Saturday, June 25, 2022

Logical Fallacies

In my last post I brought up something that has been irking me for quite some time, people who use Chicago's high murder rate to make the point that relatively strict gun control laws, which this city also has, do little if anything to prevent murder. I mentioned that were there any credence to the conclusion , I'd support it, but pointed out that the argument is flawed in many ways and is not at all credible. 

For starters, the argument uses a single piece of evidence to draw its conclusion. In this case, using only the data of murder rates and gun laws in one city is insufficient because many other examples (those of other cities), need to be studied in order to come closer to a valid conclusion. Using only one example to draw a conclusion is known as an anecdotal fallacy. Every high school freshman learns in science class that you cannot make a conclusion based upon the evidence gathered in one solitary experiment.

The term cherry picking is also relevant here because data in the form of crime statistics for every city in this country, are readily available and not all of it backs up this particular conclusion. Instead, advocates of this theory select Chicago's anecdotal evidence of a high murder rate combined with strict gun laws specifically because it fits into their theory, while purposefully not bringing up comparable cities with strict gun laws and low murder rates or cities with high murder rates and lax gun laws. 

Another logical fallacy which often goes hand-in-hand with the anecdotal fallacy has a fancy Latin name: "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", in English: "after this, therefore because of this." It's the classic cause and effect question, assuming that if one event precedes another, it must be related to the subsequent event. In this particular case it is assumed the first event, strict gun laws, do not affect the murder rate, which is high despite them. This is a like a student who does poorly on a test despite studying for it, concluding that studying for all tests is useless. Never mind that there may have been dozens of reasons why the student didn't do well on the test, or the proposition that had he not studied at all, he may have done even worse on the test. 

I became interested in the subject of logical fallacies while writing that post. I looked it up and found hundreds of websites devoted to the subject, (no, I didn't look at them all). My philosophy class in college over forty years ago probably covered much of this material, but like the subject of how to factor a quadratic equation, the Spanish subjunctive and many other things I learned in school, I forgot. 

Yet another popular fallacy is the strawman fallacy. The premise of the SF is that someone making an argument misconstrues or exaggerates the opposing position, then uses arguments based upon those  faulty assumptions. This exaggerated position is designed to be easy to take down rhetorically, hence the term "strawman."

A classic example of the Strawman Fallacy can be found in my penultimate post where I talked about Tucker Carlson's evaluation of Joe Biden's address to the nation on the importance of gun control a couple weeks ago. In his rant, Carlson accused Biden of wanting to "disarm" Americans, which the president took great pains in his speech to make clear was not true.  Carlson went on to use the fallacious idea of "disarming Americans" (in this case, the strawman) to go in several directions, including portraying Biden as a tyrant who wants to take guns away from the American people in order to gain total control of them, as disarming the public has been the first act of tyrants throughout history. That last part is an example of another logical fallacy, the slippery slope. More on that one later. 

The point of this exercise is not to find more "gotcha" moments in the news to criticize a certain sector of our population which I've done a lot of lately if you hadn't noticed. Rather, I'm trying to clean up my own act, hoping to be aware of logical mistakes in my own arguments. 

Turns out I make them all the time. Here's a doozy from the last post:

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that (Texas governor Greg Abbott) would bring up Chicago while blocks away, grieving parents were in the process of receiving the remains of their murdered children who had to be identified the night before by DNA samples as the bullets from a high-powered military grade weapon ripped apart their bodies and destroyed their faces.

That's an example of the appealing to emotions fallacy. It's debatable whether or not my statement itself constitutes a fallacy as nothing in it is untrue, in fact I may have even downplayed the gruesome nature of the aftermath of the Uvalde tragedy. Nor was any of what I said not relevant to my argument as the slaughter of innocent people, in this case children, is precisely why I believe we need more gun control. Yet the statement obviously is manipulative. I could have left out the gore and just said the governor brought up the Chicago fallacy while he was in Uvalde attempting to lend support to the people of that community in their time of need, then left the judgement of the appropriateness of the governor's words up to my readers. 

Just one paragraph earlier, I brought up Governor Abbott's blaming wind energy for the crippling Texas power grid crisis of last year, despite the fact that wind accounts for a very small amount of the energy produced in Texas. 

I originally led the paragraph quoted above with: "I guess it shouldn't be surprising that such a great mind, this modern-day Don Quixote..." (going after windmills, get it?), "would bring up Chicago..."

This is a good example of the ad homiem fallacy, or an attack not against the argument, but "against the man" making the argument. In this case, the subject of Abbott's statement about energy last year had nothing to do with his statement in Uvalde, and my ironic "great mind" line attacks the governor's intelligence (really his sincerity), rather than the argument at hand.

A couple weeks ago I was reading the comments section of an article about the highly publicized mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. The comments were predictable, many of them pro-gun control, many of them anti. After one fairly strident comment emphasizing the need to keep our children safe from being killed in their schools, someone commented to that remark by saying this: "But you have no problem with abortion?"

I was partially appalled and partially stymied by that one as I had no good response for it. OK yes, they are two separate issues, but they are both issues concerning life and death and I can understand that some people see an inconsistency with people who are concerned about preserving the lives of school children but unconcerned about preserving the lives of unborn children. Conversely, I've read comments from the other side that say anti-abortion people are only concerned about children's lives if they are not born yet. I've made that argument myself on numerous occasions.

These are both examples of another logical fallacy with a fancy Latin name, tu quoque, or the "you too" fallacy. It's also referred to as the "look who's talking" or my personal favorite: "the pot calling the kettle black" fallacy. Tu quoque is avoiding an argument by turning it around on the opponent by pointing out his or her inconsistency or flat-out hypocrisy. In recent years it has become so common in political discourse that a new word has been coined to describe it, "whataboutism." 

Whataboutism is a favorite tool of Vladimir Putin, who descends from a long line of Russian dictator whatabouters. He has used it consistently during his war against Ukraine, excusing his actions by saying other nations, especially the United States have invaded countries as well. Another great whatabouter is Donald Trump whose most infamous use of the fallacy concerned none other than Putin. In a 2017 interview with Bill O'Reilly, the former FOX News personality questioned the new president about his admiration of the Russian dictator, referring to him as a "killer." Trump's response was chilling: 
There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent?

 That line prompted this astute response from the current U.S. National Security advisor Jake Sullivan:

The American president is taking Putin’s 'what about you' tactic and turning it into 'what about us?'

Supporters of the exPOTUS are famous for using whataboutism in their defense of 45, saying things like: "yeah he may be a crook with no moral or ethical compass, but so are all politicians."

Logical fallacies are not the exclusive domain of one political ideology. Case in point, in one of the web sites I checked out dealing with the subject, the author used this quote from Barak Obama to illustrate the false dilemma fallacy:

What choices are we going to make to reach that goal? (a balanced budget). Either we ask the wealthiest Americas to pay their fair share of taxes, or we are going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare.

As we saw above, logical fallacies needn't be limited to one category; here Obama is clearly guilty of appealing to the emotions, after all, who doesn't have more compassion for seniors on a fixed income than for the "wealthiest Americans"? But the false dilemma fallacy which this quote also illustrates, poses one of only two possible outcomes to an action, one very bad, and the other good or at least, not as bad. There is no middle ground.

The slippery slope fallacy mentioned above, is related to the false dilemma in that it is poses an exaggerated assumption of the outcome to an action. The slippery slope argues that one thing inevitably leads to another, that is, if a particular action is taken, it will cause another action that will result in a bad outcome which will in turn result in another action resulting in a worse outcome, and so on. The classic example of this is a parent warning a child that if he doesn't do well in school, he'll end up being homeless because if he gets bad grades, he won't into a good college, then won't get a good job, etc.

I used the slippery slope in a piece I wrote about abortion. I posed the hypothetical suggestion that banning abortion in selected states may lead to a situation where an act that is perfectly legal in some states may land someone on death row in another. While there have been rumblings of a few people who say they might support the death penalty as punishment for those who perform abortions, there is no evidence to suggest that is a real possibility. Yet. So my statement would fall into the slippery slope category. 

Perhaps one of the most insidious of fallacies is the appeal to common sense fallacy. Anyone who has successfully lived through years of life on this planet has learned through personal experience certain things that will greatly improve their quality of life, things like knowing if you go out into the rain without an umbrella or protective clothing, you will get wet. We call the kind of knowledge that does not have to be taught, common sense. Of course, not everybody's personal experience is the same, someone who grew up in an arid zone may actually welcome getting wet in the rain because it is so rare where they come from and would never consider covering up to stay dry. 

Sometimes we see our own experience as transferrable to everybody else and don't even consider the possibility that other's may see things from a different perspective. 

Appealing to common sense is a way of avoiding an argument by saying the argument is so obvious it needn't be elaborated upon, and anyone who isn't on board with it is either unreasonable or stupid. A hypothetical example would be saying it is common sense that the combination of Chicago's strict gun laws and high crime rate is proof that gun laws don't work. How could any reasonable person not see that?

I am guilty of abusing the appeal to common sense fallacy in my own arguments, in fact there's a good example in this very post, see below.

It's important to remember that some arguments may technically fall into one of the categories of logical fallacies, but still constitute reasonable arguments. A borderline example is the appeal to authority fallacy. In this one, the committer of the fallacy uses the statements or beliefs of a third party, "the authority", to make an argument. 

A relevant example of this one is the use of Dr. Anthony Fauci as an authority figure on the subject of infectious diseases. An argument may go something like this: 

  • Person one: How do you know that wearing masks helps prevent the spread of COVID?
  • Person two: Because Dr. Fauci says it does and Dr. Fauci says...

Here person two is letting Dr. Fauci's expertise make the argument rather than making the argument himself. Is this a fallacious argument as it is clearly an appeal to authority?

Well, Dr. Fauci has spent an entire career, over fifty years, studying infectious diseases so he should know something about the subject. 

  • Does this mean his opinions on the subject are infallible? No. 
  • Is he immune from making errors of judgement? No.
  • Is his the only credible opinion on the subject? Certainly not. 
  • Is his opinion on the subject more valid than that of a layperson who has spent a couple hours reading articles on the web questioning the efficacy of wearing masks? YES, IT CERTAINLY IS!!!

So while saying: "Because Dr. Fauci says so" may not be a particularly elegant, well thought out argument, as far as the subject of infectious diseases goes, it is a reasonable argument.

If on the other hand the argument at hand is who is the most valuable player in the National League this year or what is the best wine to serve with Weiner Schnitzel, Dr. Fauci's opinion may not carry much weight, and the appeal to the authority of Dr. Fauci on those subjects would indeed be fallacious. 

The fallacy that usually wraps up discussions on logical fallacies is the fallacy fallacy, which assumes that because a person uses fallacious logic to make an argument, the argument itself is wrong.

It is possible that strict gun control laws don't affect crime very much, despite the fact that the evidence supporters of that theory promote is flimsy. If we really wanted to prove that gun laws don't affect crime here in Chicago, there is a straightforward experiment we could conduct to see if that has any merit. 

Get rid of our gun laws and see where that takes us. 

In an ideal world, I think few reasonable people would be willing to conduct that experiment. But we're living in a less than ideal world with fewer and fewer reasonable people (a whopper of an appeal to common sense fallacy), and as of this week in its infinite wisdom (ooh an ironic comment that could be considered an ad hominem attack), the Supreme Court has shown it is willing to conduct that dangerous experiment as reflected in its overruling New York State laws preventing people from carrying guns in public. 

Yes, there was another notorious ruling released by the court this week also promising horrendous consequences for our nation (do I detect a slippery slope here?), but that's an issue for another day. 

I don't want to get involved in yet another logical fallacy by comparing the two, although I'm not exactly sure which category it would fall into. 

Or by simply bringing it up, maybe I already have.

Oh well, so be it.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Chicago Line

In terms of pure numbers, there have been more murders in Chicago this year, and in many previous years, than any other any American city. It comes as little relief that because of its large population, Chicago ranks anywhere between #10 and #30 (depending on which day and where you check the stats), in murder rate in this country, in other words the number of homicides in relation to the size of the population.     

One could argue because of that second statistic, Chicago is not the "murder capital" of the nation as it is so often referred. That's hardly a bragging right.

Some would diminish the significance of our increasing murder rate as it is concentrated in certain "bad" neighborhoods and not the entire city. High crime rates have historically been associated with areas of poverty combined with ethnic and racial segregation, unemployment, the breakdown of families, the predominance of street gangs and other factors. As the crime and murder rate in much of the city has remained fairly stable, it stands to reason that the murder rate in the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago has skyrocketed, well out of proportion with the overall rate of the city as a whole.

Despite not living in a neighborhood with a particularly high murder rate, I don't find any comfort in that. On the contrary. This is my city and every murder, whether it be in affluent Lincoln Park, the economically challenged Englewood, or my neighborhood somewhere in between, Rogers Park, is an unspeakable tragedy.

There is no way to sugar-coat it, we cannot spin the situation to make it better, we are all affected by the horrific number of murders in our city.

Therefore, I'm not averse to Chicago's murder rate being openly and honestly discussed by those who have a legitimate concern for the wellbeing of this city and its inhabitants, preferably accompanied by some useful thoughts addressing the tragedy.

What I have no tolerance for are politicians and pundits who use violence in Chicago as a distraction from one of the pressing issues of our day, gun control. 

You hear the trope every time there is legitimate outrage after a mass shooting. Defenders of not doing anything to control the obscene availability of guns in this country will predictably drop the Chicago Line in order to "prove" that gun laws do nothing to prevent crime.

This is the Chicago Line: "Despite having the toughest gun laws in the nation, Chicago also has the highest murder rate."

Strictly speaking, neither of those points are accurate, but that's not a problem for me. If there were a legitimate argument for Chicago being an example of strict gun laws having little or no effect on crime, it would be a valid point.

But it's not a legitimate argument and therefore not valid. The bottom line is that in Chicago's case, the correlation between its relatively strict gun control laws and its high murder rate, is purely anecdotal, much like the tentative correlation many people make between vaccines and autism (a story for another day).

The problem with the correlation between Chicago (more appropriately Illinois) gun laws and the murder rate is quite simple. While Illinois gun laws are fairly strict by US standards (ranked eighth strictest in the nation), the laws in its neighboring states are anything but. Given that, it stands to reason that a state with strict gun laws being an island surrounded by states with lax guns laws is no more effective than a no peeing section in the middle of an open swimming pool. It turns out that well over half of the guns used in crimes in Chicago come from out of state, the majority of those from Indiana, which is literally across the street from some parts of Chicago. 

The state of Illinois requires all gun purchases to be accompanied a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card on the part of a buyer, issued by the State Police which must be presented to the seller for verification at the time of purchase. That process alone takes a few days so you can't simply walk into a gun shop in this state and leave with a shiny new weapon. This FOID card can be rescinded any time its holder is considered a risk such as having committed a crime or determined to be mentally unstable.

None of this is true in Indiana or Wisconsin where almost anyone with absolutely no business having a gun can make the easy drive across state lines to buy one.

But the real problem with this nation's lax gun laws insofar as crime is concerned, is the that they enable guns to be manufactured at a staggering rate. I looked at one of my previous posts a decade old and recalled that ten years ago, there were as many guns as people in the United States. Today it is estimated that there are about twenty percent more guns than people in this country. That translates to (if my math is correct) roughly 80 million more guns in circulation today in this country than ten years ago.

Sure there are lots of responsible gun owners who take pains to prevent their firearms from getting into the wrong hands. But what happens when they sell those guns which are later re-sold or stolen? That's not to mention all the irresponsible gun owners out there.

Since guns are so plentiful in this city, one needn't bother making the trip to Indiana or Wisconsin, they can be had right here, mostly illegally of course. As the gun crowd rightfully points out, criminals aren't going to let a mere law prevent them from getting a gun. But if there weren't so many guns around in the first place, it wouldn't be so damned easy for criminals to get their hands on them. Sorry gun guys but this one is on you.

Another inconvenient fact debunking the correlation between Chicago's murder rate and gun control is that cities with comparable or higher murder rates than Chicago such as Birmingham, Little Rock, New Orleans and St. Louis are all in states with far more lenient gun restrictions than Illinois. In contrast, cities like Los Angeles and New York, both in states with stricter gun laws than Illinois, have far lower murder rates than Chicago.

Unfortunately there is a segment of our society who seems to be immune to reason and facts. That's why anti gun control politicians and pundits keep getting away with using the Chicago Line as their main line of defense in arguing the failure of gun control.

You may ask why Chicago is singled out as the gold standard of American murder and mayhem. Could it be that all those other cities are in solidly red states that typically oppose gun control? Oh I dunno, just a hunch.

The Chicago Line was a favorite of the exPOTUS who was fond of trashing the blue state of Illinois and especially Chicago, home of his predecessor and favorite target, Barak Obama. 

In a bit of horrendous timing, days after the mass shooting of fourth graders and their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, an NRA convention was scheduled to take place in Houston, 278 miles away. Many folks who planned to attend either as speakers or entertainers, cancelled their appearances out of respect for the dead and their families. Not the exPOTUS who danced a little gig at the end of his address to the crowd, after paying "homage" to the victims of Uvalde by mispronouncing most of their names. Also present at the gun-lovers' orgy in Houston was Texas senator Ted Cancún Cruz who predictably used the old reliable Chicago Line in his speech. Here is what he said: 

Gun bans do not work. Look at Chicago. If they worked, Chicago wouldn’t be the murder hellhole that it has been for far too long.

Which is interesting because in 2019, Cruz was excoriated by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot after he dropped the Chicago Line in slightly different words, after a particularly brutal holiday weekend in this city. It's bad enough to extol the virtues of guns by exploiting Chicago violence in reaction to a tragic weekend in the Windy City, but it's a whole other level of bad to use it in the wake of another town's tragedy.

Perhaps the most tasteless use of the Chicago Line to date came from Texas governor Greg Abbott at a press conference in Uvalde, the day after the shooting. You may remember it was Abbott who famously blamed windmills for the disastrous power grid failure last year after an unusual snap of cold weather in the Lone Star State. Never mind that wind power generates only a minuscule amount of Texas energy. 

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that this modern-day Don Quixote would bring up Chicago while blocks away, grieving parents were in the process of receiving the remains of their murdered children who had to be identified the night before by DNA samples as the bullets from a high powered military grade weapon ripped apart their bodies and destroyed their faces.

In order to assure his fellow gun toatin' Texans that he wasn't moved by the unspeakable tragedy that befell his constituents in Uvalde enough to keep weapons like the one used at Robb Elementary School out of the hands of people likely to use them against ten year olds, Abbott said this:

I hate to say this, there are more people that are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas.

Perhaps he was bemoaning the fact that there aren't enough schools in Texas but I don't think so. Not giving him the benefit of the doubt on that one, his statement is so wrong on so many levels. 

Beyond the errors in logic, by comparing numbers of murder victims in Chicago and Texas, Abbott is treating human lives as if they were commodities. He may as well have been talking about spark plugs or widgets. 

Not only did Abbott receive the wrath of the Mayor of Chicago, but also that of Jay Pritzker, Governor of Illinois for his thoughtless remarks.

As pointed out by Mayor Lightfoot, worst of all, Abbott's statement downplays the tragedy he was on hand to address. Uvalde is a small town where practically everyone has a connection to at least one of the victims of the massacre. I'm guessing that not a soul in Uvalde was comforted by learning that a lot of people are murdered in Chicago too. 

But these gun-loving yahoos press on with their empty rhetoric about good guys with guns, people killing people, not guns, and about that hellhole, Chicago.

You don't hear Ted Cruz or Greg Abbott, both with presidential aspirations of their own calling Indianapolis, Tuscaloosa, Menphis or Baton Rouge murder hell holes, even though those cities have higher murder rates than Chicago. 

For them. Chicago is an easy target as this city's violent reputation as every Chicagoan who has ever traveled abroad knows, precedes it. Besides they have nothing to lose as neither of them have a snowball's chance in hell of winning Chicago or Illinois in a presidential election. 

As I said, if there were any credence to the Chicago Line, it would be fair game. But there is not, it is a simplistic logical fallacy, deliberately cherry picked by unscrupulous politicians and their masters, the gun lobby, to empower and enrich themselves off the blood of innocent children, and to further divide the American people. 

So we can expect to keep hearing the same old bullshit Chicago Line ad nauseam.

Not that it will make a bit of difference but to that I will quote our mayor while adding a few choice embellishments of my own:

If you don't give a rat's ass about this city or its people, keep our name out of your fucking mouth.

With all due respect. 


Thursday, June 2, 2022

Compromise, What a Novel Idea

Last night President Biden delivered a passionate address to the nation on the issue of gun control in the wake of two highly publicized mass shootings and several other less publicized ones that have taken place over the last few weeks in our country. In the message he spelled out his plans to send before Congress: bills to raise the legal age for purchasing firearms, strengthening background checks, enacting safe storage and red flag laws, as well as repealing the immunity protecting gun manufacturers from liability for their deadly products, a privilege Biden pointed out, no other industry enjoys.

The president also expressed his desire that the assault weapon ban Republican members of Congress allowed to expire in 2004, be put back into effect, putting a cap on the number of bullets a single magazine can hold, as well as other measures he readily acknowledged were very unlikely to pass.

As predictable as flies on a pile of poop in summer, the ultra-MAGA troll Tucker Carlson weighed in on Biden's remarks as if they were a genuine affront to all good, God-fearing, law-abiding, patriotic Americans.

Biden had the nerve to address the nation during Carlson's prime time slot, so FOX "News", the network that broadcasts Carlson's nightly bile to his adoring fans, took the unusual step of broadcasting the president's speech in its entirely, all the while showing an inset of Carlson's trademarked, dumbfounded facial reactions to Biden's remarks in real time. Didn't watch that.

But I did give him his due by reading his rebuttal to Biden on FOX's website. If you can stand it, you can read it here.

Carlson analysed Biden's address this way:

So, to summarize the president's remarks tonight, your constitutional rights are not absolute. But in taking them away, we're not actually taking away your rights, we're protecting children. To which you might ask, am I a threat to children? That question is never answered by the president.
It would seem from this statement, that Tucker Carlson believes that constitutional rights ARE absolute, that it's perfectly OK for example to yell fire (when there isn't one), in a crowded theater or that there is no limit to the kind of weapons an individual can have at his disposal, machine guns, bazookas, nukes, you name it.

That's interesting because the president seemed to anticipate that response. He quoted the most revered of all Supreme Court Justices by members of the far right, Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in the District of Columbia v. Heller case which overturned Washington DC's ban on handguns. In that opinion Scalia wrote this:

Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

 In other words, again Scalia's:

...like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. (emphasis mine)

And it is...

not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

Of course our boy Tucker didn't mention any of that because it doesn't fit into his narrative.

Also not fitting into his narrative is that gun control should not be a political issue, but a common sense issue of public safety. The gun-nut crowd (as distinguished from reasonable and responsible gun owners), loves to complain that people who want to see the manufacture and sale of guns controlled in this country use mass shootings as an excuse to further their "political agenda" at a time when they should be mourning the victims.  

At the top of Carlson's piece he says this:

(Biden) decided to leverage the murder of 19 children in Texas last week for political advantage. 

That is moronic. A few days after I was born, there was a horrific fire in a school not far from where we lived. Many of the victims of that fire were brought to the hospital where my mother and I were still admitted. 92 children and 3 nuns died in that fire. Yes there was terrific grief in the days, months, and years that followed and even to this day. But there was also tremendous anger. People in the community and in fact all over the world said: "how the hell could something like this happen?"

That anger was put to good service as fire codes and design standards were completely overhauled to prevent another such disaster. Even though this involved expenditures of a good deal of tax money and proved a great inconvenience to many, to my knowledge, for the sake of saving the lives of children, no one whined about having to sacrifice or that their rights were being taken away.

Obviously I have no direct memory of the event but have a hard time believing those angry people were castigated for leveraging those deaths to advance a political agenda.

If it ended there, Tucker Carlson's response could be considered merely self-serving and idiotic. But as usual, he goes beyond that. Carlson is famous for distinguishing between his audience, whom he refers to in the collective, "you, the American people", and "them", the so-called political elite, presumably the Democrats, and by extension anybody who supports them.

Here are some chunks of Carlson's comments found in his piece:

The point of this, of course, is to disarm people who did not vote for Joe Biden.

Democrats in the House of Representatives spent the day debating ways to disarm you, Americans, who've committed no crime at all and want only to protect themselves and their families.

Anyone who tries to disarm you, by definition, considers you an enemy. That's what you do to your enemies, you disarm them. Your friends, your allies, your children, people you love. why would you want to prevent them from defending themselves? You never would. You certainly wouldn't scream at them from the podium about how they're killing children if they want to protect their own families. That's what you do to your enemies. 

If you think these quotes are not to be trusted because I've taken them out of context, please feel free to read the whole piece that I linked to above. 

First of all, it's ludicrous to say that Biden is proposing these new measures to effect only people who did not vote for him. Where is the evidence of that?* Law abiding Democrats as well as law abiding Republicans own guns. 

Secondly, "disarm" is a term bandied about quite liberally in this piece. Biden made it abundantly clear that he is not against guns and is not interested in disarming Americans, he simply proposes going back to a ban that already existed on very particular weapons, namely AR-15 style assault rifles which have been used in nearly all the mass shootings we've witnessed recently. 

Third, protecting oneself and one's family is a valid concern, and it is also thrown about quite haphazardly in all the rhetoric of the gun-nut crowd. But is that what these people really and truly care about? Does anybody really need an AR-15 style gun to protect himself? Read on.

The gist of Carlson's rhetoric can be found in the next line that says "anyone who tries to disarm you considers you an enemy." Clearly Tucker Carlson is saying here that Joe Biden by "disarming" the American people, considers the American people his enemy. Therefore it follows that Joe Biden the president of the United States, and those who support him, are the enemy of the true American people.

So the American people, according to the gun-nut crowd, need weapons such as the AR-15 not to protect themselves from the miscreants, prowlers, burglars, and other run-of-the-mill criminals, but from a hostile government who wants to enslave its people. And as we all know, the very first thing that dictators have done from time immemorial, is disarm the people, or so they say.

This is the narrative that Tucker Carlson wants to convey to his audience: the Democrats, and the people who support them, are not your fellow Americans who happen to have a different point of view, but your enemy who wants to take from you everything you value. First it's your guns, next your religion, then what? A particularly nutty legislator from the great state of Georgia who shall remain nameless, recently suggested that the way things are going, straight people will soon be extinct. And when that happens, there's the end of the species. 

I've said before in this space that Tucker Carlson is not an idiot, he just plays one on TV. Frankly I don't think he believes half of the rubbish he tells his viewers. In a defamation case against Carlson and FOX, the network's defense (which was successful) was that no one in their right mind should take anything Tucker Carlson says seriously. 

We can laugh all we want at the nonsense, but a lot of his viewers believe him and what he tells them. Carlson is the most public advocate of "white replacement theory", the idea that the Democrats are purposefully increasing the number of illegal immigrants of color crossing our borders for the sole purpose of gaining votes at the ballot box. In a rambling creed written before his racist attack on a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, the killer of ten, while not naming Carlson directly, attributed WRT  as the inspiration for his crime.

I've also heard Tucker Carlson say that if the Democrats try to take away our guns, there will be a Civil War. Is that pure hyperbole? Well maybe for him, if there is a war, rest assured that Carlson would stay as far away from the front lines as possible. But rumblings of a Civil War in our future are not too infrequent in the world of social media, a former president, can you guess which one, reposted one.

With this attitude, it's not surprising that the Republicans are so intransigent in trying to cooperate with the Democrats, after all, why cooperate with your enemy? As far as gun control goes, despite efforts on the table that no reasonable person should object to, it seems that the attitude of the gun-nut crowd is "give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile." 

A democratic government doesn't work that way. You compromise.

I suppose if I were king of the United States, I'd get rid of the Second Amendment as I feel it has become obsolete in an era when we have a standing army and local and state police departments whose job it is to protect us. 

But here's the thing, I'm not king (thank God) and furthermore, I don't believe in kings. I believe in the rule of law and I believe in our constitution, imperfect as it is. Given that, as a citizen, I would not advocate for the repeal of the Second Amendment because I feel it would create a slippery slope which would weaken the constitution to the point where every one of our rights as American citizens could be in jeopardy of being revoked. 

As the president pointed out in his address, there are things he wants to accomplish that have a chance of succeeding, and others that won't. That's how negotiations work, each side brings to the table more than they know will be accepted, issues that can be given up in the interest of getting concessions from the other side. There's no way in hell that the assault weapon ban will be reinstated at this time, everybody knows that. But if it is brought to the table and the Democrats are hesitantly willing to give that up, perhaps, so the theory goes, the other side may be willing to accept other restrictions that could possibly save a few lives. 

Or maybe not; given the way things have been going, I'd give the Republicans making any concessions a less than a 50/50 chance. 

Fortunately there are reasonable people who believe in the Second Amendment with all their hearts.

By chance, yesterday morning I found an article by a Mississippi writer named Sid Salter. From all indications he is a conservative Republican who may (or may not) have voted for Donald Trump. The article is titled "Justice Scalia’s words on Second Amendment absolutism are true and prophetic" and it was published on a site called "Y'all Politics." Given all that, I opened up the article fully assuming the writer's opinions would be diametrically opposed to mine. 

It turned out that Salter focused on the words of Scalia that Joe Biden quoted later that day.

Here is a link to Sid Salter's piece. 

Much to my surprise, the article is spot on.

Sid Salter and I might have plenty to argue about, which is just fine, because at the root of it, we are both Americans who love our country and want to see it succeed. Because of that we both despise the division sewn by certain politicians and pundits like Carlson, who have plenty to gain for themselves and their pocketbooks as our country is torn apart limb by limb. 

As for the rest of us, the real American people, Republican, Democrat and Independent, we have nothing to gain but plenty to lose.

And right now, we're losing big time. 


* Carlson's "evidence" is that the proposed measures to limit the amount of bullets a magazine is capable of holding, would not apply to the bodyguards of politicians, therefore the politicians would have proper protection, but regular citizens would not. He seems to be implying this only applies to Democratic politicians not Republicans, which is of course, pure nonsense. 

Monday, May 30, 2022

The Lives They Lived

On Memorial Day we remember and honor the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. It is entirely appropriate that we do this. Memorial Day is even more poignant today as through the war raging in Ukraine, we are reminded on a daily basis of something we often take for granted, the ravages of war and the price that sometimes needs to be paid to maintain justice, democracy and liberty over the forces of oppression.

It is just as appropriate in my opinion, to remember and honor the people who through no fault of their own, get caught up in war. 

From my last post: 

Up until a couple months ago, the people of Bucha were going about their lives just as we do here, going to work, taking their kids to dance class, walking their dogs, doing the grocery shopping, in short, all the mundane things we do every day and take for granted. 

I wrote those words on the morning of Saturday, May 14. Later that day, a bunch of people were going about their lives on the east side of Buffalo, New York, when everything would change for them in the span of roughly six minutes, which to those who survived, must have seemed like an eternity.

The people shopping at Tops Grocery Store that tragic day were not caught up in a war between nations, but in a shooting war just the same. The man who killed ten Americans and wounded many more that day, is an avowed white supremacist who targeted his victims because they were black. He is by every definition of the word, a terrorist. 

Today is Memorial Day, May 30, 2022. I wrote the words you just read last weekend. My original intention was to devote a post to the victims of the Buffalo massacre.  But as I pointed out in the previous post, just like Rome, my posts aren't built in a day. In this case, I didn't know exactly which direction to go. Should I devote the post to the myth that we live in a "post-racial" America; should I write about the evils of white supremacy; should I write about the cancer of gun violence in this country; should I write about gun control or the lack of it; or should I write about the pandora's box of other issues that horrific crime brought up?

AP Photo/Joshua Bessex

In the midst of contemplating all this, the Buffalo tragedy was all but eclipsed by an even deadlier mass shooting, this one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Last Tuesday, May 24, two teachers and 19 students, mostly fourth graders, died, and several more were injured but managed to survive.

I've checked the archives of this blog and after practically every mass shooting in our country, I wrote about my frustration over our nation's inability to come to a compromise over the issue of gun control. Frankly it shouldn't be that difficult, I don't think any reasonable person should object to things like background checks and registering gun owners. We do just that for automobiles. And how on earth can it be legal for an 18 year old who can't legally buy a beer, to walk into a store and buy a high powered military grade assault style weapon, whose bullets cause catastrophic damage to human tissue and organs which makes survival of a wound to the head or torso unlikely, and are capable of indiscriminately killing as many people as the amount of time it takes to pull the trigger? Frankly I don't think any private citizen should be allowed to own a weapon such as this, after all, lawn darts are illegal. I understand that neither automobiles nor lawn darts are specifically mentioned in the Constitution, (neither are assault weapons), but if you are against things like registering guns and gun owners, what part of the words "well regulated", the first words of the Second Amendment, don't you understand?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think for a second that even if the courts eventually override the Second Amendment, (which will never happen), would we see an end to these mass shootings. They have sadly become imbedded into of our nation's fabric, and anyone who wants to carry one out badly enough, will find a way. Besides, thanks to our supremely misguided and foolish interpretation of the Second Amendment, there are currently more guns than people in this country, and even if guns were banned, there would still be plenty of them around. 

And as long as we continue to permit these weapons of mass destruction to be manufactured and sold on the open market, there will be more and more of them available to young men (and I suppose women too) with a chip on their shoulder, to kill us and our loved ones. 

As I mentioned before in this space, there are many issues that need to be addressed if we intend to seriously tackle the issue of mass shootings which are an epidemic in this country and nowhere else. Mental health certainly is a big one, as is improving school security. 

But those are complicated and expensive fixes that are often fraught with peril and questionable results. Were it not for the obstinacy of a minority of people in this country, the pure greed of gun manufacturers and sellers, and the cowardice of the politicians they have in their deep pockets, the same cannot be said of controlling guns. As we saw at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas last week, "good guys with guns" even if they are fully trained professional police officers, are sometimes no match for a guy toting a military grade weapon who is prepared to die. 

Getting rid of these weapons, or at least taking them out of the hands of people who have no business with them in the first place, is the very least we could do to honor the lives of those we lost this month and in the years since Bill Clinton's ban on assault style weapons was allowed to expire by Congress in 2004.

We could and should do something about this but unfortunately we won't. If nothing was done after Sandy Hook, Connecticut where even younger children and more of them, at Christmastime no less, were slaughtered, sadly nothing will be done now. 

This is a war as well, and unfortunately the good guys are losing. 

I wasn't going to go into all of that, after all, what's the use? So I'll stop my rant for now. Instead I thought on this Memorial Day, I'd devote this post to the victims of guns in our country, especially to those who died so tragically in Buffalo and Uvalde this month. 

Here are their names, their ages, and links to part of their stories:


 





Eliana “Ellie” Garcia, Eliana "Ellie" Garcia.


Amerie Jo Garza, 10 , Girl Scouts Honor 10-Year-Old Uvalde Victim Who Died Calling 911






Eva Mireles, 44Texas teacher Eva Mireles died shielding students: daughter.

Margus D. Morrison, 52  Margus Morrison, a 'jokester' who loved to smile, celebrated at service.

Heyward Patterson, 67 Heyward Patterson, Buffalo shooting victim, a man of worship.

Alithia Ramirez, 10Uvalde victim Alithia Ramirez remembered for her kind heart.

Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10Jackie Cazares and Annabell Rodriguez were cousins and best friends. They died together in the Texas elementary school shooting.

Maite Rodriguez, 10 Mother of child killed in Texas: "Her favorite color was green".

Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, 10'There Is an Emptiness.' Uvalde Shooting Victim Lexi Rubio's Great-Grandfather Remembers Her 10 Years of Life.

Aaron Salter, 55 Aaron Salter Jr. remembered for heroic action in Buffalo mass shooting.


Geraldine Talley, 62 Celebrating the life of Geraldine Chapman Talley

Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10 Softball, Baseball Teams Honor Little Leaguers Killed in Uvalde Shooting.

Rojelio Torres, 10, 10-year-old shooting victim Rojelio Torres was an "intelligent, hardworking and helpful person," his aunt says.

Ruth Whitfield, 86  Oldest Buffalo massacre victim Ruth Whitfield honored at funeral service.

Pearl Young, 76  Remembering the victims: Pearl Young

We remember the dead on this day but should be ever mindful of the survivors who had to fight for their lives while personally witnessing their neighbors, friends, family members, colleagues and classmates and teachers being mercilessly slaughtered. 

We especially remember and honor those whom the dead left behind, their parents and grandparents, their children and grandchildren, and all who loved them. 

Then there is the collateral damage, much of it only to be revealed in the future when we least expect it.

And finally there is our troubled nation turning against itself, becoming less United every day.

If an act of home-grown genocide and nineteen dead fourth graders and their teachers can't bring us together as a nation, I'm afraid nothing will. 

This Memorial Day as much as anything, I'm mourning the loss of my country.

But all is not lost, I'm sending thoughts and prayers. 





Wednesday, May 18, 2022

We Will Never Forget, or have we already?

Today as I begin writing this, just to give you the reader a sense of how long it takes to write these blasted posts, it is May 4. I mention that also to point out that today, May 4, is Star Wars Day. 

May the Fourth be with you, get it? 

And I mention that to say while listening to the radio this morning as is a part of my normal routine, Morning Addition on NPR to be exact, I came in on a bizarre piece on the movie Star Wars, where the reporter talked about the movie in a strange, robotic voice. Come to think of it I thought, maybe it was an actual robot, it's kind of hard to tell these days.

As I missed the intro to the piece, to answer that burning question, I went to the Morning Addition page of the NPR website, and discovered the piece was actually the original NPR review of the original 1977 Star Wars movie (or Star Wars IV: A New Hope, if like my children, you were born during or after the prequel era), made by their film critic at the time, Tom Shayles.

The web page reminded me of some of the other stories I heard this morning. One was about the late American artist Jean-Michele Basquiat, and another about NASA planning to return Mars rocks to earth and the possibility of bringing alien life back with them. On the web page I discovered other stories I missed, or at least didn't pay attention to, one about a Stradivarius violin up for auction that is about to bring in beaucoups bucks, and another about a Nebraska family who called the police "after they heard a noise upstairs." Haven't the slightest idea.

If you happen to be reading this in the distant future, that is to say, after the current news cycle, the big story of today is the leaked majority opinion of Justice Samuel Alito, probably signaling the Supreme Court's overturning of the landmark Roe vs Wade decision of 1973. Overturning precedent and taking away established rights that people have enjoyed for almost a half century is no small deal, not to mention the chaos that will follow in the ruling's wake. The issue reasonably dominated the airwaves today as it no doubt will for quite a while.

I dealt with the issue of abortion in this space after the appointment of Justice Amy Comey Barrett in 2020.

What I found strange about today's Morning Edition page is that you had to dig deep through the lineup of stories they covered today to find anything about the war in Ukraine when just a few days ago, this war all but dominated the airwaves, as well as the print and cyber media.

That discovery left me with even more questions about it than I had just yesterday. One of them is why should I be appalled that we were subject to news about Star Wars and things that go bump in the night in Nebraska rather than the war? The other question is that of all the hideous acts of inhumanity happening all over the world all the time, what exactly is it about Ukraine that seems to touch our hearts so much in the West more than the others?

I can answer the last question, at least for myself in one word: Bucha.

Like Oak Park or Evanston, Illinois, Bucha is, or was, a suburb of a major metropolis (Kyiv). I grew up in Oak Park, Illinois and currently live a couple blocks from Evanston. Up until a couple months ago, the people of Bucha were going about their lives just as we do here, going to work, taking their kids to dance class, walking their dogs, doing the grocery shopping, in short, all the mundane things we do every day and take for granted. 

The tragedy of Bucha has been so widely covered, I don't need to describe the unspeakable barbarism that has taken place in that town since Putin's criminal war started to go bad for the dictator's much over-rated army. In fact, I wouldn't know where to begin or think I could even bring myself to write about it. But in case you need a reminder, here's one.

I look at stories like this, then look at my family and think to myself, that could be us.

Chicago has a large Ukrainian community, even a neighborhood called Ukrainian Village. I have Ukrainian friends and while I've never been to Ukraine, I have been to Russia, three times. My father was Czech and his daughter, my half-sister Eva is currently living amongst Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic. There is quite a bit of familiarity for me with that part of the world. 

For those of us in the West, the tragedy of Ukraine hits home in many ways.

In other words, we can relate.

It grieves me to say that because atrocities like the one that took place in Bucha and the rest of Ukraine are not unique or even rare. Yet we hardly give most of them the time of day because they happen in what for us are remote places that in our minds, see the pain, hardship and suffering of war on a regular basis. And it's that constant reminder of pain and suffering around the world that forces us to take a break from it every once in a while, just as we're apparently doing with Ukraine now.

Perhaps it is right then, to step back from this war if just for a moment, and reflect upon and grieve for the people of Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Sudan, The West Bank and Gaza, and all the other parts of the world too numerous to mention here, that bear witness to war crimes and depravity of all sorts on a daily basis. 

Which brings me to my next question: what inspires soldiers to commit horrendous atrocities against civilian non-combatants including the elderly, small children and their mothers?

Russian soldiers have a long, well-deserved reputation for doing just that. It is speculated that the bad behavior of Russian soldiers throughout the ages stems from historically incompetent and corrupt leadership in their military. It is said that rank and file members of the Russian military are treated like cattle by commanders, little more than cannon fodder. If that is true, and I suspect it is, it stands to reason that if soldiers are treated like animals, they will behave like animals. It's also speculated that the Russian people themselves have for so long been mistreated and abused by their leaders, that an almost pathological acquiescence to authority has become part of the national psyche. The following is from an article on the war crimes committed by the Russians in Ukraine found on a website devoted to the American Military:

The blind obedience of Russians is evident not only in the Russian military but also their population at large. It has been pounded into them since birth, producing a compliant and docile bio-robot that does as ordered, regardless of whether it is immoral or illegal.

Perhaps there might be something to that. 

OK what then explains the My Lai Massacre? I'm old enough to remember the aftermath of the most horrific incident that took place during the Vietnam War that was ever made public.

On March 16, 1968, an American infantry company was led into an assault of a Vietnamese village, Song My, a place suspected of harboring, aiding and abetting enemy combatants (the Viet-Cong). One of the small communities within Song My was a hamlet named My Lai. The order given by commanders was to destroy the village and everything inside it. 

When the American soldiers came upon the hamlet, they found no trace of Viet-Cong fighters, hardly any weapons, nor any men of fighting age, just elderly people, young women and their children. Among the soldiers, there was some disagreement over the interpretation of their orders, but the order was clear as a bell to the lieutenant who led them into the town. He commanded his men to kill everyone in the village. It was no simple execution; many of the victims were raped and tortured before they were killed. The systematic violation and killing of the inhabitants of My Lai went on for several hours; there are even reports that in the middle of it all, the soldiers, members of Charlie Company, took a break for lunch before resuming their orgy of rape, torture and murder.

In case you don't remember My Lai, think I am exaggerating or even relaying fake news, here is an account of the My Lai Massacre from a website devoted to preserving and defending the culture of the United States Army, which pulls no punches in describing the atrocity.

And here is the account of one of the few heroes of My Lai, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson who was piloting a helicopter above the hamlet when he witnessed the slaughter first hand. Thompson landed his craft between living villagers among the corpses of their family members and neighbors in a ditch, and the U.S. servicemen hoping to finish them off. He got out of his craft to tend to the survivors and ordered his men to fire upon their fellow servicemen if they tried to interfere. Thompson, his crew and the crews of a couple other helicopters summoned by Thompson, managed to fly out a handful of survivors of the massacre to safety. 

No one knows exactly how many Vietnamese civilians were raped, tortured and murdered in cold blood by the Americans that day, but estimates range somewhere between 300 and 500, comparable to the number of residents of Bucha raped, tortured and murdered by the Russians.

Officer Thompson immediately reported the actions of his fellow servicemen to his superiors, and they to theirs. Every step of the way up the chain of command, officers, including a 31 year old Major Colin Powell, did everything in their power to whitewash the report. 

It would take the efforts of another helicopter crewman, gunner Ronald Ridenhour who after his tour of duty, began a letter writing campaign to President Nixon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and several U.S. congressmen, detailing the carnage he observed (he was not present at the time of the massacre), and personal interviews he conducted with witnesses and participants in the event. Most of those letters as well proved fruitless. Only three legislators, Mo Udall and Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Edward Brooks of Massachusetts, paid heed to them. 

Udall brought the issue to the attention of the House Armed Services Committee, who passed it on the the Pentagon.

Once the news became public, nearly two years after the event, the Army backpedaled and court-marshaled 14 officers and enlisted men, most of the officers being charged with the coverup. Only one conviction resulted out of all that, Lieutenant William Calley Jr., the officer mentioned above who took the command from his direct superior to mean kill all those present. Calley was sentenced to life in prison but that sentence was reduced after then President Nixon ordered a re-opening of his case. He ended up serving four years of house arrest before being paroled. Calley at this writing is still alive. Despite apologizing and expressing sorrow for the fate of his victims, many of whom he personally killed, to this day he refuses to take full responsibility, claiming he was just following orders. To anyone with a sense of history, those words should send a chill up the spine. 

If Calley is to be believed, who then is responsible? I'm not a veteran, much less a veteran of combat. As disgusted and appalled as I am by all this, I find it difficult to pass judgement on soldier-perpetrators of war crimes. Please hear me out. My question is this: are war criminals average human beings who commit deplorable, evil acts after they themselves have been witness to and victims of the horrors of war, or are they simply deplorable, evil human beings who use war as a pretext to commit those acts? 

I reckon those questions can only be answered by these men themselves and their maker. If they belong to the first group, that is to say, those with consciences, the ones lucky or perhaps, unlucky enough to have survived the war, have to account for their actions as long as they live. For the others well, I suppose they'll just have to hope for the best when they die. 

The real perpetrators of war crimes, are those who wage war in the first place, the proverbial old men who send young men off to kill and die in their wars.

My last question of the day (as you can probably guess, not the same day as the day I started writing this piece), is why do we as a people keep supporting these old men who send our children into war? We know that Vladimir Putin has no time for a free press and has done his utmost to ban all news in the slightest bit critical of him in his country. Instead, the Russian people are treated to a barrage of articles like this one fully expressing the party line titled appropriately enough: "What Should Russia Do With Ukraine?" The article answers that question by urging more of what we saw in Bucha, expanding Putin's brand of terrorism to all parts of Ukraine. If you're interested, here is the article in its original Russian without the extra commentary. 

But is the lack of an objective press an excuse for ignorance?

As I pointed out in my last post, it's impossible to have any idea of how many Russians (if any) truly support Putin's war. I think one might safely assume that a good number of Russians have enough critical judgement to reject articles like this one outright as pure rubbish. One hint is the fact that in an attempt to portray Ukrainians as Nazis, in an article running about 2,500 words, the word "Nazi" appears either alone or embedded in another word 89 times. One could read an entire history of World War II and not encounter the word that many times. Not to mention that the article has a rather suspect interpretation of history that could be refuted by an eight-year old child.

It wouldn't be far-fetched to assume that a good number of Russians do support Putin and his war, despite knowing full well his public explanations for it are unadulterated bullshit. Look at this country. In the November 2020 election, more people cast votes for Donald Trump than for any other candidate in the history of American presidential elections, with the exception of course of Joe Biden that same election. They voted for Trump despite knowing that he pledged during his presidency his unending loyalty and allegiance to Putin and his regime. They did it despite his attempts at extorting Volodymyr Zelenski, threatening the Ukrainian president by tying the sale of much needed arms to Ukraine in exchange for his obtaining dirt on Biden. When he was impeached for that undeniably brazen and illegal act, his supporters claimed it was merely a political "witch hunt" to discredit their man.

Then more than a year after the election, a good number of his supporters still cling to the belief without a single shred of evidence, that Trump actually won the 2020 election. And they continue to support him despite the fact that he tried to overthrow our government by leading an insurrection in a desperate attempt to remain in power.

Unlike Russians, we Americans cannot use the excuse, at least not yet, of not having access to all sides of the story. 

The moral of all this is that people will believe anything they want to believe.

That is the scariest part of all.


Sunday, April 24, 2022

Inconvenient Facts

This is a continuation of my previous post, if you haven't read that yet, you can find it here if you like.

Or if you don't like, I'll sum it up for you.

That post was about a story centered around the American singer Pete Seeger that has been circulating around the web for a bit. The story has Seeger defying the authorities in Francisco Franco's Spain in the early seventies when they demanded he not sing a number of his songs at a concert planned for Barcelona in front of an audience of over 100,000. So he didn't sing any of those songs. Instead he invited the crowd to sing (as the authorities never mentioned anyone else singing them), while he accompanied them on his banjo.  

It would be a terrific story if only it were true. 

I so wanted it to be true that for a while I ignored my original doubts about its credibility, namely that Seeger, a long-time critic of the Franco regime, would have been allowed to perform in a massive venue during the regime in Spain in the first place. But those doubts got the better of me and I found out from reliable sources that could be backed up, that Seeger did perform in Spain during that period, only to much smaller crowds. And not in Barcelona where his performance there, planned for a small college, not a soccer stadium as the story claims, was shut down by the police. 

After the death of Franco and his totalitarian regime, Pete Seeger returned to Barcelona where he did perform in front of many tens of thousands of people. 

And it's very likely that he did at some point in his career, in defiance of some authority or other, invite his audience to sing his banned songs instead of him. 

So the story while itself not true, was woven together with bits of pieces of actual facts. 

Then I summed it all up by saying in the big picture, at this late date it hardly matters. No harm, no foul, the story only contributes to the legend of a remarkable man. 

I ended the post with this bit of a cliff hanger: "on the other hand..." 

END OF SUMMARY,

Here is the other hand:

Our world is coming apart at the seams helped in great part by false narratives, misinformation, and outright lies. The cause of the criminal insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last year was the outright lie of a president who insisted without evidence, that an election was stolen from him. More devastating, Vladimir Putin has the support of much of the Russian people because of the lie he created surrounding his invasion of Ukraine. 

Much like the Pete Seeger story, Putin's lie weaves together disparate facts in order to create a false narrative. Here are some indisputable facts:

  • Ukraine was once part of Russia and later, the Soviet Union.
  • Ukraine has shown great interest in joining the European Union and NATO.
  • There are Russians living in Ukraine.
  • There are Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in Ukraine.
  • The United States supports Ukraine in its current struggle against Russia.

And here is Vladimir Putin's narrative based upon these facts which he is selling quite successfully it would seem, to the Russian people:
  • Ukraine is not a legitimate independent nation with a culture of its own, but a historic, integral part of Russia.
  • As a member of NATO, Ukraine, bordering Russia, would be a threat to the security that country.
  • The minority Russian population living in Ukraine is oppressed by the "so called" Ukrainians.
  • Ukraine is under the rule of Nazis.
  • Since The United States supports the government of Ukraine, it follows that the United States is supporting Nazism.

Therefore, Putin's war, (not "special military operation" as he insists on calling it), according to this reasoning, is not an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, but a mission to first, give back to Russia what is rightfully theirs, second, to remove a direct threat to the national security of Russia, and third, to liberate the oppressed Russians living in Ukraine from U.S. backed Nazis. Depending upon whom Putin is talking to, not necessarily in that order.

If you buy into that argument, you might have a credible case for Russia's grievances, if not the war, and certainly not the barbaric actions of its soldiers that we've seen in the recent weeks. 

However the first two bullet points I listed of Putin's can only be called pure nonsense, I dealt with them in a previous post. And to the best of my knowledge, there is no credible evidence of point number three, that the Russian minority living in Ukraine is in any way oppressed.

Much of the world is scratching its head in incredulousness over point four. 

Volodymyr Zelensky the president of Ukraine is Jewish, therefore how can Ukraine be led be Nazis? 

While also not true, this is where it gets a little tricky.

My guess is that like my original skepticism over the Pete Seeger story, this paradox is not an obstacle so much as a rhetorical speed-bump in the minds of most Russian people. 

I don't think it's too much of a reach to say that if the average non-Jewish Russian today thinks about The Holocaust at all, he or she would put it in context of the Russians' own suffering. In other words, the number of Jews who died during the Holocaust, roughly six million people, is less than one quarter the number of Russians who died during World War II. One may argue that the Russian casualties are not quite the same as they were casualties of war and not the result of a deliberate act of genocide. This is a naive argument. Hitler had a "final solution" in mind for the Slavic people of Eastern Europe as well, he just never had the opportunity to carry it out. 

Small wonder the Russians call World War II, "The Great Patriotic War."

Given that, it should come as no surprise that the accusation of "Nazi", is particularly triggering to the Russian people, just as it is to the Jewish people.

Ukraine's relationship with the Nazis is more complicated. Ukraine which had been under the hegemony of various countries for centuries, became a part of the Soviet Union in 1922. In the thirties, a great famine, known as the Holodomor, spread through the Soviet Union, and Ukraine was hit particularly hard, losing up to five million people due to starvation. To this day there is not a consensus among historians as to whether that disaster was caused by a combination of bad weather and horrendous decision making in regards to food distribution by the higher ups in Moscow, OR a deliberate attempt by Joseph Stalin to eradicate the troublesome Ukrainians. If the latter is true, which it may very well be, then it would be counted as one of the gravest acts of genocide in history.

As some say: "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," so it's probably not surprising that when the Germans marched into Ukraine in 1941, they were met by many of the locals as liberators. 

This from a 1981 New York Times article on the German invasion of the Soviet Union:

Across the years, German soldiers recall those first weeks of the invasion as a halcyon time  ...when villagers in the Ukraine - an intensely nationalist, even separatist, region - came out with bread and salt in the traditional Slavic welcome.

It was on the outskirts of Kyiv days after its capture by the Germans in September of 1941, where one the most horrific single atrocities of the war, (that's really saying something), took place. It is known as the Babi Yar Massacre.

Shortly after the Germans took Kyiv, Soviet secret police bombed several buildings occupied by the Germans in the city. The Nazis used that act as a pretext to slaughter the Jews of Kyiv. The executions took place in a ravine just outside of the city, called Babi Yar. Nearly 34,000 Jews were shot and buried there over a period of two days. Once the Jews of Kyiv were gone, those killing fields continued to be put into service for the disposal of people with mental handicaps, the city's Roma population, Russian prisoners of war, and other human beings the Nazis declared undesirable. After the Russians retook Kyiv from the Nazis, they estimated the total number of people killed at Babi Yar to be 100,000. 

If you can stomach it, here is a detailed account of the massacre of Babi Yar.

To be sure, the massacre was the act of the Nazis, but its horrific efficiency could never have been accomplished without the cooperation of numerous Ukrainian collaborators. The same can be said unfortunately about similar atrocities that took place in other countries occupied by the Nazis.

The most inconvenient truth of all is that hardly any country in the world, including the United States, (who built its own concentration camps to deal with some of its citizens), has clean hands in regards to grievous abuses of human rights committed during those terrible times. 

Much of the three quarters of a century that followed World War II has been devoted to a reckoning of what was done and what was not done during that conflagration, and every nation involved in that struggle has had to come to terms with its own acts of commission, omission, or both. 

Along with the fervent chant of "never again" heard out of the mouths of the civilized world, the term "Nazi" has for good reason, come to symbolize the absolute worst the human race has to offer. 

Some people disagree.

In my life, there have always been Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in the United States. Until recently however, they were considered fringe groups and often the butt of jokes including this one, a clip from the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers

Consequently, most Americans of that particular mindset, kept it to themselves, lest they be the subject of derision and worse, ridicule.

But the last administration declared open season on the public display of hatred and racism, and since then a significant number of individuals came out of the woodwork to publicly proclaim their devotion to Adolph Hitler and his degenerate cause. Symbols of hate groups such as the Nazis and the KKK began to pop up regularly in the United States, and people were no longer laughing. 

The Ukrainians have not been laughing at neo-Nazis for much longer. The ultra-nationalist, populist right wing party Svoboda (Their official name in Ukrainian: Всеукраїнське об'єднання «Свобода») was founded in 1995, not long after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They are against immigration, free trade, globalism, and a slew of other issues close to the hearts right wing extremists across the globe. Recruitment of skin heads and their use of Nazi iconography early in the group's history led many to rationally surmise that the party was neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic to the core. Although of late there have been attempts to soften the group around the edges by kicking out avowed Nazis, Svoboda (which means "freedom" in most Slavic languages) still espouses extremist right wing-nationalist views.

As does the Azov Battalion which to this day does little to hide its ideology, including their official symbol which bears an unmistakable resemblance to that of the Waffen SS. The ultra-nationalist Azovs came to the forefront in 2014, the beginning of the current hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, fighting against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine. The group has been financed in part by Ukrainian oligarchs, including some of Jewish descent. As quite the effective fighting force, the Azov brigade has been controversially integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard. 

Until Putin's most recent invasion, Svoboda, the Azov Battalion and other groups of a similar mindset, had been most conspicuous during the celebrations of the birthday of Stepan Bandera, one of the most controversial figures in Ukrainian history. Bandera was a staunch nationalist and leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a terrorist group that collaborated with the Germans against the Soviets at the outset of the Nazi occupation of the USSR. In addition to being sympathetic to the German invasion as a means to liberate Ukraine from the Soviet Union, the OUN under Bandera's influence also shared the Nazis' views on the Jewish people as the prime instigators of Bolshevism, and were active participants in the persecution and murder of the Jews of Western Ukraine. 

The group hoped to set up a German-friendly, independent Ukrainian state with Bandera as its leader, something along the lines of the Vichy government of France. But the Germans had no interest in an independent Ukraine and when the OUN's usefulness waned after the Jews had been wiped out, they arrested Bandera, sending him for a brief time to a concentration camp, only to release him in 1944, hoping that by doing so they could again garner support from the Ukrainians as they were retreating from their massive defeat at the hands of the Soviets.

Bandera survived the War and settled in Munich where he continued his work against the Soviet regime including working for a time with British intelligence. He was assassinated by the Soviets in 1959.

In Ukraine, Bandera in some circles is celebrated as a great patriot and national hero, while in others, denounced as a fascist war criminal. The parades that celebrate his birthday where celebrants display their full regalia of Nazi inspired paraphernalia, have been condemned the world over, as well as by President Zelensky.

They also provide fodder for Putin and pro-Putin commentators, including those on the extreme American right, to prove the influence of Nazis in Ukraine.

Another inconvenient fact, while ultra-right-white supremacist groups represent the views of a small portion of the Ukrainian population, they are nonetheless on the front lines, currently fighting to save their country along-side their countrymen who find their views repugnant.

So why would President Zelensky condone the presence of these groups in positions of power in his country?

Well think of it this way, if your house was on fire, would you weed out firemen who arrive at your doorstep based upon their political ideology?

Putting it another way, virulent ultra-nationalists who are willing to kick ass and even die for their cause are kind of good to have around when your country is being ruthlessly attacked. Perhaps in the future when the war is over, everybody can get together and work out their differences, or not. But in Ukraine, there may be no such future. There is only the present.

If it weren't all so tragic, it would be laughable that Putin and people like his valuable American mouthpiece Tucker Carlson are denouncing neo-Nazis in Ukraine while Putin's army is currently committing acts of depravity against Ukrainian civilians that would make real Nazis quake in their boots.

But the tragedy of Putin's criminal war doesn't stop at the Russian-Ukrainian border. Look at this photograph:


Leonid Savin with his family. Photo provided to the New York Times by his brother.

Countless photos like this exist everywhere in the world, documenting a family sending one of their own into military service and an uncertain fate. As such these families are filled with pride that their loved one will be bravely serving their country, yet trepidation that they may never see him or her again. You can see all those emotions in the faces of Leonid Savin and his family in the picture. This particular family probably had less trepidation than most as their son and brother who was conscripted into service, was to serve on the biggest, baddest ship afloat in the Russian Navy, its flagship, the invincible missile cruiser Moscow, or if you prefer, Москва, (Moscva).

If you remember, the Moscow was involved in one of the first salvos of the war. On the first day of the invasion, February 24, the Moscow and a patrol boat attacked Ukrainian territory, tiny Snake Island on the Black Sea, population 30, protected by 13 border guards.

Russian sailors aboard the Moscow radioed the guards demanding they surrender in return for their safety. 

Silence.

Again, from the Moscow in what sounds like a quite literal translation:
Snake Island, I, Russian warship, repeat offer: put down your arms and surrender, or you will be bombed. Have you understood me? Do you copy?
To which the response, in a more liberal translation was:
Russian warship, go fuck yourself!
True to their word the Moscow opened fire on the island. It was originally reported that the guards were all killed in the strike, but it has since been revealed that they survived the attack, (putting to rest more misinformation), captured, then later returned in a prisoner exchange. 

But the phrase, "Russian warship, go fuck yourself", has become the mantra and rallying cry for the Ukrainian people in their time of anguish.* Ukraine even issued a postage stamp with the image of the Moscow at sea in the background, while in the foreground, a solitary soldier gives the ship the one finger salute.

Another bit of joyous news to everyone who like me is on the side of Ukraine in this most stupid of wars: today, the mighty Moscow, pride of the Russian Navy, sits at the bottom of the Black Sea, most likely the victim of a Ukrainian missile attack. 

On the flip side, and there is always a flip side in war, Leonid Savin and an unknown number of his crewmates went down with that ill-fated ship.

The Kremlin reported that the entire crew of the Moscow successfully abandoned ship before it sank. But families of the crew, desperately awaiting news of the fate of their loved ones, were given conflicting information. According to the New York Times article I linked to above, in the case of Savin's family, a crewmate originally contacted Leonid's mother and told her that he saw her son perish as he was helping another crewmate escape the flames. The same crewmate later changed his story and said Leonid was caught in an explosion. A third communication came from the sailor who, said, never mind, no one knows what happened to Leonid, he's just missing. 

Like all pathological liars, Vladimir Putin instinctively lies, even when it is not necessary and does not serve his purposes. The official Kremlin explanation for the loss of the Moscow was that a fire aboard the ship ignited an ammunition magazine, setting off several explosions. They denied that the ship was hit by Ukrainian missiles, a vastly more likely scenario. Now I suppose admitting a successful enemy missile strike would expose a vulnerability in the Russian Navy's defense capabilities. But claiming the catastrophe was self-induced, exposes a much more serious vulnerability, gross incompetence and negligence on the part of their commanders, and a grave failure of the fundamental operational and architectural design of their fleet.

We've been told the reason why so many Russian people are behind this war is because they have been force-fed misinformation, false narratives, and outright lies coming out of the Kremlin, while having all news from outside sources blocked from them. The truth is there's no way of knowing how many Russians support the war or indeed if any of them do. Imagine living in a country where you can be sent to prison by simply suggesting that Mr. Putin's "special operation" is a war. Then you get a call out of the blue from a stranger who says he's "conducting a poll" on people's opinion of the situation in Ukraine. Need I say more?

The Russian people are nothing if not suspicious, skeptical and cynical by circumstance, and given that many Russians are publicly livid, demanding revenge on Ukraine for sinking their battleship, it's pretty clear they're not buying all of Putin's lies, just the ones they choose to believe.

Meanwhile the families of the crew of the Moscow are still looking for answers as are the families of the estimated 40,000, (40,000!) Russian service members who have been killed, injured, captured or are MIA in Putin's latest war. 

Every one of those casualties of course has a story to tell like Leonid Savin, who for his part didn't believe in this war and in his last letter to his family, expressed deep concern for the palm tree he planted in his family's garden before setting off on his final journey. 

Those soldiers, sailors and their families deserve a full account of what happened to them and why. Obviously, so too do the people of Ukraine whose country has been raped, pillaged and plundered by Russia under Putin. But Putin has neither the will, the balls, nor the decency to be accountable to his own people, not even to those whose loved ones gave up their lives in his name, let alone to the people of Ukraine. 

Which makes me grateful to live in a society where our leaders are held accountable for their actions, at the very least every four years at the ballot box. 

As Winston Churchill said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others." We may or may not be willing to fight and die for our democracy, but if we care about it, the least we can do is completely reject misinformation, false narratives and lies, even, check that, especially the ones that appeal to us, as they are the enemy of democracy.

Furthermore we must do our utmost to stick to reason, good judgement, critical thinking and especially facts, even if they happen to be inconvenient ones, as they are the mortal enemy of so called "strongman" dictators like Putin and all those who want to be like him.

Most likely, accountability for Vladimir Putin won't come until the day someone, perhaps he himself, puts a bullet through his head. 

Our system is better. 

Sorry to be so blunt. 

But goddamnit, Leonid Savin was only twenty years old, a year younger than my son whose face I see every time I look at that picture of the young sailor. 

So yeah, it's kind of personal.

 

* After publishing this I learned that the phrase "Russian Warship, go fuck yourself" has been adopted by Russians as well. I learned this from the latest episode of the NPR program "This American Life", created, produced and hosted by Ira Glass. You can listen to the episode here.  The portion in question is "Act Three: Alyona and Oleg" but I highly recommend listening to the whole episode.