Monday, March 27, 2017

Banging It Out

People occasionally ask how I’ve been able come up with something to write about every week for twenty-five years. Actually there’s too much to choose from. Even if I were to write a column a day, there would still be too much. Listening to news while driving or working on the house, a column plays out in my head more than once a day. Sometimes it will stay in mind until I have my laptop open and I can bang out a few lines that will remind me of the rest. Then Saturday or Sunday I start to flesh it out. I edit it on Monday and send it to one venue, then edit some more Tuesday and send it to another. Wednesdays I post it online and send links to other websites, and to people who want them.
My office desk

About a hundred twenty have asked for links over the years, but the “contacts” application on my MacBook Pro lost that folder a few months ago. I had to reconstruct the list but couldn’t remember the names of about ninety people who were on it. We’d never met, and my only contact with them was online. They’d read the column somewhere and emailed me to say they liked it. I’d write back thanking them and ask if they’d like links each week. If they responded affirmatively I put them on the list. Going over the 1100+ people on my total contacts list didn’t jog my memory either. Not wanting to abandon my fan base, I included the emails of everyone whose name was unfamiliar and ended up with a new list of two hundred twenty — a hundred more than there were on the original.
Some people started getting the link for the first time and thanked me for sending it along. Since they were obviously happy about it, I left them on. Three people emailed back and asked me to drop them, which I did immediately. One woman made the request with CAPITAL LETTERS and lots of exclamation points!!! I figured she was a leftist whose email address somehow made it into my contacts. For others, I got those kickback messages indicating email addresses were not longer operational. After a couple of weeks everything was back to normal.
Stream of Consciousness

Sometimes I’ll start writing about something, but as paragraphs multiply and I approach the 800-word limit, I see that I’ve gone off in an entirely different direction and ask myself, “Where did that come from?” Other times, I’ll write an opening, then be unable to string together coherent sentences in anything like a logical sequence that will result in a paragraph. Frustrated at first, I’m forced to conclude the original thought was only a muse, more suited for poetry than an opinion column.
Twenty-five years of weekly columns adds up to over 1200. Nearly half are archived on my blog which I started in January, 2006. The rest — about 650 — were clipped from newspapers and put in a briefcase along with some letters to the editor they generated. When I read over some of the old ones, it seems as if someone else wrote them. It was someone else in a sense, because I’m not the forty-year-old Tom anymore and sometimes I ask myself, “Who was that guy?”
I’m not the twenty-year-old Tom either and I certainly don’t look like him. I should probably update whatever picture you see where you’re reading this because the newest one out there is eight years old. I have less hair now. I have few pictures of myself, however, since I'm the family photographer. I'm always looking out the lens and seldom into it.
Speaking of the effects of aging, my social security checks start in May. However, I won’t get as much as the Social Security Administration said I would in those letters they’ve been sending me every year. It will be forty percent less than that because the school district where I taught didn’t take FICA (social security) out of my paychecks. They deducted Maine State Retirement only.
I always worked other jobs while teaching, however, and paid into social security for all of them. I still pay into it every year in the form of self-employment tax. Will that be cut by forty percent now too? Heck, I’d be satisfied if they just gave me back what I’ve paid in since 1967 because those monthly checks won’t add up to what they took unless I live a lot longer than I expect to.
Come to think of it, I’d be better off without most of the “help” government gives me. So would the rest of the working people in this country, but we’re all beholden to those who vote for a living rather than work for it. Think about that on tax day. It’s coming right up again you know. Are you going to write a check or get one?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cognitive Dissonance in Europe

It had to be galling. Geert Wilders, a member of Dutch Parliament, was found guilty three months ago of “inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans” — the very people who have been trying to kill him since at least 2003. Newsweek reported that he has to go around, “wearing a bulletproof vest and being shuttled between safe houses to avoid assassination. ‘I’m not in prison,’ he says. ‘But I’m not free, either. You don’t have to pity me, but I haven’t had personal freedom now for 10 years. I can’t set one foot out of my house or anywhere in the world without security.’” 
The Wilders trial perfectly illustrates Europe’s state of cognitive dissonance. In many European Union countries, one is charged with “hate speech” for criticizing Muslims who are terrorizing the entire continent. France’s Marine Le Pen has also been charged in France, along with Brigitte Bardot.
Bardot and Le Pen

It was interesting to watch media spin last Wednesday’s Dutch election results as Geert Wilders’ PVV Party, which they always call “far right,” gained five seats (33%), yet he was “defeated.” Prime Minister Rutte’s VVD Party lost eight seats (-20%), but he won a “great victory.” Prime Minister Rutte’s governing partner in the ruling coalition, the Labour Party, lost nineteen seats (-75%). How is this a victory? Because Wilders didn’t thump him as badly as polls suggested he might.
Wilders is tall. I'm 5'10"

I met Geert Wilders seven years ago at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC. He was surrounded by large, shaven-headed, tough-looking, unsmiling, body guards with ear pieces who were constantly looking around at the rest of us in the hotel function room. He cannot go anywhere without them and it’ll be that way for the rest of his life. Why? Because he’s “far-right”? No, it’s because he has dared to criticize Islam, comparing the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf as both advocate slaughtering Jews. For that, Muslims put a fatwa on his head. That means Muslims are obligated to kill him whenever they get the chance.
Bodyguards check me out

He’s been living like this since he came to the defense of a fellow member of Parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was a Somali immigrant. Hirsi Ali got off a plane in Holland rather than go on toward Canada where her family had arranged she be married to an aging relative. She was granted asylum and then got elected to Parliament. Hirsi Ali’s Muslim parents had forced her to undergo a genital mutilation procedure when she was a girl. 
Hirsi Ali and Wilders at The Hague

Together with filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (great-grandnephew of the famous painter) Hirsi Ali made a short film called “Submission” depicting Muslim treatment of women. For his effort, Van Gogh was shot and stabbed on the street in broad daylight by a Muslim immigrant. Pinned to his body with a knife was a note declaring that Hirsi Ali was next. In 2003, Muslims staged an hour-long grenade assault on a building in The Hague where Ali and Geert Wilders were working in an effort to kill both. In spite of all this, it’s still criminal to criticize the “Religion of Peace” in Europe.
Angela Merkel and other European leaders said the Dutch election last week was a “good day for democracy” and for Europe because Wilders wants to lead Holland out of the European Union. All across Europe, however, there’s rising opposition to the EU’s open-borders policy of accepting millions Muslim “refugees” in spite of what millions of native-born citizens want. That’s one of the factors propelling the rise other conservative leaders in France, Austria, Germany, Italy, and other EU countries.
Meanwhile, Turkey is threatening to release 15,000 more Muslim “refugees” a month to “blow the mind” of Europe. The Turkish foreign minister said, “Soon, religious wars will begin in Europe.” President Obama’s good buddy, President Erdogan of Turkey urged Muslims living in Europe to have at least five children. It’s part of the Islamic concept of hijrah, which Islam historian Robert Spencer calls “jihad by emigration.”
If you ask ordinary Dutch, French, German, and British people, they’d say the religious wars are already underway and have been for years. Every day there’s a stabbing, a rape, a bomb, a truck attack, or some other Muslim terrorist incident somewhere in Europe, yet Merkel alone let over a million Muslims into Germany just last year. She’s up for re-election in September.
The left in Europe has for decades been pushing for ever more centralized government through the EU and the UN — and for open borders. To pave the way, they’ve attempted to indoctrinate the populace with the multicultural myth that all cultures are equal. Dutch, French, British, German, or any other European culture is no better than Muslim culture. All should be able to live together in harmony. Ordinary Europeans, however, aren’t buying it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Just Trying To Keep Up

In regard to my understanding of the world — what is going on and why — the best I can do is maintain a “working hypothesis.” The “what” is easier. The “why” to explain the “what” is more daunting because as new information emerges, I have to modify.
My biggest challenge is understanding developments in what we broadly call the Middle East. When I taught 20th century US History and current events, I’d start the school year with the essential question: “Why do radical Muslims want to kill us?” Teachers back then were required to formulate “essential questions,” then plan lessons around them. We were at war and some former students were fighting it. Others would be. I wanted them to know what they were fighting.
That involved lessons going back almost four millennia to Abraham’s time, then relating those lessons to current events. I had to teach about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There was so much information to take in that, without some kind of mental framework within which to arrange that information, it wouldn’t stick. So, I drilled them on regional geography as today’s national borders are drawn. I wanted them to be able to call up a Middle East map in their mind’s eye and know where Iraq was, Iran was, Syria was, Israel was, and so on. As they absorbed both historical and current events, they could mentally pin each onto their mental maps in its appropriate place. Babylon was in today’s Iraq and Persia is today’s Iran, and so on. Borders between land and sea were static, but national borders changed constantly.
Religion is only one dynamic. In my early teaching years, most students came with a basic understanding of Christianity. At the end, only a minority did and I’d have to start from scratch. I’d compare and contrast beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, then historical conflicts between them going back to 600 AD with the establishment of Islam. I’d explain that radical Muslims take Muhammed’s writings literally, especially those in the Medina Koran, which advocated converting Jews, Christians, and others at the point of a sword. Muhammed’s earlier writings in what is often called the Mecca Koran offered a reasoned approach. When some call Islam a “religion of peace,” they’re referring to the Mecca Koran.
ISIS, al Qaida, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood follow teachings from the Medina Koran. Judging from his actions, so, also, did Muhammed himself. Radical Muslims today more closely follow what Muhammed actually did when he conquered the Arabian Peninsula and imposed Islam. It’s also what his followers did for the next thirteen centuries. Only after the last caliphate — the Ottoman Empire — was defeated in World War I did forced conversion end, and then only temporarily. What remained of the Empire became modern Turkey and nation-states created by the winners: France and Great Britain. Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate, separating church and state. Violent Islamic expansionism went into remission, one could say, from about 1920 to about the 1970s or so — a half century. Now ISIS calls itself the new caliphate — which carries the mantle of Islamic leadership — and Muslims from around the world are flocking to it.
Then there’s conflict between the two main branches of Islam: Sunni and Shia which have been fighting each other for centuries, not unlike the way Christian Catholics and Protestants in Europe did. Four out of five Muslims are Sunni while Islam edges Christianity as the world’s largest religion. Both sides support radical groups. Iran is the largest Shiite country with its Revolutionary Guard, its proxy armies Hezbollah and the Houthis, and sometimes Hamas. Sunni radicals include ISIS, al Qaida, Boko Haram, Al Shebaab, sometimes Hamas, and others.
Boko Haram

Then come the economics of the region — especially oil. Whatever was going on before oil was discovered in vast quantities, that all changed as petrodollars flooded the region and powered an Islamic resurgence.
Another dynamic is the reestablishment of Israel as a Jewish nation-state in 1948. It’s right in the middle of what had been almost exclusively the Muslim World for centuries. Many Muslims, Iran especially, pledge to wipe it off the map.
And there are ethnic conflicts within Islam. Sunni Kurds, for example, are a minority in the border areas of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey — all of which, along with Russia now, are fighting ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Kurds want to be a nation-state too, but none of the aforementioned countries will cede them their ancestral territory which overlaps all. The US is arming Kurds. Last week, President Trump put US Marines on the ground in Syria. US soldiers must now fight alongside all these groups — some of which are still fighting each other — against ISIS. What could possibly go wrong? Last week I also learned that erstwhile National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was being paid by Turkey while he advised President Trump.
Looks like I'll have to modify that hypothesis again pretty soon.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Ivy League 2017

James Fisher said he couldn't attend classes at the University of Pennsylvania because one his white professors refused to denounce his white privilege. Fisher is black, and he wrote an article about his mental anguish published in his university’s newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian. “I stopped going to his class for a month. With different emotions going through my head from not only this class but from the Trump election, I did not want to step foot into another white space until I made sure that my mental health was restored,” Fisher wrote.
James Fisher

The paper said Fisher is from the Bronx, NY and in his picture looked fairly normal. He must have learned some toughness living there and he’s only in his sophomore year at UPenn. Is this what can happen to a man after only one year in an Ivy League school these days? He can get completely rattled by a white man who doesn’t think the way Fisher believes he should? Fisher claims his professor is nice, but Fisher claims being in his presence is still traumatizing:

These are the types of things that happen when white teachers do not want to acknowledge their privileges; they can psychologically hurt their students. It is not enough to be aware of your privilege. It is also not enough to be a nice person. Your niceness does not mean that you are not capable of contributing to racial systems of oppression.

It’s sad that Fisher is evidently coming unglued. I’m not a mental health professional, but it seems there are other issues going on with him and he’s blaming a “nice” white guy for his problems. But why did the university newspaper provide space for his embarrassing article? That’s what I’m wondering. Looking into this, I discovered the paper is entirely student-run, but it’s funded by the university, which is private and not part of the state of Pennsylvania as, say, the University of Maine is. Pennsylvania taxpayers are not funding it, except as they pay taxes to the federal government which provides assistance for some of its students to attend there or to attend any other college. In that sense, I’m paying too and so is every other American taxpayer. 
I also learned that 250 students work for the newspaper and elect an all-student board every year which makes editorial decisions like publishing Fisher’s article. I saw no disclaimer such as the typical: “Opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.” Seeing something like that might have provided me some comfort.
Fisher’s article ran under a headline identifying it as part of a continuing series called: “Spilling the Real Tea” which runs every two weeks. Given the university was established in 1740, I wondered if it was some reference to the Boston Tea Party during which revolutionaries spilled British Tea into Boston harbor in protest against the British government. When I googled the expression, all that came up were examples of people using it. Judging from context clues, it seems to mean something like “telling the real truth.”
Is that what the elected board of students at a prestigious university believe James Fisher is doing? Telling the real truth? Must be, since I see he’s published three other articles in the same space. Is this indicative of how absolutely crazy it is on American campuses today? It would seem so. I’ll leave you with another quote from Fisher:

It is not enough that you are sorry for the injustices caused by your people. It is not enough that you read one article on the Black Lives Matter movement because your black friend recommended it to you. It is not enough that you gave your black students extensions on their papers because Trump got elected. The truth is, you as a single person cannot make up for the horrific things that white people have done to us throughout human history. But that does not mean that you do not have the power to stop yourself from oppressing the students that you teach every day.

Remember, it costs $70,000 a year to go to the University of Pennsylvania today. What a deal, huh?