Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Racism: available in soft and ultra-soft

When someone (often an old foreigner) says something with a soft racial undertone about another race that is not meant to be derogatory but often comes out in a way that may make others slightly uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed yet sympathetic for said old person.

Often it is because of a difference in social and cultural norms that they say something softly racist.
 -Urban Dictionary, "Soft Racism"

I'm sure we've all known someone who has stepped on the above-noted conversational rake without realizing it, and while it can certainly cause awkward tension in a group setting, anyone with even a little bit of emotional intelligence can finish blushing and then give the speaker a pass for their own cultural and/or age-related naïveté. For the most part it's easy to tell if the person was being deliberately hurtful or simply didn't know any better in the moment.

But there's another form of racism that is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. In fact, if you gaze into the mirror (so to speak), you may need to strain your eyes to notice it, and even then your mind may not recognize nor accept what is being seen. As for me, someone had to point it out to Yours Truly. Up until then I had been completely oblivious. What allows this racism to slip under our radars (generally) unnoticed is that it has nothing to do with any conscious intent to be derogatory towards nor marginalize a person or group based on their race, which in its own way makes it all the more insidious.

The kind of racism I'm talking about is typically expressed when you're telling a friend about an encounter you had with someone earlier that day, and you include a certain detail that has no bearing on your story. For a white person, it could be something like "I was in the express line at the grocery store and the black guy ahead of me had nine items instead of eight".

In this case, the guy's skin color was of no relevance. We are all guilty of going over the maximum number of items in the express line at least most of the time. (Personally, I usually treat the "8 Items or Less" sign as a suggestion rather than a rule.)

To test the absurdity of this paradigm, tell a similar anecdote to someone of your own race, but make the person in your story the same skin color as you and your listener. I think most of my friends or family would at least be momentarily taken aback if I said "I asked a white guy for directions."

I truly don't think any of the above is evidence of antipathy towards any one race or other races in general, and thus my intention here is not to equate it with overt racism. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if there's a sincere and committed anti-racist or two who make this mistake with no harm or insult intended.

For myself, I used to chalk it up mental laziness. After all, skin color can be the most noticeable thing about a person. You may not recognize their identity from across the street, but you sure can tell their race. Perhaps referencing the person as "some black guy" (or "Asian guy", or "Indian guy", etc.) is a quick and dirty way to add descriptiveness to your story, and to some extent I believe this forms the basis of such a practice. However, if the person in the story is white (assuming you and your listener are also white for the sake of this example), then their skin color would lose all descriptive value.

I can't speak for races other than my own, but as a white person I can tell you that when we are describing someone to one of our own "kind", the default assumption is that the someone in question is white unless otherwise noted. By doing so, intentionally or not, we set ourselves apart from others along racial lines. While not "racism" as practiced by "hate groups" nor cause for self-flagellation, it nevertheless hints at tribalism (or what I would call "ultra-soft racism"), which to me would seem to be a precondition for hard racism in the same way that unchecked nationalism clears the way for fascism (soft or hard).

Nowadays, I make daily decision to not draw needless attention to a person's race when talking about them in the third person unless it's pertinent to the story. Sometimes it comes easy, other times it feels momentarily awkward and requires conscious effort, and then there are moments when I transgress and resolve to try harder next time.

While I wholeheartedly aspire to be an anti-racist, I also realize I have work to do. And although part of me thinks this is all a matter of making a big deal out of so very little, I wouldn't want a little thing leaving the door open for something bigger and uglier.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cruise Night (July 19, 2016)

The following pictures were taken at the weekly Kanata Cruise Night at the Hazeldean Mall. Proceeds from the event go to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

This experience reminded me of how I've always preferred natural light photography over studio or flash photography. (I'm not knocking studio photography, as great art can occur there. It's just not for me, as I prefer to venture out and search for the unexpected. As for flash photography - it's fine for ribbon cuttings or shots from the office Christmas party. However, it imposes an artificial blast of light on the subjects and obliterates whatever mood was set by the existing light.) Sometimes working with natural light is matter of navigating low or highly selective lighting conditions to find a compelling focal point, like a beacon in the darkness. Other times, as with this event (which I attended in the early evening), there is an overabundance of light, and so in addition to providing uniformly adequate lighting (where appropriate), it also presents opportunities to use the excess light to great effect. After all, chrome is meant to gleam, and so if you position yourself to catch the sun glinting off a shiny surface, it can give a picture the extra something it deserves, be it an enhanced sense of depth or contour, or merely a sort of photographic 'jewelry'.

Although I have always been infatuated with the overall forms and lines of classic cars, the graphic design and calligraphy geek in me has also become increasingly fixated on details and markings that hark back to an era where industrial design and lettering could be by turns brash, delicate or swanky, or some combination of all three. This was a time that was more free hand and open-ended, in thinking as well as execution, whereas today is an age of point-and-click plasticity.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Gay discrimination is not a right, even for the 'religious right'

There is a childlike phenomenon among Christian conservative commentators, namely the indignation they express at the fact that their business-owning brethren cannot use their 'faith' as an excuse to discriminate against gay customers. And in order for their followers to buy into their logic, these commentators engage in intellectual dishonesty by way of conflating gay discrimination with Christianity itself.

This isn't the first time I've written about this phenomenon, and I thought I had already said what I had to say last year, but a recent opinion piece on the Charisma News website by Janet Boynes (Gay Agenda's Attacks on Christianity Leave Former Lesbian 'Frustrated') betrays more of the same dishonesty, and so I think the time is ripe to revisit this topic and clarify my thoughts in this regard.

In her piece, Boynes laments that Christian Mingle (a 'Christian' dating site), has been 'forced' to accept gay singles as members and to pay a fine to two gay men who had previously been denied membership on the basis of their sexual orientation. In keeping with the same logic espoused by others (such as Breitbart's John Nolte), Boynes wrings her hands and wails in despair at the prospect of the “Christian businesses/organizations that have been targeted and shut down or people who have lost opportunities because of their Christian beliefs”.

For one thing, discriminating against or publicly insulting one's gay brothers and sisters does not constitute practicing one's 'Christian' beliefs. Furthermore, engaging in or encouraging homophobia is not made any better or more noble if done under the guise of 'Christian' beliefs. In fact, there are some branches of Christianity who are more accepting of the gay community than others. Here in Canada, in fact, some churches even allow gays to join the clergy. And so it cannot be said that anti-gay beliefs are consistently promulgated across the Christian denominational spectrum.

As for the Christian Mingle case, the dating service in question is a business operating in the public sphere. Anyone should be able to be a customer without being discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality, even by businesses marketing themselves to the wider Christian community. But if 'Christian' beliefs are truly being targeted here, let's look at this case in a larger context by posing some questions:

  • Does Christian Mingle vet its members to ensure none of them will have pre-marital sex with each other? Do prospective members have to click Agree or Disagree in a pop-up window containing the statement: “I promise not to pass second base with fellow Christian Minglers”? (I don't know the answer to this, as I do most of my mingling with fellow Christians after Divine Liturgy during coffee hour in the church hall.)

  • If Christian Mingle members are using that service to engage in the sin of pre-marital sex with each other, then wouldn't that fact alone render a ban on gays in the name of 'Christian' beliefs somewhat hypocritical?

  • Does everyone who becomes a member of this service do so with the explicit purpose of having pre-marital sex, or do some use it to engage in platonic relationships? If the latter is true, then how 'Christian' is it to prohibit gay people from participating in a community that is Christian (in name, at least)?

  • Suppose a similar service was being run by a business whose owner(s) belonged to a heretical Christian sect that considered it a sin to be black (as offensively incompatible with any true Christianity such a notion would be), and thus made it their standard practice to ban blacks from doing business with them. Would this be easily forgiven as a simple matter of the business owners practicing their 'religious' beliefs? Would this be considered a 'freedom of religion' issue? If not, then why should it be any more acceptable to discriminate against gay people in a similar fashion?

And no matter how justified business owners feel in discriminating against gays, such practices have a deeply negative impact on the human beings on the receiving end. According to www.reference.com (in answer to the question What are the potential effects of discrimination?):

The potential effects of discrimination may also affect work and social relations between people of differing religions, cultures, gender, race and sexual orientation. For example, if a Muslim is discriminated against by a Christian, he may be less likely to interact, cooperate or associate with other Christians as a result. The feelings associated with discrimination can lead to stereotyping, which can discourage people from networking or associating with those who are related to a particular group based on race, gender, religious preference or culture.

The potential effects on a person's health and well being are also significant if discrimination continues. For example, the stress of being excluded and passed over for a promotion or job opportunities can lead to financial stress, mental strain, anxiety or depression. Self-confidence and self-esteem are potentially affected by discrimination as well. Stress can further ignite physical health symptoms due to discrimination, such as a rapid heartbeat, cold sweats and even stomach pain associated with ulcers.

Furthermore, the way I see it, when you discriminate against someone you assault their basic human dignity, and as seen above you are potentially causing mental, emotional and/or physical harm to that person. This would not seem to pass the What Would Jesus Do? test.

For additional evidence of how misguided Boynes' logic is, look no further than two of the other 'examples' she cites of businesses or individuals being persecuted for so-called 'Christian' beliefs:

  • “Twin brothers David and Jason Benham lost their opportunity to host their own HGTV show.” These guys lost the chance to host their own house-flipping show on HGTV after one of them made disparaging remarks about gays during a rally. But here's the thing – because the two were tapped to host an HGTV program, from that moment on they would be deemed to be representing HGTV when in public. Even though they wouldn't have necessarily been speaking explicitly on their new employer's behalf, anything they utter in public could nevertheless be seen as a reflection on HGTV. And with anti-gay comments tending to polarize the viewing public, HGTV was well within its right to act in the name of its own best interests by giving the Benham twins the boot. (Make that two identical boots.)

  • JONAH, who ran the largest Jewish gay conversion therapy organization, was sued and shut down.” Firstly, I'll ignore the obvious fact that this organization was Jewish, not Christian. Secondly, however, Boynes doesn't go into any detail at all about the facts behind the story. To do that, after all, would entail revealing that the key 'therapist' in question was not a licensed therapist, had no post-secondary education beyond an undergraduate degree in music and theatre, and often had his young clients strip in front of a mirror and touch their genitals while he watched. The organization also hosted weekend retreats in the woods that featured group nudity and creepy 'rebirthing' ceremonies. If you ask me, it would appear that 'gay conversion therapy' was but a thin pretext for targeting vulnerable adolescents for sexualization, which in itself seems to be sexual abuse of a sort. Maybe I'm wrong. Boynes should understand that this 'gay conversion' group was not shut down for promoting values in keeping with her own 'Christian' beliefs, but for consumer fraud and commercial practices that the courts found “unconscionable”. Boynes further omits the fact that, based on new information gleaned at the trial, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America concluded that it could no longer endorse JONAH, as the organization no longer met its standards.

In short, before lobbying for the 'right' of businesses and individuals to engage in dubious practices in the name of 'Christian' beliefs, Janet Boynes and her colleagues on the religious right would be much better off to first get the hang of more basic Christian values, namely respect for other human beings (gay or straight), respect for the laws of the land (especially regarding discrimination), and of course honesty, inconvenient though it may be.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Dear ADL: Do Palestinian lives matter?

Israeli police initiate ‘friction activity’ on quiet streets in East Jerusalem - See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/07/friction-activity-jerusalem/?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List&utm_campaign=9e45fde3c6-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b86bace129-9e45fde3c6-381619166&mc_cid=9e45fde3c6&mc_eid=2eed502418#sthash.1OY71L20.dpuf
The following is an email sent to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on July 13, 2016.


Israeli police initiate ‘friction activity’ on quiet streets in East Jerusalem - See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/07/friction-activity-jerusalem/?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List&utm_campaign=9e45fde3c6-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b86bace129-9e45fde3c6-381619166&mc_cid=9e45fde3c6&mc_eid=2eed502418#sthash.1OY71L20.dpuf
To Whom It May Concern,

Thank you for the work your organization has done since its inception to combat anti-Semitism specifically and bigotry in general. I especially appreciate the news items, commentary and research provided on your website, which I have frequently sought out for the purpose of taking stock of my own attitudes and beliefs during times of turmoil on the international stage. In this way, the Anti-Defamation League provides an invaluable public service, and for that I am grateful.

While I myself am not Jewish, I do not hesitate to proclaim that despite obvious dogmatic differences, the Christian values that inform my conscience are in fact decidedly Jewish values, and that my faith is historically rooted in and continues to be indelibly influenced by Judaism. This is something I acknowledge and celebrate. I am also confident that these same values inform your own fight against intolerance.

In light of a recent news report, however, I am feeling the need to contact you directly for your insight as well as ask some pointed questions.

As reported by Nic Hasson in a July 12, 2016 news article in Haaretz (Border Police Deliberately Provoke Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Internal Reports Say), it would appear that at least some of the unrest among Palestinians (which is supposedly hindering the peace process in that region) is being manufactured by Israel. According to the article:

Border policemen initiate “friction” with residents of East Jerusalem to provoke a violent response from them, according to police reports. Just such a provocation apparently took place in Isawiyah earlier this year, sparking confrontations in which a boy was seriously wounded

On January 6, clashes erupted between Palestinians and Border Police troops who entered the East Jerusalem village. During the confrontations Ahmed Abu Humus, 12, was shot in the head with a sponged-tipped bullet. Suffering serious brain damage, he was sedated and on a respirator for three weeks, and since then is not communicating with his family.

The article goes on to say that Eitay Mack, the lawyer representing the boy and his family, fought (unsuccessfully at first) to secure the file for the internal investigation on this case, and was initially told by Israel's Justice Ministry that “there was no evidentiary basis of an offense being committed.”

Eventually, the lawyer received the full file. According to Hasson, the file:

...included 10 reports made by police who were involved in the clashes. Nearly all of them reported that the events began with a “friction activity” or an “initiated friction activity.” One policeman named Timor said, “During the afternoon shift we launched an activity in Isawiyah to create friction with the residents.” Two other policemen reported that they “were asked to come to the Menta gas station in Isawiyah for a friction activity in the village,” and that they were briefed before getting started.  

From the above I believe we can assume two things, namely:

  • With said internal reports including consistent (and bureaucratically euphemistic) terminology such as "friction activity" and "initiated friction activity", it would appear that deliberate provocation of Palestinians is a standard sanctioned protocol. The fact that two police officers were instructed to attend to a "friction activity in the village" only further underscores that this incident was not a one-off incident by a group of rogue police officers.
  • The initial efforts of the Justice Ministry to conceal the truth of these events by denying that any offense had been committed shows that these police activities are state-sanctioned - otherwise, I'm sure that the Israeli state would have launched a vigorous and objective probe into police activities that serve no purpose other than to keep the region destabilized, thus placing Israelis and Palestinians alike at risk. But from what I can tell, this didn't happen.

It goes without saying that while your organization is pro-Israel, I don't expect it to necessarily be a knee jerk apologist for the Israeli government. Furthermore, I trust that your definition of 'anti-Semitism' doesn't hinge on whether one supports or objects to every decision of Israel's politicians, military or law enforcement officials.

Having said that, the chain of events referenced above (assuming they are being reported accurately and objectively), when viewed alongside some of the materials on your website, strikes a rather dissonant chord. Take for example an article in your Israel: A Guide for Activists section, entitled Response To Common Inaccuracy: Israel Is Not Interested in Compromise for Peace, which states:

Inaccuracy: Israel is not interested in or prepared to make meaningful compromises to achieve peace with the Palestinians.

Response: Israel is committed to pursuing a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians so that it may finally live in peace and security. Israel was able to reach historic peace agreements with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) in which both sides made serious compromises for the sake of normalized relations.  

While Israel has made great efforts to promote serious negotiations and a final peace agreement with the Palestinians over the past two decades, peace has proved elusive primarily because there has not been a Palestinian peace partner willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and able to uphold peace commitments

If Israel is indeed "committed to pursuing a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians", then why is the Israeli state, via its police officers, engaging in "initiated friction activities" to deliberately provoke Palestinians into a violent response? Perhaps a "Palestinian peace partner" is too much of a threat to Israeli expansionism for the police to forgo such tactics? (I realize I'm making a leap here, but in the absence of a more satisfying explanation it is all-too-tempting to draw such conclusions.)

At the same time, your July 8, 2016 press release (ADL Welcomes DOJ Investigation of Death of Alton Sterling) decried the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of Baton Rouge police officers, and welcomed a civil rights investigation into the case by the U.S. Department of Justice while urging a similar investigation into the death of Philando Castile.

Given that you abhor and decry state violence perpetrated against vulnerable minority populations, and also given that there are elements or organizations that are quite happy to capitalize on such state violence for the purpose of radicalizing said minority populations, would it not be in the best interests of the people of Israel for the ADL to lend a voice of stern protest against the police tactics described above, and lobby for the civil rights of Palestinians?  Or are Palestinians even entitled to civil rights in your estimation?

You are quick to decry direct violence against Israeli citizens by Palestinian extremists - would it not demonstrate moral continuity to take Israeli authorities to task for deliberately making a dangerous situation worse for G-d knows what purpose? (From what I can see, your organization has not commented on the events in East Jerusalem as they pertain to these tactics. Please correct me if I've missed something, or if the events in question are recent enough that your position has yet to be formulated.)

And so, taking all of the above into consideration, please clarify your position on the tactics of the Israeli police as described above, and explain whether or not you agree that the safety of the people Israel (and the wider Jewish diaspora) is threatened by actions that appear to further what the ADL considers the 'inaccurate' view that "Israel is not interested in peace with the Palestinians".

On a more general note, your work is twofold: to fight intolerance and bigotry, as well as defend Israeli nationalism. In your organization's view, however, does the latter trump genuine concern for the safety of the Palestinian people and the overall stability of the region, or do you hold the Israeli state to be essentially blameless and therefore exempt from accusations of intolerance and bigotry (as expressed through state violence) towards its Palestinian neighbors?

On June 30, 2016 you called on the world to denounce the death of Hallel Ariel, a 13-year-old Israeli girl who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian extremist. Are you prepared to also denounce the deliberate (and potentially life-threatening) injury of 12-year-old Ahmed Abu Humus by Israeli police for purposes that remain unexplained and unjustified? Are you prepared to proclaim that Palestinian lives matter just as much as Israeli lives?

 Ahmed Abu Humus

Please note my refusal to adopt your own terminology ("Palestinian terrorist") to describe the Israeli teen's killer. If you are unwilling to label as "terrorism" the deliberate (and state-sanctioned) incitement of violence by Israeli police within a population vulnerable to radicalization, which agitates the very terrorist threat you decry, then I'm not going to play ball when it comes to highly-selective use of a term like "terrorist" for the purpose of advancing certain geopolitical interests. (Further to the twofold mission described above, it would seem the ADL serves two masters at once, thus putting itself in a moral conflict of interest on certain issues.)

Please note that this email will be posted in its entirety on my blog, as will any formal reply from you.

Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to your response


James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada


Sunday, July 10, 2016

OpenIndiana Hipster: random notes of a distrohopper restrained

I'm still hanging in there with this installation of OpenIndiana Hipster, which I've been upgrading (via # pfexec pkg image-upgrade -v) at least once every other day, and sometimes every day.

Easy-peasy: rolling release upgrade with OpenIndiana Hipster

Here are some random notes from this leg of the journey:

Some like it (not as) hot

One thing I've come to appreciate is how this ThinkPad T61p seems to run at a lower temperature under OI Hipster than other operating systems. Whether it's Oracle Solaris, NetBSD or Linux Mint, normally you could probably fry an egg off the far left edge of this machine, right about where there appears to be a plastic 'grill' or something. With OI Hipster, however, it feels a wee bit warm after several hours of being on, but not nearly warm enough to cause me worry. (I wish I could report actual temperatures for the sake of scientific comparison, but this laptop tends to squirm and wriggle away at the sight of a thermometer.)

Ultimately, I can't say for certain that the lower temperature is a result of the current choice of OS, but nevertheless the coincidence seems too strong to ignore.

illumos + pkgsrc = the best of both worlds

One of the things that has kept me coming back to NetBSD time and again is the availability of certain increasingly-antiquated treats, particularly ones that only a fool for retro UNIX could adore. This includes many (if not all) of the classic window managers you'd ever want or need, including uwm, aka "The Ultrix Window Manager", from 1985, only for those who think twm makes for an appallingly decadent desktop experience, xearth (which turns the root window in Google Earth, though minus any interactivty whatsoever), as well as a decent assortment of games.

 As NetBSD as you wanna be: Motif Window Manager (mwm), with xearth 
running in the root window, as well as Scribus and xgalaga, courtesy of 
SmartOS' pkgsrc repository

On the other hand, one of OpenIndiana Hipster's (current) drawbacks is that it is somewhat light on applications, and until this is rectified, pkgsrc goes a long way towards bridging that gap. For Yours Truly this would mean Scribus for desktop publishing and layout design, though I recall reading somewhere that an illumos-native build was in the works in a tool shed somewhere in sfe.opencsw.org.

The folks over at the SmartOS project have been working at maintaining a pkgsrc repository of pre-built binaries for those of us who just want to type $ sudo pkgin -y install xgalaga and be done with it. Just follow the prescribed directions, and keep in mind that if you're using gnome-terminal, you can copy and paste that long gobbledygook into your terminal session for accuracy and lower blood pressure.

Another beautiful thing about pkgsrc is that it allows me to run NetBSD packages, but much zippier. (I assume this is owing to the better hardware support on account of OI's ancestry in the commercial UNIX realm.)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

No meaningful consequences for bad cops puts good cops at risk

Lest anyone think I'm being anti-police in the text that follows, an important proviso is in order.

The vast majority of police officers, to the absolute best of my knowledge, carry out their duties with professionalism, compassion, and a genuine desire to make a positive difference in their respective communities. I grew up knowing several police officers who lived on my street, and I knew them all as honorable people. (I was friends with some of their sons and daughters, and so I had gotten to know them somewhat well over the span of multiple decades.)

My own direct experiences with law enforcement, either when I was (potentially) in the wrong or needed assistance, has almost always been at least courteous, and often friendly, even when I was in the process of being charged with a moving violation or parking infraction. (The one exception was an officer in Toronto who chose to act like a power-tripping jackass in response to an innocent and unassuming question from Yours Truly regarding a ticket he had just handed me. This, however, was just him having either a rotten personality or a bad day. No big deal.)

The police have a job to do that is as important as it is dangerous. Our society should show them the due respect and admiration they deserve. And for that very reason, however, the system they serve must dole out meaningful punishments to those who dishonor their badge and uniform with conduct that any reasonable person - including their fellow officers - would find reprehensible.

With the chaos in the United States that has erupted since the point-blank shooting death of Alton Sterling at the hands of policemen who already had him pinned down, an aftermath that has gone on to also include officers who were gunned down in Dallas while protecting protestors, it's easy for people to fall into all-or-nothing frames of mind.

"The police are anti-black racists!" 
"Black Lives Matter is an anti-police movement!"

The problem with that sort of simplistic thinking is that it creates a false binary – the police are certainly not some state-sanctioned branch of the Ku Klux Klan, and not all blacks are out to gun down officers.

However (and this is a huge however), no white person can presume to fully understand the persecution blacks have suffered historically and into the current era. While there are some whites who face dire economic circumstances and the diminished efficacy that goes with such a state of affairs, most of us go through life armed with what Utah Phillips (by way of his mentor, Ammon Hennacy) referred to as “the weapons of privilege”. As such, we become so acclimatized to our good fortune that we forget that this isn't the same experience for others, or perhaps we willingly enter into a state of denial regarding the ongoing reality of black oppression by the state because it threatens the North American version of the 'classless society' myth. (We prefer our oligarchy with egalitarian window dressing, thank you very much!)

At the same time, while I find the idea of targeting the police for violence or worse completely offensive, it cannot be denied that those in law enforcement stand on the more advantageous side of the power balance. In essence, they are the state, and so when they pull a gun, lift a club or give the taser a few test zaps before using it on another human, they do so with the full blessing of the establishment. Moreover, and partly because of this advantage, they should (ideally) be held to a higher standard than the average person, and face harsh consequences when they fall egregiously short of that standard.

Unfortunately, in so many instances where it appears excessive brute force has been used against blacks at a level we virtually never see used against non-blacks (peaceful anti-globalization protestors notwithstanding), there just never seems to be any kind of punishment for the offending officers other than a few weeks of paid vacation leave. Conversely, there never seems to be any resulting deterrent against repeats of said incidents. Exacerbating this situation is the sense of denial among mainstream law enforcement personnel when they hoist signs on social media emblazoned with #BlueLivesMatter, which has always struck me as a tone deaf response to the reality of unpunished state violence directed at a particular ethnic minority. It's as if they'd like us to simply forget the incidents (and resulting sense of grave injustice) that trigger such public unrest.

The upshot is that if I were a black man living in America, I would indeed feel like my people were being hunted by the police, and would have absolutely no reason to doubt that the system was complicit in its refusal to hand down any meaningful punishments to the very few 'bad apples' of law enforcement.

And so because of the very respect and admiration I feel for police officers who do their jobs with maximum dedication to doing right by their fellow citizens, and also because of a profound sense of heartbreak at the prospect of yet another black man being murdered by those who otherwise have no business wearing a badge and uniform, there needs to be real and meaningful consequences for those who are damaging the law enforcement brand (and thus putting their more professional brothers' and sisters' lives at risk) with such dangerously offensive misconduct.

As for the rank and file who truly care, perhaps there is an opportunity for healing the community the next time they pose for Twitter pics if, despite all that has happened, they let down their guard and hold signs simply affirming that #BlackLivesMatter.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Selective outrage: Bill O'Reilly and anti-Obama hysteria

Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor isn't exactly known for being a fount of well-reasoned commentary - except to those who already subscribe to its right-wing fear-mongering. His latest anti-Obama diatribe likely won't win over any moderates (nor thinking people in general), and conversely his followers will only feel ever more emboldened in their conviction that America is under attack from within by the sitting Jihadist-In-Chief.

The main product peddled by right wing pundits is outrage in and of itself, perhaps as a way to distract citizens and keep them seduced into voting against their own interests. And in order to make outrage(!) fly off the shelf, it helps to dispense with logic and a sense of perspective.

On his July 7, 2016 broadcast, O'Reilly unveiled shocking(!) photos of a young Obama dressed in Muslim garb, thus confirming once and for all, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Barack Obama has "deep emotional ties" to the Muslim faith.

Even worse, reasoned O'Reilly, is that these photos may help explain why (according to him) Obama is so reluctant to call out radical Islam.

The host attempted to draw an even stronger connection, saying:

“There is no question the Obama administration's greatest failure is allowing the Islamic terror group ISIS to run wild, murdering thousands of innocent people all over the world, including many Muslims. Mr. Obama has never, never acknowledged that mistake, nor does he define the ISIS threat accurately.
“That group is killing innocent people in order to impose a radical version of Islam on the world. The jihad is solely based on theology, perverted as it may be.”

If you look for a thread of sanity in all of this, you'll find it in the fact that at the time the photos in question were taken, Obama was in Kenya for his half-brother Malik's wedding. Is it really so strange that one should take on cultural garb at a family function, particularly when it occurs in one's ancestral homeland and within the milieu of one's ancestral religious culture?

And if the sitting President feels a sense of closeness to and pride in his ancestral culture, religion and all, then what of it?

What should be a source of outrage to those with even a spark of neural activity, and an insult to those who consume O'Reilly's dreck on a regular basis, is that a public broadcaster is using his pulpit to draw such a tenuous connection between the photos in question and the murderous activities of a terrorist network. (This presumes one has enough spiritual energy to work up a sense of outrage at a predictable troglodyte like Bill O'Reilly. As for me, it helps that I'm flying high on a gallon or so of black coffee at the moment.)

In short, O'Reilly is simply trying to further the right wing myth that Islam = terrorism, and is willing to grasp at any straw within reach to advance that cause.

Furthermore, it speaks volumes about O'Reilly's regard for human lives lost to terrorism that he so blithely exhumes them for the purpose of propping up his anti-Obama/anti-Muslim invective. Perhaps if O'Reilly was genuinely concerned about the victims of terrorism, he'd try to get down to its root causes, at least insofar as it relates to Middle East geopolitics. At the very least, he (and others in the neocon hot tub) should stop blaming Obama for the current threat posed by the likes of ISIS, and take a sober look at where the problem truly began.

But then outrage, like any absolutist doctrine, is a very selective phenomenon.


As for the phenomenon of right wing disdain for the concept of 'root causes', I've already been down that road before, though I think it warrants revisiting here. Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe that for hawks, imperialists and others who wish to see all political and financial power resting in the hands of the very, very few, the various conflicts and social unrest in the world are not problems to be solved, but rather ends in and of themselves. They are justifications for more military spending abroad, increased militarizing of the police at home, and ever more trampling of basic rights and opportunities for those of us who comprise the vast bulk of society.

Therefore, to actually get down to the 'root causes' of said conflicts and unrest runs directly counter to the interests of the powerful, and runs the risk of exposing the extent to which the West intentionally destabilizes the Middle East. Here in Canada we had our own example of this outlook in 2013 when former Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's suggestion that we should study the "root causes" of the Boston Marathon bombing with a dismissive "This is not the time to commit sociology."

It would appear that the warped little men pulling the levers would prefer us to not peer behind the curtain.