Crime and Justice: For What It’s Worth

Three days of tragedy.

A tragic week in America.

There’s something happening here;
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Telling me I got to beware…



I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind


Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come,
and take you away…
(from the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth”, ©1966.)

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article far exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers. My apologies ahead of time, but please read on…

     Fifty years ago, Stephen Stills penned these lyrics in response to the “Sunset Strip Riots” of the summer of ’66. During the Vietnam era, the song was adopted and interpreted as an anti-war anthem. Fifty years later, these lyrics remain just as pertinent to the atmosphere in America as when “For What It’s Worth” was first released. During the past three days, our nation has borne witness to tragedy upon tragedy, as a direct result of both the lingering, systemic biases within law enforcement, and the public’s festering fear and anger over the outward examples of these biases.

     On Tuesday, July 5th, 2016, Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling’s life was cut short by two police officers, who were responding to a phone-in complaint of a person threatening others with a firearm outside of a local convenience store. While we don’t exactly know what led up to it, we do know, from cellphone video that was taken of the incident, that one of the responding officers fired six shots into Sterling, at near point-blank range while both officers had Sterling pinned to the ground. The cellphone video of the incident went viral on the internet shortly afterwards, resulting in both national outrage, and the local authorities calling on the DOJ to launch an investigation. The owner of the convenience store, Abdullah Muflahi, has stated that Sterling was “not the one causing trouble” during the events that led up to the incident.

     Alton Sterling was a black man, the two responding officers are white.

     The very next day, near Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, two officers of the St. Anthony Police Department pulled over a vehicle belonging to 32-year-old Philando Castile, reportedly for a broken tail light. Also in the vehicle at the time of the stop, were Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and Diamond’s four-year-old daughter. During the stop, one of the officers, Jeronimo Yanez, asked Castile for his license and registration. The officer was informed by Castile that Castile was carrying a firearm, and that he was licensed to do so. At that point, reportedly while Castile was putting his hands back up from reaching for his wallet, in an effort to comply with the officer’s orders, the officer drew his service weapon, and fired four shots into the vehicle in rapid succession, striking Philando Castile in the arm and torso. Castile’s girlfriend then began live-streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. At the time of the shooting, Reynolds’ daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle. Castile subsequently died as a result of the shooting. The governor of Minnesota has also called upon the DOJ to investigate.

     Philando Castile was black, the officer who took his life…was white.

      Then, all hell broke loose, and the world once again seemed that it was going off of the rails. On the evening of Thursday the 7th, in downtown Dallas, Texas, as a peaceful local protest against the prior two days’ killings was winding down, gunfire erupted from an elevated sniper’s nest, as 25-year-old Army Reservist Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas, aimed his weapon at police officers, shooting 10 from the Dallas PD, and two Dallas Area Rapid Transit officers, all of whom were present at the protest to ensure public safety. Also struck, were two civilians. As a result, four of the Dallas PD officers, and one of the DART officers, succumbed to their wounds and lost their lives. It was the deadliest attack for law enforcement since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

      During the ensuing standoff with the assailant, Johnson stated to law enforcement negotiators that “the end” was coming, that he was upset about the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and that his aim was to kill white people, and specifically white police officers. He also stated that there were numerous explosive devices in the area. One suspicious package was indeed discovered, and Johnson was subsequently killed during the detonation of that package.

     In the aftermath of this week’s violence, a great many people are struggling to wrap their heads around what has taken place. My fine, young readers, that includes me. Just yesterday, after reading about the killing of Philando Castile, I was musing to a good friend that there seems to be a systematic “something” that’s happening in this country, and that it’s being fueled by racial divisiveness and preconceptions. On further examination, I tend to think that what ails us as a nation runs far deeper than just racial biases within the system. In fact, just a few days ago, I made the following observation on my Facebook wall;

“Is it just me, or does it seem to anyone else that, unless you’re super-rich or super-notable, we live in a country where we’re increasingly being discouraged from asking that favorite question of scientists and young children, “why?”, about the things that REALLY matter, like why we still have a problem with racial prejudice, or why our government never listens to or submits to its citizenry?

I’m sorry, but from where I’m sitting, it looks suspiciously like we’re being beaten down by a system that’s been rigged against us, a system designed to keep us, for the most part, pacified.

It’s times like these that trouble me the most.”

     I think that it’s safe to say that I’m far from being the only person who feels like we live in a country where the average Joe has little to no say in how their government is run, and lives with a fair amount of trepidation of that same government. From fears over what would happen if we’re pulled over by a police officer having a particularly bad day, to being audited by the IRS, to whatever governmental mechanism that might go haywire in our particular direction, the people live in fear of the government. John Basil Barnhill stated in 1914, that:

“Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.”

     What has occurred over the past three days, is indeed tyranny.

     My friend and I also discussed the state of the nation, and whether the penchant of certain people for displaying an upside-down flag on their profiles, a sign of a nation in distress, was appropriate. She (my friend) stated that she didn’t believe that our nation was in distress…this was before the events in Dallas. When I spoke with her again after the events in Dallas, I got the distinct impression that maybe her assessment of the situation had changed somewhat.

     My fine, young readers, we are indeed a nation in distress. This distress has claimed at least eight lives in the past three days; five officers in Dallas, Texas, an angry U.S. Army Reservist, a black man in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and another in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  This distress will, unfortunately, claim many more lives until it is alleviated. While I’m sure that there are many opinions on how this distress might find its remedy, one thing is sure; this nation is doomed to perish without that remedy, because as our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 

“…because evils being once recognized, are half way on towards their remedy.”
(Elizabeth Gaskell, circa 1849.)

American Rhetoric: No Fly, No Buy…Bye Bye For Now

No Fly No Buy

No Fly, No Buy

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers…but it’s still a good read!

(At the outset of the House Democrats’ recent sit-in protest on the House floor over firearms reform, I was all for the concept of “No Fly, No Buy.” Then, however, I began to do my own digging. The more I researched, the more I discovered that this might not be such a good thing. What follows here are my personal observations regarding this piece of legislation.)

     There exist within the darkest back halls and deepest data repositories of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ “Terrorist Screening Center”, secret lists that are not made available or accessible to the American public. These “watch lists” and “no-fly” lists cannot be readily viewed, and getting off of one is highly problematic at best. These are the lists at the heart of the Democratic push for “No Fly, No Buy.” Simply put, if you’re on the “no-fly” list, then the House Dems feel that you should not be able to legally purchase a firearm in this country.

     There’s only one…well, there are a lot of problems with this. First and foremost, many hundreds of people who are otherwise law abiding citizens, have found themselves on these lists. It’s not hard to make the list. In fact, until 2005, the TSA had been using people’s credit scores as a determining factor for placing people on the list! In other words, if your credit was in the toilet for some reason before 2005 / 2006, you might very well find yourself on the “no-fly” list.

     Oh, but that’s not the only way that you might end up being denied air travel! The Huffington Post’s Nick Wing outlined several additional ways that people have ended up on the list in a July, 2014 piece.(1)

      So, let’s just say for the sake of argument, that you’re an all-around good guy, who, like myself, has been pretty critical of the Transportation Security Administration, and its long, dismal record of mistreatment of air passengers. So, like I have, you post some highly incendiary things on social media about those jokers, including comments aimed specifically at John Pistole, the former TSA Administrator. Something to the effect of him being a mentally-deficient twat waffle, who deserves to languish forever in one of his own endless airport security lines. This could land you on the list, folks!

     Now that you’re on the list, let’s also say that the House Democrats have their way, and their “No Fly, No Buy” becomes law. Now, not only can you not take that Southwest Airlines round-trip flight to visit grandma Hazel in Duluth, now you can’t exercise your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms either, should you so choose, all because you got righteously pissed off at the ridiculousness that is the TSA at one time or another!

     On its face, “No Fly, No Buy” seems like a good idea. If someone’s been deemed too dangerous to get on board an airplane in this country, then they’re definitely too dangerous to be allowed to buy a gun, right? Isn’t this a “no-brainer”? Not necessarily, if the list that we’re basing all of this on is flawed, which it is! Even the decidedly liberal American Civil Liberties Union, knows that these “watch lists” are a major Mongolian fuster-cluck.(2)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, (when have I ever been humble in the course of opining here!?) we need to first, fix the “No-Fly” list situation, because it is a fu**ered up situation. Hence the Republican gripe about, “trading second and fourteenth amendment rights for secret lists.” So…

     Open it up. No more Orwellian, “secret list” bovine scatology.

     I’m sure that the federal government can get a few MIT graduates to create a secure website, that citizens can log on to, like they log in to their online banking. (Hell, they’re messing with Quantum Computing, I’m sure they can write some HTML!) There, they can check the list to see if their name is on it. If it is, the website should also have a link to both an online form and a printable PDF form, for redress and removal of their name from the list. The arbitration process should take no more than 30 days. One month, for the government to either make its case for depriving you of both your Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights, or get your name off of the list, and let you go along your merry way as a free American citizen, with all rights and privileges thereof.

     Listen. I get what my congressman, along with the other Democrats in the House of Representatives, are trying to do. They’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. People are dying every single day from gun violence in this country, more than in any other developed country in the western world. We have a dismal (yes, that’s the second time I’ve used that adjective, so sue me!) record of gun violence and deaths, compared to the rest of our peer nations. We need to do something, however I’m not at all confident that “No Fly, No Buy” is the answer, especially when the list itself is screwed to such a high degree. I suspect that to the Republicans, and maybe even some of the more enlightened Democrats, it appeared as if House Dems were, as my wife just phrased it, “trying to make the shit smell good before shoveling it.”

      The overarching idea behind the sit-in, though, is that Paul (Lucifer) Ryan and the House Republicans weren’t even allowing debate on this issue, which is not conducive to solving these problems, and is simply a nipple-headed, right-wing elitist thing to do.

     Allow the debate.

     Allow the vote.

     Sure, the bill is going to go down in flaming death on the House floor, but at least we’re having the debate. At least we’re sussing out the problems, and trying to come up with productive solutions…and that, as one congressman said during yesterday’s sit-in, “ a good Goddamned start!”

American Rhetoric: Some Thoughts on the Democratic Sit-In for Gun Legislation

House Dems Sit-In

House Democrats announce their “occupation” of the floor.

TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Congressman Mark Walker, and the Republican leadership. My apologies…NAH!

     Today, I can say that I am proud to be a Democrat, because yesterday, I witnessed my party’s leaders make history. Starting at around 11:00 A.M. EDST, several House Democrats, led by the civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, staged an unprecedented “sit-in”, effectively taking over control of the House floor. This sit-in was precipitated by the recent tragedy in Orlando, at the Pulse nightclub, where a lone gunman killed 49 members of the LGBT(QI) community, before being killed by responding officers.

     In the wake of this mass shooting, which has been referred to in the media as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history”, as with previous tragedies such as Sandy Hook and Aurora, national discourse on firearms legislation and control has risen to fever pitch; however nothing of significance ever seems to get accomplished. It was this angst that prompted members of the House Democratic Caucus to take the extraordinary step of staging yesterday’s “sit-in.”

     John Lewis is no stranger to things like sit-ins. The 76-year-old Troy, Alabama native was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, having been one of the 13 original “Freedom Riders”, and leading the march across the Edmund Pettis bridge in Selma in 1965. If anyone in congress was up to the task of putting together something like this, it was John Lewis. According to Lewis, the sit-in was not made known to the leadership. (I’ll comment a bit more on Lewis a bit later down the page!)

     At approximately 11:00 A.M., John Lewis was recognized by the chair, took the floor of the house, and issued the following statement:

     Thus started what would eventually become a 25-hour-long protest by House Democrats, over the Republican majority’s reluctance to allow a vote on two pieces of legislation; a “No Fly, No Buy” bill, which would prevent people on the government’s “No Fly” list from purchasing firearms, and a bill to close loopholes in the background check process where it pertains to online and gun show purchases. Both of the bills that Democrats were seeking a vote on, incidentally, are bipartisan authored bills. With their intent to force the Republican majority to allow a floor vote on these bills, or be held over with no holiday break, Democrats employed the rallying cry of, “No Bill, No Break!” The Republican chair was forced to adjourn the House once the Democrats took the floor.

     One of the more significant hurdles that the Democrats had to overcome, was the absence of media coverage of the sit-in protest. This was due to the House Majority’s control of the cameras and microphones in the House chamber. The Republican leadership had these shut off when the chair adjourned the House, much to the chagrin of the Democrats. No worries, though! As it turns out, there’s an app for that! Enter “Periscope”, and social media feeds from Congressmen Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15th), Scott Peters (D-CA 52nd), and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX 16th). Because of this, C-SPAN was able to broadcast the sit-in in its entirety, albeit with the occasional video glitch due to the nature of streaming video from a smartphone.

Jim Costa

My congressman, Jim Costa (D-CA 16) speaks.

     During the day-long sit-in, several Democrats took to the podium at the front of the House chamber, rallying their fellow Dems and outlining the many reasons for both the sit-in, and the need for tighter laws on firearms purchases, with the pictures and names of the many victims of gun violence in America as both their backdrop, and constant source of motivation, along with signs reading, “Disarm Hate.”

     The Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used a parliamentary procedure to call an early recess, then left for the July 4th break in the wee hours of the morning, without even an acknowledgment of the issue. In fact, Speaker Ryan referred to the Democratic sit-in as merely a “publicity stunt.” This left the Democrats basically on their own in D.C.

     John Lewis and the House Democrats ended their sit-in at around noon on Thursday, the 23rd of June, with Congressman Lewis stating that their “struggle” was far from over, vowing to return from the holiday break and once again take up the issue. Lewis was the last one to speak. What began with Congressman Lewis, ended with Congressman Lewis, that courageous and noble gentleman from Georgia’s 5th congressional district.

     I find myself left with both a strong sense of pride in my party, and an equally strong sense of disgust at the statements and behavior of House Republicans. At various times during the Democrats’ occupation of the House floor, Republicans alternately heckled, laughed at, and yelled at the Democrats on the floor. During all of this, however, my party’s representatives maintained an overall sense of decorum and restraint. They did us proud, getting into what Congressman Lewis referred to as, “good trouble.”

     One of the more ironic things that came up during the protest, was when Southern Baptist preacher-come-Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC 6th) attempted to engage in a bit of “whitesplaining”, tweeting that;

Calling this a sit-in is a disgrace to Woolworth’s. They sat-in for rights. Dems are “sitting-in” to strip them away.

     I think that it’s a pretty “twunt” move, presuming to tell a civil rights icon about the civil rights movement, especially when the significantly younger Walker wasn’t even born until May of 1969, almost ten whole years after the Woolworth’s lunch counter protest.

     Once again, I am a proud Democrat. I’m proud of my party, proud of my congressional rep, and proud of my President. I also have my own opinions on things like the “No Fly” list, disallowing people on that list from purchasing weapons, and closing loopholes. Instead of going into that here, I’ll pen individual articles on each one, links to be found here soon! (Suffice it to say that this particular piece has indeed migrated towards the “TLDR” end of the spectrum!)

     #SickAndTiredofBeingSickAndTired #NoFlyNoBuy #CloseTheLoopholes #DisarmHate

Life and Living: An Open Letter To The Stanford Survivor…and ALL Survivors

     I read your impact statement last night, in its entirety. Where do I begin? I felt the overwhelming desire, being the father that I am, to encircle you in comforting arms…but what can be said, to bring comfort?

     “It’s going to be okay”? “Everything’s going to be okay”? They seem like such empty platitudes, in light of everything that has happened since that terrible night. No. Everything is not going to be “okay.” Nothing about this is “okay”, or should ever be thought to be “okay.” That despicable act, the lack of any acceptance of culpability on the part of the young man or his father, and the equally despicable joke of a sentence handed down by the judge. None of it is “okay”, or ever will be.

     You, on the other hand, can find yourself firmly on the road to “okay”, but you’re going to have to dig deep. Some days will be better than others. Things that seemed inconsequential before, will now bring hesitation and trepidation. I’m not going to even presume to tell you that this is “normal”, because it’s not normal, unless a person has endured what you and many others have. When these triggers jump up, (and they will never do so at opportune times,) you’re going to need some personal ammunition to combat their impacts.

     You will survive…you must survive. Don’t give those bastards the satisfaction of ever caving under the weight of this. Yes, there will be times when the weight will seem unbearable, but in those times, remember that you are not alone. You’re never alone. You have millions of fellow life travelers, some of whom have been through similar trials, who stand with you, maybe not in person, but definitely in thought and spirit. Surround yourself with those who will uplift you. Cast off the negatives, the naysayers and the “don’t be’s.”

     You’re on our minds and in our thoughts. While we may not know your name, that’s not important. We’re still thinking about you, willing you feelings of love, peace, comfort and light, even in the darkest of times.

Science and Religion: Escape From The Center of (Robert) Sungenis


Geocentrism: adding epicycles.

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Mr. Robert Sungenis and anyone who missed the memo about the sun being the reason they call this the “solar” system.

     I’d like to tell you a story, my fine, young readers. It’s a story that’s over two thousand years in the making, and one that needs to be told. You see, we as a race are nearing a fork in the road of our development, between enlightenment and ignorance. This fork in the road means that those of us who honestly care where we are going, need to be diligent enough to tell these stories repeatedly, so that others don’t forget all that we’ve learned. I tell you this story, because I love each and every one of you. But, I digress…

Claudius Ptolemy: 90 - 168 AD.

Claudius Ptolemy: 90 – 168 AD.

     In the last years of the third century BC, Greek mathematician Appolonius of Perga posited a geometric model that would explain the movements of the planets as they tracked across the sky. Observed from the Earth, planets such as Mars seemed to move in one direction for a while, then stop, move backwards a bit, then return to their original direction of motion. What Appolonius proposed, was that these objects moved in what came to be known as “epicycles” as they tracked across the night sky. Appolonius’s epicycles were subsequently expanded upon and adopted by Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, and became part of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy. (Ptolemy’s model was even turned into an ancient analog computer of sorts, in what is now known as the “Antikythera Mechanism.”) The Ptolemaic system would hold sway as scientific dogma for the next fifteen hundred years.

Nicholaus Copernicus: 1473 - 1543

Nicolaus Copernicus: 1473 – 1543

     Flash forward, to the year 1542. A man lies dying from apoplexy and paralysis. His name, is Nicolaus Copernicus. For the past few decades, Copernicus had been working on the problem of the Ptolemaic model, trying to answer various questions about its inability to make more accurate predictions of the motions of the planets. At the same time, the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation were spreading throughout Europe, challenging the long-held authority of the Roman Catholic church over what exactly the “truths of existence” were.

     Copernicus wasn’t an idiot. He knew that his observations and conclusions about how the heavenly bodies moved across the sky, would contradict church dogma. So, he waited until just before his death in 1543 to publish his observations in a book, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium.” (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”) In this daring treatise, Copernicus posited that the sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the planetary system, and that the planets orbited the sun in circular paths.

Tycho Brahe: 1546 - 1601

Tycho Brahe: 1546 – 1601

     Three years later, another pioneer in the field of astronomy was born. Tycho Brahe was a headstrong young man, who even lost part of the bridge of his nose in a sword duel (in the dark!) with a fellow Danish nobleman, over a mathematical formula. Tycho was serious. Even more so, he was all about accuracy. Because of this, Tycho began to make meticulous measurements of the planets’ motions, using a device called a “quadrant.”

Johannes Kepler: 1571 - 1630

Johannes Kepler: 1571 – 1630

     By 1600, Brahe had compiled a massive amount of data. It was at this time, that 29-year-old Johannes Kepler met Brahe near Prague, at Benatky nad Jizerou, and became his assistant. Brahe didn’t entirely trust Kepler with his data. For that matter, he didn’t trust anyone with it, and guarded his data closely. He did, however, set his young protege a task; reckon out the motion of the planet Mars. (“Here, kid. Take these measurements and figure it out.”) Kepler already had his own view of the world around him, and since he wasn’t a Catholic, wasn’t as worried about crossing the “powers-that-be” as Copernicus had been.

     Tycho Brahe died in 1601. Immediately following Brahe’s demise, Kepler purloined his vast collection of observational data, and eventually published his conclusions in the “Astronomia nova” (“New Astronomy”) in 1609. “Astronomia nova” made compelling arguments for heliocentrism, and built on the Copernican model of planetary orbits, positing that instead of circular paths, the planets followed elliptical orbits around the sun.

Galileo Galilei: 1564 - 1642

Galileo Galilei: 1564 – 1642

     In the same year that Kepler published “Astronomia nova”, a 45-year-old Italian mathematician and astronomer, by the name of Galileo Galilei, built a device modeled after the “Dutch spyglass.” This device, which could magnify distant objects to about 3x, was the first practical telescope. Galileo turned his telescope skyward…and Galileo saw. Galileo sketched. Galileo discovered.

     He discovered that Saturn had rings. He discovered that Jupiter had moons of its own. He noted that Venus went through phases, much like the moon. Galileo published his findings in “Sidereus Nuncius” (“Starry Messenger”) in 1610, and in “Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo” (“Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”) in 1632. It was the latter book, which directly challenged established church dogmas, that would result in Galileo being tried for heresy by the Inquisition, and placed under house arrest until his death in 1642. The damage, however, had been done. The great man, Galileo Galilei, had dealt the death blow to the Ptolemaic system of geocentrism…or so it seemed.

Sir Issac Newton: 1642 - 1727

Sir Issac Newton: 1642 – 1727

     In the centuries after Galileo turned his telescope to the sky, science has made advances that Galileo would have found astounding. Issac Newton refined Galileo’s work, developing a new system of mathematics (Calculus) to explain the motions of the planets, as well as the reasons why they move the way that they do. His “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (“Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) was a virtual watershed in the fields of mathematics, physics and astronomy.

     During the 1800’s, the sky was indeed the “greatest show on Earth.” Before the age of motion pictures, radio and television, people found entertainment and wonder in simply gazing up at the sky, identifying the stars and constellations, and acknowledging their place within the wider realm of existence…but then, that all changed.

     It is the year 2014. A recent poll by the National Science Foundation finds that 1 in 4 people in America don’t know that the sun is at the center of the solar system. America ranks 25th in science and math scoring of high-school students worldwide. (China, Finland and South Korea rank in the top three.) This spring, mail-order Ph.D. documentary producer and Holocaust denier, Robert Sungenis, is releasing a film based upon his book, “Galileo Was Wrong The Church Was Right”, titled “The Principle.” Sungenis is an adherent of the Ptolemaic model of geocentrism; the same model that was proven to be wrong almost 500 years ago.

     I can only hope that someone reads this story, and understands. I ache with the desire for someone to digest these words, and to be imbued with a child-like curiosity about science and the sky. Oh, God. If I had the money, I would gladly buy each and every one of you, my fine young readers, a brand new Celestron telescope, so that we could gaze together on the wonders of the Galilean moons of Jupiter, the rings around Saturn and other “awesomesauce” out there in the night sky, if for no other reason than to honor Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and others for their hard work and sacrifices. Sacrifice, they did, all in the name of making our world a better and smarter place to be.

American Rhetoric: Let’s Place A Ban…on Talk of Banning

Sheryl Sandberg wants to "lean in" and ban the word "bossy."

Sheryl Sandberg wants to “lean in” and ban the word “bossy.”

“The power of a word lies not so much in its mere utterance, but in the CONTEXT in which it is given utterance, and how it is received by those hearing it.”
-The Cybersattva

     There are times when the national discourse takes a turn that causes me a fair amount of concern, and this is one of those times. This past week, Facebook COO and author of the women’s empowerment tome, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg, launched a campaign via her book’s namesake “Lean In” organisation, in cooperation with Girl Scouts USA. The campaign’s goal? Ban the word “bossy.”

     According to Sandberg, the schoolyard term and “gender-specific insult” has been used to deter young girls from having the highest of aspirations, and therefore impairing their ability and willingness to succeed upon entering adulthood. Her effort to counter this long-suffered problem has been mapped out and presented via the “banbossy” website, and “#banbossy” hashtags have been cropping up all over the interwebz.

     I wish I knew exactly what Sandberg means when she says that the word should be “banned.” Is she suggesting a change in the language that school-aged children are allowed to use in an educational setting, or the complete disuse and disavowing of the word by society on the whole?

     At this point in the story, I’d like to state that I am very pro-woman. I honestly believe that the “fairer sex” has been getting a bad rap, ever since that whole “Eve and the apple” bit. Even now, women are still being denied an equal share of the wage and advancement opportunities in this country, and something definitely needs to be done about it. I am not confident, however, that the banning of a word or words, is quite the answer that the question requires.

     When we talk of “banning” words, I fear that this may be the first few inches on a steep and slippery slope. Those of us who have kept a weather eye on humanity’s past, know full well that things like this have happened before, and have led to some very dark places. Thought police. Book burnings. The control and limitation of free, unfettered speech. (I’ve been chided for connecting Mrs. Sandberg’s suggested ban with these concepts already, however upon further examination through the prism of history, I feel my concerns remain valid. I’ll expand on this in a bit, but let’s continue…)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, we should be discussing context instead. This goes back to my earlier piece on “What Makes Bad Words Bad.” When we say that someone is acting or being “bossy,” what do we mean? If someone is being proactive and assertive, while also taking others’ thoughts, opinions and feelings into consideration, then no, the word “bossy” should not be used to discourage or denigrate them. On the other hand, if someone is simply issuing orders or attempting to “throw their weight around” inconsiderately, then yes, they’re being bossy, and should be called out for it.

     I also have an issue with Sandberg’s “pigeon-holing” of the word “bossy” as a gender-specific insult. Of course, it can certainly be utilised as such, just as much as a kitchen knife can be used as a street weapon. And of course, neither should be acceptable. Just because a word or a kitchen knife can be used as those things, however, does not make them those things ipso facto.

     Instead of all this talk of “banning” words, perhaps it’s time to talk about redefining them. Perhaps we should be discussing how we employ our words, when we employ them, who we employ them with regard to, and how they might be received. At any rate, we as a society should be having this dialogue, instead of simply suggesting that we “ban” something that we don’t necessarily like, regardless of context.


“Pleased to meet you,
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you,
Is the nature of my game.”
– Rolling Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil” c1968.

     What’s puzzling me with regard to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook, and her foundation’s connections, goes right to the heart of my concerns over her suggestion of banning words. Since Facebook went public, it appears that the site has begun a slow transformation from social networking, to social engineering. Case in point, Facebook has started penalising its users for sending “friend requests” to people on the site that users do not know personally:


     In addition to this, “The Baffler’s” Susan Faludi revealed in an article penned last year, that Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” organisation has connections to a number of “Platform Partners” with equal opportunity histories that are, shall we say…”impeachable”? The following is an excerpt from the Faludi / Baffler piece from 2013:

“Lean In Platform Partners Mondelez and Nestlé: In 2013, an Oxfam investigation in four countries where the two companies outsourced their cocoa farms found that the women working in the cocoa fields and processing plants that the companies relied on “suffer substantial discrimination and inequality.” When women at a cocoa processing factory demanded equal treatment and pay, the investigation noted, all of the female workers were fired. The same companies that “put women first in their advertisements,” Oxfam concluded, “are doing very little to address poor conditions faced by the women who grow cocoa.””

     So, my question is, what exactly is Sheryl Sandberg playing at? What is the “nature of her game”? Why is it that she talks about banning words and limiting the national dialogue, under the guise of women’s empowerment, while at the very same time, “holding hands with the devil”? Why is her company, Facebook, actively impeding users from advancing this same dialogue, through the process of free and open social networking?

     Something is fishy in Denmark, my fine young readers. We as netizens now require our own bit of “empowerment,” to be able to glean the answers that Susan Faludi was unable to glean.

(Jim) Crowing – An Open Letter To Al Melvin and The Arizona State Government



     Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a bone to pick with you. It concerns a bill that has passed the Arizona state legislature, and now sits on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk, awaiting either her affirming “Jane Hancock,” or her veto. You know which bill I’m referring to; SB 1062. It has been referred to in the media as the “Arizona Anti-Gay Bill.”

     Just this morning, I watched a short clip of an interview between CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and state senator Al Melvin. Mr. Melvin, I have a question for you: why could you not answer a simple question regarding discrimination? As Mr. Cooper noted, you have declared your intent to run in that state’s next gubernatorial race, and as he noted, you were unable (or unwilling!) to answer a single question with regards to possible discrimination issues involving people in your state.

     Mr. Melvin, SB 1062 has absolutely nothing to do with religious freedom, and you know it. It pertains to commerce. Commerce, as you are (hopefully) well aware, is a matter of profit and loss. Religious practice, on the other hand, is a matter of espousing and expressing faith in a particular ideology and / or deity. As most church establishments are 501(c)(3) non profit endeavors, there seems to be a marked difference between them, and say, a bakery or florist shop. Apparently, you are confused as to the divisions and restrictions of each type of establishment, and where the two should and shouldn’t be intertwined.

     Mr. Melvin, how exactly does one such as yourself get to be a state senator, with such decidedly bigoted values and views? Navy War College? Were you good at that? Perhaps you should go back to that, because you’re a dismal failure as a representative of the populous. I have little doubt that there are thousands of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual constituents in your state, that are looking at you and shaking their collective heads.

     Let’s leave my apparent angst for Al Melvin to the side for a second, and address this ill-conceived piece of legislation. SB 1067 is problematic in a number of ways. For one, it would require business owners to make a declarative statement with regards to their religious proclivities against serving members of the LGBT community. This harkens back to the days of Jim Crow laws, where businesses would display signs that read, “No Coloreds Allowed,” or “Whites Only.” I’m assuming that any declaration must be posted, as a business license must, in a conspicuous place. I foresee this as being akin to a “scarlet letter,” and here’s why. Let’s say I am a consumer, and I walk in to a store with one of these signs posted near the register. As a supporter of the LGBT community, I am not even going to bother looking for the merchandise that I’m seeking, not in this store. I see the label, I acknowledge it for the bigotry that it is, and I turn and leave. The business loses revenue.

     In addition, the bill is unconstitutional. It is nothing short of state-sanctioned discrimination against an entire group of people, based solely on their sexual preference. Should Governor Brewer sign this piece of legislation into law, it will assuredly result in millions of dollars being spent by the state to defend it against rightful challenges to its constitutionality. In other words, Arizona; this one’s gonna cost ya!

     Speaking of costing ya, I hear that none other than the denizens of One Infinite Loop, Apple, Incorporated, have expressed concern over the bill, and its possible impact on any decision to abandon its Sapphire Glass plant in Mesa. Jan! Hey, Jan? Are you hearing this? Tim Cook and Apple will likely hit your state right in the wallet, should you dare affix your signature to this!

     I guess it all comes down to one question, folks; what’s in your wallet!? At any rate, it’s like the latest memes say. We’ve already had this discussion, and you cannot discriminate against a particular demographic who wish to sit at the lunch counter.

Life and Living: The Commonalities Between Snakes, Knives, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Flirting with death? From l. to r. - Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

Flirting with death? From l. to r. – Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

     Now, they say that Blondes have more fun, but personally, I don’t think that’s true. In fact, it appears that some rural Kentuckians are having far more fun than even Blondes do; (ready for it?) indeed, more fun than they can shake a snake at! (Cue sad trombone.) Why else would someone want to risk their life doing something, even after their own father has lost his life in the very same way?

     That’s what Cody Coots, the new pastor of the Middlesboro, Kentucky “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name” church, says that he’s prepared to do. (1) For those of you, my fine young readers, that aren’t familiar with the story, we’ll climb into the proverbial Chronosphere, and like Jonathan LaPaglia on the late-nineties show, jump back seven days…

     Last Saturday, Middlesboro, Kentucky pastor Jamie Coots lost his life, having been bitten by one of the poisonous snakes that he and fellow attendees of the Full Gospel Tabernacle are so fond of messing with in the “name of Jesus.” (2) They believe that, according to bible passage Mark 16:18, if their faith is strong, that those pesky little snakebites won’t hurt them at all;

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
(Mark 16:18, KJV)

     Now, I’ve suggested in the days since that either the Bible is wrong, that Pastor Coots misinterpreted it, or that he wasn’t “anointed” in the first place. Indeed, during my initial flirtations with this topic on Facebook, one of my friends even suggested that the elder Coots had been “released from his calling,” to which I responded with a reference to Romans 11:29, which basically states that God doesn’t “issue recalls.” The debate, though, isn’t quite about that. The true crux of the issue here, in my own not-so-humble opinion, is once again, where faith meets religion, and religion’s never-ending propensity for the misapplication of faith…or does the “rabbit hole” go even deeper?

     Another friend once told me that the Bible is a “scary” thing. I don’t think so. The Bible, in and of itself, is just a book. This book cannot act of its own volition, can it? No. It requires a human element to use it, whether that be for good or ill. In that discussion, I likened the Bible to a kitchen knife. As everyone knows, a kitchen knife is a tool, designed and purposed to aid in the preparation of food for consumption. We don’t fear kitchen knives, do we? If I take a paring knife out and set it on the counter next to an apple, will that knife jump up, and cut my apple into several neat, little slices for me to eat? Likewise, will it jump up and stab someone? No, but it can be used to those ends! Once again, it requires the interaction of a person. In my opinion, some degree of accountability must be assigned to the person or people who are using the tool.

     Cody Coots has said that if he gets bitten by the snake, then he, like his father, will decline emergency treatment. He states that if he dies, then it must be “God’s will.” (Question: if there is a gun on the table that one knows is loaded and has a round in the chamber, and one picks up that gun, points it at their head and says, “If I die when I pull this trigger, then it’s God’s will,” and then pulls the trigger and dies, whose will was it actually that this person died?)

     Personal accountability. It’s something that, quite honestly, is fading fast in America. In 1968, then-Governor Ronald Reagan mused on this concept during a speech to the Republican National Convention when he stated;

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

     So, at what point do we hold a person or group of people accountable for their actions? In the course of asking this question, I’m reminded of the recent, tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, before anyone starts accusing me of trying to “capitalise on the death of a good and decent man,” please read on a bit.

     As a lot of you know, Hoffman was found in his West Village, Manhattan apartment back on the 2nd of this month, dead of a Heroin overdose. Several small bags were found, and Hoffman died with a needle in his vein. (3) Since that day, those following and commenting on the sad story, have done what people often do; play the “blame game,” and attempt to find some kind of meaning in an otherwise meaningless death. They blame the drug. They blame the pusher. They blame the stresses of celebrity life…but does anyone ever place even a smidgen of the blame for Hoffman’s demise…on Hoffman?

     This needle, like any other needle I suspect, would not have been able to simply jump up and enter Hoffman’s arm. His supplier didn’t dose him, nor did any other Tinseltown actor or agent. No, Philip Seymour Hoffman did this to himself, knowing full well the dangers of what he was doing. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better we’ll be at viewing things like this objectively. Of course, there will still be those select few who, like Coots and progeny, will blame their own and others’ ill-fated actions on everyone else, including their God.


Faith and Religion: A Flood That Doesn’t Hold Water

Comparison between the Ark and the HMS Titanic. Graphic courtesy of / PZ Myers.

Comparison between the Ark and the RMS Titanic. Graphic courtesy of / PZ Myers.

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Mr. Ray Comfort and our friends at Answers in Genesis.

     It seems like the older I get, the more skeptical I become regarding things that, for the longest time, I held to be unquestionably true. A young Earth, the Genesis story, the story of Jesus, and the Noah’s Ark story. I grew up with things like the flood story, being told by my Sunday School teachers how Noah built this gigundous boat, and brought all of the animals in the world onto the Ark by twos, male and female, because God was going to flood the Earth. God made it rain for forty days and forty nights, they said. God made the rainbow, they said.

     I guess I started questioning things the minute I discovered that I could make rainbows, (a la the prism or a sprinkler!) and the questions only multiplied from there. I learned about dinosaurs in school. When I asked about them in church, I was told that they died in the flood. I took that answer, and ran with it for quite some time…but no longer. You see, the accumulation of knowledge and a greater understanding of things like cause and effect does something funny to a person’s perception of reality. It shatters illusions, and places certainty solidly within the realm of testable theory, evidence, and proofs.

     Look around for evidence of a global flood. There is none, despite the fact that something on that massive of a scale would leave indubitable evidence behind, in the form of sedimentary layers. The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami left sedimentary evidence everywhere in its impact area. (1) Evidence of earlier tsunamis has been unearthed in places such as Japan, the Cascadia subduction zone, and elsewhere. No uniform layer of ocean sediments, however, has been unearthed that would support a global flood having happened.

     Dinosaurs. According to young-Earth creationists such as the Hovinds, Ray Comfort, Ken Ham and the nice folks at Answers in Genesis, they lived alongside early man, from Adam to Noah. Where did they go? Wasn’t Noah supposed to have taken them aboard the ship as well? Let’s look and see what the ol’ King James says about that in Genesis 6, verses 19-21:

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

Elephantitis is a pain! Graphic courtesy of Desktop Nexus / LivePencil.

Elephantitis is a pain! Graphic courtesy of Desktop Nexus / LivePencil.

     So God said every living thing. Of all flesh. (Sounds pretty definitive to me!) This begs the question; was Noah an obedient man? According to the Bible, he was. That’s why God hand-picked him to preserve life on that overblown raft of his. So if that’s true, then again, where are the dinosaurs? I’ve gotten a few different answers from the “answer” folks on this. Either they died in the flood, or they went extinct after. If they went “glug glug,” then that would have to mean that Noah was disobedient to some degree. If they went extinct afterwards, then why didn’t other reptiles, such as crocodiles, snakes, turtles and lizards go extinct? T-rex and Velociraptor were apex predators, for Christ’s sakes! So, I guess we wait for the creationists to come up with a better excuse.

     Where did all of the water go? There’s only a finite amount of the “wet stuff” on this planet, and it’s not nearly enough to have covered the Earth deeper than Mount Everest is high:

19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.

20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
(Genesis 7: 19-20, King James Version.)

     “Ah! But what about all of the frozen water, locked up in polar ice?” you may ask. Here it is; if we melted every glacier, every iceberg and every ice sheet, global ocean levels would only rise about 220 feet. (2) The tippy-top of Everest sits at a whopping 29,029 feet above sea level. Maybe if we added all of the ice cubes out of everyone’s freezers, we’d add a few more inches to that previous 220 feet number.

     I’d like to know something. At what point did Noah stop off in Australia, and drop off the Marsupials? Kangaroos. They’re endemic to just one continent on this, God’s green Earth; the Land Down Under. How did they get there, especially when there’s no land bridge between New Guinea and Queensland? The interesting thing about this one, is that the YEC’ers have pulled a new explanation out of their posteriors; a post-flood ice age. Intriguing…proof, si vous plait? Conversely, why are they only endemic to Australia? If the ark landed in Turkey somewhere, then why don’t we see them in Africa? In South America? In India at least?

     For that matter, how did Aboriginal Australians and Native Americans get across the Torres and Bering Straits? Once again, post-flood ice age. Right, sure. Ya bet’cha.

     Supposedly, the flood happened around 2350 BC, according to the folks at AiG. (3) At Creation Ministries, Dr. John Osgood fixes it at 2304 BC. (4) In 1650, Irish Archbishop James Ussher fixed the date of the flood at 2348 BC. What’s a few (or 40) years, right?

     Centuries of research by the best and brightest scholars, have narrowed the date of the building of Khufu’s pyramid on the Giza plateau to sometime between 2560 BC and 2470 BC. (5) So, what gives? Were the pyramids built pre-flood then? (AiG makes an attempt to answer this question, albeit rather poorly. They fail to offer a date of their own for Khufu’s pyramid being built.) Young-Earth creationists have come up with a theory of their own with regards to the movement of land masses, which they’ve termed, “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics.” (6) If that theory was true, and the pyramids were built before the flood, then they surely would have been destroyed, don’t ya think? Again, YEC’ers can’t answer with a firmer date for the building of the pyramids, so…?

     Come on. We know that the Earth’s plates are drifting at about 2cm/year average speed. If we push “stop” on the global VCR, and then press “rewind,” it would take far longer than a mere 6k years for the landmasses to rejoin. We know about how long it takes for rocks to form. We can measure plate movement via GPS, and can prove subduction via Seismology. Science has yet again jumped in where religion has fumbled the ball, and taken it down the field and toward the end zone of understanding the physical processes that have shaped the planet. (A gratuitous football reference there, in anticipation of Sunday’s big game!)

     To sum all of this up, the global flood story has more holes in it than the colander in my kitchen cabinet. So, what are we disillusioned believers now supposed to believe?

Life and Living: Real, Real, Really Real

     I’m going to start this article off by saying that I haven’t sat down and penned anything in a “really” long time. My last article was published back in late November, and since then I have been pretty much dialed in to taking care of IRL issues during the holiday season. Now that 2014 is here and the holidays are over…well, allons-y!

What is "real"?

What is “real”?

     A friend of mine posted the picture on the right to her Facebook wall, and it duly showed up on my newsfeed. More than anything else, it gave me a few moments of pause, causing me to start thinking about what “reality” is, and how we perceive and relate to it. It occurs to me, that there is not one, but two types of “reality”; subjective reality, and objective reality.

     Take for instance, my opening statement. My application of the term “really” is meant to attach an immenseness to the actual quantity of time that has elapsed since my last article was published. However! What might seem like a “really” long time to me, may not seem so long to another observer. In this case the reality is subjective, based upon the perspective from which it is being observed. Another example would be my observation of say, a rose. While I may see the rose as being red, someone who is color-blind may see it as being a shade of blue. Which color is “real”? To them, the rose is really blue, while to me, it is red. Does this difference in observation render their observation any less valuable than my own?

     Conversely, there are things that exist that, no matter who observes them, everyone will agree that they are real. Gravity, for example. Regardless of who observes it, gravity still pulls all things down to Earth at a uniform 32 feet per second, squared. (Now, I know that this brings up the argument of our standards of measurement, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that 32′ /sec2 is universally true, where the Earth is concerned.) The point being, that the force of gravity is real, and can be proven across multiple disciplines and (rational) schools of thought.

     I have a ginormous issue. It has to do with the penchant on the part of some, to try applying the term “real” to ideas, institutions and concepts, in order to impose their own beliefs on these things. A “real” American. A “real” Christian. A “real” man. (Word to the wiser amongst you, my fine, young readers! Whenever anyone presents this “No True Scotsman” statement as a representation of fact, it should set off alarm bells in your rational thinking centers!) Take the picture above. According to the creator of the meme, a “real” man is monogamous, devoted and, most importantly, heterosexual. Anything else, and the man is not “real.” So, a man like George Takei, who has devoted his love and life to another man, is not “real” according to the meme’s standards. Likewise, someone who truly loves, and is devoted to two women…a polygamist, (as allowable in Islam) is not “real” according to the meme.

     The idea that I’m attempting to get across to you all, what I’m saying, (if I’m saying anything) is to exercise a modicum of caution when attempting to present your own opinions. Sure, we’re all entitled to possess our own opinions, but that doesn’t necessarily elevate them to the status of being factual. Wikipedia defines “reality” as:

“…the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible.”

     In other words, “id est quod id est.” (“It is what it is.”) Any standards that someone might seek to impose on it, regardless of what “it” may be, are subjective. (Which circles back to my observation on gravity, which we can get into in another article!)