“Politicizing” tragedy

Bad things happen. Tragedies happen. When they happen, it’s good to help those affected, and it’s good to think about ways to prevent those things from happening again. If they can’t be prevented, it’s good to think about ways to protect us from the damage they cause in the future. These seem like normal responses, yet so often, doing these things gets blasted as an attempt to politicize a tragedy. I really don’t like that critique, and the critique itself seems to be more “political” than actually talking about solutions and prevention.

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The world is going to hell…um, not really

When I talk to people who support a candidate like Donald Trump, they seem almost completely driven by this crippling fear that the world is on fire, that the United States is falling apart, and that Washington is either helping this happen, or not effectively doing anything about it. I have to say that if I believed all of that was true, I could imagine the appeal of a candidate like Donald Trump. The problem is this: almost none of the fears that these people have are rooted in reality. Let’s take a bit to look at some things that might frighten us.

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Trump: should our behavior only be as good as the worst around us?

The story about the exchange between Michelle Fields (a former Breitbart News reporter) and Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has finally reached the mainstream media. This has been a pretty crazy story, and I think the real story is about how Breitbart News handled the situation (firing Fields, seemingly to maintain their blatantly supportive stance toward Trump), which may or may not become a bigger part of the coverage. Either way, I’m happy that this is all getting some attention, and something this morning on the Today Show was enough to get me to dust off my keyboard and post something here for the first time in more than two weeks.

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In a world of fear

I wrote a piece a couple of months ago arguing that we are experiencing a very hateful time in our history. Not that we feel like we hate people more than ever before, but that we feel more hated than ever before.  For some time, I had connected some of this with a persecution envy that seems to be everywhere, and feels so strange to me, but I’m starting to think that this hatred is stemming from our culture of fear. We are afraid of everything, and so much of what we see tells us that we’re not afraid enough.


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Yes, Rick, all jihadists might be Muslims, but that’s not the point…


I watched this exchange while in the shower this morning [yes, it might be worth re-examining how I spend my shower time, but that’s a whole different conversation]. I hear this all the time. Why aren’t good Muslims doing more to speak out about the bad Muslims? Why aren’t Muslim leaders condemning terrorist attacks?

The problem that I inevitably run into when talking to somebody who asks that question is that no answer is good enough. Ever.

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Another FaceBook Post

I still haven’t figured out exactly what I want from this blog, so for now it’s just a repository of my thoughts. A place to think things through. Sometimes I do this first on FaceBook. Sometimes I do this only on FaceBook. Sometimes I do it here first, and sometimes it’s only here. This morning I posted the following on FaceBook, and like my earlier post, I wanted to have it here too….in my pseudo-diary.

What we (all) need to realize is that very few people think they’re bigots and very few people are OK with being called bigots. The mental acrobatics needed to evade that label, when calling for an entire religious group to be barred from the country or selectively targeted is pretty impressive, but probably very normal. Being called a bigot will only make people retreat, and stop listening, but I don’t know what else to do, because the bigotry is intolerable.

My earlier post, shared from a friend, makes the point that the things people are saying about Muslims today would sound very much like Nazi propaganda if the word “Muslims” was replaced with “Jews.” But those saying these things, or supporting those who are saying these things, will argue that it’s not the same. It’s not the same because Jews aren’t trying to hurt the United States, and Muslims are. Remember that the Nazi rhetoric convinced a large proportion of Germany that Jews were trying to hurt Germany. Jews were likened to rats that carry disease to the country. The propaganda told people that Jews were shaving their beards to look like other eastern Europeans so they could infiltrate the country, waiting to strike. Jews were trying to spark war.

Trump was on Morning Joe this morning and was asked to respond to the charge that his tone, his proposals, are frightening people. His response was that we should be much more afraid of Muslims than we should be of him. This is the same tactic that was used in the 1930s. Hitler made it clear that if the Jews weren’t stopped, the Aryan peoples will be exterminated.

In a now famous speech, Hitler said (in German, not English), “We see clearly that this war could only end with the extermination of the Germanic peoples, or that Jewry must disappear from Europe. I already said it on September 1, 1939 in the German Reichstag, that this war will not end the way the Jews have foreseen it, namely that the European Aryan peoples will be exterminated; rather the result of this war will be the annihilation of Jewry. For once all the others will not bleed to death alone; for once the ancient Jewish law will come into play: an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.”

The message: Jews wand to destroy their way of life. Jews want to annihilate white Europeans. The only answer is to destroy Jews.

This tactic was evil then, and the tactic is evil now. My plea to those I love who may succumb to this rhetoric, who may find ways to justify it: Don’t be on the side of evil. Don’t say, “yeah but…” Don’t say that Muslims ARE trying to hurt America, because when you do that, you’re condemning an entire group of 1.6 billion people for the acts of far less than 1% of them. You’re defining a group by the worst 1% (probably even much less). People say that a few bad apples spoil the bunch, but I’ve eaten lots of apples and I don’t think that’s true at all. You can easily pick out the good apples and enjoy them with honey like it’s Rosh Hashanah. And the bad apples probably aren’t all bad either. Cut off the bruise and the rest could be just fine. Be on the side of good, even if you’re afraid. Please.

A rose by any other name might actually not smell as sweet

There are groups of people in the world who are using terrorist tactics to fight a war against the United States and other Western countries. There is no disputing this fact. We went from being afraid of (and fighting) al-Qaeda to being afraid of and fighting ISIL/ISIS/Daesh — there is considerable debate about what to call this group (for example, see here). I’m going to call them ISIS, for no better reason than it’s probably the most recognized version and doesn’t make anybody reading this wonder what the heck Daesh is, and if Daesh is really something I should try for dessert. Either way, this group is our new big foe. They’re the ones behind the Paris attacks, and they’re the ones who apparently inspired or were somehow otherwise involved in the attacks in San Bernardino more recently. Regardless of the group of the year, President Obama (and other democrats) are being criticized for refusing use the word “Muslim” or “Islamic” in their descriptors of these groups. Rush Limbaugh and others say this is because of political correctness. For example, on December 4th, while talking about the discovery that there was a connection between the San Bernardino shooters and ISIS, he said:

And in fact, folks, to just give you a little hint, linking it to ISIS actually helps the government not call it terrorism because ISIS is not Islam.  No, I’m not saying that.  The government says that.  The left, the media says it.  ISIS is not Islam.  You’ve heard Obama say that.  ISIS is making a mockery of Islam.  In fact, what you really need to understand about the way our government looks at Islam, they look at Islam as anti-terror as well.  Islam is anti-terrorism.  Therefore, no terrorism can actually be Islamic.  Islam is the religion of peace.  We say that jokingly.  That’s actually the position of the US government.  It’s rooted in political correctness and fear and a number of other convoluted things.

Rooted in political correctness? Really? I’m not buying it.

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Never forget?

Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the September 11 attacks that changed the NYC skyline forever. People keep saying “never forget,” a phrase borrowed, knowingly or not, purposefully or not, from the holocaust. I hate that phrase. First of all, I don’t think anybody who was an adult on that day can forget it, unless they suffer from a neurological disorder that degrades their memories in general. Second, and this is the key point here, what is the most important part to remember?

The “never forget” slogan is a rallying cry. It’s a call to war. It’s telling us to stay afraid. Don’t let your guard down and fight fight fight. But who should we fight fight fight, and do we really need to be the ones fight fight fighting?

The people who planned and executed the attacks against us are gone. The government that supported them has been removed from Afghanistan, and was never in many of the countries that we added to the enemy list after that dreadful day fourteen years ago. We’re still soaking in the fallout, like the cloud from a nuclear disaster, and it’s still making us sick. We tolerate and even foster racism against Muslims like we did to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. We are war hungry and still looking for revenge (even though we can’t even seem to figure out who deserves our vengeance). It’s enough already, and it’s time to get back to the Nation we were before that day changed us. Let’s not forget that.

I am done living in fear.


Please stop confusing explaining and justifying

People come in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of likes and dislikes. Some people (and I’m certainly one of them) like to try to figure out how stuff works. That desire is certainly what led me to be a scientist, and to make a career out of trying to figure out how stuff works. For me, part of this is that I look around and see what appears to be very disorderly world. A bird’s eye view of a city shows people going in all kinds of directions, moving in different ways from here to there, and it looks like chaos. But pull any of those individuals aside, and ask what they’re doing, where they’re going, and they’ll have a story to tell and a reason (maybe not always a good one) that they’re doing what they’re doing. When those individual reasons are all known, the world seems, and feels (to me) more orderly and less chaotic. I crave order in things. That’s just who I am.

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