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The Speech I’m Not Policing

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Department Of The Optimism I Wish I Held

“His recent book Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis, could hardly be more timely.
And it has a fascinating twist, seeking links between how individuals deal with crises – with insights from his clinical psychologist wife – to how nations succeed or fail when confronted with a crisis.”

That blurb is from the description of “How It Can All Fall Apart,” a recent episode of Alan Alda’s Clear and Vivid podcast.  Professor, historian, and Pulitzer Prize-winning popular science author Jared Diamond (“Guns, Germs and Steel“) was Alda’s guest.

As with many podcast guests, Diamond had a new work to promote (the above-mentioned book, which just may join the ever-expanding pile of *read-this-and-you’ll-be-a-better-or-at-least-smarter-person* tomes by my nightstand).  What I found most captivating about the interviews Diamond has been giving is the cautious optimism he expresses about what positive awakening may arise from the COVID-19 crisis:

…if there is a solution found, a majority of people may finally realize that *global problems require global solutions,* which could result in the setting aside of political differences and working together to find solutions to problems from which  no artificial barriers of borders or international politics can shield us  (read: Global Warming/Climate Change.

I wish I could believe Diamond is right.  The USA should, of course, be a leader in this and other issues.  Instead, it may take our country many months – how long until the election? – to be able to fully get on board in this matter.  Chief Little Bunker-Bitch [1] I mean, that festering gallstone of a human being – okay; remember, we’re going for the spirit of cooperation – our pathetic excuse of a leader…  I’m sorry, world, but the truth is….

 

 

Ok.  How shall moiself  put this? If you know even a smidgen of #45’s personal, business and political history, you also know that the one comment any teacher would *not* write in the report card of his life is, “Plays well with others.”

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Department Of Since You’ve Asked

Inquiring Minds:
“What is your diagnosis of the greatest problem facing humanity?”

 

 

All-righty then, to rephrase:

“What would you say is humanity’s biggest mistake, or weakness?”

Moiself:
Humanity’s *blunder grande* is our misplaced faith in certitude, vis-à-vis both our factual knowledge and our sense of ethics.   [2] 

Giving the probabilistic nature of our world (including our very existence as a species), strength and resilience lies in people who are able to see and act on the grays in life, instead of labeling everything either black or white.

Fly your gray banner; keep open to the possibility that you may be wrong, but don’t let this entangle you in the morass of uncertainty that some use as an excuse for inaction (“Since we can’t know for certain then we can’t know at all”).

Wow. That’s a lot of profundity for one keyboard to spew.  I need a beer.

 

“Don’t waste it on her; she doesn’t even drink beer.”

 

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 Department Of Terms Worth Picking A Few Nits Over

I’ve written in the past (and given our current “cancel culture”   [3]  and the unfortunate, seemingly liberal-led trend of looking under every verbal rock for aggrievements, I will likely have cause to write again) of my disdain for people who criticize/judge/assume they know the opinions of other people who don’t use the “proper” or “accepted” terms in discussing social issues.

Moiself  deplores the censoring of ideas and the alienating of allies which results from when you focus on *how* someone says something, versus paying attention to *what* they are trying to say (i.e., confusing style with substance).  But, language is tricky. None of us can accurately claim to be an expert of verbal and written communications, which are the conduit between our forming ideas and our expression of them.

 

 

The choices we make matter, as do our words, which both express and influence our ideas and worldviews. I try to view each case separately recently, I’ve learned of a couple of centuries-old terms which moiself  thinks are very much worth changing, for the important reason of the terms’ subtexts.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for creating the 1619 project at The New York Times, which tracks the legacy of slavery.  In Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with journalist Hannah-Jones, (which I referred to in a recent blog post as influencing my opinions about reparations for slavery), TG asked Hannah-Jones about why she uses the term “enslaved person” and not “slave” in her writing (my emphases):

“It was very important in the 1619 Project and whenever I write about this, to not use language that further dehumanizes people who every system and structure was designed to dehumanize.

I think when we hear the word “slave,” we think of slavery as being the essence of that person. But if you call someone an enslaved person, then it speaks to a condition. These people were not slaves. Someone chose to force them into the condition of slavery, and that language to me is very important, as is using the word “enslaver” over slave owner because these people didn’t have a moral right to own another human being, even though the society allowed it, and I think it needs to be active, that this was an active system of people choosing to treat other human beings as property.”

 

I think this change in terminology is adoption-worthy and will henceforth try to consistently to use those words.  If someone comments on it (“I’ve noticed you say, ‘enslaved person’ and ‘enslaver’ instead of ‘slave,’ and ‘slaveowner’ “),  then there is an opportunity for dialogue.

However, I will not turn into a member of the Speech Police, and hope that other Well-Meaning People ® act accordingly.  Joe Dude who seems open to the idea of reparations for enslaved persons is a potential ally; don’t turn him off if he starts to say, “I realize there is validity in reparations for descendants of slaves…” by jumping in with a correction, no matter how well-meaning: “Whoa, Joe – the proper term is, ‘enslaved persons….’ “

In these Twitter Mob Times ® it so easy to criticize *how* someone is expressing an idea that we often neglect to listen to *what* they are trying to say.  When it comes to style vs. substance, go for substance. Every Time.

 

“There’s the guy who said ‘disabled’ instead of “person with a disability’ – let’s get ’em!”

 

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Department Of The Things We Leave Behind For Others

One day in 1961, the famous physicist Richard Feynman stepped in front of a Caltech lecture hall and posed this question to a group of undergraduate students:
“If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

….we posed Feynman’s cataclysm question to some of our favorite writers, artists, historians, futurists – all kinds of great thinkers. We asked them, “What’s the one sentence you would want to pass on to the next generation that would contain the most information in the fewest words?”

(Radiolab, The Cataclysm Sentence,)

 

One of my favorite Feynman quotes. If you want to know what his “cataclysm sentence” was, you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

 

I thought about that question for several weeks after hearing that podcast.The answers given, by Feynman and others, could be rephrased as, What would you leave behind for others?  My cataclysm sentence, which needs some serious editing, would have something to do with embracing embrace curiosity; try to understand reality and do not be satisfied with stories that purport to assuage your fears about what you don’t know….

One day during one of my early morning walks, I put those What would you leave behind for others? thoughts on hold, and have yet to return to them.  I was crossing a residential street, mulling those profound thoughts, and I noticed two brown plops, and a brownish line of…ick…stretching from the center of the street to the gutter, and then up on the sidewalk, for a total plop-streak of about 20 feet.   Moiself  realized it was a series of feces droppings, from a doggie which was evidently on the move.

 

 

Not wanting to fall into the trap I just wrote about – making up stories for that what you don’t understand – moiself  nevertheless used my powers of deductive reasoning to come up with the most likely scenario: dogs, when they’re on their own or are being led by a human on a walk or run, stop to squat when they defecate.  Why was this dog in such a hurry that it could not do so?  It was either being chased by something…or being pulled by someone.  I realized that the speedy early morning jogger I’d passed earlier, on that very street, her leashed dog trotting a good ten feet behind her, was the likely source.

And it made me wonder about how many of the countless dog-accompanied joggers and cyclists I’ve seen consider themselves to be responsible owners and the kind of people who always pick up after their dog… Except, when you’re moving at those speeds, essentially forcing your dog to run with you, it has to “go” on the run,  [4]  and since it is trailing behind you, you don’t see what is happening….  And you run or cycle merrily along, blissfully ignorant of the shit trail you have left behind, for others to deal with.

 

Book ’em, Danno.

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Whaddya think, is there some kind of life metaphor in all that crap?

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Pun For The Day

You shouldn’t fart in an Apple store; they don’t have Windows.

 

 

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Department Of Just One More And Then I’ll Stop, I Promise

My dad burst into my room and said, “Wanna hear a joke?”
He proceeded to fart for a whole minute, then said,
“Sorry; that was a long-winded story.”

Okay; make that, just two more.

After letting out a trumpet of a fart the toddler stopped, gasped,
looked up at her mother and said, “Did you just hear that elephant?”
She’s going to be a great dad someday.

 

 

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May you be mindful of what you leave behind;
May you recognize and celebrate life’s gray areas;  [5]

May you have the optimism to believe that a world which produces fart-dad joke combos
can come up with a cure for a pandemic ;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

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[1] For those of us who love our country and thus cannot bear to use the given name of the man who shits all over it, this is one of the milder monikers we use.

[2] Aka, “right” and “wrong.”

[3]  As per dictionary.com, cancel culture refers to “…the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”

[4] I have seen  more than one dog, running alongside its jogging/cycling owner, stop to squat and then get jerked/dragged along by its leash, while its owner kept on going.

[5] Except for those involving dreadful novels with “shades of” in the title.

The Mind I’m Not Changing

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Department Of This Is So Wrong

Dateline: last week; a cloudy day; before 7 am. As with many of my morning walks I am headed in the direction of a light rail stop. As I circle the automobile roundabout I realize that moiself usually follows the sidewalk and/or another path skirting Veterans Gateway, a relatively recently constructed memorial garden “to commemorate veterans of all wars who honorably served our country.”   [1]

Moiself  turns around and decides to go through the Veterans Gateway. I see a small circular garden surrounding a brick patio, with a path which leads to seven larger paving stones set within the brick walkway.  Each stone is engraved with the name of an “American” war, and the dates of the war’s beginning and end:

* American Revolution
April 19, 1775 To September 3, 1783

* Civil War
April 12, 1861 To May 9, 1865

* World War I
April 6, 1917 To November 11, 1918

Excusez moi, but what’s with wars commencing in April?  The only thing I can think of is that our olden day wars took place before everyone had central heating; perhaps it was just too damn cold to think about bashing your enemies’ and/or neighbors’ heads until the spring thaw began….

 

 

Once again, I digress.  There are four more war-stones ahead of me.

* World War II
December 7, 1941 to September 2, 1945

* Korean War
June 27, 1950 to July 27, 1953

* Vietnam War
August 5, 1964 to May 15, 1975

And then there is the last, WTF?!?!? stone, which wrenches my heart as I note the incomplete inscription:

 

 

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Department Of Can We At Least Talk About It?

In the past few weeks I’ve seen several shares of this optimistic, motivational-type poster on Facebook. Confession: I both embraced (“Yes! We’ll change the discourse…!”) and snickered at it (“Like that will happen – wingnuts deny evidence or ignore it when it doesn’t fit into their narrative….” ) when I first saw it.

Learning new facts; reconsidering our positions; changing our minds.  How often do I and other Well-Meaning People ® think that this applies to others, and not to ourselves?

 

 

Mere days after first seeing the Important Phrases poster, I listened to a Fresh Air podcast of Terry Gross interviewing Nikole Hannah-Jones.  Journalist Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for creating the 1619 project. The topic of the interview was, A Call For Reparations: How America Might Narrow The Racial Wealth Gap.

And I changed my mind.

I was unreservedly in favor of reparations for Japanese Americans interred during WWII   [2]  because the compensation occurred within the same generation of those who were racially profiled and unlawfully incarcerated: the government had records of exactly who was in the camp, whose farmlands were confiscated, etc.

But I was not exactly in favor of slavery reparations (which henceforth I shall refer to as simply, reparations).  My mind was not made up and my opposition was not strongly held; I was never a hard no;  rather, in many aspects I was a mealy-mouthed (mealy-minded?) “Gee…I wish.” My opinions were more like, sure-this-is-the-right-thing-to-do-but-it-will-*never*-work reservations, due to what I saw as the complex logistical administration of such reparations, the subsets of which include:

* What is the ultimate “aim” – what will reparations achieve?

* Who pays for it? And who doesn’t pay for it? If the funds/assets come from “The Federal Government,” that translates as taxpayer dollars.  This being a nation of immigrants, a good portion of our citizenry’s antecedents arrived well after the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and even after the Civil Rights Act of 1960.  My sister-in-law immigrated from China in 2003.  Should any part of “her” money be used to atone for the actions of ancestors who were not hers?

* What exactly is the “payout” – what form will reparations take?  Cash? Land? Business and educational grants? Some combination of all three?

* Who will receive reparations, and how? How will reparations recipients be determined? Not all Black Americans are descended from enslaved persons.  What about recent immigrants from Africa? Do people with a “mixed” ethnic background qualify? What if your father’s father is a descendant of slavery and his mother was a Nigerian immigrant, and your mother is Irish-Italian – do you get 50% or 25% reparations? How can this be determined other than genetic tests for all…and then what if some weaselly white guy claims he’s owed a 15% reparation share because of what his DNA test shows – does he “qualify,” and if not, will/can he sue the government for discrimination?

* Will the costs of administering the reparations (including genetic testing – I just don’t see how you could determine recipients without it, and imagine the costs of testing millions of people, and then retesting when the results are disputed) come from the same funds as the reparations themselves…and then what other government programs will be cut as a result?  Social Services? Efforts to combat global warming? Funds for education…medical and scientific research….?

 

 

These concerns with the logistics are neither new nor original, and the rare times I mouthed them   [3]   I did so without much conviction, other than to be “realistic.”  I was primarily against reparations because of… other people. You know, the Other People ® who would be resistant, to put it mildly, to the concept.

Slavery reparations may be the single most divisive idea in American politics. Advocates have spent decades calling on the U.S. government to assess how such a policy could be implemented and to enact a law that might offer financial restitution to the descendants of enslaved people. But minds are made up — according to a recent Associated Press poll, 74 percent of African Americans now favor reparation payments, while 85 percent of whites oppose them — and Congress seems unlikely to take up the matter.  A 30-year-old bill that would study the issue, H.R. 40, has never reached a vote.
( Thai Jones, writing in The Outlook, my emphases, The Washington Post, 1-31-20)

Moiself  had no idea the numbers re white opposition (as quoted in the above excerpt) were so high. I *did* have the idea that there is a strong subset of US citizens who’d be vehemently opposed to reparations.  Translation: White racists will lose their shit over this.

I thought there was little chance in getting our country to honestly address our history of enslavement and genocide.  On the off-chance that we did, meanwhile, as we’d be fighting about it, issues like climate change – which affects every single person on the planet, and not just USA citizens – will get short shrift…and it will be too late for us all.

I thought that if the Federal Government ever approved reparations, demagogues would use the issue to foment an ugly awakening of the sleeping giant of white racism.  But, guess what?  Chief Little Bunker-Bitch  [4] and his dog-whistle administration  ***have already done that.***

 

 

So…I thought some more.  I did that thing I always hope everyone else will do, on issues about which I feel passionate:  I did more research.  And thanks in great part to the rational, nuanced, exhaustively researched and articulately itemized reasoning presented by Hannah-Jones and others, I am on board for reparations.

Perhaps my logistical concerns/fears will play out, and reparations will be too complex (or dangerous) a policy to enact – who knows?  But first, can we at least, seriously,

***have the conversation?***

Go back to the line I highlighted from the WaPo article: Congress has been sitting on a bill, a bill that would study the issue of reparations, for 30 years.  THIRTY YEARS.  It’s not even a bill to enact or require reparations, but Just.  To.  Study.  The.  Issue.  And the bill can’t even get a hearing. What does that tell you about the minds blocking it?

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Department Of Let Me Tell You About The Minds Blocking It

“And yet it moves.”
( … a phrase attributed to the Italian mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei in 1633 after being forced to recant his claims that the Earth moves around the Sun, rather than the converse….despite {Galileo’s forced} recantation, the Church’s proclamations to the contrary, or any other conviction or doctrine of men, the Earth does, in fact, move [around the Sun, and not vice versa].”)   [5]

 

“Oh, “c’mon, just one little peek….”

 

The lines between the political and religious mindsets, especially in this country, are intertwined and in many cases nonexistent.  There are facts, such as the following ones I’ve listed which were iterated by Hannah-Jones, that white conservative American politicians just don’t want to see, because acknowledgement of these facts will upend their world view, which seems to be Yes, slavery was bad, but it was abolished; that was then and this is now and things are better and we are post-racial so get over it.  

 

“Reparations…is about repair…. In the context specifically of Black Americans, reparations has to do with 250 years of chattel slavery, followed by another 100 years of legalized segregation or apartheid and racial terrorism….”

“Very few Americans have created all of their wealth on their own; it’s passed down through generations and then built upon.  Black Americans never really had a chance to do that.”

Hannah-Jones traces the wealth gap to slavery, and the fact that enslaved people were not allowed to own property. She notes that the legalized segregation and racial terrorism that followed slavery exacerbated the problem and “prevented generation after generation of Black Americans from acquiring the type of wealth or foothold in the economy that allows you to live a life that is much more typical of white Americans…. 250 years of slavery where they are unable to accumulate any capital and then coming out of slavery, Black Americans face the dragnet of discrimination and segregation that further prevented them from building any type of wealth. Black people were denied access to colleges, were denied access to high schools, were denied access to higher paying jobs. And when Black people were able to get some land or to build a business, oftentimes they face those businesses being stolen or burned down or destroyed…

…Black people being denied access to the primary wealth-building tools, homeownership, federally financed loans, the G.I. Bill to be able to purchase housing that white Americans use to build their wealth. And so what we see today is the stark chasm that was built up over generations, and then only made worse by the fact that today Black Americans still face discrimination across the spectrum of American life.

We are often taught in this country that Black people are emancipated and then everyone is on an even footing. We don’t often question, what does that mean, to be emancipated after 250 years of bondage — to be emancipated with no job, no home, no money, no clothes, no bed, no pots, nothing. Enslaved people were unable to own anything or to accrue anything at all….

(excerpts from A Call For Reparations…podcast)

 

A telescope aimed at historical reconsideration is not a lens through which most white conservative American politicians (who overwhelmingly tend to be religious) are eager to look.  A bill to study reparations is stuck in congressional limbo, with our elected leaders unwilling even to study the issue. This reminds me of the church officials who not only disagreed with what the astronomer Galileo said he could see through his telescope, they refused to even look through it themselves.  Why?  Because to do so could mean acknowledging that their worldview was incorrect – their theology was diametrically opposed to the facts Galileo’s telescope revealed.

Galileo had constructed his telescope to show how the earth revolved about the sun and not the sun around the earth….

When he demonstrated this, many highly intelligent people even refused to look through the telescope, so frightened were they of what they might see. Some people had such a strong dose of cognitive dissonance that they forced Galileo to his knees and made him withdraw his evidence and recant his discovery.

Biblical references Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30 include text stating that “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” In the same manner, Psalm 104:5 says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Further, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.”

The sentence of the Inquisition was delivered…Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions.

From the article, “(Galileo and Truth,” The Library of Social Science)

 

 

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Department Of Getting To The Point

My former (and other people’s current) concerns with the logistics of reparations are beside the proverbial point: the first, *long* overdue debate/discussion to be held should be *why* reparations are (or are not) necessary.  Then, if it is determined that reparations are the way to go, you work out the details (including looking at how other countries, e.g post WWII Germany, and post-apartheid South Africa , administered reparations). Although it can seem overwhelmingly complex, the decision to go forward with reparations would be like any other major decision:

* First, you decide to do it

*  Then, you figure out how to do it.

If reparations are the right thing to do then the consequences of doing so are also the right consequences to deal with.  I mean, holy sci-fi dream: we were challenged to go to the moon within ten years, back in 1961, when our best scientific minds had had no fucking idea how they would accomplish that…and we did it.

 

 

 

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Addendum to first story in this blog.  Moiself  returned to the Veterans Gateway memorial on my walk yesterday morning. What I found there illustrates why I often despair for the course chosen by some of my fellow human beings.

 

“Yeah, thank you for your service.”

 

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Pun For The Day

I dated a man who was cross-eyed, but I broke up with him because
he was seeing other people on the side.

 

“And people think *I* smell bad….”

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May you open our hearts and minds to that which seems impractical;
May we always remember that when discussing the most virtuous of issues there is always room for a bad pun;
May we know this:  “And yet, it moves;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

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[1] (as per the descriptive plaque placed there by the Washington County United Veterans Council).

[2] (the reparations were dispersed via the Civil Liberties Act of 1988)

[3]  Rare because the subject just hasn’t come up much in general political conversation… but I have a feeling that is going to change.

[4] For those of us who love our country and thus cannot bear to use the given name of the man who shits all over it, we use alternative monikers, ala #45, tRump, The Mandarin Mussolini, The Cheetos Dictator, Private Bonespurs…and my current favorite, as per the recent I’m-not-hiding-in-it-just-inspecting-it incident during the DC protests: Little Chief Bunker Bitch.

[5] And Yet It Moves, Wikipedia.