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 1941.

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.

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.

Ignore conflict, these shiny stones will catch your attention

And newspapers wonder why an increasing number of readers (and former readers) view them with incredulity.

Eleven of the top 12 stories in the online version of my local paper are eclipse related, the astronomical event that area media has been hyping for months. Everything from improving your eclipse glasses to a list of where to find the best eclipse-related food.

A complete solar eclipse is impressive, but this seems over the top. One might even get the impression that not much else was going on elsewhere in the state, nation or world. Kind of how ancient people used to react when they thought an eclipse presaged the world’s end, but with a more mindless twist.

Actually, there are a few other things of note taking place around the globe. Such as:

  • President Trump will address the country tonight and outline a new strategy for Afghanistan, the longest war in US history;
  • The death toll from last week’s militant Islamist attack in Spain, which appear to be striking Europe with startling regularity, is now at 15; and
  • Aggrieved demonstrators, while not done training their sites on all things Confederate, converged on a bust of Christopher Columbus in Detroit and demanded the monument come down as they protest against white supremacy and the nation continues to be roiled by racial tension.

But here, local ink-stained wretches gleefully slap story after story about the eclipse on page 1 and the Internet, eager first and foremost to sell as many papers as possible. Informing readers is somewhere further down the line of priorities.

The Roman poet Juvenal knew of what he wrote more than 2,000 years ago:

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

(Top: Image showing online front page of local daily newspaper, showing 11 of top 12 news headlines devoted to today’s eclipse.)

Pint-sized pooch pays price for owners’ indolence

A small yappy dog in a San Francisco-area bedroom community was helped to its eternal reward early Monday morning, courtesy of a mountain lion that slipped into the canine owners’ home and made off with it.

A 15-pound Portuguese Podengo was grabbed from a bedroom in a Pescadero home after the residents reportedly left their French doors partially open for the dog to go outside, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The dog woke its owners around 3 a.m. by “barking aggressively.” A witness told authorities she saw the shadow of an animal come into the room through the French doors, grab the dog from the bed and walk out. When she grabbed a flashlight, she saw “large wet paw prints” near the bedroom’s entrance, and called 911.

When police arrived on scene, they discovered paw prints resembling those of a mountain lion, and notified the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

While certainly unfortunate, I have trouble mustering much sympathy for dogs that bark a great deal after hours, or, more particularly, for people who leave their doors open in the middle of the night.

Some will argue that the dog was making noise because it sensed the mountain lion and was being protective, but the fact remains there are too many dogs that bark continuously, disturbing everyone and their brother.

Perhaps if word gets around on the canine grapevine that mouthing off after hours could result in becoming a mountain lion’s late-night snack, a few pooches will think twice before baying all the livelong day (and night).

I don’t expect people who leave their dogs to bark nonstop to suddenly wise up and begin paying attention to their animals.

As for folks who leave their doors open so they don’t have to be bothered getting up and walking their pets, well, it’s hard to muster much sympathy for the indolent.

Earth Hour: the Dogged Drive of Inane Intentions

We in the West are drowning in a cornucopia of ill-conceived special celebrations.

From National Bike to Work Day (May 19) to Global Forgiveness Day (Aug. 27) to International Peace Day (Sept. 21), there are a rash of events that the self-righteous have concocted in order to make themselves feel good, if not morally superior, to those around them.

These events are largely limited to the Western world because the rest of the globe is too busy trying to stay alive to be bothered with such claptrap.

This Saturday (8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. for those of you keeping score at home),  the annual self-congratulatory activity known as Earth Hour will be held under the guise of “United People to Save the Planet.”

Rather than list my many objections to this bit of imbecility, I’ll let you read the words of Canadian economist Ross McKitrick, who, in 2009, was asked by a journalist for his thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour:

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labor and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases. Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity. Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their refrigerator, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks. I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

If I possessed that eloquence, I’d probably have more than half a dozen readers and wouldn’t be living in a van down by the river a much larger bank account.

No word on whether Earth Hour is just a giant charade cooked up by Big Candle to boost profits, but come Saturday evening I’ll be happily burning every old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent light bulb I can find.

(Top: One can only hope that the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, which saves hundreds of newborns each year, won’t turn off its life-saving equipment this coming Saturday night for Earth Hour.)