Throwing the second stone

October 8, 2010

A few days ago I posted a rather harsh article about bullying. You can find it here. In the article (and ensuing discussion) I told of how I had been bullied as a child. I argued that it is quite difficult to forgive and forget, and that bullying can leave scars decades later. I argued that bullies need to be dealt with severely – that we need to bully the bullies.

I still believe that.

Writing that article and engaging in the ensuing discussion has been generally positive and cathartic for me. But, it has also brought back some very old and very painful memories, and has made me think about some uncomfortable things. What follows is one of those uncomfortable things. It is partly a confession, but it has also given me some insights into bullying. It has also perhaps opened a way for me to really forgive those who tormented me in the past.

Here is the confession: I am ashamed to admit that on several occasions as a child I participated in the bullying of another child. I did this despite the fact that I myself had been a victim of bullying for many years. One would think, perhaps, that a victim of bullying would vow never to do the same thing to another human being. It didn’t work that way. Instead, I saw it as a reprieve. I was relieved that another kid was now the target because it pulled attention away from me and made my life easier, at least for a short while.

Two situations stand out in my memory. The first involved a kid I will call Mike. Mike transferred into my Catholic grade school in about 5th grade. By that time, most of us had been in school together for four or five years. Mike was most certainly the new kid – and he was also a different kid. He was the son of Italian immigrants. His father spoke with a heavy accent and sold suits at Sears. He came to school smelling of garlic. Now, these things may not seem that odd – but at my school they were VERY odd. The parish I attended was the same one Melinda Gates attends now. The only black kids at my school were the children of NBA star Lenny Wilkens. Parents had prestigious jobs – they most certainly did not work at Sears.

So, Mike had a big target painted on his forehead, and he was bullied from Day 1. I participated. It wasn’t because I had any reason to dislike Mike. I participated because I was a coward. I participated because it took some of the pressure off of me. Every taunt or kick or sucker punch thrown at Mike was one less thrown at me.

Years later, I would hear that Mike had been committed to a state mental institution. He was even briefly in the news after he escaped, threatening to murder his father and his psychiatrist. Did the bullying have anything to do with Mike’s mental illness? I have always wondered. It certainly could not have helped.

The second situation is worse than the first. Another new kid arrived at the school in 7th grade. I will call him Brian. I vividly remember the roll call on that first day of class – the teacher went down the row and had each of us stand and state our name. When it came to be Brian’s turn, he stood and gave his name – in a very very strange voice. It sounded a bit like a southern accent – but we were all northerners and really didn’t know what a southern accent sounded like. Besides, that wasn’t quite it. The voice had a strange quality – strained – not unlike that of a cat in heat being strangled. The class immediately erupted into laughter. I quietly cheered – this was obviously a really weird kid – weirder by far than I was. He would certainly take some of the pressure off of me!

As it turned out, Brian had cerebral palsy. I didn’t know the words “cerebral palsy” at the time, nor did any of my classmates. This was well before the days of mainstreaming, and none of us had really been near a physically handicapped child – and we certainly had never had a physically handicapped child in our classroom. Not that it would have mattered if we knew the words or not – because our teacher did absolutely nothing to prepare us for the experience. We were told nothing about Brian’s condition. It could have been a great teaching moment – a chance for us to experience diversity and to realize that a child with a physical handicap was no different from the rest of us. Instead, a handicapped child was plopped down in our midst with absolutely no explanation. Brian was a weird kid, and weird kids are meant to be tortured…. and I participated.

Sometime in the middle of the school year the teacher and school administration realized that Brian was being treated badly, and they attempted to intervene. The teacher gathered us all together and urged told us to stop teasing Brian. She proclaimed “Don’t you realize he is spastic!

Could she have said anything worse? Didn’t she realize that to 7th graders in the early 1970s the word spastic was synonymous with weird? We had no idea that the term referred to an actual medical condition. To us, all the teacher was doing was confirming what we already knew! Brian was a really weird kid!

I think I feel more guilty about my treatment of Brian than I do about Mike because Brian was physically handicapped. Deep down I suspect I knew that – but it was an inconvenient fact and best ignored. I had no reason to hate or dislike Brian. In fact, he was a pretty nice guy. But, teasing Brian it took pressure off of me. If Brian was being tortured it meant that I was not.

Brian left the school after that year and transferred to public school. I did not keep up with him, but other friends related that he seemed to have an easier time at the public school than at the Catholic school. I have noticed this as well with my own children, who have attended both Catholic school and public school. There seems to be far less bullying in public schools. I am not sure why this is, or if the observation is even valid. It might be worth thinking about in a future blog.

My actions were not particularly noble, were they? I would love to be able to say that the experience of being bullied led me to stick up for Mike and Brian. Instead, I acted out of fear. I feared the bullies and I would do what I could to escape them – even if it meant engaging in despicable behavior. Believe me, I knew what I was doing was wrong.

So, there is my confession. I have made peace with my conscience, and I hope that Mike and Brian have forgiven me – if they even remember me. This has been a tough memory to relive, but in reliving it I have perhaps gained some important insights – insights into myself and insights into bullies.

I acted out of fear. I acted because I was afraid that the bullies would turn their attention back on me. I failed to stand up for others because I knew that by doing so I would put myself in harm’s way.

I acted out of fear. I wonder how many of my tormentors – the kids who bullied me – were likewise acting out of fear.

I will never know. But, understanding that fear and empathizing with that fear perhaps gives me an avenue to forgiveness.

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The Bully Pulpit

October 5, 2010

Bullying.

It has been in the news a lot lately. Just in the last few weeks we have witnessed a college student tragically taking his own life after being “outed” by a bullying roommate. We have seen a father arrested after he tried to protect his daughter from bullies. We have seen outrage in the media. We have seen Ellen DeGeneres and others put out anti-bullying messages on Facebook and elsewhere. Perhaps, finally, something will be done.

Yeah…. right.

In a few days the uproar will have faded, the media will have moved on, and people will stop paying attention and will stop caring – if they ever really cared to begin with. Bullying will move out of our national consciousness for a while – but believe me, the bullying won’t stop. In a few months there will be another tragic incident. Perhaps this next time the victim will grab a gun and kill the bully – that has certainly happened often enough. Once again, there will be a national outrage. Bullying will dominate the talk shows. People will make loud speeches about how things must change. But, things won’t change.

You know why things won’t change? Because people really don’t care. They blame the victim, not the bully. Even with tragic incidents in our recent memory, there is an undercurrent of giggles. People just laugh about how the victim “couldn’t handle it” or “just needs to get over it.” The bullies will claim that they were “just teasing” and they shouldn’t be held responsible because the victim “can’t take a joke.”

Bullying will not stop until we, as a society, stop blaming the victim. Bullying will not stop until the bullies are confronted with the one thing they really understand: Power. It is time to start bullying the bullies.

Let me share a personal story.

I was mercilessly bullied as a child, from the time I entered school in Kindergarten, until sometime near the end of highschool. My primary tormentors were other children, but at times the bullying was encouraged (and sometimes even perpetrated) by teachers and parents. I have particular hatred for a third grade teacher who actively organized the other students against me.

In retrospect, I was the perfect bullying target. I was a fat nerdy kid with thick glasses. For some unexplained reason, my parents did not teach me good personal hygiene skills – so we can add greasy to that list. I was lousy at sports at a school where sports were all that really mattered. I lacked social skills. I was loud. I was an only child of parents who were a generation older than the parents of my peers – and thus I was out of synch with popular culture.

The experience was absolute hell. I cannot even begin to describe it – and even if I could find the right words I suspect nobody would believe the intensity of the experiences – that is unless they have experienced it themselves. Even thirty or more years later, I still seethe when I recall what went on.

Guess what? You don’t “just get over it.” It leaves scars – permanent scars. Oh – I have certainly moved on. I was successful in college and I have gone on to a successful career. I am married and have kids and I have lots of friends. My students generally like and respect me. Sure – people think I am a little crazy – but generally that is crazy in a fun way. But the scars are still there. You don’t just get over it.

This became very apparent to me recently. Over the summer, an old friend was killed in a tragic accident. This was someone whom I had known since first grade. As a child, I spent many an afternoon at his house. Later, he and I both developed an interest in music, and he became one of my first band-mates. In fact, he and I were in bands together for much of highschool. We indeed shared some good times.

He was a friend – but he also bullied me. Not physically – but psychologically. He was exceptionally intelligent with a biting wit that could cut your legs from under you in an instant. He was one of those people who would be your friend in private – but would turn on you in a crowd when it was no longer cool to be your friend. In my mind, that is one of the worst types of bully.

All of this happened over 30 years ago, and in the interim I have rarely thought of him. But, when he died, all of the memories came rushing back. I was troubled by my personal reaction. I was conflicted. I found I could not grieve appropriately because I still retained a lingering resentment all of these years later.

I realize this says as much about me as it does about my tormentors. I need to forgive and forget. Indeed, I have forgiven – but I have not forgotten. I have moved on, but the scars are still there. I am reminded of those scars every time a tragic case of bullying rises into our national consciousness.

How is bullying to be stopped? Obviously, it isn’t going to stop because of some consciousness-raising workshop done in the schools. The bullies laugh at such programs. It isn’t going to stop because a school adopts a “zero tolerance” policy – because the bullies find a way around that policy. Bullying will not stop if we allow ourselves to quietly giggle about the victim’s inability to “take a joke.”

Bullies thrive because they have power – both social power and physical power. The only way to stop them is to turn some of that power back on them. Remember Carrie?

No – I am not advocating that bullies be subjected to homicidal psychic powers. I am suggesting that we, as a society, need to come down on bullies and come down on them hard.

The Rutgers student who outed his roommate should be facing manslaughter charges.

Parents of bullies – particularly those who encourage their children to bully – should face both civil and criminal penalties.

Teachers and coaches who advocate bullying should be fired and should face legal action as well.

The father who was arrested for protecting his daughter from bullies should instead be getting medals.

All of the talk shows and sensitivity seminars and faux “zero tolerance” policies will do nothing. It is time to start bullying the bullies. It is time to start making them responsible for their actions.

What I got….

September 23, 2010

Lovin ‘s what I got…
Lovin ‘s what I got…
Lovin ‘s what I got…
Lovin ‘s what I got…

Catchy tune, huh? We cover it in my band. It came out a bit after my prime rock’n’roll years – but it does appeal to the youngsters in the audience – it gets them up dancing and singing.

All day today I have had a slight variation of this tune going through my head…

Health care… it’s what I got…
Health care… it’s what I got…
Health care… it’s what I got…
Health care… it’s what I got…

OK – catchy it ain’t…

Today is September 23rd, 2010, and it was exactly six months ago that Health Care Reform was signed into law. Today a large part of the legislation actually went into effect. As a result, many many many Americans – including me and my family – are better off today than they were yesterday. Sadly, quite a few Americans don’t seem to realize how much better off they are.

So, lets take a few minutes to review the reform measures that came into effect today (click here for a more detailed summary):

Children may no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions: I am lucky. My children have been generally healthy and don’t have anything that might qualify as a pre-existing condition. I have quite a few friends who have not been so lucky – who have had children with several asthma, or needing liver transplants, or requiring open heart surgery. I suspect everyone reading this post knows at least one family who has faced similar medical problems.

In the past, insurance companies have been able to refuse coverage to such children if the parents, for one reason or another, needed to change their own insurance company. In the past, a parent of a sick child would not dare to change jobs, or move to another state – because their child would not be covered on their new insurance plan. Losing a job could be a death sentence, because a parent would be unable to purchase insurance covering the child. That is a terrible burden to impose on a family already under stress from their child’s illness.

Thanks to our reform legislation, that burden is a thing of the past.

In 2014 insurance companies will be required to cover adults with pre-existing conditions. That day cannot come quickly enough. Like many middle aged folks, I do have a pre-existing condition, and so does my wife. In fact, development of a medical condition is a common occurrence when one ages. I am glad I love my job – because if I did want to make a career change I wouldn’t dare do it until 2014.

Children will be able to remain on their parent’s plan until age 23. This provision also affects me personally. I have a daughter, recently graduated from college. As everyone knows, it is a bad job market – and although she has a job it isn’t the type of job she will want to make a career of. She really can’t afford health insurance – even the plan offered by her employer. I am glad that I will be able to keep her on my plan, because the alternative isn’t pleasant.

There are no longer “lifetime limits” to insurance payments: I am not sure how closely you read the fine print on your health insurance policy. If you do, chances are you will discover that the policy has a “lifetime limit” for coverage. For example, if your lifetime limit is one million dollars, and you develop a condition that will cost two million to treat – well – tough luck. Your insurance will only cover only that first million. A million dollars might seem like a LOT – but costs add up quickly when you have a serious ailment.

Sarah Palin is back in the news today, spreading more vicious lies about “death panels” in the reform legislation. I wonder what Sarah thinks about lifetime limits. Aren’t those a sort of death panel? The insurance company decides your life is only worth so much and if you need more than that – well – they sentence you to death, don’t they?

Insurers will no longer be able to rescind coverage when you get sick, or if you make a mistake in your application: If I pay for insurance month after month after month, I expect it to be there when I get sick and need it. Insurance companies have a bad habit of collecting your money up front and then rescinding your coverage – typically on the basis of some technicality – when you get sick. It really isn’t insurance then, is it? It is nothing short of theft. Thankfully, the thieves have had this little trick taken out of their arsenal.

Preventive care is now free: Lots of people decide not to get immunizations and not to get colonoscopies and not to get mammograms because it is too expensive for them to afford. Nevermore. It is now included for free as a part of new insurance plans.

I could go on…. these are just a few of the changes that went in today. For a more detailed look, check out the link above.

Who in the world would possibly object to these changes in their insurance plans? Seriously, do people somehow love it when their insurance is rescinded? Do they like it when they are denied coverage for pre-existing conditions? Is it fun to tell your kids that they will have to start buying their own insurance, even when they don’t have a job?

Everyone should be happy with these changes, and in fact polls show that most people are happy with these changes. Nevertheless, there are a large number of conservative politicians running on a “repeal Obamacare” platform. These politicians apparently don’t care what they will be taking away from their constituents. They see an opening for a political power play, and they are going to take it.

Oh – I am sure you will cite polls saying that a majority of Americans want reform repealed. I defy you to find a majority of Americans who want the above provisions to be repealed. In fact, polls show that the majority of Americans support the provisions discussed above – they just don’t realize that those provisions are in the legislation.

No, Americans want reform repealed for two reasons. First, they are misinformed – and are fooled when the Sarah Palins of the world make up things like “death panels” just to score political points.

Americans also want reform repealed because of the personal mandate. They don’t want to be told they have to do anything and refuse to support a reform plan that makes them anything – even if it is good for them. Of course, they also don’t understand that the personal mandate is also necessary for some of the more popular measures in the plan to be viable.

You know, repeal isn’t going to happen, either. Running on “repeal” is a political posture designed to gain votes – but it is also a political impossibility. Over the next two years Republicans will not even be able to bring repeal legislation up for a vote because they will not have 60 votes in the Senate – and Obama would veto a repeal attempt anyway. In 2012 Republicans might retake the Presidency – but will they also have 60 votes in the Senate? I don’t think so. Repeal will not be happening anytime soon.

Health Care… it’s what I got… thankfully

Health Care… it’s what you got… so get used to it…

The Out of Control Group

September 21, 2010

This cartoon has been taped to my office door for 15 years or so. I don’t even remember where I originally came across it. I think I may have cut it out of one of those “free examination copies” textbook publishers like to send. I occasionally display it while teaching a research methods class. It will usually elicit a polite chuckle that probably has more to do with stroking the professor’s ego than it does with actual humor.

In today’s post, the cartoon gives me a lot more than that chuckle. In fact, it gives me something exceptionally rare: a triple entendre. That’s right – a threefer.

The cartoon allows me to:

1) Make a factual statement about the GOP: They are, in fact, the “out of control group” in Washington DC, at least until November elections.

2) Make a political jab at the GOP: Their political rhetoric these days is out of control.

3) Segue into a nerdy discussion of research methods: GOP rhetoric is out of control partly because they are drawing conclusions not supported by their data. Specifically, they lack the control group that would be necessary to draw the conclusions they are trying to draw.

So, let’s have a brief refresher course on research methodology. What is a control group, and why is a control group necessary?

A simple textbook answer will suffice. In a research study, the control group is a group of subjects who are not exposed to the variable being tested (i.e., the independent variable or IV). For example, if we want to know if a particular teaching method is effective, we need to compare students who experienced that teaching method to a control group of students who did not experience that method. The control group thus serves as a baseline for comparison. If we do not have a control group, we simply have no idea about whether the teaching method was effective. It could be better, it could be worse, or it could have no effect. We just don’t know.

Simple enough, yes? I am sure most of you know this already. But, let’s try another example.

Suppose we are interested in knowing whether a particular economic stimulus package is effective in improving the economy. We would need to have a group of subjects who received the economic stimulus package, and a second control group of subjects who did not receive the economic stimulus package. As in the first example, the control group would serve as a baseline for comparison. Without that baseline, we have absolutely no idea about whether the stimulus was effective or not.

Again, that is simple, yes?

But… wait… there is a problem, isn’t there?

In real world economics, you don’t get to have a control group.

You aren’t allowed to apply the economic stimulus under controlled conditions so that part of the country gets it and part of the country does not. In the absence of a control group, you have absolutely no baseline for comparison. For all you know, the particular stimulus package in question might be the best possible solution, the worst possible solution, or it could be somewhere in the middle. You just don’t know, nor will you ever know.

The lack of a control group may make it impossible to draw conclusions – but it certainly doesn’t keep people from trying. Cruise through a few conservative blogs, or listen to some conservative commentators, or read some conservative columnists. You can even, if you have the stomach for it, listen to some conservative politicians. You will find they are virtually unanimous in their assessment of Obama’s economic plans: The will call it “Obama’s failed stimulus” or “Obama’s disasterous economic plan.” They will claim that Obama’s economic plan has “brought the country to the brink of disaster.”

Guess what? They can’t make that claim – or at least they can’t honestly make that claim. Obama’s plan has brought us to the brink of disaster? Compared to what? Where is your control group? What is your baseline for comparison? What evidence do you have that any other plan would have produced any different outcome?

You have none none none none none.

Let’s be fair – this criticism applies both ways. By the same logic, Democrats cannot claim that Obama’s economic stimulus plan has been a success. There isn’t a control group, there is no baseline for comparison, and thus there is no basis for the conclusion.

Obviously, politics is not about logic. It is not about rigorous application of scientific method. It is about who you can convince to believe your version of the “facts” – even if the “facts” you are presenting are unjustified or downright incorrect.

Republicans are not the first to run a dishonest political campaign based on incorrect interpretation of economic data. Bill Clinton did it back in 1992 with his infamous “It’s the economy, stupid” strategy. Sadly, the American people can be a gullible lot and they don’t understand much about economics. It leaves them open to manipulation from both sides of the political spectrum.

I will close with a question for my conservative friends: I have argued (I believe convincingly) that we have no empirical basis to assess the success or failure of Obama’s economic program. We can, however, speculate. If McCain had won the election, how do you think the economy would be doing now, and why do you think that?

Obviously, I would speculate that the economy would be far worse under a Republican administration. I assume that AIG, General Motors and Chrysler would have been allowed to fail – resulting in a catastrophic cascade of additional business failures, bank failures, and mortgage failures. I do not see how the major spoke of the GOP economic plan – cutting taxes for the rich – would work quickly enough or go deeply enough to rescue the economy from total and permanent collapse.

But, of course, this is speculation. I have no evidence to support my contention. I would be interested in hearing from my conservative friends, though. What would the GOP have actually done to correct this economy? Do you think the current economic conditions would be any better as a result? And, most important, why do you think that?

Until I hear a good answer to those questions, I am forced to conclude that the out of control group is simply out of control with its rhetoric.

Perhaps Hillary was right after all…..

September 16, 2010

I have been thinking a lot lately, and I have come to a reluctant conclusion.

Maybe, just maybe, Hillary Clinton was right after all.

Gotcha!!!

Oh – I am sure that a number of my conservative friends are rolling over laughing – and salivating too! They are sure that I am about to abandon President Obama and admit that Hillary might have been a better choice after all and might have made a better President.

Nope. Not going there.

But – it is looking more and more like Hillary was right about another issue: The vast right-wing conspiracy.

Younger readers will not remember this, but it is still fresh in my mind. In January of 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinski investigation, Hillary claimed in an interview with Matt Lauer that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy intent on destroying her husband – and destroying progressive politicians in general. Her exact words were:

“Well, I don’t know if I’ve been that dramatic. That would sound like a good line from a movie. But I do believe that this is a battle. I mean, look at the very people who are involved in this — they have popped up in other settings. This is — the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”

Here is some video of that great moment:

I am not sure how you reacted to Hillary’s claim. Personally, I laughed. Remember, I spent a considerable portion of my adult life on the opposite side of the political spectrum, and in 1998 I was probably still slightly right of center. I thought Hillary to be a fool. A conspiracy theory? How silly.

I am not laughing anymore. I believe Hillary was right. There indeed is a vast right-wing conspiracy – backed by billionaires and intent on destroying progressive politics. It is the force – and the dollars – behind the Tea Party, and Pravda-FOX, and right-wing radio. It is behind the amazing disinformation campaign brought to bear against health care reform. It is behind the attempts to destroy – not just defeat but DESTROY – President Obama. It is silent, it is underground, and it is very very wealthy. It is exceptionally powerful.

I suspect some of you are already laughing at me, just as I laughed at Hllary. “Oh, Hippieprof has finally lost it!” you giggle. “To think – he is suggesting a conspiracy theory! Time for the old boy to retire!”

I think not. I am generally not prone to conspiracy theories, and though I have friends who hold such beliefs my typical reaction is to roll my eyes.

Not this time. I think this conspiracy is real, and I think it is very very deeply dangerous. I am not exaggerating when I say that this could be the eventual downfall of our democracy.

Do you want proof? As Hillary said, it is a great story if someone decided to “find it and write about it and explain it.” Thankfully, someone has finally done so. I would refer you to this excellent article recently published in The New Yorker. It is an exceptional piece of investigative journalism, outlining the activities of the billionaire Koch brothers – activities aimed at one thing and one thing only – the destruction of progressive politics. The article is long, but it is a fascinating read. Take some time to read through it: Your eyes will be opened. Hillary knew about it in 1998, and as the article will tell you, it has been going on for a lot longer than that.

I already know how my conservative readers will respond. They will begin by attacking the source. The New Yorker is just another liberal propaganda rag, they will claim. The article is just one big lie – a lie aimed at destroying the “populist” Tea Part movement, aimed at silencing Pravda-FOX, a lie aimed at putting Beck and Limbaugh and Palin in their respective places.

I think not.

The ironic thing? The vast majority of conservatives who might read and respond to this blog are hard working, middle-class people. They are generally not billionaires or millionaires ore even hundredthousandaires. They have been sold a bill of goods by their billionaire controllers. They have been convinced that the interests of billionaires are the same as the interests of the middle class. They are wrong. They are being used. They are tools.

Yes. I went there. I said that. Tools.

The conspiracy has been so effective that it has been able to convince hard working middle-class people to stand against their own best interests and instead support the goals of the mega-rich. It has convinced people that their conservative movement is “grass roots” and “populist” – when in fact it is a movement created and financed by the wealthy.

Oh…. I know what your response will be. You will accuse me of being a tool of the left. You will claim that there is a vast left-wing conspiracy, and I am simply acting as a propagandist for that conspiracy. You will call me a drone.

Who knows – perhaps I am a tool of a vast left-wing conspiracy. The shovel is probably unaware it is being used, and perhaps I am unaware of my role in that conspiracy.

But, again I think not. Let me leave you with this little thought:

It takes money – LOTS of money – to finance a political conspiracy.

People with money are often motivated by their riches. They want to make more money.

Conservative economic principles favor the rich. Liberal economic principles do not.

So – from where would a powerful and well-funded conspiracy logically originate?

Yes – I think Hillary was right after all….

America: Let’s get her honor back!

September 6, 2010

Today’s offering will begin with a joke. I will warn you ahead of time – this joke has a multitude of problems. It is sexually suggestive, mildly sexist, and frankly it isn’t very funny. I thought it was funny when I first heard it – which would have been when I was about 12. That should tell you something about its level of sophistication. For those of you prone to offense at such things, bear with me. There will be a metaphor at the end.

So…. on to the joke….

Sir Lancelot was riding through the forest one day and came upon a damsel in distress, sitting alone on a rock, quietly sobbing.

“What troubles ye, fair maid?” asks Lancelot.

“Oh brave Sir Lancelot, it is the evil Black Knight! He has stolen my honor! Can you help?”

Lancelot dismounts and replies “Why yes I can help, fair maid. After all, honor is one of my specialties.”

As the Damsel watches, Lancelot reaches into his saddle bags and produces a bottle of wine. The maiden looks confused.

“Brave knight, how will wine help to restore my honor?”

Lancelot, undaunted, proceeds to uncork the wine and digs out two goblets. He pours the wine….

“Trust me, fair maid. I am an expert in honor, and I know that a glass of wine is indeed the first step in restoring lost honor.”

The maid isn’t so sure, but she trusts Lancelot. And, sure enough, by the time the bottle was empty she had completely forgotten about her lost honor.

And, sure enough, it wasn’t much longer before Lancelot had her honor back.

(click here for a rimshot)

OK – if you didn’t get it, read the last line out loud.

Still having problems? OK. It’s a pun. “Honor back” equals “on her back”

(another rimshot is called for)

I warned you it was a really stupid joke. But, a stupid joke provides a great segue to the real topic for today: Glen Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, held in Washington DC at the same spot and on the same day as Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

I am not going to spend the time analyzing and dissecting the rally – plenty of blogspace is already filled with such analyses, and I wouldn’t be adding anything new. I am instead going to ask a question. It is a sincere question, so please take it as such.

Glen Beck wants to restore America’s honor. What exactly does he mean by honor, how was it lost, and how does he plan on getting it back?

Again, that is a serious question. OK – technically there are three questions – but they are three sincere questions. I have been asking these questions for several days on various blogs, and I have yet to get an answer. If you know what Beck means please take a moment and provide an answer.

What does Beck mean by honor?

How was that honor lost?

How does he plan on restoring it?

I am not going to try to answer for Beck because I really am looking for an answer. Obviously, I have my theories. If you have read this blog in the past you can probably even guess at my theories. You could probably also guess that I believe America has only just emerged from a long period of dishonor, and that the policies of President Obama are indeed intent on restoring America’s honor. I will expand on that in time.

What does Beck mean by honor?

How was that honor lost?

How does he plan on restoring it?

Oh…. I promised you a metaphor.

Indeed, Glen Beck is Sir Lancelot, set forth on a mission to battle the evil Black Knight (Barak Obama). Beck is ever the expert in honor, and he wants nothing more than to help that poor distressed maiden, whose name just happens to be America. Oh – and help her he shall – first by getting her drunk and getting her passions aroused. Then he will certainly get her honor back!

Or, more accurately, he will get her on her back. Because, see, when she is on her back she in a much better position to be raped – raped for the benefit of Beck’s personal power and personal fortune.

Glen Beck is a smooth talking Sir Lancelot and he sure can arouse your passions, but America, he is not your friend and not your savior.

I suspect that many will find the metaphor a lot more offensive than the original joke.

Immense Simplicity

September 2, 2010

George W. Bush has been back in the news quite a bit this week – at least indirectly. First we had President Obama’s address Tuesday night, on the occasion of end of the US combat role in Iraq. The invasion of Iraq is one of Bush’s legacies, and the end of our combat mission has again inspired discussion of the wisdom of that invasion.

Then, on Wednesday, Tony Blair’s memoir A Journey was released in England. As the political leader of our staunchest ally in Iraq, Blair was uniquely positioned to observe – and critique – Bush’s approach to the invasion and subsequent occupation.

I have not yet read Blair’s book – it is not available in local bookstores and Amazon won’t deliver it until tomorrow. Still, judging by media reports, Blair has some nice things to say about Bush. Blair reportedly praises Bush for his integrity, and in fact ranks Bush near the top of world leaders in that category. Bush is described as personable, easy going, and friendly. Blair gives him credit for decisive leadership.

Blair also describes Bush’s word view as one of “immense simplicity.”

A number of media reports seem to be framing immense simplicity as some form of compliment – as if simplicity of vision is equivalent to clarity of vision. I suspect that Blair’s description was not intended as a compliment. In fact, I find it disingenuous to suggest that simplicity of world view is somehow a virtue.

The world is an extremely complex place. Layers and layers of multidimensional interactions come together to produce world events – and there is no human mind – or group of minds – that fully comprehends the complexity. It is a chaotic system – defying prediction and easy characterization.

Immense simplicity.

In just those two words, Blair has neatly summarized liberal objections to modern conservative thinking. Conservatives – particularly the right wing of the right wing – have a strong tendency to seek the simple explanations: America is always right, Christianity is the only true faith, the US Constitution is a perfect document, liberals are evil, policies favoring business are always right, the poor are lazy, and military force is always the best option. That pretty much summarizes it – end of argument.

Before I am accused of over-generalization, let me note that there are indeed conservative thinkers who do not view the world in simplistic terms. The David Frums and the Christopher Buckleys immediately come to mind – but it is ironic to note that both of them have recently been ousted by conservative publications and organizations. The right wing of the right wing does not want complexity and does not want critical thinking. Immense simplicity will do just fine, thank you.

Simplicity is terribly and powerfully attractive as a political doctrine. It is easy and comfortable. It requires little or no effort to understand and it can be easily conveyed in a sound bite. Thinking is painful, and simplicity of view necessitates no such pain.

Not only do conservatives prefer simplicity – they get downright angry whenever someone sees a slightly more complex world. Those of us who see some flaws in capitalism are called socialists and communists. Those of us who think the majority of Muslims are OK people are called “shills for Sharia.” It is far easier to apply simple and emotion-arousing labels that it is to think about a complex world.

Judging by what I see and hear, conservatives have had just about enough of this complexity thing – and they are fighting mad about it! They will be coming out en masse this November to tell us so.

What a terrifying scenario…..

One Year In: Lessons Learned

August 31, 2010

About a week ago the blogging world quietly (very very quietly) celebrated an important anniversary. Indeed, on August 20th, 2009, The Hippie Professor posted his very first blog article.

I will pause momentarily for the thunderous applause…

What?

You missed the anniversary? You didn’t realize the importance of the date?

Well, I guess if I am going to be completely honest, neither did I. After all, I am more than a week late getting the celebration underway….

Here are some reflections on what I have learned in a year of blogging:

Changing the world is a lot harder than it looks: My very first blog post can be found here. It is an open letter to Democrats in congress – particularly those loathsome “blue dog” Democrats – urging them to put their personal political futures on the line and vote for a progressive health care reform bill. I had actually written the letter some days earlier and posted it to Facebook. I sent copies to friends and colleagues and distributed it to all the news organizations. It went to every Democrat in congress. I told everyone to pass it on. I honestly expected it to go viral. Really… I was that naïve…. I believed that the sheer force of my rhetoric would turn heads…. I believed that my letter could indeed be the turning point in the health care debate!

OK… I admit it… I was foolishly naïve.

In retrospect, I do seem to have gotten part of what I wanted in that letter: It looks like Democrats in congress have (like it or not) put their political futures on the line and many of them will be looking for new jobs come November. Sadly, I didn’t get the other part of what I wanted – a truly progressive health care reform bill. What a waste of political power…..

We can chaaaaaangeeeee the world! I wonder how Graham Nash feels about that these days…..

Wow – that is one post per week! According to the folks here at WordPress this will be my 53rd blog post. Hmmm…. Give me a moment to do that math…. Wow!!! That comes to almost exactly one blog post a week! That is a model of regularity that even X-Lax would be proud of!

Well… except for the fact that my posting has been entirely irregular. My last post was over a month ago – and there have been several even longer periods of silence. Yet at other times I have posted new articles several days in a row. What accounts for this irregularity? Why have there been such long periods of blog silence? Could it be because of…

…. illnesses and deaths in and close to the family?

…. Work-related pressures from my real job?

…. The physical and emotional strain associated with getting my daughter off to college?

…. Writer’s block?

…. Burnout brought on by the nasty tone of politics?

…. Realization that with Nazi Word Association I have indeed reached my creative peak?

Certainly all of these contributed to some extent – but none of them is the real reason for my occasional irregularity. The real culprit?

Addiction to video games.

Seriously. I need to do a full blog post on that someday – but it will have to wait until I finish Red Dead Redemption.

Real Hippies don’t play golf on the Wii. So about those video games…. As I have mentioned in other posts, I grew up in Seattle and I consider the Pacific Northwest to be where I am “from” – even though I have now lived in the Midwest for over 25 years.

A few weeks ago I had the joy of driving to Oregon with my daughter, who is starting college there. Along the way I realized just how much I missed about the Northwest – the mountains – the trees – the ocean – the liberal politics.

I was also reminded about what real hippies are like – because real hippies live in the Pacific Northwest – not in Central Illinois. My blog title and my online persona are a lie. I think need to change it to The Almost Hippie Professor, or The Wannabe Hippie Professor, or perhaps The Formerly Moderate Guy from the Northwest now Pretending to be a Hippie Professor in the Midwest.

Despite this personal identity crisis, I am sure I will continue to be viewed as some kind of crazy radical socialist commie propagandist here in the blogging community. Oh – lets not forget fascist and Nazi either….

You must be stoned! While on the topic of hippies…. It is a virtual certainty that anyone with whom I disagree online will eventually claim that I am stoned. After all, only drugs could produce “radical” ideas like mine, right? To those of you who might make such accusations, you are neither correct nor particularly creative. It has been said before.

You could write a book! When I look back at my 52 posts from the last year I realize that indeed there is enough material here to make up a small book – and to be honest it hasn’t been that hard to produce. I love to write and when I am in the correct mood writing comes easily. Of course, getting people to actually read such a book is a much more difficult task.

This realization creates a certain conflict in me. In part, I already write for a living – professional research and writing are an expectation for college professors. Indeed, I have a decent record of professional writing over the course of my career. But herein lies the conflict: In order to write well I need to be passionate about my topic. When I am passionate writing is as easy as finding a good metaphor. When I am not passionate about my topic writing is more painful than having my wisdom teeth extracted with only Bud Light for anesthetic.

Unfortunately, these days my passion is my blog writing – and blog writing is decidedly not professional. Perhaps I can find a way to turn my blog writing into a professional interest? Hmmm…. I will have to think about that….

If you write it, they will come…. NOT! Developing a regular blog readership is not an easy thing. Not only do you have to write interesting articles on a regular basis, but you have to go out and promote your blog without looking like you are promoting your blog. Nobody wants to be accused of being a blog pimp. Someone on another blog once accused me of being an attention whore. I probably should have been offended – but the characterization is pretty accurate. I think most blog authors write because – well – they want to be read.

It takes a village….and every village has some scary-ass people in it. I have met some very cool, very interesting people in my year of blogging – people with whom I would love to share a beer or two. I have also met some damned scary people – or at least people with a scary online persona. I am not going to name names – it is up to you to decide which you are….

The most profound remarks can go unnoticed…. My most profound blog post is probably also the one with the least hits. I am linking it here just so it might get a few more hits. I am sure you will be moved by the profundity….

I am proud to count Somali pirates among my blog readers…. Back in May I started using a ClustrMap utility – it displays a world map with red “pins” marking the location of people visiting the blog. You can see it over in the side column to the right. I am proud that I have had visitors from every continent except Antarctica and Africa. Antarctica does not bother me a lot – but Africa does. I should be getting more traffic from Africa. I think I am going to start putting “Africa” in my search tag list just to drive traffic.

But…. if you look at the map you will see a single pin sitting several hundred miles off the coast of Somalia. It could perhaps be from Seychelles, and would thus count as a “hit” from Africa. But, Seychelles does not show up in the list of countries provided by ClustrMap. I prefer to think that it is from a Somali pirate ship sitting off the coast. Somehow, that seems so much more romantic… so much more dangerous….

Please…. a copy editor…. please! By the time I post this I will have proofread it four or five times – yet mistakes will still make it through. Editing one’s own writing is indeed difficult…. When my blog finally goes viral and I am getting multiple offers to write books I suspect I will be able to afford such an editor. If you are interested in the job you can increase your chances by passing this blog on and helping it to go viral……

😉

OK, I think that about summarizes my first year of blogging…. Next year at this time I expect my post to start with “I remember well the first time my blog went viral…..”

Yeah…. Right…. We can all dream, huh?

Let’s all play Nazi Word Association!

July 22, 2010

Over the last coupe of weeks I have been enjoying a rousing game of Nazi Word Association.

What is Nazi Word Association?

It is a game I made up – based on the game Word Association. I made that one up too – many years ago – although I understand that others play similar games.

When you grow up an only child – which I did – you have to find ways to entertain yourself. I invented the game Word Association to help fill those lonely hours. The game can be played alone, or with others. Alcohol can make it more entertaining.

Here is how it works. Choose any two things – preferably things that are very different from each other. Then, using a process of word association, find a link between them.

For example, let’s find a link between the song “Suzie Q” and the “Queen Elizabeth.” Here goes:

Suzie Q

1) Creedence Clearwater Revival (band that covered Suzie Q)

2) Born on the Bayou (another song by Creedence)

3) Louisiana (bayou is a major geographical feature of Louisiana)

4) Deepwater Horizon (oil rig off the coast of Louisiana)

5) British Petroleum (company that leases Deepwater Horizon)

6) Great Britain (home country for British Petroleum)

7) Queen Elizabeth (Queen of Great Britain)

I am sure that there are faster ways to get from Suzie Q to Queen Elizabeth – there are many possible paths and some paths probably have fewer links. In my version of the game, however, I value pathways including unusual or creative connections. Convoluted pathways with interesting associations are preferred over short pathways with mundane associations.

So – that is Word Association – but what pray tell is Nazi Word Association?

Essentially, it is the same game – except the goal is to take any random thing and find a pathway back to Nazi or Hitler. This variation of the game was inspired in a conversation with Fakename2 over on my Paris Hilton thread – a thread in which she managed to bring up Nazis and Godwin’s Law. It set me to thinking – what is the maximum number of links required to connect any word or thing back to Nazi?

I don’t have an exact answer – but I am convinced it is in the range of “not very many.”

Believe me, I have had quite a bit of time to study the issue over the past 10 days. During that time I drove my family to Florida and back (about 18 hours each way) and stood for many hours in roller coaster lines – so I had lots of times to play little mental games to entertain myself.

Paris Hilton was the original inspiration for the game, but she is way too easy. Germany invaded France and occupied Paris in WWII. Let’s try some others instead.

How about Miley Cyrus and Nazi? Here is one possible path:

Miley Cyrus

1) Hannah Montana (character played by Cyrus)

2) Hannah Arndt (author, sharing a first name with Hannah Montana)

3) Adolph Eichmann (subject of a famous book by Arndt)

4) Nazi

Four links – including one that I would label interesting (Hannah M. to Hannah A). Not bad. We could even skip the Eichmann link since Arndt wrote many books about Nazis.

Here is a favorite: Let’s try George W. Bush to Nazi. I realize some readers will want to make the jump in one link – but I am not going to allow that. Let’s also try for a pathway with some fun links rather than just looking for the shortest path. Here is one pathway (the point system will be discussed below):

George W. Bush

1) Bush league (shared name AND a description of the Bush administration – 1 point)

2) Baseball (game from which the term “Bush League” originally arose – 2 points)

3) Baseball Bat (item used in the game of baseball – 2 points)

4) Ash (a type of wood used to make baseball bats – 2 points)

5) Hickory (another type of wood – 2 points)

6) Old Hickory (shared word – nickname of Andrew Jackson – 1 point)

7) Andrew Jackson (President and general with the nickname “Old Hickory” – 2 points)

8 ) War of 1812 (War in which Jackson was a general – 2 points)

9) 1812 Overture (classical music – though not referring to the war of 1812 – 1 point)

10) Tchaikovsky (Russian composer of the 1812 overture – 2 points)

11) Shostakovich (another Russian Composer – 2 points)

12) Shostakovich Symphony #7 (obviously composed by Shostakovich – 2 points)

13) Nazi (The Nazi invasion of Russia is the theme of the 7th symphony – 0 points)

Yeah – there are many shorter pathways available. For example, we could skip directly from Bush to Jackson based on their status as former Presidents – but doing so would have skipped some fun links. Likewise, we could have gone from 1812 Overture to Napoleon to Hitler based on their shared status as would-be world conquerors and failed invaders of Russia – but again that skips some creative stuff.

I have tried hard to come up with some type of scoring system for all of this. If we just go with the shortest pathway that would be easy – but I prefer longer pathways with creative and interesting links. Here is one possible scoring system:

Mundane link: 2 points
Moderately creative link: 1 point
Wacko creative link: 0 points

To get a final score, simply add up the point values and divide by the number of links – with the lowest score being the best. Obviously, the scoring system is entirely subjective – but hey – it’s my game!

The score for the above Bush to Nazi pathway is 1.61. It shouldn’t be hard to beat. Go for it.

Let’s do one more example. In the interests of political fairness, let’s do Barak Obama to Nazi.

Barak Obama

1) Kenya (country where some claim Obama was born – 2 points)

2) South Africa (another country in Africa – 2 points)

3) Desmond Tutu (South African political figure – 1 point)

4) Bishop (position Tutu held in the church – 2 points)

5) Chess (game featuring a bishop as a playing piece – 2 points)

6) The Seventh Seal (movie in which chess is an important plot element – 0 points)

7) Ingmar Bergman (Swedish director of the movie – 2 points)

8 ) Ingrid Bergman (Swedish actress with curiously similar name – 2 points)

9) Casablanca (film in which Ingrid Bergman starred – 2 points)

10) Nazi (Nazis are integral to the plot in Casablanca – 1 point)

Final score: 1.6

I suspect that will be easy to beat – go for it.

Again, there are lots of shorter paths available. For example, we could have jumped directly from Obama to Tutu based on both being winners of the Nobel Prize. Or, could have gone from Kenya to Morocco to Casablanca and been done with it – but that wouldn’t have been as much fun – at least to me.

For those of you looking for a deeper political message in this post, there isn’t one. It is merely the product of having too much “thinking time” on my hands.

But, do play along and enjoy the game.

Here is a challenge to get the ball rolling:

William Shakespeare to Nazi

I can do it in 3 links. Have fun!

I told you so… and it’s about time

July 18, 2010

This will be another vacation-shortened blog post. Nothing deep – just some cheap gloating…

For close to a year now I have been calling on the Tea Party movement to distance itself from the overt racists in their midst.

Here is one of my posts on the topic.

Here is another….

No – I am not trying to pump up the hit counts to my own blog posts. I am just pointing out that I have been calling out racists within the Tea Party movement for a long time.

If you read political blogs, I am sure you know the typical responses…

“We don’t oppose Obama because of his race – we oppose his policies….” (Then why didn’t you attack Bill Clinton with so much vigor – Clinton’s policies were as far left as Obama’s – perhaps even farther.)

“You can’t condemn an entire movement because of a few crazies!” (True, but the Tea Party seems to attract them by the hundreds and up until now has done nothing to distance themselves.)

“You didn’t complain when people did that to Bush!” (Ummm…. I don’t remember people saying racist things about Bush – but this is the standard comeback from the right these days…)

You are just playing the race card! Calling Obama a raghead isn’t racist… nor is depicting him as a gang member stealing purses…. nor is calling him a lyin’ African…. nor is calling him Bongo or Al Thuggy… nor is emphasizing the “otherness” of his middle name…. (yeah…. right…. whatever… )

Finally, over the last 48 hours, we have admission by the Tea Party that there are substantial racist elements within the movement. How substantial? Well, as high up as Mark Williams – founder of the Tea Party Express. You may recognize the Tea Part Express – they probably came through your hometown last summer carrying their racist signs. As of today, Williams and his Tea Party Express have been kicked out of the larger National Tea Party Federation.

The full story is here:

It would be nice to think that other conservatives – both politicians and conservative media personalities – would follow suit and condemn the overt racism. Don’t hold your breath, though. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already refused to comment. Just wait until Limbaugh and Beck get hold of this. You can be sure that Mark Williams will be praised as some kind of hero…

All I can say is I told you so…..and it’s about time.