Freedom of speech and the right to show off your lack of class

I don’t know what motivates this sort of thinking. Narcissism? Misandry? Boorishness?

It’s unfortunate that even amid a tragedy that claimed 16 lives and injured 15 others, some can’t help but wave their social justice warrior capes.

On the positive side, the above individual would appear to be far outnumbered, as more than $15 million has been raised for those involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and their families.

Yes, we all have the right to voice our opinion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should do so each and every time a thought enters our mind.

As wiser folks have said: “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

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Today’s ‘Fake News’ has nothing on yesterday’s Yellow Journalism

Over the past couple of years there has been increasing distrust of the media, evidenced most clearly by the tag line “Fake News” that are often appended to stories which are in reality little more than an opposing viewpoint.

Some media consumers, unfortunately, are unable to differentiate between stories which occasionally report erroneous information inadvertently and the idea that journalists are purposely misreporting information to undercut those whose politics they disagree with.

Yes, some journalists, particularly those working at high-paying positions in the nation’s media centers, tend to be insulated in a world which is far different from that of most middle- and lower-class individuals, which results in an echo chamber of sorts.

But for those who believe that today’s media is intentionally lying in what they report, one need consider the media of the past.  Among the best-known examples is the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898. Newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst ginned up false articles about a plot by Spain to sink the ship in Havana Harbor, helping precipitate the Spanish-American War.

Wartime, at least in recent decades, has proven to be a breeding ground for baseless media reports, perhaps in part because censorship has been doled out with a far heavier hand as the world has become more literate.

In World War I, for example, newspapers from both Entente and Central Powers nations created stories out of whole cloth, including fictitious stories about major battles, well-known warships being sunk and key military and political figures being killed.

Consider this excerpt from Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, describing French newspapers’ preoccupation with reporting on the welfare of Wilhelm, the German crown prince, son of Kaiser Wilhelm and commander of the German 5th Army during the early months of the war:

“On 5 August he was the victim of an assassination attempt in Berlin; on the 15th seriously wounded on the French front and removed to hospital; on the 24th subject to another assassination attempt; on 4 September he committed suicide, though he was resurrected on 18 October to be wounded again; on the 20th his wife was watching over his death bed; but on 3 November he was certified insane.”

Of course, as Hastings points out, no one of these stories contained the smallest element of truth. Was it malicious, reporting on rumors, wishful thinking, or simply journalists looking to fill space? One hundred-plus years later it’s hard to say.

Despite French media reports to the contrary, Wilhelm survived not only World War I, but also World War, living until 1951.

Today, unfortunately, there are those who believe what they want to believe when it comes to the media.

For the rest of us, a healthy dose of skepticism and an understanding that no journalist wants to go hat in hand to his or her editor and tell them their outlet needs to run a correction should be of assistance in keeping one’s composure when the news rubs one the wrong way.

(Top: Wilhelm, crown prince of Germany, with cane, having survived numerous “near-death” experiences in just the first few months of World War I.)

Oregonians melt down over prospect of pumping own gas

I get the whole “tapestry of life” concept and the fact that there are plenty of folk out there who I will never understand. That’s fine. There’s plenty of room in this world for everyone and, left to myself, I’m happy to let others be.

But occasionally I get a glimpse of another world that truly confounds me, where individuals are so utterly foreign in their thinking that I cannot begin to wrap mind around what makes them tick, or even how they keep ticking.

Consider the uproar among some in Oregon after a law went into effect Monday that will shortly allow residents in some rural counties to pump their own gas. From the outcry, one would have thought the law required them to pump their own stomachs.

First, I didn’t even realize there were still places in the US where it was illegal to operate self-service gas stations, but it’s still prohibited in New Jersey and, as of Monday, in Oregon counties with more than 40,000 inhabitants.

Second, it should be noted that the new Oregon law doesn’t require anyone to pump their own gas; it simply gives them the opportunity to use self-service, which almost always means lower prices.

But when Medford, Ore., television station KTVL posted the story on social media, it received numerous negative comments from residents who apparently aren’t interested in getting out and pumping their own petrol:

  • “I’ve lived in this state all of my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas. I had to do it once in California while visiting my brother and almost died doing it. This (is) a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas,” said Mike Perrone.
  • “No! Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help. Not to mention getting out of your car with transients around and not feeling safe too. This is a very bad idea. Grrr,” said Cathy Dahl.
  • “Not a good idea, there are lots of reason(s) to have an attendant helping, one is they need a job too. Many people are not capable of knowing how to pump gas and the hazards of not doing it correctly. Besides I don’t want to go to work smelling of gas when I get it on my hands or clothes. I agree. Very bad idea,” said Tina Good.
  • “I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and  I am 62, native Oregonian … I say NO THANKS! I don’t want to smell like gasoline!” said Sandy Franklin.

Granted, these are worst-case reactions, but I’ve never thought of rural Oregon as  a place where common sense was in incredibly short supply. Or where ignorance of a simple task would be worn as a badge of honor.

Perhaps there is high propensity of drug-addled former hippies hiding away in the state’s hinterlands, unable or unwilling to handle something as pedestrian as filling up a gas tank.

Whatever the case, I’d love to see the individual who pulls up to the gas pump and just sits there waiting … waiting … waiting for someone to fill ‘er up. If it were my station, I’d tell him he can either pump his own gas or go pound sand.

Why ‘diversity’ isn’t the biggest issue facing tech, or business

The breathless headline from social networking site LinkedIn’s article read: “The big problem tech is ignoring”.

That major issue: Cybersecurity? Digital transformation? The impact of robotics and artificial intelligence? None of the above.

Instead, LinkedIn believes the big problem that tech’s ignoring is that just 5 percent of investors rated diversity as their top concern.

While I personally don’t care to work in an environment where employees are allowed to be mistreated, particularly regarding anything as arbitrary as race, gender or sexual orientation, I also don’t want to throw in my lot with a company that isn’t focused on executing a well-conceived business plan.

A business that ultimately closes its doors because it fails to remain a viable concern does no one any favors – not its customers, not its shareholders and certainly not its employees, no matter how “diverse” its workforce might be.

What many social justice warriors seem unable to comprehend is that diversity is a neutral attribute.

One could recruit 100 individuals from, say, the jails of Los Angeles County and come up with an extremely diverse group of individuals. However, in terms of performance, they would almost certainly lag far behind a similar number of all-white, all-male graduates of Brigham Young University or a comparable number of all-black, all-female graduates of Xavier University.

In and of itself, diversity is neither a positive nor a negative.

The key to success lies in bringing in quality people, which is dependent on ability and character, not in filling artificially determined demographic requirements.

Companies that mistreat employees, whether it be through discrimination, tolerating hostile conditions or failing to create nurturing environments, will lose workers as personnel leave for workplaces that offer a more supportive – and productive – atmosphere.

Businesses unable or unwilling to embrace change could find themselves embroiled in legal action, facing bad press and eventually tarnished with an irreparable reputation as being home to an inhospitable workplace. They will reap what they have sown.

But the top goals of any private company should be ensuring, within legal and ethical means, profit and continuation. A business exists to provide products and/or services. A successful business does so while turning a profit.

Any business that prioritizes social experimentation over survival isn’t one to which I want to trust my career or my money.

Writer: Ron Paul had it coming because he’s a libertarian

Many, at least in the United States, know of the recent attack on Kentucky Senator Rand Paul by a neighbor, an assault that left Rand with six broken ribs.

Attacks on sitting U.S. Congressmen being relatively rare and generally frowned upon, the mugging, by Paul’s neighbor, retired doctor Rene Boucher, has generated considerable coverage. Initially there was speculation that the incident, which occurred while Paul was riding on a lawn mower with noise-canceling headphones, was political in nature.

It now appears that Boucher’s blindside blitz was personal in nature, though it’s not entire clear why the doctor took it upon himself to tackle Paul.

However, more than one pundit has waddled into the fray by stating that Paul’s libertarian stance was not only the casus belli, but a justifiable excuse.

USA Today wrote that Paul was the neighborhood’s problem child because “he has a strong belief in property rights.”

A writer for GQ magazine opined that Paul was “an asshole neighbor” because he “bought a house in a neighborhood that has certain rules with regard to lawns, and he decided that he doesn’t need to follow those rules because of his belief in ‘property rights’ that don’t actually exist.”

This, the writer explained, is the problem with libertarianism: “Libertarians don’t want to follow the rules that we as a society have agreed upon, because they feel those rules step on their freedoms.” Alas, if only John Locke and John Stuart Mill, proponents of libertarian views, had been able to subscribe to GQ they might have seen the error of their ways.

Best of all, though, was Elie Mystal of the website Above the Law, which claims to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the world of law and original commentary on breaking legal developments. Mystal is no novice to the legal world, having earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School after receiving a bachelor’s degree in government studies from Harvard, and he later worked as a litigator before entering the media world.

It would be safe to say that Mystal isn’t a fan of libertarianism:

“The thing everybody knows about Rand Paul is that he’s a libertarian and ‘libertarian’ always sounds like a fine legal and political theory to people who haven’t thought deeply about how to live with others,” he wrote. “‘You can do what you want and I can do what I want and, so long as we’re not hurting anybody, the government can do nothing.’ It’s … cute, as theories of social interactions go. It’s not a workable basis for law and governance.”

Libertarianism isn’t a workable basis for law and governance because … Elie Mystal said so.

Mystal goes on to demonstrate that earning a J.D. apparently requires little in the way of logical-thinking skills:

“Rand Paul’s broken ribs prove the weakness of libertarianism. According to reports, Rand Paul likes to grow pumpkins on his property. You might like pumpkins, but to some people, pumpkins are kind of big and ugly and, stinky. A slightly past harvest pumpkin patch smells the worst.”

“Reports also indicate that Paul makes his own compost (also stinky) and ‘has little interest for neighborhood regulations.’ This, my friends, is what libertarianism looks like in practice. I’ll grow what I want, put trash where I want, and maintain my space however I want, and you can’t do anything about it. FREEDOM!

Yes, that’s right, libertarians embrace a political philosophy with liberty at its core so that they can flout homeowners’ association regulations regarding pumpkin growing and composting. Stickin’ it to the Man every which way they can!

(Not to break Mystal’s path of incoherency, but it should be noted that Paul and Boucher, while neighbors, live more than an acre from one another, so we’re not talking about two individuals who shared a duplex for the past 17 years.)

Then the great unhinging begins to kick into high gear. From reckless pumpkin growing and composting, it’s a small leap to cowardice and misuse of power, in Mystal’s view:

Libertarians only want the heavy hand of ‘government’ involved when things get tough. When things get physical, libertarians will run to your nearest law enforcement officer and demand that something be done.

But libertarians also think they can stand on the very edge of their property and bother you however they deem fit, and then expect you to be restrained in your reaction by the government and … that’s just not how society works. You can only needle a man so long before he tries to break your face, legal technicalities be damned. Libertarianism is the social and political philosophy of instigating conflict without suffering the consequences of their own conduct. It works well enough on paper, but in real life it’s going to inspire otherwise decent people to tackle you off your lawnmower and try to break all of your ribs.

Yes, I’m victim-blaming. Yes, I’m saying Rand Paul was “asking for it,” over these past 17 years.

After all that, though, Mystal never indicates if he even knows Paul personally. His rantings seem based solely on a dislike of libertarianism and Paul, without any apparent genuine understanding of the senator, the issues in this incident or of libertarianism in general.

My guess is that his dislike of the latter philosophy probably stems from an incident long ago, perhaps during his time in the Harvard dorms, when perhaps a fellow student, likely with an interest in libertarianism, dared to commit some egregious act such as leaving pizza boxes in the dorm hallway and then reacted poorly to Mystal’s despotic attempts to rule the roost (read: calling in everyone from the resident assistant to the dean of diversity affairs).

Mystal’s logic: One slob with an interest in libertarianism years proved displeasing; therefore, in Mystal’s eyes, all libertarians are jackleg reprobates.

If the logic displayed in Mystal’s commentary is in any way reflective of the general mindset of 21st century U.S. jurisprudence, we might as well return to trial by ordeal. The results are pretty much the same, but the latter is a whole lot less sanctimonious.

Modern Iconoclasts draw bead on ever-growing list of targets

The trend of modern iconoclasm seems to be gaining steam, fueled by the complicit support of a mainstream media that either overtly or covertly agrees with the message being sent by those vandalizing monuments across the US and a lack of consequence for those behind the acts.

Most recently, a bronze statue of Catholic Saint Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, was not only splashed with red paint but decapitated, and a statue celebrating Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, was splashed with red paint and the words “racist anthem” scrawled across it.

Besides numerous Confederate statues that have been vandalized and even pulled down, other monuments that have been attacked include those honoring Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, the New England Holocaust Memorial and a peace monument in Atlanta have been damaged.

Such actions have taken place across the nation, from Washington state to Florida, New York to Arizona. And they are happening with increasing frequency, particularly when weak-kneed officials such as those at Duke University give criminals what they want and remove the statues after they’ve been vandalized.

Talk about an incentive to continue with extralegal measures.

And it won’t be long before statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and others deemed “politically incorrect” will get similar treatment.

The recent spate of illiberal behavior reminds one of Iconoclasm – the impulse to break or destroy images for religious or political reasons – that spasmodically wracked Christianity during the Middle Ages and Reformation.

Statue of Francis Scott Key, vandalized earlier this week in Baltimore.

Iconoclasm reared its ugly head in Byzantine Greece between 726–87 and 815–43 as a theological debate involving both the Byzantine church and state. In a lesson on the need for separation of church and state, imperial legislation by the Byzantine state barred the production and use of figural images.

Archaeological evidence suggests that in certain regions of Byzantium, including Constantinople and Nicaea, existing icons were destroyed or plastered over. Very few early Byzantine icons survived the Iconoclastic period, according to Sarah Brooks of James Madison University.

During the Protestant Reformation, a period not especially noted for open-mindedness, statues and images were destroyed in countries across Europe.

Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Zurich, Copenhagen, Munich, Geneva, Augsburg, Scotland, Rouen and La Rochelle in the 16th century, ostensibly in accordance with biblical prohibitions against graven images but no doubt as a means of furthering anti-Catholicism.

In 1549, radical Protestant preachers in London incited a mob to destroy many of the interior decorations in Old St Paul’s Cathedral. In addition, monasteries were sacked in different locales, as well.

And then there was the French Revolution, in which a wide variety of monuments, religious works and other historically significant pieces were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate any memory of the Ancien Régime.

Consider the priceless objets d’art destroyed by intolerance over the millennia. What a tremendous loss to our cultural, religious and spiritual histories.

Confederate statues were the starting point in this most recent spate of Iconoclasm, and the media, that great bastion of the First Amendment, has covered the attacks while ignoring the fact that those who mete out such violence aren’t likely to stop as this cultural inquisition continues to grow and generate increasing attention.

We live in odd times when individuals who one may very generously label as well-intentioned can’t smell their own hypocrisy. Insisting you’re part of a civil rights movement while trampling at least half of such known rights would seem to invite a primer on said liberties. Mob rule is generally frowned upon when it comes to discussing civil rights, at least where I come from.

That which may be considered – logically or not – painful historical facts are not de facto grounds for unilaterally squelching the freedoms of others.

(Top: Destruction of religion icons in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1524.)

Discarded peel cruelly unnerves school’s student leaders

It’s a cliché as old, it would seem, as humanity: Each generation feels the one that follows isn’t doing its bit to uphold civilization.

That, of course, is questionable, as society has ebbed and flowed over the millennia. However, we would seem to be on a downward swing at present.

Consider: A randomly discarded banana peel at a University of Mississippi weekend event “designed to build leaders” resulted in “tears and frustration” as organizers “didn’t feel safe.”

Yes, Ole Miss Greek Life leaders cut short a three-day leadership retreat the weekend before last after black students discovered a banana peel dangling in a tree outside of one of the camp’s cabins.

“And then of course came the inevitable university action plans, flurry of letters exchanged, and sensitivity meetings,” the blog Zero Hedge reported. “Bleary-eyed and shaken students had to text friends and family to come pick them up early (sounds like Kindergarten carpool pick-up time).”

The banana peel was later spotted by Alpha Kappa Alpha President, Makala McNeil, a leader from one of the campus’s historically black sororities.

The Daily Mississippian, the campus newspaper, reported that McNeil had just left a group discussion about race relations when she spotted the banana peel in the tree.

“The overall tone [of the meeting] was heavy,” McNeil told the newspaper. “I mean, we were talking about race in Mississippi and in the Greek community so there’s a lot involved.”

She added that she and her friends were “all just sort of paranoid for a second” after noticing the banana peel, calling its appearance “so strange and surreal.”

The culprit turned out to be senior accounting major Ryan Swanson, who said he put the banana peel in the tree when he could not find a trash can nearby.

“Although unintentional, there is no excuse for the pain that was caused to members of our community,” Swanson said, in a response that would seem to have been taken from the transcript of a 1930’s Soviet show trial. “I have much to learn and look forward to doing such and encourage all members of our community to do the same.”

An open forum was held after news of the banana peel had spread throughout the camp.

“As the staff member responsible for the wellbeing of our community, I felt it was imperative to provide space immediately to students affected by this incident to allow them an opportunity to voice their pain and concern,” Alexa Lee Arndt, interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Ole Miss told the campus newspaper.

After the open forum, Greek Life leaders decided to cancel the remainder of the weekend.

In a letter obtained by The Daily Mississippian, Arndt was quoted as saying that “members of our community were hurt, frightened, and upset by what occurred.”

“Because of the underlying reality many students of color endure on a daily basis, the conversation manifested into a larger conversation about race relations today at the University of Mississippi,” Arndt reportedly added.

Another sorority president reportedly told the newspaper that the incident was especially painful, because “bananas have historically been used to demean black people.”

The newspaper reported that many of the students left the retreat “in tears.”

As one columnist opined on the matter, “This idiot country is losing its damn mind. Our universities are training students to be total neurotics. If you are an actual adult who wails and gnashes her teeth at the sight of a banana peel, you ought to question whether you are mature enough for college.”