Taking a Knee (to the Face)

By Mike Cronin

After several highly-publicized shootings of young black men by white police officers in 2015 and 2016, San Francisco ‘49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of football games. In one post-game interview, Kaepernick explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Since then, Mr. Kaepernick has lost his job, but several players, and in some cases entire teams, have begun emulating his actions. Many fans have been outraged, including President Trump. Both attendance at stadiums and ratings for televised games are way down. This story is vitiating the country.  So, what gives? Let’s unpack it a bit.

First and foremost is whether the protests are having, or can have, the desired effect: eliminating racism, especially alleged police brutality driven by alleged white racism against blacks. That will be hard to measure, since each and every case of alleged racially-driven brutality must be judged against the context of the situation and the facts of the incident that precipitated it. We cannot rationally, automatically infer that just because a young black man is shot and killed by a white cop that there was any racial bias (or injustice of any kind) involved; that has to be proven.  In some cases it is, in many more, the opposite conclusion is reached.

Second is the issue of context and message delivery. While Mr. Kaepernick told the press his actions were taken in protest to police brutality, in his statement above he conflates police brutality with the entire country being oppressive against blacks and other minorities: “I am not going to…show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people…” This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of the entire affair. Mr. Kaepernick may have been the subject of racism and police brutality himself at some point (I have no idea), but as someone who made more money in a single game than most NFL fans will make in several years, he is at best an unlikely spokesperson against oppression. He brought further ambiguity to his alleged anti-oppression message by wearing socks depicting a pig in a police hat during training camp:

And by attending as press conference wearing a pro Fidel Castro T-shirt:

That tone-deafness has now been amplified by entire teams of seven- and eight-digit salary earners “taking a knee” for the anthem (in stadiums often built with the aid of tax subsidies) to protest the “oppression” of the nation that gave them the opportunity to become one-percenters, while the people that defend that opportunity in some cases don’t even make enough to buy groceries without resorting to food stamps.

Maybe Mr. Kaepernick really is just trying to turn the national conversation towards the elimination of police brutality and racism. Or, perhaps Mr. Kaepernick hates cops and hates America. Or both, or neither. The trouble is: his message is mixed, and those who are emulating him are diluting it further. Are we to accept that our entire country is racist and oppressive? Racism and oppression have certainly existed and will continue to exist, in this country and elsewhere, as long as humans refuse to treat others as individuals, instead of as units. Even so, I don’t think we have to accept the premise that the entire country is that way now. After all, every racial barrier to high office or position has been broken: President of the United States. Senator. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. Ambassador. CEO. Doctor. Lawyer. Astronaut. General. Police Officer. Professor. Sports Star.

That leaves police brutality. Are we instead to infer that all police are brutal, racist thugs? That’s a ludicrous proposition that I won’t even dignify with a rebuttal.

Third: Rights. The players protesting the anthem absolutely have the right to do so, but they do not have the right to usurp someone else’s platform to spread their message, nor can they reasonably expect that they can piss off their employers’ customers and keep their jobs.

Lastly: Importance. In the grand scheme of things, the NFL, its games, its ratings, and its stadium attendance are irrelevancies, but the issues of racism, police brutality, and patriotism are not. I don’t know, or care, what Mr. Kaepernick really believes or what message he thinks he was really trying to get across, but he certainly started a national conversation about…something. To borrow from Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy:

If you cannot treat your fellow Americans with dignity and respect, then get out.

MORE WEASEL WORDS

By Mike Cronin

It’s been a while since I’ve written about any weasel words. A few new ones have cropped up:

“State Capitalism” is now being offered as a definition of Communism. The enemies of Capitalism, which is the only system of socio-economic-political organization that bans the initiation of force from human affairs and operates on the concept of mutual trade to mutual benefit, are now trying to equate one of their own failed “isms” with Capitalism. The trouble is that Communism thrived on the initiation of force at every level. It was anything but capitalistic in any sense of the term!

Intersectionality “refer(s) to the complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups.”  The term has legitimate roots. In the mid 1970s, black women were being virtually shut-out of jobs at GM. The allegation was that GM was discriminating against blacks by only giving them factory floor jobs, and discriminating against women by only giving them clerical jobs…but black women couldn’t get any jobs, because the “black” jobs on the factory floor only went to black men, and the “female” clerical jobs only went to white women.  The courts ruled that the black females could not combine racism and sexism into one discrimination complaint. A law professor named Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the phenomena.  So why is it now a weasel word? Because the very people it is meant to help (victims of multi-axis discrimination) are being victimized by other victims of multi-axis discrimination! Over the years, the point of intersectionality has morphed from trying to help victims of multi-axis discrimination into stratifying them.

Thus, if you are a poor, handicapped, illegal immigrant, trans-gender, person of color you have earned a lot of “street cred” among social justice warriors for your oppressed status, whereas if you are a white female, you are barely tolerated as a member of the “oppressed” club. And if you are Jewish, you are quite possibly reviled because of Israel’s perceived oppression of the Palestinians, even if you have been a victim of anti-Semitism yourself. Never mind that Islam is largely intolerant of homosexuals and often treats women as property. The Holocaust doesn’t even enter into it.

Antifa, or Anti-fascists, is the name of a radical, even militant, “left wing” group that purports to hate fascism and fascists, such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis. Being against hatred and the initiation of violence seem laudable, but Antifa are anything but. Ironically, Antifa has no philosophical compunction against using the same fascist tactics (riots, speech control, initiation of violence) the original Nazis employed to bring Hitler to power and set the world on fire!

WHO CARES?

By Mike Cronin

As Thomas Sowell has pointed out, politicians only “care” about your issues after they have taken care of their own goal: to get (or stay) elected.

The mainstream media cares about 1. Getting ratings, and 2. Trying to tell you what your issues are, so that they can make a crisis out of them in order to 3. Get ratings.

Back to politicians. Guess how politicians figure out what to campaign on? Polls, certainly, but also by watching the news to figure out what the big issues are. Who else uses polls?  That’s right, the media.

Hmmm. The politicians who care about getting votes leverage mass media. Mass media cares about getting ratings, so they leverage and influence political discourse in order to “sex thigs up.” What we have here is a “self-licking ice cream cone.” The missing ingredient? Your interests. Who cares? Not your elected officials, and not the news media.

As a college professor once mentioned to me, any organization that reaches a certain critical mass will begin to behave like an organism.  The first goal of an organism is to survive; the second is to reproduce. Thus, governments at almost any level don’t care about you, they care about expanding. If they can do that by seeming to care about you, that is what they will do. If they grow by steamrolling you, then they will do that. Often, government manages to both at the same time. Who cares?  Not the government.

big corporations behave like organisms, too. They are different from governments in that they must make a profit to prosper and grow, and they cannot do that by killing or alienating their customers – so they take care not to purposely end you – but they are not so caring as to be above hooking you on their products (cigarettes, alcohol, medicine, sugary and fatty processed foods, etc.), and they have big PR machines to show how they (pretend) to care about virtuous causes.  Who cares?  Not big corporations.

College and universities care about bringing in the revenue, and they’ve found the easy button. Every year they raise prices, and every year the uncaring government (led by the uncaring politicians who are watching the uncaring media) obliges them by increasing the amount of money it gives, or loans, to students (or their parents), who then fork it over. Meanwhile, outside of the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the knowledge, skills, and abilities of graduates continues to decline in value to the employers who might hire them. Who cares?  Not Academia.

We can keep going, but the answer to the question should be becoming apparent. The universe doesn’t care about you. The world doesn’t care about you. Government and politicians and corporations and the media and academia don’t care about you.  Only individuals care about you, or can care about you.

Why should you care?

Because much of the political ideologies popular today (socialism, communism, fascism, etc.) are geared towards promoting some form of collectivism – subsuming your individuality into a massive, unthinking, uncaring organism where every transaction, or even thought, is either compelled or forbidden.  These are the ideologies of people who would kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

How much better to live in a society where the only forbidden transaction is the involuntary one? Where the competitive-cooperative nature of individuals can flourish, and where the more aggressive aspects of some can be channeled into more productive directions?  That is the essence of capitalism – it is the ideology of traders, i.e. it is the philosophy of people who care – about themselves certainly, but also about breeding the geese that lay golden eggs!

Stop The Hurricane Blame Game

By Mike Cronin

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Those are the words of Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff under President Obama. Plenty of people are taking him up on that advice by exploiting notable natural disasters (presently, Hurricane Irma is their wellspring) to further their own agendas. Curiously, people on (supposedly) opposite spans of the ideological spectrum are finding ways to blame Irma (and Harvey before her, and Katrina before both) on human activity they don’t like:

The first variety are stories that repeat the oft-heard statistic that Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history and that she is a result of human-caused global warming. Let’s break this down.  First, whether or not a given natural phenomenon is the “most powerful” in recorded history makes good headlines, but it’s almost irrelevant – because recorded history is a vanishingly small slice of time on the geologic clock. If we scale the lifetime of the earth to be represented by a human lifespan – say eighty years, then all of recorded human history represents the span of an eyeblink or two.   Indeed, reliable recordings of meteorological phenomena such as hurricanes have only been commonplace for perhaps the last 150 years or so.

Another angle: Right now, there are three hurricanes: Katia in the western Gulf of Mexico, Irma, and Jose east of the Caribbean. Some articles are noting this as another bit of evidence that global warming is to blame – but there have been at least two recorded occasions when four hurricanes existed at one time, and the earliest of those dates to 1893.

Then there are the religious extremists who claim that natural disasters are God’s punishment for our sins, especially homosexuality and abortion. This pastor claims Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment of Texas for failing to pass an anti-LGBT law. Actor Kirk Cameron claims Harvey and Irma have been sent by God to teach us humility and to make sinners repent. The same tone was on offer from some of the more extreme branches of the religious right for Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.

Bottom line: We have no way to know whether Irma is in fact the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history, ergo we can’t possibly know if her notable strength is truly the result of human-caused global warming, or of natural climate change, or if she is merely a “normal” large hurricane among the millions that have crossed the Atlantic over the eons. Since the conditions that cause hurricanes pre-date human industrial activity, we can safely assume the sin of emitting too much carbon dioxide is not the cause of Irma. What about biblical sin?  As the late Christopher Hitchens once pointedly observed, Hurricane Katrina, allegedly sent to punish us for the sins of homosexuality and fornication, destroyed almost every part of New Orleans except the French Quarter, wherein lies the red-light district!

The jury is out on the effects of humans on climate change, but the fact that the climate is changing is irrefutable – it is always changing. Likewise, the idea that God punishes us through disasters is ancient, but “disasters” only result when humans are affected by specific incidents of naturally occurring phenomena that have been occurring since before the rise of humanity.  The real tragedy of disasters is that we continue to put faith ahead of reason. Reason tells us that if you occupy a place that is in a hurricane zone, you are at risk. You can either mitigate that risk by being well-prepared to evacuate or to survive, or you can deal with the consequences of failing to make such preparations. Neither God nor global warming are responsible for that, you are.

The Gouge on Price Gouging

By Mike Cronin

In military slang, the word gouge can mean information or intelligence. For example: One person tells another a trick or hack for getting a task done quicker. The second person might say “thanks for the gouge.”

On the other hand, people are very much not thankful for what they perceive to be the price gouging happening in Houston and the rest of the Hurricane Harvey impact zone.  Loosely defined, price gouging is when a vendor radically raises their prices, as often occurs in and near disaster zones. Potential customers believe such vendors to be vultures, capitalizing on the misery of others.

But is that what is really going on?

In a recent Facebook post, A group called  “Educate the People” shared pictures of a convenience store billboard showing gas prices over $8.00 per gallon, and a case of bottled water going for nearly $45.00.  The caption beloe the pictures read “Heartless Capitalist Texas Store Owners.”

“Educate the Public” indeed! It’s not heartless. If millions of people are trying to “get out of Dodge,”(or stockpile at the last minute) because a disaster is imminent or in-progress, then supply trucks aren’t going into Dodge. When that happens, the things we normally take for granted are suddenly in much more demand, soon to be much scarcer, and thus suddenly much more valuable. When the demand for something skyrockets, but the supply is shrinking, the price must skyrocket as well. It sucks if you want to buy the thing that has quadrupled in price (so you have some to spare), but if you genuinely need it for survival, there just might still be some available because the people who merely wanted it weren’t willing to fork over the cash. It may seem like the store owner is profiteering, but consider: The store is still open and doing business when everyone else is trying to flee or hole-up!

If the store owner left his prices at the normal level (or was forced by the government to do so), he’d be out of stock in hours – or even minutes, with no routine resupply on the calendar. What is he, or his customers most in need, to do then?

The purveyors of “Educate the Public” should consider taking some remedial economics lessons instead of pandering to a generation of Americans who are being taught that they are entitled to something just because they think they need it.

To save them some time, here are the applicable points:

Price, cost, and value are not the same thing; however, in a functional system of mutual trade to mutual benefit, they are closely related. If the thing is becoming scarcer because the gap between supply and demand is increasing, the price will go up as a message to the consumer that the scarcity of the thing has increased.

When some force, usually in the form of government, compels a vendor to ration items, or to limit prices, the system is no longer about mutual exchange to mutual benefit. It has become dysfunctional, shredding the relationship between price, cost, and value. The price of an item no longer communicates the scarcity to the consumer. This increases the risk that hoarders and black-marketeers will buy up all the stock in a short amount of time, leaving the shelves bare, and leaving people in crisis with far fewer options. This will in turn lead to more desperation and lawlessness, not less.

In short: price gouging is not evil, though radically increased prices may shock and offend our sensibilities during a crisis, lulled as we are by generations of living in the stability of the largest economy in the world. On the other hand, anti-price gouging and rationing laws just might be evil, because they create more harm than they cure – by causing or exacerbating  shortages in the guise of mollifying the unthinking and easily offended.

Eclipse of Reality


How many times did you hear that last Monday’s solar eclipse was a “once in a lifetime” event?

While solar eclipses may be “rare” in any given place, and while it may be rare to be in the path of totality, solar eclipses are not “rare” overall. As astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil Degrasse Tyson has pointed out, solar eclipses happen about every two years or so. They are more common than presidential elections!

Overall rarity notwithstanding, the eclipse on Monday was unique in at least two ways.  It was the first solar eclipse since the late seventies to cross nearly the entire US, and thus it was the first one in the US to be covered by millions of cell-phone and Go-Pro toting Americans in the age of social media.

This led to an amazing phenomena the news media have largely ignored: Far more Americans, of all colors, creeds, and classes, voluntarily gathered in peace across the country to observe the spectacle of nature than ever willingly gather together to hate and destroy, a la Charlottesville or Phoenix.

So we have at least two cases of the media presenting an alternate reality: One is in perpetuating an inaccurate understanding of astronomical phenomena in order to increase excitement…so that they can be seen to be reporting on the excitement of the “once in a lifetime” event, in the hopes that if you weren’t out looking at the eclipse yourself, you’d be tuning in to catch it on live TV.

The second case is more insidious. The mass media, so jaded by their constant purveyance of crises, largely neglected to report on, or even notice, the good news that Americans can be far more united in common cause than we are supposed to believe.  No, it might even be worse than that.  The second case may be an example that the media actively ignores, or even tries to “reverse engineer”  facts and events that run counter to the lie narrative that America is being destroyed by greedy, right-wing, white, trans-, homo-, and Islamo-phobic, Christian middle-class men, as alluded to in several political cartoons about the eclipse:

Instead, too many media personalities have been indoctrinated to believe, and worse, promote, the idea that the solution to all our ills is to let the anointed class do our thinking for us and lead us to more “diversity” (of grievance groups), more “rights” to the time and/or property of others, and more restrictions on freedom and liberty. That idea has proven to be destructive in every time and place it’s been tried.

All news is fake; some news is useful.

Virginizuela

Q: What is an idiotic thing to do to a country?

A: Drag it down from being one of the strongest economies in Latin America to being on the verge of failed state status, all under the banner of “Bolivarian” Socialism. Hugo Chavez started the process in Venezuela (with plenty of help from the Castro brothers from Cuba); now Nicolas Maduro is overseeing it. How can these men destroy their own countries? What tools do they use? Hatred and envy. It is human nature to lay blame on others for one’s own failings; charismatic leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez master the art of convincing the masses that their troubles are the result of the machinations of the rich and powerful, then ride the wave of popular support to positions of…wealth and power, while their countries burn around them.

Q: What is an idiotic thing to do “for” a news audience?

A: Provide them convenient (but not necessarily accurate) labels for the apparent factions involved in the Charlottesville, VA riot. Attendees of a “Unite the Right” rally were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Because some part of that crowd contained white supremacists, KKK members, and “neo-Nazis,” the mass media took an accuracy short cut and simply branded the entire crowd as “white nationalists.” Another crowd was protesting the first crowd. This second crowd contained “antifas” (anti-fascists) and “Black Lives Matter” supporters; yet the  media neglected to apply a hot-button label to this crowd, simply referring to them as “activists” and  “counter-protesters.”  The facts are that one crowd containing some people hanging on to irrational hatred clashed with another crowd containing some people clinging to their own hatreds. Because drama and conflict get better ratings than cold facts, the media turned the riots into the Battle of Charlottesville in a nascent Civil War II, with the heroic leftist crowd battling the evil right-wing crowd. There’s nothing quite like fanning the flames so one can report on the fire, eh?  It’s almost arson.

Q: What is an idiotic thing to do with your time?

A:  Indulge in hatred or envy; especially in hatred or envy that others tell you to indulge in.  Think for yourself when charismatic leaders peddling vitriol try to attract you into their orbit, and think for yourself when the media shows you burning conflicts in-camera, while what is left unreported may be the more important (if less sexy) part of the story.