Erasing Offense

userpic=divided-nationI have friends on FB of all political stripes, and I’ve recently been seeing some common themes from conservative friends that are starting to irk me — and so I’d like to expound upon them for a bit.

  • Erasing History. I have been seeing many conservative folks stating that the removal of Confederate Monuments is an attempt to erase history. Such an opinion reflects I biased misunderstanding of the rationale for removal. History, in general, cannot be erased. It leaves marks much deeper than monuments. The Civil War left a divided nation: a nation whose divisions (and their mishandling by the Democratic party of that era — which is different than the Democratic party of today) lived on in Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the South. Blacks may have become citizens, but they never achieved full civil rights until somewhat recently. Most of the statues that went up in the 1910-1940 periods (and I’m distinguishing them from plaques recognizing actual burial places of soldiers) were put up not to remember the South’s loss in the war (which is what the history was), but to remind people of the “good old days” and what the South was fighting for — slavery and the subjugation of the black and poor. And yes, that is what the South was fighting for: cheap labor in the form of slaves. The recasting of the war as one for states rights was the real erasure of history, an attempt to play down the racial aspects of the war and to play up the economic. But if the war was for states rights alone, it would have been fought in the courts. Removing statues doesn’t erase history. Changing the narrative does. I strongly recommend that those who want to learn more about the statues listen to the Backstory Podcast episode that explores the battle over Confederate monuments. Lastly, I’d like those who still believe the removing the monuments is erasing history to consider this: Germany lost World War II. Do you see monuments in Germany to Adolph Hitler or major World War II German generals? Does the lack of those monuments diminish at all how the history of World War II is told? How would the presence of those monuments (if they existed) be viewed by Jews living in modern Germany? Would they be viewed as a gesture that reminds them of how the German culture and country wanted to exterminate and subjugate them, and is celebrating that aspect of their history? If you think about those questions, you’ll understand why the Confederate monuments are problematic.
  • It Offends Me. Another common thread I see on Conservative feeds is something along the lines: “X offends me, I want it removed.”. This is a play on the Conservative stereotype of the “Snowflake” — someone who protests at any offense. It also plays to the notion that the statues were offensive. That, to put it politely, is a pile of 💩. Simple offense is not cause for removal. The ability to offend is protected speech, and there is no restriction to being offended by what someone says. Trust me, if that were a reason for removal most of my Conservative friends wouldn’t be on Facebook, and they would have removed me as well, and FB would be a very empty place. However, there is a distinction when the speech is being made by the government, and the purpose of that speech is to impact a protected class — that is, a class that had no choice in the aspect that creates offense. Examples would be skin color, sex, sexual orientation (which isn’t a choice), and in some cases religion, which some groups believe is transmitted by blood. The Confederate monuments aren’t being removed because they offend in a broad sense, but because they are a government celebration of discrimination against a protected class. That is something different. I’ll note you’re seeing the push for removal against statues placed by governmental organizations or in public spaces. Private expressions and private spaces are up to the owner of their space, and the customers that owner wishes to court.

More on a similar and related issue this in my next post…


The Last Battlefield

We saw history happen last weekend in Charlottesville. History as significant as the shots fired at Fort Sumter. Just as with the Civil War, this is the beginning of a significant battle brought to the surface by, you guessed it, the election of Donald J. Trump. It is a battle that might leave our country in disarray, weakened for another power to come in, if we aren’t careful. And remember, there is one big difference between now and Civil War days: Russia is awake.

This musing was prompted by a piece in the LA Times that indicated how, after Charlottesville, cities were rushing to take down any Civil War statues before White Supremacists could rally around them. These Supremacists, awakened by the election of Barack Obama, called out of the dank recesses by the dog whistles of the Trump campaign, and emboldened by the subsequent non-discouragement of said administration, feel empowered in a way that hasn’t been seen for almost 80 years. As the LA Times has written:

To the white supremacists who gathered from across the country, the havoc in the Virginia college town and the international attention it earned them marked a win. To the counter-protesters, widespread acknowledgment of the threat posed by racism — evident in television images of Nazi symbols and other blatant bigotry — was proof they had prevailed.

It remains unclear what will happen to the racist movement that has been energized by the election of President Trump and was laid out for all to see in Charlottesville. But one thing seems certain: The fighting is not over. Both sides are gearing up for more.

White nationalists and pro-Confederate groups quickly announced rallies and speaking events in Virginia, Texas and beyond, gaining throngs of online supporters while the people who live in those places are already taking to the streets to warn them to stay away.

When Trump had his surprise victory, I felt that this was the final rally of the “White Privilege” folk — a final exercise in protest of the coming shift in America — a shift where the overall non-white or non-Christian population becomes the majority in this country, a shift heralded by the election of Barack Obama to a leadership that looks a lot more like our diverse nation than does the homogeneous complex we see these days. And Mr. Trump has been true to form: selecting individuals as leaders that reflect the White Christian view set, that work to undo advances that helped the minorities, to quick-cement in place privilege and power to those that have long held it — the upper white class.

Charlottesville has brought this to the fore. What could have been a simple exercise of free speech like the marches in Skokie turned — as the organizers likely intended — into violence. When the President did not immediately and swiftly condemn the specific cause of that violence, they were further empowered. His specific condemnation yesterday, read from a teleprompter, was “too little, too late”, especially when he followed it quickly with tweets complaining about how the media had blown this situation all out of proportion. Those who oppose the White Supremacists saw it as an insincere message written by the staff and not really felt by the President; the Supremacists saw it as a further insult by the leadership of the nation and wanted to fight more.

And so we have it now: The battle for the future of this nation. Does it move, as the President and Stephen Bannon’s factions want, to a more White and more Christian nation — a nation much like the United States of the period from 1860 to 1950? Or does it move to a Nation of the 1990s and 2000s: a nation that celebrates both the strength that comes from its diversity and the strength that comes from the unity of that diversity. Does it move to a nation that truly stands for the words in the Pledge of Allegiance: not specifically “under God”, but “with liberty and justice for all”? Does the influence of God in this great nation present itself in enforcement of the punitive restrictions of the Bible — hatred of gays, hatred of other nations, women as a distinct and hidden second class, punishment for abortion, or does God’s influence present itself in the compassionate aspects of the Bible: remembering that it is we too who were slaves and foreigners, that it is our job to help the captive, heal the sick, pick up the downfallen, aid the poor and show mercy (just as, as this non-Christian understands it, Christ showed mercy to Mary Magdelaine)? I know who I want to win.


Understanding America

Before I start my morning task of writing up Hamilton: An American Musical, a few observations on what I read when I got home. I had just spent three hours watching a musical that celebrated the men that fought for our freedom, and when I read Facebook, I was dismayed. I saw statements such as it was incompatible to be a Proud American and an Nazi sympathizer. People clearly do not understand America, and the strengths and risks of the American experiment. There is a reason the ACLU fights not only on the side of minorities, but on the side of Nazis and Racists.

Simply put: In American you can think whatever you want. You can be racist, you can be Nazi, you can be Socialist, you can be Communist, you can be Democratic, you can be Republican. For the most part, you can even say what you want (however, I believe you cannot encourage violence). You can protest, you can be silent, you can yell, you can scream. Of course, those who oppose your opinions have an equal right to speak back at you with their opposition. So yes, you can be a Proud America and think racist and supremacist thoughts.

What you can’t do, however, is violate the constitution or the constitutional rights of others. You cannot act in such a way that takes away the civil rights of others. You can think as racist as you want, but you can’t act in a racist fashion. You can protest all you want, but you can’t take away the life, freedom, and liberty of others. Had Charlottesville remained simply two vocal protest groups, it would have made the news one day and been gone, a demonstration of America’s strength again to hear repugnant views, relish in our remarkable country that permits people to say stupid things and not be arrested. But protests that kill and injure people cross the line — they move from action that is speech to action that impinges on civil rights and is thus illegal and unconstitutional.

So think however you want. Even write it up and protest — that is your right in this astounding country of ours. I may be offended by your words; I may be glad to know who you are and what you think so I don’t have to go anywhere near you. But I will defend your right to offend me with words. Cross that line of impinging rights. Act to deny any protected class — religion, sex, color, country of origin, orientation, etc. — their right to freedom and we will fight back to protect those rights.

Being an American isn’t easy. Our founding fathers and mothers fought for freedom from Britain so that the King could not dictate what we could say, think, or believe. Every day is a continual fight for those freedoms and rights, even if sometimes it is painful and hard to do. While we recognize the right of those who hold views repugnant to us to speak, we must protest loudly and clearly the movement of that hate from speech into actions against others, actions that took or injured the lives of those also expressing their views. We must use our speech — and our laws — to condemn such actions and ensure that those that take away constitutional freedoms learn what it is like to be deprived of theirs.


Our Sad Heritage

I’m sitting at my computer this morning reading about the hatred expressed yesterday evening at UVA, thinking about an extremely interesting BackStory episode about race in America, and getting ready to go to Hamilton this evening… and I’m thinking about how this country started with speaches about freedom, liberty, and justice from one side of their mouth, and hatred for the other coming out the other side. Before the founding of this country, there was hatred based not on skin color, but on country of origin. It was America — Virginia, in particular — that created the distinction between “white” and “black”. It was America that created race hatred. It is America that has amplified hatred of foreigners — be they African, Irish, Italian, Chinese, or from the Middle East. It is American that has pushed hatred of others based on political party, on sexual orientation, on size, on appearance.

For a country that is about freedom and liberty, we’re damn judgemental. I blame the Puritans.

If we are going to succeed as a nation, and continue to prosper, we must get past this hate. We must unite against it. The “other” is not out to get it; homogeneity is not the answer to piece. Our nation was built upon the other. Our nation was built on the melting pot of ideas and, yes, cultures. Our nation wasn’t built on one side winning and the other side losing, but on compromise — on finding that middle group that moves us incrementally forward, ever advancing, ever improving, ever shaping our society to be better than it was before.

Since the 1990s, our politics have become increasingly divisive. The other side is not just wrong, they are evil. There is no reconciliation with evil, no granting them of any quarter. That’s wrong. Different ideas are not evil, they are just different. Refugees are not out to get us; they are out to make peaceful homes for their families. Gays and Transgenders are not out to destroy the cis world; they are just out to live their lives in piece. Almost all of us (except for a few aberrations) was the same thing: to live in peace, to have a safe place to live, to be able to earn enough to take care of our families, to love, to be loved, and hopefully, to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Let us remember what binds us together, and not see in another’s ascent an implication of our descent. There’s a meme going around that points out that the world isn’t pie: one person being successful doesn’t always comes at the expense of another.

Or, in the words of The Mad Show: (music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondehim):

We’re gonna stamp out hate
That’s our creed
Wipe out violence, intolerance and greed
We’re gonna start right now
Tomorrow is too late
We’re gonna stamp out hate.

We’re gonna stamp out hate
Stamp it in the ground
And then take happiness and spread it all around
We’ll put an end to grief
We can hardly wait
We’re gonna stamp out hate.

We’re gonna stamp out hate
Sock it in the eye
Shoot it in the stomach yelling, die, die, die!
We’ll pull its insides out
And look at look at what it ate
We’re gonna stamp out hate.

We’re gonna stamp out hate
Lash it with a switch
Amputate its arms and legs and see how long they twitch
We’ll put its toes on hooks
And dangle them for bait
We’re gonna stamp out hate.


It’s a Bundle of 💩

An article in today’s LA Times by the usually reliable David Lazurus prompted this rant, especially as Lazurus opined that Disney’s move to its own streaming service was yet another death blow to expensive cable bundles. He opined that it would be better for consumers. I respectfully disagree.

Increasingly, we’re moving to the ala carte method of pricing. Airlines such as United are touting “Basic Economy”, where you get a seat and nothing more, and pay for any other privilege. TV, which used to be simple, is now an increasing number of services to which you must subscribe separately — which hides the total cost of all you see. Add your internet service provider fee to what you pay for Netfix + Amazon + YouTube Red + Hulu + CBS All Access + …. you name it, and your total can quite likely be more than that of cable, but you don’t see it. Sometimes, there is an argument for simplicity: A single price that bundles together what you would likely want.

Perhaps it is because I am older, but I don’t want to have to manage all of these separate fees. I want that simplicity. Alas, this means that much of new TV that is on these streaming services is lost to me. I’d love to watch Star Trek: Discovery, but I don’t want to have to deal with CBS All Access to do so. I’d love to explore some of the Netflix exclusive series, but don’t want to deal with yet another service and how it fits into my system.

All of these systems that increasingly use the Internet as their delivery mechanism are an exploitation of privilege, and a way of strongly focusing on a privileged audience. Much of US likes to forget that not everyone has fast streaming access, or can afford all the computer systems required for access, or the newer TVs. Low-income minorities, seniors — who cares about them. As long as we can reach our middle and upper class well educated audience — with the buying power — that’s what we want. Let those plebians watch the shows that can only be in the Cable and Satellite bundles.

So I disagree with the Times. I think the move of Disney to its private streaming service is a grab for more profits, and yet another way of targeting messages of consumption to those with the means to consume. Quality TV is no longer the opioid of the masses; it is the crack of the rich.


Mottos Matter

userpic=divided-nationI was getting all ready to do a post about NPR tweeting the Declaration of Independence and the kerfuffle over the CNN video and its source, but then I realized there was something deeper to say about the implication of mottos.

Since 1956 — the height of “godless communism” — the motto of the USA was “In God We Trust” and “Under God” was added to the pledge. Before that, the unofficial motto — since the founding of the nation — was E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One).  The change was made — ostensibly — to distinguish us from the godless Commies. I think our decline into partisanship began then.

Think about the two sayings. When you say, “In God We Trust”, the first question is: Whose God? Is it the God of the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindu, the Buddhists, the… And what about those who do not believe in God, or who question God? “In God We Trust”, ultimately, is a motto that divides us. It also explicitly gives a religious basis to what makes us strong. If “In God We Trust”, then it is God that makes us strong. Actually, it is my God that makes us strong, and your God that makes us weak, so you better do what my God says.

Now consider “E Pluribus Unum“. This is a strength that comes not from the Divine, but from the people. It says that it is our diversity that makes us strong — our different ideas. It is all of us working together that makes this nation great, setting aside religious, cultural, and political differences to find compromises that move us forward.

Our National leaders — starting from the era of Eisenhower and “In God We Trust” (for this is when both Nixon and Reagan got their starts) — have increasingly emphasized the divides in our nation. Religion. Class. Color. Gender. They have played those divides to accumulate power and wealth. We see the results in Washington DC today. People work for party over the nation, believing what is good for their party must be good for the nation, unquestioningly. We have seen a populace that unquestioningly hates the other side, considered them to be sub-human. We have seen the hatred grow, and the unity disappear.

For America to survive, we must remember that we were founded for E Pluribus Unum, not In God We Trust. We must come together to celebrate our diversity, find the strength within, and work together for all people. We must elect leaders who feel the same. We must remind our currently elected leaders that if they do not work for all the people, then they may soon be looking for a new job.


Parallel Divides

userpic=divided-nationReading through my Facebook feed today, an article from Haaretz caught my eye: ‘Religion-hating Gangsters’: Israeli Orthodox Vitriol Toward Reform Jews Escalates Amid Kotel Crisis.  As the article is a premium article (meaning if you don’t come in right, it is behind a paywall), I’ll quote from it a bit more than I normally would:

“Inappropriate and insolent.” That’s how Rabbi Abraham Gordimer, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar, dubbed Reform Jewish protests against the government’s decision to freeze plans for a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall.

Rabbi Gordimer’s comments, published on the right-leaning Arutz Sheva website in English, were mild compared to the wave of bile heaped upon the followers of Reform Judaism in Israel’s right-wing Hebrew press. Readers would have been forgiven for forgetting that the government itself had approved the plan last year after four years of negotiations brokered by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

Far-right lawmaker Betzalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) accused the Reform movement of “dragging Diaspora Jews into a fight.” He said responsibility for the crisis lay with “a small fringe group of a few dozen activists in the Israeli Reform movement. They don’t care about the right of an individual to pray according to his beliefs.”

A profile of Reform leader Rick Jacobs in Israel’s Maariv daily newspaper and the NRG website portrayed him as an “extreme left,” pro-BDS “gangster” as one of the many Israelis who circulated the story on social media described him. A commentary on Channel 20 accused him of being a “selective Zionist” and creating a platform for anti-Semitic propaganda.


Non-Orthodox Jews were depicted as outsiders with no legitimate say in what should or shouldn’t happen at the Western Wall or in Israel at large.


Anti-Reform sentiment runs deep among Israel’s Orthodox leadership. At the Haaretz conference earlier this month, lawmaker Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism explained why he could not align with left-wing parties even though he found them “more intelligent” than their counterparts on the right. “Why don’t I go with the left? Because you sit with the Reform,” he said.

Last month, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, head of Yeshivat Kashei Rachamim, compared Reform Jews to pigs in his weekly sermon. “They are not Jews,” he said.

Rabbi Michael Marmur, provost of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, said there has long been among some streams of the Orthodox movement “a long history of looking at the Reform movement as a boogey man and a tendency to blame Reform for all the heinous things in the world.”

“As we make more inroads into the conversation about what Israel should look like, there is an inflationary spiral in the rhetoric,” he said. “The vitriol you see expressed is in direct proportion to us trying to make a stand. We are wheeled out as the enemy, as traitors. The article about Rick Jacobs is a classic example. If Reform Jews and the Reform movement he represents are understood as a dagger in the back, as a fifth column, then the problem is neutralized.”

As I read through this, I was struck by the parallels in the rhetoric that I have seen — and continue to see — from what I would characterize as many in the far right — the ardent Trump supporters. Further, given the very un-Presidential tweet of an animation showing our President* beating up and bloodying the mainstream media, personified by CNN, I dare to say that this is rhetoric I’ve seen from our President himself.

From my very Conservative friends on my Facebook feed, I have seen posts making the same claims about Liberals that the Orthodox make about Reform. Read the quote above and replace the sentiment with Liberals, and it will sound familiar. “They are not Americans”.  There is “a long history of looking at the Liberal movement as a boogey man and a tendency to blame Liberals for all the heinous things in the world.” “Liberals are wheeled out as the enemy, as traitors. The article about [insert your Democratic candidate] is a classic example. If the Democratic Party and the Liberal/Progressive movement he represents are understood as a dagger in the back, as a fifth column, then the problem is neutralized.” As to why moderate Republicans might not work with the Democrats? Lawmaker [insert name here] of the Republican Party explained why he could not align with left-wing parties even though he found them “more intelligent” than their counterparts on the right. “Why don’t I go with the left? Because you sit with the Liberals/Progressives,”

It sounds far too familiar. Yet from Reform Jews towards Orthodoxy, just as from Liberals towards Conservatives, I don’t see the same level of hatred or divide. There is the willingness to accept the diversity of opinion, to recognize that we can agree to disagree. Reform Jews don’t characterize Orthodox as the source of all problems in Judaism, just as Liberals do not  characterize all Conservatives as the source of all problems in America. (Well, most don’t).

If this country is to move forward and not split apart, we must learn to see people as people and not the abstract enemy that we hate. Separation and hatred plays to activist bases, but doesn’t solve problems. Unfortunately, we may never get past this if the leadership of the parties do not set the example. If our leaders cannot work together, how can the people ever have a hope of doing the same. My voice is insignificant — I’m represented by congresscritters and senators that already feel as I feel. I’d urge those supporting the President to urge him to act Presidential, to remember that he is the President of the entire country, not just the minority of the voters that voted for him. But, alas, even as congressional leadership urges that, he is ignoring it.

Almost 27 years ago I started the Liberal Judaism Mailing List to provide a place where people from different Jewish movements could discussion issues in an environment where we respected each others as Jews and didn’t let movemental affiliation impact that respect.  Fundamental to that discussion was the notion that saying lies or propagating myths about the other side is essentially Lashon Horah, propagation of gossip and lies. Through hard moderation, we were able to keep a positive dialog going for a long time. Why can’t, as Americans, we do the same?

As we approach this July 4th, we must remember that the original motto of this country was not “In God We Trust”, and there wasn’t an emphasis on pushing Christianity on the people (the only reference to religion in the Constitution was the fact that there shouldn’t be a religious test for office holders). Rather, the original motto was, E Pluribus Unum, “From Many, One”. It is the many voices that came together to make this nation strong, not one voice stomping out all the others.

*: Yes, our President. Whether you voted for him or not, he is President of this  country. The fact that he doesn’t act very Presidential, as someone people can respect and model behavior after, is a different issue.


Hotel Reservation Websites — Grrrrrr

I’m in the process of making the hotel reservations for our upcoming trip to take our daughter to Grad School in Madison WI. We’re going to go out through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa, and after getting her settled, visit friends in St. Louis, and then back along Former US 66. After booking a number of hotels, I just realized I’ve been confused by the websites, and some may have been prepaid, but I’m not sure — and I’m pissed at the confusion they engender.

I’ve been using four primary sites: Trivago, Expedia, Booking.Com, and AAA, with Trivago just sending me to either Expedia or Booking. I’m trying to make reservations and not pre-pay, but it isn’t always clear. For example, the cheapest rates you see on Trivago are typically pre-pay rates, so take them with a grain of salt.

  • For Expedia, there are three key phrases: Free Cancellation, Reserve Now Pay Later, and Non-Refundable. They don’t appear to have an explicit phrase for Pre-Pay, so if you don’t see Reserve Now Pay Later, it appears you are paying now (but may be able to cancel)
  • For Booking.Com, there are also three key phrases: Low rate – no money back, NO PREPAYMENT NEEDED – pay at the property, and FREE cancellation before …. If you dont’ see NO PREPAYMENT NEEDED – pay at the property, it appears you are paying now (but may be able to cancel).
  • What appears to have suckered me was AAA. Some of their rates have an explicit bullet: Pre Paid – Book Now, Pay Now. Clearly Pre-Paid. Others explicitly have Non-Refundable. Those are likely Pre-Paid. Then others have Book now, pay when you stay. Those are no prepayment needed. But what about AAA Rate? All they have is Exclusive AAA Member Savings. No “Pre Paid”. No “Pay When you Stay”. Are these pre-paid or not? I was assuming not, because they didn’t say “pre-paid”, but when I booked one, the receipt has some words about pre-paying the stay. Now I’m totally confused. [ETA: It is now a week after I posted this, and so far, none of the AAA reservations have shown up on my credit card statement. I’ve reached the conclusion that their confirmation messages and emails are in error when they talk about the reservation being prepaid, and that the AAA rate is really “Book now, pay when you stay.”.]

Ah, I’m begining to miss the old days with the books where you could call the hotel, and had just one rate.