The Digressor

Politics, Culture, Life, and Unusual Takes

I won’t pretend to suggest the Covington Catholic kids were perfect.  I don’t care who they are or where they are from.  That many kids, white, black, male, female, whatever, there are going to be shenanigans going on. But that’s the point.  These are kids, should be treated as such, and let their parents, church, and school address any teachable moments.

But that’s not what is happening, and that is not what we are seeing through our media.  The media keeps digging in its heels and making sweeping generalizations and condemning people for outrageous things.  And few get punished.

This needs to stop.  We need to find a way to hold the media itself accountable.  It is a tool for politics and nothing else.  Most of the media is an arm of only one party. The media, with its power to influence by its mere presence, can be dangerous.  And it is dangerous now.

This is why it must be held accountable, because the media will tear us apart or put us all into shackles. If the CovCath incident were not isolated, we could use this as a teachable moment for the media and us as consumers.  While we can still do so for both, the likelihood is that nothing is going to change.  More stories will be manipulated for partisan and political gain in the future, because we as people cannot help ourselves.

I would love to say we can just emphasize the need for restraint and that be it. Of course, that is the ultimate answer, but humans have a propensity to be unrestrained.  Restraint will never be 100% followed and won’t last. So what do we do?

And that is where I struggle.  Besides not watching or buying media we find objectionable, such embargoes goes both ways and does not eliminate the craziness.  We can embargo all news, but that’s not likely to happen, either.  We could develop a professional organization to monitor the ethics of publicists and writers, but there are so many problem with that its not really worth discussing at all.

The best thing, I think in the end, we can do is contribute to the marketplace ourselves and call out the outlets that are irresponsible. We cannot repeat their sins and must be reasonable ourselves, but we must speak up nonetheless.   Don’t be afraid to write a letter to the editor of your local paper or write to your local and national leaders.  Call in, do whatever but speak up.

If enough do it, we can change the trajectory of media direction.  But we have to try.  We have to hold them accountable.

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What happened Friday is unforgivable.  Well, its not really what happened on Friday that is unforgivable, but more like from later Friday and through much of Saturday that is unforgivable.

What happened was not the cheering and drum playing event getting so much airplay, but the outright despicable reactions to the cheering and drum playing incident.  While it is easy to dismiss the reactions as confirmation bias, etc, as many have done, and move on, I think this incident needs closer attention and we on the right should not let it go.  The confirmation bias angle is probably true.  Many recognize it as such and have retracted their original criticisms.

Great, but… The problem is far deeper and we cannot sit idly by while the problem grows.  The left increasingly is nothing but a bunch of bullies who will destroy anyone who comes in their way.  In this case, a bunch of kids from a well off Catholic School in Kentucky wearing MAGA hats have become the victims.

A quick review of the events show that the boys waiting near the Washington Monument after the March for Life who are harassed by a group of crazy black men.  They get bored of that and try to drown the black guys out by singing their high school chants. While they did get rowdy during the chants, they did not instigate any contact with anyone or widely pick on anyone.  I am not going to say they were perfect, but by golly, they were pretty well behaved.

Through these events, a Native American came through the crowd playing a drum.  He was followed by several other people. The drum player stopped in front of a single kid and inches away played his drum.  The young man did nothing but smile, which all the other boys at first were smiling, too, looking like they thought this was a show or something similar, certainly not that they were getting trolled. In fact, the young man later waved to his schoolmate to not engage in an argument with one of the Native American’s friends, who had told the kids to go back to Europe.

This event was caught on camera and a snippet was played on social media that seemed to show the kid was the aggressor towards an old, Native American man, and the surrounding kids nothing but a bunch of goons further harassing him.  Oh, and the kid was also wearing a MAGA hat.  Horrible and despicable.  Media outlets left and right, pundits everywhere, and even their own school quickly condemned the incident.

However, as time went on and more video was released, a very different story emerged. Not only were the kids not overly aggressive but the young man in question did not block or  harass the man at all.  Just as quickly media outlets and pundits retracted their condemnation, but not all of them. Many still want the kids heads.

And this is what is crazy, absolutely craziness that should terrify us all: those who want these kids heads on a platter.  These people, many are public figures, have no problem with school shootings happening at Covington Catholic or punching them out or any number of atrocities.  A worst case but honest reflection of the events would be that these boys acted inappropriately to an elderly man (he’s 64, really, and hardly old). Does that deserve that these boys be treated as the pariahs too many seem to think they are?

No, it does not, yet too many people continue to go down that road, and worse, too many of them are getting away with it.  Who is holding them accountable?  No one.  And who then wonders why we have such division and anger?  If the kids at worst acted through a teachable moment, why not just teach them?  Why ruin their lives?

They would ruin their lives because there is a greater aim: to shut down discussion and discourage others like them.  That’s why they are rummaging through their past, trying to find dirt that they use to prove how nasty these kids, and the families that support them, really are.

It is bullying through and through and nothing but intimidation tactics that are used to force submission. Its Gestapo tactics that are less violent.  Its ruthless and it is crazy that it is so prevalent in our society.  It needs to stop.

We cannot sit idly by while these groups get away with it.  The media outlets need to condemn the tactics and move away from it themselves.  The politicians need to grow a pair (yes, a reference to being a grown man) and put this trend and these tactics down.  Free speech is one thing, but we have the right to speak against the bully tactics and we should do so.  We should do so because it IS the right thing to do.

We must do it soon, before this gets a lot worse…

The APA’s recent guidelines on treating men recently released has caused quite the discussion.  Gillette has gone woke and published its ad, and countless articles have been written about it.  I’ll offer mine:

First, I honestly do applaud the organization for identifying a need that has been reluctant to admit it has a need.  Men often are stoic, independent, and slower to ask for help.  Many men do need the help, though, whether they admit it or not.

However, the traits that are identified as being part of the “traditional male” that lead them to conclude traditional masculinity is a problem are over exaggerated, and it incorrectly uses the term “traditional male” to identify the problems.

As has been written before, traditional masculinity is a good thing.  It bespeaks a view of strength and comfort, and symbolizes how we wanted our sons to grow up to be at one point in time: respectful to others and women, self restrained, helpful, independent and determined.  That men are slower to seek help comes out of this, but that is a good thing.  It is good because we need problem solvers and people to take on things on their own, to complete tasks and build and protect.  We don’t need men slowing down because they have to talk about things first.  And we need men to protect others from harm without second thought or needing approval.

All of that has been addressed elsewhere, but the terms used by the APA is unfortunate precisely because it undermines their entire aim of improving the life men lead.  By implying that all men that carry these traits are or could be toxic is simply offensive.  Does the APA think that by making such a broad accusation men will change?

I’ve read through the recommendations, and they are not all bad, like the one emphasizing involved fathers.  But they do insinuate men are problematic when they take the traits.  I’ve also read the follow up to clarify their, position, which was not much help.

Now, of course, these traits can be taken to extremes and become problematic.  And I think that is what the APA is trying to address.  But by including such broad parameters under “traditional masculinity” under the criticisms they replace the rule that these traits can be good with the harmful exceptions of the extremes.

Being serious, and independent, even sometimes aggressive, is something we need to keep.  We need to avoid the extremes, but that’s where society needs to step up, too.  We cannot glorify the exceptions.  Men need to respect others and seek to protect and build.  These are the things we need to hold up as examples.  But these traits have been listed as problematic.

On another level, that we are having this discussion at a time when men think they can become girls and that biology is of no import is hugely telling about the state of our culture and view of manhood.  To be a man is to be shamed, and that is a problem indeed.

I keep trying to write but things keep happening.  And in the meantime, topics get moved or lost or lose relevance.  However, one question that I keep coming back to is: “Have we crossed the point of no return?”

Has the United States become effectively another country than it was even thirty years ago, different in fundamental ideas and assumptions about what even made America the world power it became?  Can we return?

This question may seem like a turning back the clock question, and maybe it is, but the question is vital.  If we are a new country using new assumptions on governance and we cannot turn back, the future looks very different.

The assumptions that built this nation of freedom and liberty and the ability to pursue success drove our industry and wealth to levels never seen before in the history of the world, especially as it pertained to a middle class.  We developed a level of comfort for most everyone never before seen.  Yes, there were poor persons, but the ratio of wealthy to middle class to poor was far favored the number of wealthy and middle class.  What drove this was a desire to earn more by individual American citizens.  Working hard and pushing oneself to earn more and provide more was just something people did; few expected to be given anything accept a chance.  The assumption was that work was required and that assumption was primary.

Now, I am not sure that assumption exists as the primary.  When I look out in the affairs of American men and women, I see not a primary rush to work, but a primary rush to ensure equality.  The assumption has shifted from working to expecting to be treated a certain way, and therefore being given certain things.

The work required to succeed has been supplanted by the grievance that all should be equal.  Does this mean people won’t work?  No, I don’t think that is the case.  I believe people are still willing to work, but before they work, they want recognition that they are equal.  This hampers work and distorts the paths to success, and yes, though most still work, a new population has come to expect to be given wealth and comfort apart from work.

This shift has disastrous long term effects on the nation’s ability to provide the levels of comfort we created in the 19th and 20th centuries.  We cannot provide the levels of comfort this new population seeks if we do not have the motivated persons to create the wealth to begin with.  Yet, the motivated are now decried for the motivation that gives them the wealth.

Have we gone too far in this new direction to return?  I believe we can still return, but there is going to be a lot of pain to get there, as people face the reality of true poverty.  The hope is that as they experience this pain they recognize what works and that wealth and poverty truly do not discriminate.  Currently, I am not as hopeful as I should be that they will learn this lesson.

Should I be more optimistic about these prospects?

This is not a piece criticizing relativism, though that is certainly worthy of criticism.  No, this is a piece about something else, far more sinister and close to home.

See, relativism is simply stating that truth is hard if not impossible to discern because we all view whatever truth is differently, effectively meaning that a single “truth” is essentially out of reach.  This has its dangers, but it does not proffer the danger that the topic of this essay will address.

This topic is that we have abandoned giving credence to facts, let alone truth.  Once facts are gone, then nothing of substance can remain.

Let me give an example: health care.  This particular topic is crazy complicated, and that I think best exemplifies my point and why I choose it as an example.  There is a debate in the US these days on how much government should pay for health care.  Usually, it is presented in such a way as to suggest that more people should have access to health care.

This presentation is important, and it sprang out of the supposed rising cost of health care.  Apparently, many people cannot afford health care, and that is fine as an argument.  We all want as many people as possible to get basic care.  I do not think  you will find many opposed to that premise.  However, note the following shift in logic in determining how to solve problem: rather than address the higher costs, the argument has turned from cost to coverage.

Coverage is great, but it completely masks the costs.  Coverage makes cost irrelevant.  As long as someone else is paying, who cares what it costs?  Yet this is precisely what the current direction of the discussion is saying: we need other people to pay for the costs of medical care so that the people covered don’t have to.  This does not solve the problem of high cost, though.

It does not address it so much so that few people really know what items cost.  Sure, there is an explanation of benefits, but those are convoluted and hard to understand.  I will bet that most people do not read them precisely because they make no sense to them.  And even if you can make them out, how much can you really know about what a trip to the doctor costs, and even then, the bottom question for you is what you have to pay.

The facts in this set up is what does medical care cost.  As consumers, it is something we should want to know, but we do not know it.  And finding it out is darn near impossible because the insurance companies, not the providers, tell us what it costs.  And the insurance companies are the groups that provide the “coverage”.  And the politicians pushing for greater government control of health care use the goal of greater coverage as fodder for their argument.  The insurance companies can charge whatever they want because no one can hold them accountable.

I think this is all a game to manipulate the situation to the betterment of government and insurance companies.  The politicians are generally left leaning, and use similar tactics in other areas, like gun control.  Facts have little meaning if you first cannot get to them and second if they are to be manipulated.

Its no wonder people are confused and frustrated.  Its no wonder people will fall for anything.  A leaving of facts behind is far more dangerous than a wondering search for an unidentifiable truth.  Of course, the two go hand in hand, but as long as we may have facts as a north-star, we can guide our way.  Once facts go, we have no idea where we are heading.

And that is a problem.

I find it hard to believe this, but maybe I shouldn’t after my experience moving to Wyoming.  More than a few people could not pronounce it correctly and more did not know where it was.  Yes, Wyoming is a mountainous western state folks, and it is not near Illinois.

But fortunately, I never had to deal with this:

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/new-mexico/articles/2018-11-30/dc-clerk-stalls-marriage-over-foreign-new-mexico-id

I was never denied a license because people thought Wyoming was a different country.

This is simply inexcusable for a clerk issuing licenses to not recognize our 50 states.  Yet, it happened, and sadly, it can probably happen again.  Another abhorrent chapter on this is that the supervisor also did not know that New Mexico was indeed legitimately one of our nation’s 50 states.

Of all the things we should divide over stupidity is not one of them.  We should all recognize a lack of preparedness and education as a problem.  Not one but two people in this important official office did not know that New Mexico was a state.  So, who hired them and on what basis?

Should we over react to this?  No, but just the same, this little tidbit is likely not as isolated as we might think.  I would just hope that people everywhere would recognize the absurdity and look to do something about it.

Here’s a simple solution: teach civics!

 

One of the trends of recent years is a rise in populist power.  There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it can lead to a cycle of trouble.

Populism is essentially a movement by regular people to obtain power from others to live through their own policies, not the others, who are often seen as elites or establishmentarians.  This group of others has taken many identities in the past from monarchs to parliaments to dictators, and now it seems to be our own government.  Throughout time, the others are the ruling class.

I will ultimately criticize populism, but before I do, let me say that populism is sometimes needed and can be a good thing.  Populism is a mechanism, and I think it is a mechanism, not a philosophy, by which the people can keep its rulers in check.  But the manner in which it keeps leaders in check varies so much it is impossible to classify it as a philosophy itself.  The Soviet Movement was largely populist, as is the Trump phenomenon going on now, and they are worlds apart.

We do need populism on some level.  I think without its existence, the whole concept of a government by and for the people is meaningless.

However, I find populism dangerous in that it can go too far, and often, it does.  We get results we will not like from an unfettered populist regime.  This is not to say the people cannot govern themselves, but rather that populism inevitably leads to the exact opposite of a government led by the people.

Someone must take the reigns and lead, and it cannot be done by millions of people acting together.  There must be a single force or a small group of people to actually lead and govern.  Even if they swear to the will of the people, the leaders must be small in number.  And given the small in number against the huge numbers of people, it is impossible to meet the needs of everyone.

We have seen this time and again in history, which is why we must be aware of it and recognize that riding too much a populist wave is negative.  I am not sure that we are riding our current wave too far, and it is not all on Trump.  Interestingly, Trump is the current leader, (Obama was before him) so we see it in history now.

I tend to agree with Trump’s policy successes, but I am not sure his approach and the populism that is supporting him is wise long term.  Populist changes can be undone quite easily, and if those of us on the right don’t work hard to ensure the changes Trump has brought in become established, they will be undone as soon as the left returns to power.

I would like to see a more responsive group of leaders and a less aggressive set of populist agitators.  Most people just want to live, so let’s let them live.  At some point, we need to trust our leaders while we hold them to the fire, otherwise we risk putting worse people into leadership.  While it is possible to improve that leadership, the history tends to support the former possibility.

What we have in our nation, the United States, is a wonderful system where these two groups can work together: the people and the leaders.  The system was designed to be led by the people, and we should always remember that they are people and do not hold titles or get special treatment.  We need to hold them to the fire just like the rest of us.  But our system is a good system, and we ought not to take that for granted.  We elect people to do their job and trust that they will represent us in the way they see fit.  We do not elect them to do everything we want.

This perhaps subtle distinction is important, because letting them act for all of their constituency is different than making them act for us individually.  This is not to say that if someone rarely votes in ways that we see as positive, we shouldn’t vote for someone else.  Quite the contrary, but we need to give them some leeway just the same.

But being afforded this choice is precisely the genius of our system, and we need to trust it.  Populist movements can cloud that genius, and I fear we are nearing that point where the wisdom of the system is being discounted because of the populist apprehension that exists out there.

Sometimes, the best way to effect positive change is not change the world, but ourselves.  And we, the people, maybe at a point where we need to seriously consider how we are addressing the problems before us today.  Remember, the crowd is not always right.

 

 

I am new to this discussion, but it has hit me that the way that we pay our state legislators may be off.  Maybe its not, but I think it is worthwhile to review.  I really am not sure if it is better to pay them or not, so think of this essay as me working through how and why we pay legislators the way that we do.

To start, most state legislators do not get paid a lot of money.  Getting rich is really not going to happen while someone may be serving.  Opportunities for monetary gain will probably come after, but not during.  Yet, legislators work a lot.  During session, which varies in time but is often only a short few months, it is clear there is much to be done.  But even out of session there are still committee meetings and meetings with constituents.

And with that, many states offer only a per diem or a very small wage.  Only a few states, like California, Pennsylvania or New York, offer a high wage to its legislators.  In far more, like Wyoming, New Mexico and New Hampshire, legislators are barely paid anything at all.  In fact, only seven states pay their legislators at or above the state’s median wage, and only four more are within 10% of hitting that mark.  So, only eleven states pay their legislators at or equal the median wage for the given state.  (Source, from 2016: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-much-should-state-legislators-get-paid/)

With that in mind, I wonder how that effects who gets to run and their motivation while in office.  Let me start with motivation while in office.  This is a smaller deal to me, because part of the justification, which I think is noble, of lower pay or volunteer service is that you get people who are committed to serving.  They are not motivated to make it a career because they do not get paid.  I have no problem with that reason.

However, I do think the low pay does become a problem for the other reason: it becomes exclusionary.  The reality is that while anyone can run, only those who can afford not to work for the session and make time for committee meetings will likely run and hold office.  People have to put food on their table first and foremost, and most people work in jobs that won’t tolerate such long absences.  Therefore, only the rich can run and survive in this environment.

I am not complaining about rich people, but I am bringing up the observation that there are segments that automatically get excluded from representing our government.  And I am also not suggesting some populist or politically driven ideas are not being heard.  Beliefs of all stripes come from all stripes of people, and I just wonder if we should be more aware of including all stripes of people in this process.

I am not sure that such low wages and high opportunity costs (while in office) is truly beneficial, as it limits people who can run.  While I do not think it beneficial to have career politicians who just serve their entire lives, I do think opening the opportunities to serve to a broader class of people has a greater chance of improving the process than not.

Do legislators need to get paid a lot of money?  No, but just the same if we offer them a living wage to pay bills and feed a family we can improve.  We improve by bringing in issues we may not otherwise see or hear and bring in perspectives not currently seen.

As I write this, it certainly feels populist, though that is not my goal.  I generally do think we need limits on certain powers.  One of the biggest mistakes politically of the 20th century was the allowing of the popular vote of US Senators, I think.  Nonetheless, I do think paying legislators more will help bring in a wider voice and perhaps better people who choose to seek a paying job than the already limited system we have now.

So, what wage may be appropriate?  A little below the median state wage and do not offer per diems.

I am torn, though, and welcome input.  What do you think?

I love other nations and learning about their cultures.  I do.  I speak French, have been to 9 different countries in my life.  I am learning Romanian on my own.  I am intrigued by how different cultures view life and how they have developed, and believe we can all learn much from different cultures.

However, I tire of people blatantly showing their appreciation of these different cultures, especially in the arts.  I have come to think of these expressions as akin to the rich Jews making loud noises when giving in the Temple, which Jesus criticized.  There’s just no need to truly appreciate African or German or Japanese culture without banging people over their heads with it.

What makes me think this is over used?  I feel like every time I go to a concert there is some homage to a different culture.  Seriously, it is great that the director wants to show an appreciation of African music, but sometimes, it just feels forced.  Not every Holiday show needs cultural embellishment.

But I wonder if it is more than that.  Cultural appropriation, maybe?  Halloween costumes can be considered cultural appropriation, so why not musical concerts?  I do not believe there is malice here, and I don’t think most others would, either, however I just wonder if it goes too far.  Its like we are the rich Jewish people gathering attention to how much they give, but instead of donating money to the Temple, we are saying how culturally open we are.

I wonder why we cannot just appreciate our own culture and our own cultural accomplishments.  This is not a slight against other cultures: it is merely a recognition that we have nice things, too.  And we can appreciate all of them, the other culture and ours, without having to prove it to others.

And that is the moral: why can’t we just move forward without having to prove anything except our own character?  On the other side of the coin, why do we expect others to prove anything but their own character?  And how do we judge character?  That answer is not how many multicultural references they have in their life.

 

 

A couple years ago, my wife and kids bought me for Christmas a set of Mel Brooks movies.  I started watching a couple I had not seen before over Thanksgiving, like The 12 Chairs and Silent Movie.  Brooks is brilliant, and over 90, he is still going.  But one of the things about Brooks that I always found impressive was that he is not afraid to push boundaries.  You just need to watch Blazing Saddles to understand what I mean.

The humor is not just humor for humor sake in several of Brooks’ movies.  It can be seen as raunchy, offensive, wacky, and more, but it served a purpose, too.  The extremes demonstrated the absurdness of much of society in the 70’s and 80’s.  That demonstration, I believe, lowered the guards of many people.

I am not suggesting Mel Brooks is the answer to solve all of our political ills today.  My suggestion is that we need something that can lower the guards of people so that they are not so quick to judge the other side.

What might that be?

I think the answer is ultimately a multi faceted approach, but here are my five ideas that could be considered:

  1. Step away from politics.  Some of us love them and love to follow them, but many more just don’t care that much.  Yet this latter group is still constantly bombarded with political messaging.  Turning off access to this barrage of messaging will just make us all happier.  This can be done both personally and through all the media that is available, of course the media needs to take responsibility there, and I am not confident they will.  But if enough people do stop following, the media will follow.
  2. Drop our level of pride concerning politics.  Understand what liberals have been saying for a long time, and many conservatives, too: we all have different points of view, and so what?  When we embrace that ideal, it becomes much harder to get too upset and much easier to have a conversation.  But the reason many cannot do that is, I think, simple: pride.  To be absolutely sure you are right to the point that you call the other side evil is nothing but pride.  No, the other side is not evil, the other side is simply different.  Recognizing this will go miles towards lowering our guard.
  3. Yes, have a sense of humor.  One of the best ways to ease tension is to laugh.  We all need to laugh more, and laugh with each other, not at each other.  That was part of the brilliance of Brooks, and other comedians of the time.  They were aggressive, but they did not pick sides, and the ridiculousness was apparent.  We need to be able to laugh together and when someone makes a joke you find offensive, refer to my 2nd idea above.  Recognize humor apart from attacks (this should be apparent by the pointedness of the “joke” and to whom it is addressed), and don’t be too sensitive.  Being able to give back in good faith is part of the fun.
  4. Actually talk.  Radical idea here, but talking is not the same as yelling.  We need to talk and part of talking is listening.  All of us have been in an argument where tempers just keep rising and it soon gets out of hand.  How often does that happen when we just talk?  It doesn’t.
  5. Listen.  Yes, this is in #4, too, but I separate it to talk about what listening requires: it requires more than just hearing words coming out of someone’s mouth.  To truly listen, you must try to understand the argument being made to you.  If you fail to do that, chances are you will not adequately address it in response and the other side feels unheard.  Eventually, distrust grows, too.  Note that this does not mean that you try to find common ground, which is not among my list here.  It simply means that you identify the argument being made so it can be addressed.  Failure to do this only results in talking past each other and developing distrust.

Of course there are probably more, but these five get us started.  I say nothing about respecting the other side, finding common ground, etc.  I think most of that can be abused, because who can disagree with, for example, helping poor kids.  All too often such a tactic is only used to set a foundation for your argument and does not alleviate tension; further, ways to to help poor children are numerous and diverse.  Simply helping children is not helpful.

I don’t wish to be naïve, but I find it abhorrent that people act the way they do these days.  Its not so much that politics is dirty sport, it is a) the level that far too many people are involved in it and b) the level they take it to consistently.  In other words, far too many people just go berserk over politics these days.  From climate change, to abortion, to Supreme Court justices, to racism, etc, people take it way too seriously.

This is not to say that these issues are not important.  To the contrary, I believe they are, however how we address them can help the problem or make it worse.  All too often, people make them worse when they could make them better.

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