Category Archives: politics; social issues and current events

specious reasoning

 

In an exchange on Facebook about my post

Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-Americans (except that it does).

Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-Americans (except that it does).

the following points were made.

 

PETE SMITH (my brother)

If you ran a college and accepted applicants only on test scores and extracurricular activities and grades and references, without any consideration of ethnicity, and it turned out that the incoming class was going to be 95% Asian, or 95% white Christians, or some other clear imbalance that doesn’t begin to resemble the general population (as with the classes when we were in college), would you be OK with this?

 

ROGER SMITH

I think it is a fault or defect in argumentation to hinge your point or rebuttal on the most extreme cases. It is unlikely that such an imbalance is going to happen today, or can be foreseen under your scenario. I don’t know about the case of, say, Southern Baptist colleges, historically black colleges, or Yeshiva University. But my post focuses on what I see as principle and what I regard as a commitment to educational excellence. From my perspective and experience, and based on what I have read in the press.

I don’t think that educators should be counting heads. It is not their job, as I see it — they should not have to worry about this unless clear patterns of discrimination can be shown. I also feel that it is wholly commendable for university officials to be trying to encourage and recruit qualified students from groups not well represented or from abroad. And if the university feels sports are important, I think it’s okay to admit athletes using athletics as one criterion; or talented musicians for the music department; and so forth That’s a kind of diversity I would endorse.

 

PETE SMITH

But not ethnic diversity? Gender diversity? Income diversity? Are these less important than having the right combination of musicians and basketball players? What if these groups are not “well represented”?

 

ROGER SMITH

It’s not that there is a “right” combination of musicians or basketball players. It’s just that if a school has a music department, it wants some music majors. This should be a matter of common sense and it does not affect policy questions.

If it is going to have sports teams (at my school, sports were deemphasized), it needs some athletes. And it wants some English, French, and bio majors; physics and math majors and premeds; future businessmen and businesswomen if it has a business major or perhaps wants students studying economics; and so on. (Rensselaer Polytech and Julliard are different in this respect.)

 

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I keep running this discussion through my mind, and similar ones and thoughts I have had about such issues ever since racial preferences in college (and elite secondary school) admissions became an issue. And about broader issues involving race, gender, and so on in the workplace and in matters affecting public policy.

In the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision (1896), the Court ruled that racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution as long as facilities are equal — the infamous “separate but equal doctrine.” It was a bit of specious reasoning that violates the fundamental principles of fairness and law.

In Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court’s ruling was again based on specious reasoning that supposedly upholds the concept of race blind admissions policies (affirms the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause) while holding that an admissions process that favors “underrepresented minority groups” does not violate the law so long as it takes into account other factors evaluated on an individual basis for every applicant. The Court held that the Equal Protection Clause did not prohibit the University of Michigan’ Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.

Something that has occurred to me in articulating points I made in my post and similar ones is a sort of philosophical question. Is race a “thing”? Regarding the concept of race and government mandated racial categories (used for demographic purposes and to examine compliance with rules and guidelines), I wrote in a previous blog:

the absurdity of racial categorizations (a glaring example

the absurdity of racial categorizations (a glaring example)

There is such diversity in ethic groupings that it seems nonsensical to me to sort them into ironclad groupings. The groupings were made up by someone or other who manufactured them out of thin air, bureaucrats; they ignore many ethnic groups and sort them almost willy-nilly.

When (as I assert above) admitting an entering class, it makes sense to ensure that there is diversity among the academic disciplines (majors) of students. A candidate for admission is qualified and interested in pursuing a career in music. This is something tangible and specific that it makes sense to take into account — provided that the student’s qualifications are valid. It’s a fact, and a meaningful one.

You would not want an entering class with no music or art majors (or any other pertinent example), if your school has a music department and (probably) a student orchestra.

But what makes two candidates from different racial or ethnic (or religious, for that matter) groups fundamentally different, in the case of an admissions committee considering the applications of each candidate? Assuming the race of the student is known, why should it be a positive or negative factor (admission wise)? Which group of groups has more or less to contribute? Which individual students? How can this be determined?

 

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Justice Sandra Day O’Connor:

Diversity is a compelling interest that can justify the narrowly tailored use of race when public universities select applicants for admission. In this case, the Law School’s (Defendant) admissions program bears the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored plan. Truly individualized consideration demands that race be used in a flexible, non-mechanical way. It follows from this mandate that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups or put members of those groups on separate admission tracks. Universities also cannot insulate applicants who belong to certain racial or ethnic groups from the competition for admission. However … universities can consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a plus factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant.

And so on.

This is the same tortured, specious reasoning. It says that discrimination in the admissions process is not being condoned — it is not okay — it’s against the law! Except that it is okay. To ensure a diverse student body. Well, we are very much the same, fundamentally, all of us, or we should think this way. (All men are created equal.)

Discrimination (as the term implies) involves non-acceptance of this principle. When I discriminate, I choose between groups. Some groups are superior and some inferior. The inferior groups and persons are not entitled to the same rights and privileges as the superior ones. So Plessy v. Ferguson held — except that they didn’t exactly. They got around this by saying that all persons would be treated the same under the doctrine of separate but equal.

And (Grutter v. Bollinger), while the Constitution and acts of Congress prohibit discrimination, it’s okay under some conditions. In giving consideration to the race of an applicant. This is actually specious, Plessy v. Ferguson style reasoning. But, you see, it’s not discrimination; it’s the promotion of diversity, which sounds good, as an abstraction. Except that people aren’t abstractions. They are all equal, in principle. And different, naturally, in actuality (different inherited characteristics and differences manifested as people grow and change over the course of a life).

We do come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but in what sense does that make us different? In a meaningful way? It does make us different experientially. But this can’t be quantified and it is meaningless to try. In practice, we should treat everyone the same. It’s nonsensical to look at another person and expect them to be the same as you, and wrong to make the differences matter from a legal or moral point of view.

Am I too idealistic? Blind to actual disparities and social realities? Well, I submit my reasoning — sophisticated or unsophisticated as it may be — for consideration vis-à-vis the tortuous process by which the courts arrive at decisions and officials implement policy. A music major is different from a computer science major. A school can and should keep track of how many of each it has. You can’t quantify what a student from one race or another may or not add to a school’s educational environment, or take away from it, using race as a metric. And while there is clearly such a thing as broad groupings according to the type of categories an Ancestry.com DNA test will identify, in individual cases (as a tool of differentiation among individuals) they are meaningless; and by the way, the categories used by the government and organizations for counting purposes are crude and inaccurate for descriptive or classification purposes.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    January 2022

a contest of equals?

 

I heard an incisive comment by a commentator on one of the cable news stations the other day.

Perhaps Kellyanne Conway should be credited for what the commentator observed.

He noted that there is a new standard for political disputes. Facts and falsehoods are on equal footing if enough people believe in the latter.

Fact: Biden won the 2020 election.

Falsehood: The election was fraudulent. Trump was the real winner.

Under the new “rules,” both are granted equal validity as arguing points. A majority of people — it is probably accurate to say — accept as fact that Biden won. But a substantial number believe that Trump won. Therefore, both positions are valid; and have equal status as talking or debating points, and as political and campaign issues.

It as if  two teams were to engage in a debate. The propositions:  Donald Trump lost the 2020 election  … Trump won the election.  The debating positions of each team are considered equally valid.

So it goes, by some de facto consensus, not according to time honored rules of public discourse.

My team, the Boston Red Sox, were the real winners of the 1977 American League pennant. They deserved to win.

 

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So, to revert to what the commentator was referring to, and to try to make it as clear as possible the absurdity: In politics a situation has now occurred where both sides over issues such as the 2020 presidential election, whether Covid vaccines are safe, etc., believe they have an equal claim to being right, that their views are on an equal footing. Biden won? Trump won? Both are valid positions to hold. Both sides should be given a hearing and taken seriously, because all that matters is that both positions have a substantial number of supporters.

What has become of the clearheaded logic we were taught in school? My grandfather used to say: Never argue about a fact.

You say the president immediately preceding Abraham Lincoln was James Buchanan. No, I say adamantly, you’re wrong. It was Franklin Pierce, and an argument ensues.

A totally pointless argument, as stupid as it would be to argue over who pitched the first perfect game ever.

Just as absurd as arguing over who won the 2020 election. But the Trumpers are not going to give up the argument.

This is a pernicious threat to public (political) discourse and to democracy.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 2020

morals (in which I anoint myself a philosopher)

 

Perhaps a present-day Edmund Burke.

 

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I was discussing politics with a friend yesterday. Mostly President Trump. (I have had similar recent discussions with my wife.)

I find Trump’s habitual lying hard to comprehend. How could anyone make bald faced lies that are a priori untrue? Such as that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, that cable news host and former Representative Joe Scarborough is a suspect in murdering an aide, that Joe Biden is a pedophile? And, then, when such statements and unfounded accusations are shown to be false, never retract the statement?

This is not the same as something that politicians routinely do — in a political campaign, say — take something that is partly true or possibly could become so and put a spin on it: e.g., Joe Biden is beholden to the radical left and will carry out their agenda.

 

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Regarding the cardinal sin of dishonesty, the supposed moral obligation we are under to tell the truth, I started thinking in a general way about morals.

First, that it is wrong to lie.

I was brought up to believe this. That to be caught in a lie was one of the most shameful things possible. That it is incumbent upon oneself to admit error when caught saying something not true, that can be proven to be so, and that, as guiding principle, persisting in a lie or trying to lie one’s way out of a jam, not only will result in one’s being embarrassed, but will make for a worse outcome in the long run.

Then, I thought about the broader topic of morals, of codes of conduct. I myself am sometimes guilty of thinking that they are for puritanical types with no real understanding of human behavior, and that perhaps they do more harm than good.

But, think about it — or, to put it another way, come to think about it — moral codes do work to make society “work,” so to speak — the way rules in an athletic contest do — to ensure a certain degree of “fair play,” “decency,” and harmony in human interactions and social life. (You may be asking yourself, why is this would be philosopher spouting truisms?)

 

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Then, I thought, we all know that codes of conduct and behavior — morality in general — are more honored in the breach than the observance. Hardly anyone is strictly faithful to them, and most people break them in big or little ways all the time.

But, when I have engaged in dishonesty, I feel guilt and shame inwardly. My parents’ moral percepts are still there within me.

The difference between Trump and most politicians is that there is no frame of “moral reference.” He lies continuously and shamelessly and has no compunction about doing so. I think this shocks most informed people and the journalists who cover him. It is hard to believe that this is really occurring. In this case, with respect to government and public life. The presidency. Presidents have been caught in lies before. But …

 

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So, then, I thought to myself — and said to my friend — it makes me see that having a moral frame of reference, those values we were brought up with, is not to be taken lightly. They mean something, even if we ourselves are far from perfect.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2020

specious, Jesuitical (or, “All slaveholders were evil, but some were more evil than others.”)

 

“In private, most of my left-leaning friends say that Washington should stay. They don’t play down the moral catastrophe of his slave ownership, but they weigh that, as [Princeton historian David] Bell advised three years ago, ‘against his role as a heroic commander in chief, as an immensely popular political leader who resisted the temptation to become anything more than a republican chief executive, and who brought the country together around the new Constitution.’ And they conclude that Washington deserves to stay in the canon of our country’s heroes — deeply flawed, as most heroes are, but still worthy of admiration for the good he did.”

— “Where do we draw the line in tearing down statues?” by Megan McArdle, The Washington Post, June 23, 2020

 

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“… the traitors hailed as heroes of times gone by aren’t the only ones getting toppled. Ulysses S. Grant — the commanding general of the Union Army — has been torn down; protesters have aimed for Andrew Jackson; Thomas Jefferson and George Washington have been pulled to the ground. The pain and anger born of years of oppression, it seems, extend beyond the most obvious icons of the Confederacy to our Founding Fathers — who espoused freedom and equality even as they held human beings in chains.

“We think a distinction can be drawn between Davis, who earned his fame leading states that seceded so they could keep slavery alive, and Washington, who earned his leading states that banded together to form a nation conceived in liberty, even if that nation still hasn’t lived up to those ideals.”
— “Tearing down these statues will be history, too. Let’s make it one we’re proud of.,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, June 25, 2020

 

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“Former vice president Joe Biden drew a distinction Tuesday between monuments to Confederate leaders and statues of slave-owning former presidents such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, saying the former belong in museums while the latter should be protected. …

“ ‘There is a difference between reminders and remembrances of history,’ Biden said. ‘The idea of comparing whether or not George Washington owned slaves or Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and somebody who was in rebellion committing treason … trying to take down the union and keep slavery. I think there’s a distinction.’ ”

— “On monuments, Biden draws distinction between those of slave owners and those who fought to preserve slavery,” The Washington Post, June 30, 2020

 

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“Our civil religion, back when it had more true believers, sometimes treated departed presidents like saints. But our monuments and honorifics exist primarily to honor deeds, not to issue canonizations — to express gratitude for some specific act, to acknowledge some specific debt, to trace a line back to some worthwhile inheritance.

“Thus when you enter their Washington, D.C., memorials, you’ll see Thomas Jefferson honored as the man who expressed the founding’s highest ideals and Abraham Lincoln as the president who made good on their promise. That the first was a hypocrite slave owner and the second a pragmatist who had to be pushed into liberating the slaves is certainly relevant to our assessment of their characters. But they remain the author of the Declaration of Independence and the savior of the union, and you can’t embrace either legacy, the union or ‘we hold these truths …’ without acknowledging that these gifts came down through them.

“To repudiate an honor or dismantle a memorial, then, makes moral sense only if you intend to repudiate the specific deeds that it memorializes. In the case of Confederate monuments, that’s exactly what we should want to do. Their objective purpose was to valorize a cause that we are grateful met defeat, there is no debt we owe J.E.B. Stuart or Nathan Bedford Forrest that needs to be remembered, and if they are put away we will become more morally consistent, not less, in how we think about that chapter in our past.

“But just as Jefferson’s memorial wasn’t built to celebrate his slaveholding, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs wasn’t named for Wilson to honor him for being a segregationist. It was named for him because he helped create precisely the institutions that the school exists to staff — our domestic administrative state and our global foreign policy apparatus — and because he was the presidential progenitor of the idealistic, interventionist worldview that has animated that foreign policy community ever since.”

— “The Ghost of Woodrow Wilson,” by Ross Douthat, The New York Times, June 30, 2020

 

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Bret Stephens: My basic criterion when it comes to deciding whether a statue should stay or go is whether the person on the pedestal worked for or against a more perfect union, to borrow that beautiful phrase from the preamble to the Constitution. Figures like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee should come down because they worked for disunion, not union. On the other hand, I’m appalled by the defacement of the magnificent Robert Gould Shaw memorial in Boston, which commemorates the bravery of one of the first all-black regiments in the Union Army, just as I’m disgusted by the protesters who pulled down the statue of Ulysses Grant in San Francisco. … We need to find a way to balance present-day moral judgments with some appreciation that the past is another country.

“As for [Andrew] Jackson, my view is that, on balance, he worked for a more perfect union. This is in no way to deny the fact that he was a slaveholder or ignore his atrocious role in the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. But the modern Democratic Party, with its profoundly egalitarian impulses, would have probably been impossible without Jackson. And the Union might have perished long before Abraham Lincoln came to power if Jackson hadn’t opposed nullification and its champion, John C. Calhoun, as forcefully as he did.

Gail Collins: … all those founding fathers from Virginia who fought for their liberty while owning slaves. They knew slavery was evil — as Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” But Jefferson didn’t do anything about it either. …

“But about Jefferson? We celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but does that mean we celebrate the author? Who wanted a nation that was free for white people but protected the right of slave owners to keep and control their property forever? Great men are never perfect, but how do we decide if their good outweighs the bad?

Bret Stephens: I put a lot of weight in what Abraham Lincoln said of the third president: ‘All honor to Jefferson — to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.’ … Great public men are often horrid private men.”

— “Is Statue-Toppling a Monumental Error?” by Gail Collins and Bret Stephens, The New York Times, June 30, 2020

 

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“Each of the Rushmore presidents furthered the ennobling sentiments of men who tried to fashion a democracy from a revolution. Some may never forgive Washington for his slave ownership. But among the nine presidents who owned slaves, only Washington freed them all in his final will.

“He also kept the United States from becoming a monarchy when the Trumpians of the day wanted to make him king.

“Jefferson was a slaveholding racist who wrote “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. The words outlive, and outshine, the man. …

“Teddy Roosevelt was no friend of the continent’s original inhabitants. But he evolved. His Rough Riders were multiracial warriors. And as the 20th century’s most influential progressive president, he invited Booker T. Washington to dine with him, the first time any president had broken bread with a Black man at the White House. This, at a time when it was difficult for a Black man to get a meal in a restaurant.

“Each of them pushed the revolution closer to an ideal of true equality. And Roosevelt was the first to add universal health care among the truths we hold self-evident.”

— “Let’s Finish the American Revolution: Our nation’s founding was a mess of contradictions. We must push America closer to its ideals.” by Timothy Egan, The New York Times, July 3, 2020

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 4. 2020

Amy Cooper

 

Responding to a story in The New York Times last week:

“White Woman Is Fired After Calling Police on Black Man in Central Park: Video of the incident touched off intense discussions about the history of black people being falsely reported to the police.”

by Sarah Maslin Nir

The New York Times

May 26, 2020

 

I wrote the following comment, which was posted by the Times:

This is a very sad outcome. Ms. Cooper should NOT have been fired. Franklin Templeton fired her not because they CARE — it’s a public relations (read, bottom line) issue for them.

I am not a racist; I am the opposite. I think that the story should be told and understood as an example of what blacks undergo when it comes to their “offenses” being reported to the police. Recent examples of black “suspects” being shot and innocent blacks being harassed for being in places where someone decided they should not be horrify me.

Ms. Cooper did not handle the situation well. But this was, as the police noted, basically an argument. (Yes, she did call the police.) I am usually considered polite and un-offensive, yet I have gotten into stupid arguments many times with people in New York … it kind of goes with the territory. Often, it seemed to me that the other person was being overly intrusive or controlling, or taking offense such as when the subway lurched a while ago and I stepped on a woman’s foot, said I am sorry, and she hit me in the back.

Ms. Cooper lost her cool and did not handle the situation well. Mr. Cooper was in the right as far as the leash law is concerned. Ms. Cooper has apologized. That should be sufficient. The punishment does not fit the crime. People in their rush to judgment and to take offense have lost all sense of perspective. She should be enabled to learn from the situation. It appears that she could do so.

Seven people clicked Recommend (Like).

A reader from San Diego commented: “She lost more than her cool. She accused him of threatening her life. Your response screams entitled white privilege.”

 

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I will leave it there. Anything else I might write here will subject me to angry and probably snide comments and accusations of being a racist.

But I recommend reading my prior post:

Thoughts Concerning “Repression of Discourse”

Thoughts Concerning “Repression of Discourse”

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 31, 2020

lock jawed by ideology (thoughts about the Biden allegations)

 

The Allegation Is Against Joe Biden

 

LOCK JAWED BY IDEOLOGY

PEOPLE DON’T COUNT IN THE POLITICAL CALCULUS

These thoughts (in all caps here) immediately occurred to me upon reading

 

The Allegation Is Against Joe Biden, but the Burden Is on Women

Even with the progress of #MeToo, women are called upon to defend their male colleagues. In the 2020 election, that can mean putting the movement itself on the line.

By Jessica Bennett and Lisa Lerer

The New York Times

May 2, 2020

See Word document above.

 

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“I feel very trapped,” said Ana Maria Archila, the co-executive director of the progressive Center for Popular Democracy, of having to support Mr. Biden if he is the nominee. She was one of the two women whose confrontation of Jeff Flake, then a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, over how he would vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation went viral.

“What motivated me to join the fight against Kavanaugh was the threat that he represented to my country,” Ms. Archila said. Now, she added, “I feel like we’re in this situation where in order to protect ourselves, we have to do something that might feel morally incoherent — which is to vote for someone who was accused of sexual assault.”

 

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I don’t feel trapped.

People are not only entitled to think for themselves — they should. Using their intuition, life experience, insight, and common sense. Without having to wear an ideological straightjacket.

I am not a detective, lawyer, or investigator.

But my gut instinct (I realize that I could be dead wrong) tells me that the incident really happened.

I felt the same way about:

E. Jean Carroll

Paula Jones

Juanita Broddrick

At least you can credit me for my honesty.

I am not thinking what am I entitled to think or conclude? But what do I think the truth of the matter is (was)?

And, by the way, the denials so far by Biden and his supporters don’t prove anything. And the allegations have not been proven.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2, 2020

“Congress shall make no law …”

 

In a story in yesterday’s Washington Post

“Supreme Court seems to seek narrow w:ay to uphold cross that memorializes war dead”

By Robert Barnes

The Washington Post

February 27, 2019

It is indicated that

A majority of the Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed to be searching for a way — a narrow way, most likely — to allow a historic cross commemorating World War I dead to remain where it has stood for nearly 100 years.

Two of the court’s four liberals suggested the unique history of the Peace Cross in the Washington suburb of Bladensburg, Md., may provide a way to accommodate its position on public land in a highway median.

But more than an hour of oral arguments showed the difficulty the court faces when it must decide whether government’s involvement with a religious symbol has an allowable sectarian purpose or is an unconstitutional embrace of religion.

And so on.

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This is a contentious issue that has been with us for a long time. But I think it is absurd for jurists and interest groups to be splitting hairs over such questions. It calls for a satirist such as Jonathan Swift to show the absurdity of this kind of public debate.

My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr. (not an arrogant or haughty person, it should be noted) once remarked to me, in a completely different context, that human stupidity would always be very much part of humanity, very much with us.

Here’s food for thought.

The Constitution should not be taken literally. The Founders, schooled in Enlightenment thought, were wiser than that: Their intention was to produce a document the underpinning of which was clear, rational thinking.

Some of the “original intent”/strict constructionist types — including supposedly eminent judges and jurists, and legal scholars — are, to put it bluntly, idiots. Who read and interpret the words of the Constitution over literally, without any context or nuance, and without using common sense.

So are the citizens who, in reading the words of the First Amendment, think that it was intended to prohibit public exercise of religion. The Founders would have been horrified to see it interpreted that way.

The freedom of religion clause did not bar exercise of religion, or display of crosses, Christmas trees, or creches, for example, either in public or private. This would have been unthinkable to the Founders.

 

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In making convoluted, tortuous arguments, the litigators do a great disservice to the public and threaten the common weal. Someone shouldn’t feel anxious about, or have to explain or defend oneself about, erecting or preserving a monument with a cross to honor war dead. To maintain the converse is the worst type of sophistry. And, by the way, it’s also a good example of a form of perverse presentism. Believe, me, when the Bladensburg Peace Cross was erected in 1925, it was done with good intentions. It was meant to show honor and respect. And, the Founding Fathers would be turning in their graves to be told there was something wrong about erecting a monument with a religious symbol on it.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 28, 2019

J’accuse…!

 

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

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When most people get indignant about government policies and actions, it’s usually against a leader such as Trump or Nixon whom they hate, or perhaps Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.

Or a present or past dictator or tyrant. Their regime or administration. Their policies.

But, as William Blake has shown. Epigrammatically, emphatically. What most offends the moral sense, what tears a fiber from the brain is not policy or programs. As much as to contemplate the suffering of INDIVIDUALS, inflicted upon them by the state. Meaning they can’t prevent it, and usually have no recourse.

This includes the prisoners in our inhumane, horrible prison system – most of them. Guantanamo detainees. Offenses against human decency and Christian norms observable in the USA today. And, similar horrors abroad or in the days of yore. Such as political prisoners being tortured in Syrian jails and held and perhaps tortured elsewhere. The Gulag. Internment and concentration camps. The Killing Fields. And ….

I can’t resist preaching. I feel that I am right. Be thou like Christ. Love man. Not like the Pharisees. Obsessed with finding rulebreakers.

People seem to have for the most part moved on to the next issue du jour. The Mueller probe and the misdeeds of the Trump administration. The latest developments and revelations.

Believe me, these issues pale by comparison and will seem a lot less important at a future date.

What about the roughly 700 children who were separated from their parents at the border and have still not been reunified with those parents by the administration, according to a CNN report from five days ago (this figure includes more than 40 children who are 4 years old and younger)? And, the children who have suffered psychological harm from being torn from their parents and detained?

The separation of migrant families — of parents from children, and children from parents — under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy towards migrants is a crime against humanity. Or, to use another generic term, a human rights abuse. Pure and simple.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  August 29, 2018

“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

 

I received an email from a relative last week. It was, on the surface at least, well meaning, but it could also be construed as condescending.

Re your email expressing outrage with Trump and incarcerated kids, at least he caved (although harm already done can’t be undone).

Without crawling under a rock, I try to avoid at least some of this aggravation. …

No doubt your frequent visits to Carnegie Hall and related forays into classical music (not to mention long walks) are therapeutic. You, like me, might try to avoid or at least minimize all the stuff that aggravates.

 

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I replied to my relative as follows.

I am mostly apolitical and have tried over the past couple of years not to be consumed with hatred of Trump.

The news about the incarceration of immigrant kids has really gotten to me, however. I can’t bear to contemplate it.

Also, immigration has long been an issue I have cared about and blogged about.

I won’t change.

You are right that “harm already done can’t be undone.” I read that the administration has said nothing about the children who have already been separated from their parents and that no steps are underway to reunite them.

I feel that this is an egregious violation of human rights that will not be forgotten and can’t be remedied, it seems. I mean the whole anti-immigrant policy, the characterization and treatment of immigrants as vermin, and worst of all, the separation of parents and children.

 

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Some people profess hatred and scorn for Donald Trump and his supporters, the “deplorables.” They are in the liberal vanguard and can be counted upon to support left of center politicians. When those politicians support policies merely for political expediency — such as Hillary Clinton (one of their favorites, arch enemy of the “deplorables”) voting for the Iraq War — they look the other way. Doctrinaire liberalism and political orthodoxy trump independent thinking, which might, they fear, make them appear ideologically “incorrect” and cause them to lose friends or to be looked down upon by them.

These people want nothing to do with the “deplorables” and isolate themselves in mostly white, upper middle class neighborhoods where they won’t have to rub elbows with the proletariat (George Orwell’s proles).

 

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When an outrage is seen such as the Trump administration’s hard line policies towards immigrants — PEOPLE like you and I (and we are descended, like all Americans, from immigrants) — Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson (a conservative) calls it, with dead on accuracy, “state-sponsored cruelty” — my relatives and their liberal friends are strangely silent.

They hate Donald Trump and Trump apologists such as Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway. They march in parades where placards with a crude caricature of Trump reading “The only asshole is in the White House” are held aloft.

Trump to them represents the antithesis of their enlightened beliefs and values. They are eager to make the distinction manifest — that they are exemplars of values that distinguish the “best people” from ignorant and unrefined people.

But concern for actual people, especially sweaty aliens from the impoverished lower classes arriving in rafts and/or on foot at the Texas border, does not engage their sympathies or excite their imagination. And, while religion may be given lip service, an impassioned appeal to fundamental Christian tenets such as charity also does not move them; it may more often than not be an embarrassment to them and perhaps remind my auditors (heaven forbid) of the religious right.

Hence the advice to me from a relative to not get too worked up over the separation of immigrant children from their parents.

What such people care about is being on the “correct” side of political debates. They are essentially cold-blooded conformists to liberal ideology. Card carrying liberals who can be counted upon for support of ordained policies and positions.

They don’t care all that much about living, breathing, suffering people. The plight of lower class immigrants does not engage them emotionally. Of course, they do care about the welfare of their own families (and the maintenance of their own public institutions and communities), but that’s another matter. As long as they are safe in their suburban enclaves, they are not going to lose that much sleep over a few thousand “losers” and their children locked up in cages.

Caring deeply about man’s inhumanity to certain groups and persons can actually embarrass them. They would prefer that their relatives don’t call attention to themselves by expressing moral outrage, without checking with them first.

A historical parallel comes to mind. Many people felt at the time that abolitionists in their strident denunciations of slavery and insistence on immediate abolition were fanatics who should have restrained themselves. The parallel may not be exact in the present instance, but why am I being advised to “get a grip” on myself and exercise “restraint” when it comes to my distress and anger, indeed horror, over the consequences of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies? This from Trump haters. Haters, but I question the depth and sincerity of their compassion.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  June 2018

thoughts on the uprising in Gaza

 

re:

“Palestinians have no choice but to continue the struggle”

By Noura Erakat

Op-Ed

The Washington Post

May 16, 2018

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/05/16/palestinians-have-no-choice-but-to-continue-the-struggle/?utm_term=.1fa9b9694dc7

 

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The following are excerpts from Ms. Erakat’s Op-Ed:

Palestinians have been organizing demonstrations, boycotts, strikes and demonstrations, boycotts, strikes and outright revolts from hostile foreign rule since 1917, when colonial Britain designated Palestine for Jewish settlement. With the stroke of a pen, the great power declared that indigenous Palestinians, 90 percent of Palestine’s population, would not exist as a political community for the sake of establishing a Jewish national home.

Had Jews merely wanted to live in Palestine, this would not have been a problem. In fact, Jews, Muslims and Christians had coexisted for centuries throughout the Middle East. But Zionists sought sovereignty over a land where other people lived. Their ambitions required not only the dispossession and removal of Palestinians in 1948 but also their forced exile, juridical erasure and denial that they ever existed. So, during Israel’s establishment, some 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes to make way for a Jewish majority state. More than 400 Palestinian cities and towns were destroyed or taken over by Jewish Israelis. Forests were planted to cover the ruins and other evidence of the Palestinian presence on the land.

This “nakba,” or catastrophe as Palestinians refer to it, did not end in 1948. Israel has justified its existence on an unequivocal Jewish demographic majority in a place where Muslims and Christians combined had constituted an overwhelming majority. By its own definition, Israel has set up a mutually exclusive equation: Israel exists if Palestinians do not; Palestinians exist if Israel does not.

Rather than challenge this zero-sum equation of human existence, the United States has provided Israel with diplomatic cover and bottomless military aid. Israel continues to systematically dispossess Palestinians. It continues to steal Palestinian land for illegal settlements while destroying Palestinian homes and evicting families. Israel also continues to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland just because they are not Jewish.

This is why Palestinians have been resisting for more than seven decades: They are fighting to remain on their lands with dignity. They have valiantly resisted their colonial erasure. They have succeeded in inscribing their peoplehood in international law and the global consciousness. Despite Israel’s best efforts, they have remained on the land and are not going anywhere. …

Palestinians have endured tremendous suffering and hardship, but there is no choice but to continue in struggle. Israel and the Trump administration are trying to make permanent the exclusivist regime that they have imposed upon Palestinians — one based on racial and religious supremacy: apartheid. But Palestinians, even in this devastating moment, are paving paths of resistance to new and possible futures where freedom is not a mutually exclusive privilege but a natural human condition that can be enjoyed and embodied by all.

 

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Comments by Roger W. Smith (submitted to The Washington Post):

“This is a brilliant op-ed piece that makes its points clearly and forcefully. It presents the issues with stark clarity and is educational for someone like myself, an American who is not Jewish and has not experienced the issues and controversies at close hand. The Israeli polity really is an apartheid system, with the Palestinians second class citizens. The sad thing to me is that I believe a true democracy, notwithstanding that Jews would not be the majority, demographically, would mean Israel would become a better place to live in (not only a more just society) for all.”

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 16, 2018

 

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See also my post:

“a better, stronger country?”

a better, stronger country?