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Boss Speaks to the NC Shower-Nuts

A Statement from Bruce Springsteen on North Carolina

As you, my fans, know I’m scheduled to play in Greensboro, North Carolina this Sunday. As we also know, North Carolina has just passed HB2, which the media are referring to as the “bathroom” law. HB2 — known officially as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use. Just as important, the law also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace. No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden. To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments. Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s Sunday April 10th show is canceled. Tickets will be refunded at point of purchase.

brucespringsteen.net

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Fickle Saccades of the Public

A running theme on this blog over the years is the extreme effect of the media on popular opinion, values, and behavior. Cameras gravitate toward the outlandish and emotional, maybe because that's what audiences want to see and maybe because that's what advertisers want to pay for. Or maybe the media define their role as alerting the population to the presence of bizarre beliefs and characters -- "Man bites dog" has got its own Wikipedia page.

Traditionally, the campaign cycle is built around fund-raising. The reason for that is so that the candidates can pay for advertising, so they can get their message to the public, so the public can wisely choose who to vote for. In recent years donations to candidates have become a news topic in themselves; the media publicize how much money the candidates have raised to pay the media to publicize them. The dollar amounts as a measure of support by the "donor class" are presumed to indicate the likelihood of a candidate winning the election, though this year's presidential cycle includes a self-proclaimed gazillionaire who doesn't need money from a bunch of losers and a guy who relies almost entirely on nickel-and-dime contributions from individuals, both very unusual situations.

The graph below, from the New York Times, tells you how the media's strategy is working out for us, the people. This is the image of this year's election, and the specter of the future. The history of our era will be about the role of the media in determining culture, and this will be the picture on the cover. You know the polling data, you know who has dropped out, look at which set of bars best correlates with political success.


It would be in the media's self-interest to feature politicians who are likely to pay them for advertising, wouldn't you think? But it doesn't seem to work that way. The media define their mission in terms of capturing attention in the short run, keeping your finger off the remote -- it's all clickbait, TL;DR, so they have "the numbers" to sell more advertising. It is more important to pander to the fickle saccades of the public than to consider the informational needs of their audiences, the actual importance of world events, or even the bird-in-the-hand advertising dollars of candidates who will pay big for attention.

Don't touch that button.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Turnabout: Grand Jury Indicts Video Hoaxers

This is pretty amazing news. A grand jury was looking into the allegations that Planned Parenthood does some nefarious thing like selling baby parts, based on the videos that were going around last year. And in the end, the jury indicted the people who made the videos.

The NYT:
HOUSTON — A county grand jury here that was investigating allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood has instead indicted two anti-abortion activists who made videos of the organization.

In a statement, the Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said Monday that the director of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, had been indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs.

Another center employee, Sandra Merritt, was indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record. 2 Abortion Foes Behind Planned Parenthood Videos Are Indicted
So these hoaxers thought they were going to bring down Planned Parenthood by posting a series of edited, faked videotapes. Conservative Congresspeople jumped on board, we even heard a Presidential candidate describing what she had seen -- well, she was lying, what she described wasn't even in the videos -- and various states as well as the federal government had hearings to find out just how diabolical these women's health clinics really are.

In all cases, Planned Parenthood was found not to have done anything wrong. Funding of Planned Parenthood remains a basic wedge issue for conservatives, driving their base into a lather. It's good for business but if you expect the government to enforce the law you will have to look somewhere else for your example.

Which seems weird, because as far as I know nearly every woman in America has gone to Planned Parenthood at some time in her life. It is one of the most good-guy organizations in the country, providing a service that is very much appreciated by millions and millions of people in this country, men and women. But you know, if women would stop having sex there would be no need for contraceptives or abortions, so Planned Parenthood is only enabling women to make this country a place that conservatives consider sinful.

Honestly, I don't see the logic. One third of American women have had an abortion. That includes lots of conservative women as well as whatever the stereotype is supposed to be, probably poor minority women of some type. This is a relatively new orthodoxy for the Christian Right, just a couple of decades ago they did not think it was a big deal -- it certainly does not come from the Bible, which defines life as beginning with the first breath. I'm not going to argue about it, but my sense is that this is a movement formed to keep women subservient. There is no scriptural tradition behind the anti-abortion movement, and in reality a woman, even a conservative, religious woman, who knows she needs an abortion is going to try to get one.

Farther down:
Mr. Daleiden has been praised as a hero by some religious opponents of abortion. On Thursday, Mr. Daleiden was a featured guest at an Evangelicals for Life conference and was interviewed by Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family.

Asked by Mr. Moore whether it was morally consistent to engage in lies and deception to obtain information, Mr. Daleiden said that undercover work is “fundamentally different from lying,” according to BaptistNews.com, because its underlying purpose “is actually to serve the truth.”
Oddly, "truth" is one of those terms, like "liberty," "morality," and "support the troops," that are picked up as slogans by conservatives and then used to mean just the opposite of what they mean to everybody else. Truth, to most of us, is some kind of statement that corresponds with reality. It may be a valid inference based on well-established facts or it may be a report of a phenomenon that the speaker has observed directly. In any case, "Planned Parenthood sells baby parts" is not true by ordinary standards. But that statement is consistent with a way of thinking, a belief system that some subscribe to, and this consistency allows them to attribute the quality of "truth" to it. It is like saying "Obama wants the terrorists to win," it does not correspond with any aspect of reality but it fits the preconceived schema and so is labeled truth and is repeated as such.

Not to go all elitist on you, but that isn't what truth is to a sane, rational person.

I have never heard of a grand jury turning around and indicting the accuser, but apparently their job was to untangle the facts and determine what was actually going on, and when you do that you find that these people with the videos were breaking the law on several levels, both felonies and misdemeanors.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Political Correctness

I can still remember the first time I heard the term "politically correct," on a bus in Chapel Hill in 1991. It sort of stood out as a term with a lot of suppositions behind it, and I wondered if this was a phrase that people used, or did it just pop out of a lady's mouth spontaneously.

Political correctness has emerged now, two decades later, as, apparently, America's greatest enemy. To hear some tell it, political correctness is preventing honest, clear-thinking citizens from telling the truth about things.

As an aside, the one thing you can get me to argue about on the Internet is whether anybody has really told you "you can't say Merry Christmas" any more. Nobody has told you that. (And Merry Christmas to George Leventhal for his Facebook post saying the same thing.)

Let me suggest a way to understand the concept.

Some things are morally good. Kindness and love are good. Forgiveness is good. Fairness, good. Telling the truth is good, and extra points when it's hard or goes against your own self-interest. Helping people is good, being cheerful and grateful for the beauty of the world are good. These things are "right."

Some things are morally repugnant. Killing or hurting innocent people is repugnant, whether in crime, terrorism, or war. Lying for your own gain is repugnant. Insulting people needlessly is morally repugnant. Cheating and greed. Keeping another person from obtaining something they need is morally repugnant. Vanity, egoism, unwillingness to take another person's perspective. These things are "wrong."

The ability to tell right from wrong is considered a fundamental criterion of mental ability, it is the question that determines whether a person is competent to stand trial, for instance. Granted, there is usually no straight shining line. All situations in the real world contain some ambiguity, where maybe you have to violate a principle in order to support another one. It's Christmastime, I will go out on a limb and say that peace on earth and goodwill to men are good things. War and conflict and mistrust, greed, violence get you a lump of coal.

So here is the thing with political correctness: some people do not approve when you say things that are morally repugnant.

There is a little bit of social pressure being applied, I understand, it is a little uncomfortable when people look at you as if you are a jerk. When you say something about a group of people, for instance, implying that all Muslims are terrorists or that Mexican immigrants are rapists, even if you can't see people's faces you know in your heart that they are thinking you are a jerk. You can sense that they are judging you, and that is one of the innate social mechanisms that keeps a society orderly and healthy. We strive to be evaluated positively and feel discomfort when we fail at that.

Normally, we call this feeling "conscience." Your conscience is your sense of whether what you are doing is morally good or repugnant. Political correctness is your conscience speaking.

Why is this "political?" Huh, good question. Politics is the art of getting people to vote for you, and people don't feel comfortable voting for a jerk. If you say you are going to enact policies that make life harder for poor people and easier for the rich, if you say ignorant prejudicial things about foreigners and women and gay people and declare war on random foreign countries, then at some point your unkindness, your unfairness, your moral repugnance might cost you votes. And if you don't win the election you have nothing, as a politician. So in that sense morally repugnant statements are politically incorrect.

The word "correct" in the term is ironic or sarcastic, it is there to deflate the repulsiveness of ugly statements by implying that some group is claiming the authority to define how "we" should think. Thus a statement may be correct in the sense that all Muslims really are terrorists, but politically incorrect because some people have decided you should not say that, maybe because it would hurt a Muslim person's feelings. The implication is that the people who have decided this, for instance people who believe most Muslims are honest people who want to take care of their families and live in peace, are laboring under some sort of delusion, and are manipulating "our" beliefs to serve their own misinformed agenda.

It gets a little more complicated than that: morally repugnant people feel vindicated by numbers. Hate thrives once it infects a majority. It is as if, for some people, right and wrong are a popularity contest, and the fact that a lot of people believe something makes it good. Hatred and other forms of moral repugnance find justification in the agreement of others, and this can be an accelerating process, as a greater majority is able to influence even more people.

We now have leaders of a major political party who assert that their morally repugnant statements are simply truths that some weak people don't want to face. Their rallies are getting raucous, and common sense is getting drowned out. The morally repugnant mob is arming itself, organizing political campaigns, their opinions are being adopted by the press, what was "frankly unthinkable a year ago" is now mainstream.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Looking Back at a Victory


David Fishback posted a piece on his blog about the successful campaign to improve the sex education program in Montgomery County, Maryland -- the campaign lasted from 2002, through many ups and downs and hard battles, until the final decision was signed off in 2014. He included in his post the full text of the handbook "Montgomery County,Maryland: A Case Study and Handbook for Action," written for PFLAG -- I will not include the handbook here, but will copy David's comments. You can read the book at David's blog or in PDF form at the PFLAG web site. In it, David reviews the many incidents that occurred here in our quiet, progressive little county, and outlines the lessons that can be learned. I am reproducing his blog post here verbatim.

Also, let's take this opportunity to congratulate David for winning a 2015 Heschel Vision Award, given by Jews United for Justice, for his tireless advocacy of LGBT rights, education, and justice.

Successful Public School LGBT Curriculum Advocacy


David S. Fishback




Last month, I presented a workshop at the PFLAG National Convention in Nashville entitled Case Study in Successful Public School Curriculum and Guidance Office Advocacy.

What is taught – and not taught – in our schools about sexual orientation and gender identity is extremely important. Too often, there is a deafening silence about such matters. Such silence too often allows misconceptions and unwarranted prejudices to fester and poison the atmosphere for our LGBT children.

Efforts to change what is taught in our schools can be daunting. Such efforts demand hard work, wisdom, empathy, and determination. But they can succeed.

On June 17, 2014, the Board of Education of Montgomery County, Maryland, unanimously gave final approval to a revised health education framework for secondary schools. This revised framework is based specifically on the longstanding findings of every mainstream American medical and mental health professional association regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, including the propositions that being LGBTQ is not an illness and that so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies are dangerous and ineffective. This action brought to a successful conclusion a dozen years of work by members of the Metro DC Chapter of PFLAG and others to bring the wisdom of the mainstream health care professionals into the middle and high school health education curriculum.

The Montgomery County experience may be useful for others around the country who seek to make schools not only safe for our LGBT children and children of LGBT families, but to help create a climate in which all of our children understand and appreciate each other.

Based on that experience, as PFLAG Metro DC Advocacy Chair, I created this publication, Curriculum Victory in Montgomery County, Maryland: A CaseStudy and Handbook for Action. It may be found at the PFLAG website at http://community.pflag.org/document.doc?id=1027 and is pasted below (but without the valuable hyperlinks in the website version). The campaign for curriculum revisions, and the lessons learned in the course of that campaign, was the basis for the October 18, 2015 workshop. The workshop was attended by PFLAGers from all around the United States.

I recommend that readers be aware, on the one hand, of the fact that this process took place in a relatively progressive community (which made it easier than it might be elsewhere); but also, on the other hand, of the fact that the culture in America has moved significantly in the last dozen years (which means that the dozen years it took from the start of the process in 2002 to the 2014 culmination could well be far longer than future efforts in other places).

In some communities, there may be widespread opposition to change; in others, opposition may be limited to a very small group of people. In some communities, political leaders may be very supportive; in others, they may be antagonistic or reluctant to “make waves.” In some communities, there may be a pent up desire to make the needed changes; in others, there may be a great fear of even talking about sexual orientation or gender identity. Within school bureaucracies, much may turn on the life experiences and hopes and fears of particular administrators. Every community is different, but there are common threads, the main one being that, as PFLAGers, we advocate for our children's lives, and we do so with the support of the mainstream American medical and mental health community.

See, also, http://focusonthefield.blogspot.com/2015/09/curriculum-victory-in-montgomery-county.html



Sunday, August 23, 2015

"Less Government" Simpletons


This is a photograph in today's Washington Post, page A-3. It shows a man, Brad Craig, giving a grateful handshake to a firefighter who has just saved his home from a wildfire in the state of Washington.

The story mentions that "The country marked its 10th day at Preparedness Level 5, the highest set by federal authorities, indicating that there are active fires in many areas and that have yet to be contained. The federal government on Saturday reported 11 new fires in the Northwestern states and California, taking the number of active fires in the country to 70." Earlier this week three firefighters died in the wildfires, while the US Bureau of Land Management coordinates the efforts of 29,000 firefighters fighting many fires from California to Alaska.

The smiling Brad Craig is wearing a t-shirt that says, "Less government, MORE FREEDOM."

Listen, the government is a gigantic bureaucratic slug that seems to barely keep up as the world rushes forward. We are here in Washington DC, we know about the government, we see it every day. A bunch of normal people get up in the morning and go to some office to do some tedious, thankless work that will probably be undone as soon as the next election's votes are counted. There is no glamour and very few attaboys, the pay isn't great but the benefits are.

The government is our society's way of coordinating a lot of services. Mostly these are services that would not be performed very well by private corporations, and many of them are things that we all rely on at one time or another, often without giving it a thought. The government doesn't belong to anybody, sometimes it seems like one group or another gets too much influence but generally the government reflects the choices of the electorate and functions to serve all of us. If you don't like the way it works, you are always welcome to participate in making it better. If you have a better idea than voting for leaders then let us know. In the meantime, that's how we do it. Sometimes your candidate wins, sometimes not.

We benefit from government just like this idiot, smiling at these firefighters while he's wearing a shirt suggesting that there should be fewer of them. Or maybe he just thinks they should be paid less, or that they do not really need all that safety equipment and airplanes and stuff.

We pay for these necessary services through taxes. It's a good deal. You contribute a certain amount of your wealth to the common good, and you can drive on roads and bridges that don't cave in on you, you can buy food that is not contaminated, you can fly in an airplane that won't crash into another airplane, because somebody's coordinating the traffic. We assume without question that we can breathe the air, drink the water, eat the food that is served us, congregate safely in public, we have parks and museums and transportation to get us there. If your neighborhood is on fire or there is an earthquake or a flood, somebody will come to save you if they can. We have the largest defense system in the world, by far. You and I might not agree with everything that is done, our priorities might differ, but there is a need for a service organization that is not hustling for profits, to coordinate efforts to carry out the needs of the people. And by and large our government gets the job done.

There is a continuum that shades from ignorance and irony into hypocrisy by degrees. And it strikes me that Brad Craig, whose house was saved by the government he despises, even while he smiles and shakes the hands of the firefighters that the government sent, has veered well beyond ignorance and irony. Unfortunately this kind of simpleton is all too common these days.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Equal Dignity in the Eyes of the Law

From Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion
The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.

Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

White Terrorists

There is a cynical but accurate American saying: "The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press for those who have one." While the Internet may have theoretically democratized the spread of information, a small number of media sources still have an overwhelming influence on public opinion. Those commercial media stay alive by satisfying their advertisers, who are interested in selling a product. Truth in broadcasting is one of many techniques for attracting and keeping an audience for the ads.

In that light, it is pleasing to see the New York Times Magazine's recent editorial about white terrorists.

The piece is too long to quote in its entirety, but I recommend the whole thing. The author, Brit Bennett, starts with some personal musings on the Klan, the Confederacy, and the history of white terrorism, that is, terrorism perpetrated by white people. To read the papers, you'd think this was an oxymoron, or an impossibility, white terrorism. In the news, white terrorists are "troubled," "mentally ill," "alienated," they are referred to as "gunmen" or "shooters." Because they are one of "us," we differentiate their motives, their past, their thoughts and emotions; but when terrorists are foreign or dark-skinned they are easily depicted without empathy, their motives are characterized as evil or hateful, and we are done with it. White people have freedom of the press, because they have one.

Ms. Bennett says it better than me -- I am jumping into the middle of her magnificent essay.
This is the privilege of whiteness: While a terrorist may be white, his violence is never based in his whiteness. A white terrorist has unique, complicated motives that we will never comprehend. He can be a disturbed loner or a monster. He is either mentally ill or pure evil. The white terrorist exists solely as a dyad of extremes: Either he is humanized to the point of sympathy or he is so monstrous that he almost becomes mythological. Either way, he is never indicative of anything larger about whiteness, nor is he ever a garden-variety racist. He represents nothing but himself. A white terrorist is anything that frames him as an anomaly and separates him from the long, storied history of white terrorism.

I’m always struck by this hesitance not only to name white terrorism but to name whiteness itself during acts of racial violence. In a recent New York Times article on the history of lynching, the victims are repeatedly described as black. Not once, however, are the violent actors described as they are: white. Instead, the white lynch mobs are simply described as “a group of men” or “a mob.” In an article about racial violence, this erasure of whiteness is absurd. The race of the victims is relevant, but somehow the race of the killers is incidental. If we’re willing to admit that race is a reason blacks were lynched, why are we unwilling to admit that race is a reason whites lynched them? In his remarks following the Charleston shooting, President Obama mentioned whiteness only once — in a quotation from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. intended to encourage interracial harmony. Obama vaguely acknowledged that “this is not the first time that black churches have been attacked” but declined to state who has attacked these churches. His passive language echoes this strange vagueness, a reluctance to even name white terrorism, as if black churches have been attacked by some disembodied force, not real people motivated by a racist ideology whose roots stretch past the founding of this country. White Terrorism Is as Old as America
The recent killings in South Carolina were so reprehensible that no one can ignore them. A white man murdered innocent black people while they were praying, out of hatred for their race. Yet somehow white society is blameless.

Bennett's analysis of the tacit bias in reporting of terrorist acts perpetrated by whites is articulate and she makes an excellent point. When a black or Muslim person commits an act of violence, the media report their race as an explanatory fact and the criminal's group absorbs some of the blame for his act. But when a white person does it, we focus on the race of the victims as an explanatory fact.