How did America remember what “socialist” means?

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I’m used to boomer generation “conservatives” equating socialism with communist dictatorships.  The boomers lived most of their lives during the Cold War era in constant fear of the communist menace.  I expect better from my fellow millennials, however, particularly the well-educated.

Marion Smith, Executive Director of “Victims of Communism” , has written an ignorant piece of red bait for Politico called “How did America forget what socialism means?”   If I were to write something with that title, I’d argue that decades of fear during the Cold War era, combined with manipulation by right-winged pundits had caused the boomer generation to forget what socialism means and instead equate it with the Soviet Union, as though Soviet style communism was the inevitable result of any attempt at a socialist economy.  As I’ve explained in one of my educational podcasts , Socialism actually can refer to a wide variety of economic systems so long as the means of production are publicly owned and the public decides the distribution of wealth.  Socialism can be anything from total communism to a community of farmers who have decided to collectively organize and share the fruits of their labor.

Mr. Smith’s article shows a picture of Bernie Sanders on the front, and then goes on to discuss the horrors of dictatorial communism, including that of the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba in particular.  His organization, “Victims of Communism”, does an excellent job of documenting the horrors that continue in Cuba.  At no point in this article, however, does Smith explain how this is in any way caused by socialism more broadly, or that it has anything to do with Bernie Sanders.  It pretty much amounts to, Cuba is socialist.  They do horrible things to people.  Bernie Sanders is also socialist.  Therefore…

It reminds me of Dinesh D’Souza’s “2016 Obama’s America” where D’Souza spends an hour or so cherry picking details like how Obama Sr. was a Kenyan revolutionary.  Many of those Kenyan revolutionaries were communistsObama Jr. loves his father and cried over his grave.  Obama must be a communist!

The kind of socialism advocated by Bernie Sanders is not Soviet style, nor Cuban.  He advocates the kind of Democratic Socialism professed by nations in northern Europe like Denmark.  If you want to criticize Bernie Sanders by criticizing Denmark’s economy, or the economies of other such systems in northern Europe, that’s fair game.  But Sanders advocates nothing close to the kinds of dictatorships seen in these countries that identify as “communist”, such as China, Cuba, etc.  Besides, China’s system would be more accurately described as “authoritarian capitalism” .  75% of China’s economy is privately owned.  The corporations exploit workers and make enormous profits, while being backed by the authoritarian “Chinese Communist Party”.

Smith is so disappointed that most of our millennial generation has “forgotten” the meaning of socialism.  By this, he means that we don’t have the same knee-jerk reaction to the word “socialism” as the half of the boomer generation with 24/7 Faux News echoing through their homes.  But these millennials haven’t “forgotten” what socialism means.  The boomers forgot.  The millennials are remembering.  The boomers on the right are still fighting the Cold War.  Someone really should inform them that the Berlin Wall came down.

I’m forgiving of the old.  They are set in their ways, and their worldview has been shaped by experiences that I’ve only read about in textbooks.  But for Mr. Smith, there’s no excuse.

Stop Exploiting the Victims of the Charleston Shooting for Political Feuds!

Charleston Massacre Victims

Last Sunday I visited a friend’s Catholic Church, and I’m glad I did.  The Priest gave a much needed sermon that helped to put the recent tragedy in perspective.  He was deeply touched that the very family members of the slain were able to look at the murderer and say “I forgive you”.  I recently saw the footage, and heard the pain in their voices.  I don’t know if they forgive him in their hearts yet.  But they said so, because they know that they need to forgive.  This deranged young man was driven by pure hate, and that is exactly what he seeks to fuel.  If this tragedy leads to more racial division, regardless of which side “wins”, that murderer will have what he wants.  As the priest mentioned above was touched by the reaction of the family, he was also appalled by the reaction of so many others.  People who’ve never been to the Emanuel AME Church and knew nobody involved has jumped on this opportunity to push their political agenda.  I remember this boomer age priest denouncing the “left” and the “right” for their selfish efforts to exploit this tragedy, and he was absolutely right*.

Unfortunately, some are all too willing to let that murderer have his way.  There are two groups that come to mind: the anti-gun crowd, and the anti-Confederate flag crowd.  With the first, I can at least believe that they act in good faith.  They truly believe that if we had better gun control, these kinds of tragedies could be prevented.  Though they opportunistically jump on every tragedy to call for more gun control, at least they have a logical defense of a sort.  They can say that they are directly responding to the very cause of these tragedies.  Still, it’s a far more complex debate than they realize, and best decided by people thinking clearly rather than worked up into an emotional frenzy.

The second group, those attacking the Confederate flag, are no better than those who started harassing Muslims after the 9/11 attacks – actually, they are worse!  These are the worst kind of bigots, because they think they are so enlightened.  We can argue for years and decades over the history of the American Civil War, and what the Confederate battle flag historically represents.  But does anyone honestly believe that most who display it today are pining for the “good ol’ days of slavery”?  The average white southerner who displays the Confederate Battle Flag today has no problem with black Americans.  He/she likely embraces the symbol as an identity – “Look at me, I’m a redneck”.  Some of the more sophisticated will make a more eloquent argument for states’ rights and the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution.  Others just like Lynyrd Skynyrd.  And yes, some who display the Confederate Battle Flag are racists.

The comparisons to the Nazi Swastika are absurd, however.  Nobody in Germany says, “Well, I don’t support murdering 6 million Jews, but I did like the Nazi policies on reparations from WWI, so I display the Swastika because of that.  Not the whole genocide thing.”  The Nazi regime was built around racial hierarchy.  The Confederacy, however, was about as racist as most other nations of the time, including the Union.  Furthermore, as terrible as slavery was, it wasn’t genocide.  If anyone is guilty of that, it would be the Union, who then went fourth after the Civil War to slaughter the Sioux and Apache.  Many were put on “reservations” (much like concentration camps) and barely kept alive in appalling conditions.  But I don’t call the stars and stripes a symbol of Native American genocide.  Bigotry of every kind must be opposed, and bigotry usually has its roots under pretense of righteous indignation.  Just like I don’t hold my Islamic neighbors responsible for the 9/11 attacks, I don’t hold the average neo-confederate responsible for the Charleston massacre.

I’m not into the neo-confederate stuff myself, but if I were, I would at least for a few weeks refrain from displaying the Battle Flag out of respect.  Like it or not, the murderer did display that flag.  If you want to argue that he had no idea what that flag truly represents – fine.  But right now, there is a family in mourning and they do not need to see the symbol displayed by the murderer of their family members.  Likewise, they do not need a bunch of supercilious white liberals exploiting this tragedy to attack their political enemies.  Before they judge us, maybe they should clean up their own back yards.  States’ rights didn’t murder those people at the Emanuel AME Church.  Neither did Southern pride, nor did Lynyrd Skynyrd.  And they sure weren’t murdered by the 10th Amendment!  I was happy to see CNN host a discussion over the Battle Flag, where one man was defending it with the usual states’ rights argument; and another was wanted it removed from state buildings (I wish I could find the clip).  I think now more than ever we need to listen to each other, especially in the South.  Stop exploiting a tragedy to settle old political feuds, and instead let’s send our condolences to the family and friends of those slain in Charleston at the Emanuel AME Church.  Rather than allowing this tragedy to divide, as the murderer** wants, let it unite us.

Links and Notes:

Rod Dreher also wrote an excellent piece on the tragedy

Dreher also wrote a piece calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag.  I don’t agree with him, but he makes the case effectively without the kind of liberal, pseudo-intellectual bigotry I mention above.

*I admit to being a Christian of often weak faith, bordering agnostic.  But moments like that (the boomer aged priest denouncing the “left” and “right” exploiting the tragedy) certainly restore my faith, because surely it’s easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a baby boomer to see beyond the left/right paradigm.

**I don’t call him by name because people who do these things want to be remembered.  I won’t give him that.

***I do not display the Confederate Battle Flag here because, as I stated, I think we should suspend use of it for a few weeks out of respect.  However, if we can cross the racial divide and have a civilized discussion about the Flag, and race in general, I think we effectively honor the victims by doing so.

Let’s fight pornography with compassion, not piety

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Porn addiction is harmful to everyone involved.  Porn actors and actresses are physically harmed by the oversized penetration and rapid pace.  They are psychologically harmed by the humiliation, and hollowing out of something that should be very intimate.  Some are driven to suicide, many more are driven to drug addiction.  Viewers are harmed mostly psychologically.  Pornography desensitizes the libido, much like an addictive drug desensitizes the good feeling of dopamine in the brain (the high).  Pornography harms natural relationships by killing that wonderful feeling we get when being intimate with another.  Do you remember your first kiss?  I remember mine.  My face must have been red as a tomato!  I won’t dig any deeper than that, but the butterflies in the stomach, the rush of endorphins you feel your first time – it’s a beautiful thing!  Pornography offers only a hollow equivalent of that, and makes the real thing far more difficult to enjoy.

A well-intended article titled “3 Self Interested Reasons to go Porn Free” attempted to make this case, but relied far too much on piety.  The constant references to “sin” may appeal to Christians like myself, but we’re preaching to the choir.  Yes, I know many Christians are addicted to porn, but let’s not limit our message to them.  Besides, it gives the impression that you’re being preachy, contrary to the title of the article.  Still, the article made some excellent points.  Porn rarely delivers the hoped for thrill, and usually leaves the viewer “fixed”, but unhappy.  Many porn addicts are in denial, and will claim that it does make them happy.  This is all the more reason not to put them on the defensive by calling their behavior “sin”, even if this is true.

My main point here is that there is so much real evidence on our side that we don’t need to be preachy.  We won’t free people from pornography with legal prohibitions, nor will we won’t free them with judgment.  As a Christian, I remember Jesus among the tax collectors and the prostitutes, and it’s clear what He would do.  Let’s meet them where they are.  Instead of piety, let’s try compassion balanced with knowledge.   Let’s show how much we genuinely care for those who are hurting themselves and loved ones (especially spouses) with porn addiction.  Many think it’s victimless.  They often give selectively libertarian retorts such as “if consenting adults…” (and you know the rest).  So instead of judging them, let’s persuade.  ASAPScience has done an excellent short video on the Science of Porn Addiction.  ASAPScience is not a church group.  It’s not a conservative special interest.  ASAPScience relies on solid science to give short, entertaining, and very informative lessons.  As they show in the video regarding porn, the science is on our side.  Deep down, porn addicts know they have a problem.  They need to know how much happier their lives will be when they break their addiction, and learn to love real people again.

PS I love the reference to James Hetfield in the article.  Here is the link to that video.

Obama and Bush are both right about Islam

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Normally when I compare Bush and Obama, I’m talking about the worst in Obama.  Not this time.  From the moment Obama took office, he has argued consistently that Islam is a religion of peace and that our conflict is with the terrorists.  Obama has pursued terrorists as President and eventually found and had Osama bin Laden put to death.  I’m not singing Obama’s praise, but he does deserve some credit.  Like Bush, however, he was often distracted by other conflicts in the Middle East that ultimately played into the hands of Al Qaeda (and now ISIS, or ISIL if you prefer).  With that said, Obama is certainly correct in asserting that Islam, as a whole, is not the enemy.

Obama takes a lot of flack from certain elements on the right for this.  They love to sardonically refer to Islam as “A religion of peace” while showing, say, a beheading by ISIS, or the Twin Towers crumbling.  However, Bush made the very same such statements, as this article explains, and the right had very little to say about that.  I’m sure they were gritting their teeth as Bush spoke fairly of Islam, rather than fueling their bigotry, but Bush has an “R” next to his name, so they held their tongues.  Obama, however, not only has a “D” next to his name, but speaking of his name, it’s Barack Hussein Obama.

Some of the less extreme critics of Obama’s policy on Islamist terrorism will at least distinguish between “radical Islam” and “moderate Islam”, but even that is misleading.  Even “radical Islam” as a whole is not the enemy.  Saudi Arabia for example is a valuable ally, but their version of Islam is about as radical as they come.  Saddam Hussein was far more tolerant of other religions and allowed far more rights to women than the Wahabi sect that dominates Saudi Arabia.  Iran is a nation with whom we have an antagonist relationship, but we haven’t had any direct conflict (other than threats and sanctions) since the hostage crisis over 30 years ago.  Iran is less radical that Saudi Arabia, as they do at least sanction some non-Islamic religions, mainly Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.  They also fund a terrorist group called Hezbollah.  This is a dangerous and violent group, but they don’t attack us.  They mostly fight against Sunni radicals.  The enemy is not Islam, and it isn’t even necessarily radical Islam, it is specifically Al Qaeda, and the more radical ISIS offshoot.

The truth is that both Christianity and Islam are meant to be peaceful religions.  Both are very idealistic and seek the change the world through evangelism and charity.  However, both have very dark chapters in their history, as well as their religious texts.  It’s easy to cherry-pick and make one religion look very peaceful while making the other look barbaric.  In the end, its people, not religions, who do good or harm.  Individuals decide how they want to see their religious affiliations, and which parts they want to live by.  The non-religious are just as capable.

As I have often contended, however, while religions have dark chapters, there are plenty of examples of great leaders and great nations that have been religiously motivated.  FDR was an Episcopalian who felt his faith motivated him to fight for the poor and disadvantaged.  MLK led us to a new era of racial integration and cooperation, largely motivated by his Christian faith.  Malcolm X is a very interesting case.  He was always officially a “Muslim”, but originally was part of a very hateful fringe group called “Nation of Islam”.  This group was in reality an anti-White group that perverted the Islamic faith.  However, Malcolm X spent some time in Africa and then made his pilgrimage to Mecca as required by the Islamic faith.  As a result, he saw people of all races fighting for a common cause.  He also saw Muslims in Mecca of all races coming together in peace.  He then turned from the “Nation of Islam” and embraced Sunni Islam.  From that time onward, Malcolm X was also an advocate of racial equality and integration.  He has a reputation for violence, but he only supported violence in self-defense (while MLK was a pacifist).  Obama contents that religion can actually help in our fight against ISIS, and I think he’s right.  If human beings are so terrible with religion, imagine how much worse we’d be without it.  Want an idea?  Consider that the few examples of atheistic governments in human history have consistently resulted in massive atrocities and state-worship.  I’m not saying that atheists are inevitably this way, but so far, their track record is terrible.

As Fareed Zakaria explained on his GPS on CNN, Islam has, in the past, been a religion that has promoted science and social progress, and they can be again.  Both Bush and Obama realized this, and both realized that we need peaceful Muslims on our side in order to defeat the cancer that is Al Qaeda and ISIS.  Islam isn’t going away, but if we make Islam as a whole our enemy, that will only serve to legitimize ISIS in the eyes of Muslims everywhere…at least Sunni Muslims.  It will also further agitate Shia Muslims, such as most of Iran, with whom we’ve never had particularly good relations, but with whom relations could improve.

Christine Sommers is consistently pro-choice – deal with it!

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Christina Sommers has been very consistent in her pro-choice position.  She’s always supported a “woman’s right” to choose abortion*, and has always opposed government funding for abortion.  She sees it as a freedom, not an entitlement.  Despite this, “rationalwiki” claims that her views have modified.  This article is informative, but somewhat slanted, as it follows Sommers unique life as a feminist and seems to describe her as drifting away from feminism.  On abortion, their claim that she has “modified” her stance on abortion is based in part on her position that abortion should not be pushed onto women who oppose it for religious or other reasons.  Yeah, that’s called being pro-choice…as opposed to being pro-abortion.  Many so-called pro-choicers are actually pro-abortion, such as by opposing even so much as a 24 hour waiting period for a woman seeking an abortion, or requiring women receive some basic medical information.  Sommers just wants women to have the choice, she isn’t trying to make it happen.

The “rationalwiki” article’s other justification for saying she’s “modified” her position is the following quote:

“I find it appalling that there is such a disregard for what is in fact a majority of our countrymen [pro-lifers] who view it differently, and some passionately. Rather than attack them as somehow engaged in some kind of dark conspiracy against women’s bodies, we have to understand why they hold these positions… and why it’s not going away as a moral question.”

So, she recognizes that prolifers have other reasons for opposing abortion than being “anti-woman”, or trying to control women.  I’m pro-life, and have no desire to control women.  I want to stop the termination of an innocent life.  If women don’t want a baby, and use birth control, that’s their choice.

What this really boils down to, as you can see from the general tone of the “rationalwiki” article, is that Christine Sommers is an independent feminist, rather than just another vitriolic, rape-fear mongering, male basher spouting talking points about a non-existent patriarchy.  Sommers is a true feminist in that she believes women are equal to men, and will likewise stand up for men by the same standard.  This has caused her to be perceived by others as an “anti-feminist”, which the article admits.  However, the article falls into the same kind of paradigm thinking, assuming that feminism is what we are led to believe it is, rather than what it is actually.

Today’s “feminists”, after a lengthy male bashing tirade, and denouncing fellow women who don’t conform to the current “third wave of feminism”, or pretending to speak on behalf of all woman kind, then quote the dictionary definition of feminism, as follows:

“the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” from Merriam Webster 

Most self-identified feminists have little in common with this definition, but Christine Sommers is the real deal.  Due to Sommers’s courageous stand for gender equality, many in the “feminist movement”, particularly the “third wave”, find it hard to accept that she really does believe in women’s rights, including abortion.*  Her consistency and devotion to gender equality puts the modern “feminist” movement to shame.

*For the record, I do not consider abortion to be a “woman’s right” or anyone’s right.  Nobody has the right to kill an innocent unborn child.  I do believe in a woman’s right to use birth control, and with that right, I fail to see why abortion is necessary.  Don’t want to get pregnant, buy a $1 condom!

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting is alright by me

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Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting’s recent comments, that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, are not surprising.  There was a very predictable angry reaction by twitter feminists that I’d like to address.

Feminists of the past made many great achievements for women in America and the world, such as voting rights, rights to education, careers, property rights and the right to pursue leadership positions in government or the private sector.  That Kaley doesn’t embrace the feminist label today, does not betray these feminists of the past.  Today’s “feminists” are far less interested in equality, and far more interested in male bashing, playing victim, crying “RAPE!” anytime a woman regrets having sex (but not men of course), and demanding tax-payer funding for the consequences of their sexual liberty.  I’m not surprised that an intelligent, successful, and happily married Kaley has no interest in THAT feminism.  She actually explained it very well in the interview, that she’s never experienced the kind of discrimination and inequality that feminism stands against.

That she loves “serving her man” is not a statement of subordination.  I love making my wife happy, and she loves making me happy.  Dr. Phil used to say that a successful “marriage isn’t 50/50, but 100/100.”  Sure, you make compromises, but if you love your spouse, there’s no quid pro quo.  You are happy making them happy, and I see no reason why a liberated woman can’t cook for her husband if it makes HER happy.

As always, there’s the “feminist” or two who refers to the “meaning of feminism”, usually the dictionary definition.  Yes, the dictionary defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” because that is the traditional definition, and it is what feminists of the past fought for.  I fail to see how forcing Hobby Lobby to pay for birth control, or crying rape while simultaneously pushing for gun control (making it harder for women to protect themselves) is consistent with that definition.  I think Kaley knows exactly what “feminism” has come to mean, and that’s why she has no interest in it.

Lastly, I’d like to defend her role in The Big Bang Theory, as Penny.

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Maybe based on the pilot, one might get the impression that Penny was the stereotypical “dumb blonde”, but as the show developed, one could see this was not the case.  Penny isn’t ditsy, she isn’t spoiled, and she isn’t shallow.  She does have a far-fetched dream of becoming an actress, which she eventually gives up on by the current Season 8 in favor of a more promising career.  Throughout the series, Penny is often the street smart character who has bailed out her genius male friends more than once.  They’ve bailed her out too.  That’s what friends do.

Besides, the show as a whole is not giving the impression that women are dumb and men are brilliant scientists…if you bother to watch past the pilot episode.  Next came Bernadette, who started off as a Cheesecake Factory waitress, but earned a PhD in Microbiology, and became a successful researcher and developer for a big pharm company.  My personal disdain for that industry aside, Bernadette is not some dumb blonde clearly, though she may appear that way at first glance.  Then came Amy, Sheldon’s “girl slash friend”, later “girlfriend”.  Amy is a socially awkward, brilliant neurosurgeon who, like Sheldon, slowly becomes more sociable and street smart thanks to her friendship with Penny…you know…the “dumb blond waitress”?

Eric Cantor loses to a liberty-Republican – Professor Brat

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As a young college professor myself, sickened by the old “liberal” establishment that still dominates academia, I was delighted to see a liberty minded Republican professor (Dave Brat) win a GOP primary against the establishmentarian Eric Cantor.  I’m mainly posting this to link you to Jack Hunter’s article, which explains this very effectively.  I’m just going to add a few notes, then ask that you follow the link below.  My previous post lamented Lindsey Graham’s victory, and I’m not surprised that the mainstream media is jumping on the opportunity to discredit the Tea Party movement.  However, Graham won not because of his own popularity, but because the Tea Party fumbled that one.  Their best alternative was Lee Bright.  A principled candidate?  Yes.  But he was a terrible candidate.  He accused Graham of being sympathetic to the “Muslim Brotherhood”!  What?!  If the Tea Party is going to run candidates like that, they are going to lose.  Fortunately, the Tea Party picked in winner in Virginia.  They picked a dignified, principled professor (WOW!  Talk about outside the box!) who took Cantor to task for the kind of big government hypocrisy we expect from establishment Republicans.  Professor Brat, soon to be Congressman Brat, proved that the Tea Party is not just some right wing lunatic fringe of the GOP.  Do right winged lunatics find a home in the Tea Party? Yes, unfortunately.  But that’s not what the Tea Party is all about.  An educated, principled candidate who cares about the people can win, and did this time.  Now, please read Hunter’s article for a better perspective on this:

http://rare.us/story/eric-cantor-learns-the-hard-way-that-you-cant-ignore-the-tea-party/

My previous post, lamenting Graham’s victory:

https://politicallywag.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/lindsey-graham-is-no-moderate-nor-are-any-of-his-neocon-colleagues/

The Nation’s John Nichols has an interesting take on this also:

http://www.thenation.com/blog/180189/eric-cantor-defeated-conservative-who-rips-crony-capitalism