Boot Camp Insults My Intelligence

I recently had the opportunity to visit an old friend at the military base where he’s stationed.  Since I’m somewhat above the maximum weight limit to join the forces, no recruitment attempts were made in spite of my unemployed status.

Realistically, I would have declined if I had been asked.  The odds of me making it through boot camp are exactly zero.  Come to think of it, the odds of me making it through any remedial physical fitness training before boot camp are also zero.

And even if I made it through, I’m rather clumsy.  I’m the guy who would slip on a rock and accidentally drop his gun, which in turn would fire while conveniently pointed at someone else’s head.

Putting me in the military would be a horrible idea.

Almost.

You see, this is what most people imagine when they think of military training and work:

I bet he's running after ISIS.  (Photo is in public domain.)

I bet he’s running after ISIS. (Photo is in public domain.)

And this is what I see a lot of on base every time I go:

Okay, maybe I didn't see Slovenian soldiers.  But the guy is sitting on his butt doing work.  Close enough.  (Photo credit: Carol A Lehman)

Okay, maybe I don’t see Slovenian soldiers. But the guy is sitting on his butt doing work. Close enough. (Photo credit: Carol A Lehman)

Now, I’m not stupid.  I understand that the military occasionally needs soldiers to do physically grueling work in combat zones and those soldiers need appropriate training to do that work.  However, do soldiers really need any remote level of physical fitness to fire missiles from drones while sitting at a distant computer center?

When gays were banned from the military, Americans often heard complaints of critical skills being excluded from the force because their owners had a certain taste in sex.  Even though sex was irrelevant to the job.  And now, people are being excluded from the force because they have a certain taste in food even though the resulting girth would no longer hinder many soldiers from doing their jobs properly.

The U.S. military is outdated.  Fat people skills are state of the art; moreover, diversity in body type ought to be celebrated for the unique contributions each body is able to make.

Just make sure that larger soldiers aren’t put on the front lines.  We would make easy targets…

Gun Owners Insult My Intelligence

Has anyone else noticed that there’s too much gun violence in the United States?

No?

Okay, you’ll have to trust me on this one.  We have this Second Amendment thing here that gives us the right to own weapons.  Lots of weapons.  Big weapons.  Shiny weapons.  Deadly and fun weapons.

We start at a young age here.  (Photo credit: sirfoxyprincess)

We start at a young age here. (Photo credit: sirfoxyprincess)

I like the Second Amendment.

Guns have been shown to deter crime when they’re not aiding crime.  If only there were a way to get the deterrent effect without all those pesky negatives.

With that in mind, I’d like to make a proposal.  The problem with gun owners is that they’re often the people who think guns are cool; that means they’d have relatively little aversion to firing one.  We should mandate that guns be given to the people who are least likely to shoot them and most likely to exercise good judgment by storing them in an appropriate gun safe.

Let’s start by arming all Catholic priests.  Everyone knows that no priest would ever harm an innocent person.  Moreover, the Church has demonstrated its willingness and ability to police wrongdoing when its members don’t meet the highest of moral standards.

After all, the clergy loves holy things, not holey things.

We all know what Jesus would do.  (Photo credit: RIOT Devon England)

We all know what Jesus would do. (Photo credit: RIOT Devon England)

New Yorker Politics Insult My Intelligence

Throughout Germany, you’ll find a chain of clothing store called “New Yorker.”  It vaguely reminds me of Abercrombie without the sex and expensive merchandise.

On second, thought, maybe it’s not so similar to Abercrombie…

Doesn't that make you want to walk in and spend all your money?  (Photo credit: halleliebe)

Doesn’t that make you want to walk in and spend all your money? (Photo credit: halleliebe)

Once upon a time, someone over there concluded that “New Yorker” would work as a store name, at least from a marketing perspective.  We have brands with “New York” in the name here in the U.S. so it’s not unique to Germany.  However, New York seems to imply coolness over there when you’re talking about superficial things like clothes.

And New York is cool.  Unless you’re a Boston fan…

And then there are the images of New York that foreign countries see and they assume that all Americans live in New York… except for Barack Obama who obviously lives in Washington and a little girl named Dorothy who hails from the mythical land of Kansas.  New York isn’t particularly associated with anything cultural in this view, so you get a blending of stereotypes:

We all live in New York and wear cowboy hats and carry guns and lassos.  Okay, maybe we’re not portrayed with lassos.  The German media doesn’t inform its people THAT poorly.

So let’s have ourselves an information party.

Images emerge from individual parts of our very large country and they usually don’t represent much beyond a segment of that location’s population.  (Hint: most Texans don’t wear cowboy hats.  Most New Yorkers don’t work on Wall street.   Most Americans don’t eat at McDonald’s unless a need arises, or uprises in the case of obnoxious children.)

But I’m tired of griping about stereotypes.

Instead, I’d like to talk about one small-scale case that does reflect on the U.S. as a whole.  Recently in Virginia, one of our country’s most highly ranking congressmen was defeated in an election that was only open to a small geographic area; he even lost to an underfunded member of his own party.

Some call it a problem with the system.  I call it useful, even though I’m not fond of the political movement that ousted him.  Right now we have a large-ish and staunchly anti-government group called the Tea Party.  (To my non-U.S. readers: the Tea Party is not a political party.  They are among the most conservative people in the Republican Party and their name is a reference to the 1774 Boston Tea Party.)

I’m not going to debate whether the Tea Party has screwed things up on various issues because I prefer to remain nonpartisan around here.  However, its ability to influence events points to something positive.  In most countries, such a sizable anti-government movement could threaten political stability.  Instead, our dissenters run for Congress and they can win whether the national party likes it or not.

The reasonable expectation of being able to wield influence and enact change outweighs any disagreements one might have with one’s current political leaders. And, despite claims to the contrary, we are still free to openly disagree.

Blogger’s note: This post was inspired by KleesButterfly’s excellent take on how Germans are misrepresented. I decided to do an American version today because of the upcoming festivities.  (Plus, I usually do European travel photos on Fridays.)  To my U.S. readers: have a most excellent 4th of July.  Don’t forget that the day is about more than flags and fireworks.  Since it’s an election year, take the opportunity to refresh your memory on how the system works around here… and do it before you start guzzling all that beer.

 

Professional Athletics Insult My Intelligence

Stadium crowd performing "the wave" ...

Okay, I cheated.  This stadium isn’t in the U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a pet peeve about sports that I’d like to share with you: idiots who care about the “home team.”

Once upon a time we were all in high school, or most of us were anyway.  As you may remember, a big deal was made of the football team and other athletic successes.  It made sense in high school because  our classmates and friends were competing under our school’s banner and you could get behind your friends even if your school spirit was lacking.  Sure, it was obnoxious when non-athlete classmates would cry “we beat Smith High School” as though they had partaken in the victory, but sports were a reasonably wholesome diversion for the community, or at least the part of the community that didn’t get drunk or pleasured behind the stadium, or those who didn’t die from heat stroke, or get coronary disease from the stadium food, or meet other undesirable ends.

And then many of us went on to college and the athletics got bigger.  Unless you went to a small college, you probably never met any of the players.  At my college, they even lived in a separate dorm, although I did observe the occasional player or two in the dining hall for us plebes.  I suppose, then, that the players were at least nominally of the community.  But as we all know, college sports improves school spirit and increased school spirit translates into alumni donations.  A visible and visibly successful sports team also increases applications for admission (which helps in the almighty US News rankings) the way advertisements do; if high school kids have heard of a school, they’ll view it more favorably.  Nevertheless, it’s no harm no foul here because no one is getting swindled… with the probable exception of those athletes whose dreams of stardom are being taken advantage of for the college’s gain.

Unfortunately, these school programs prepare their graduates to be fleeced later on.

English: Anaheim Angels vs Boston Red Sox at A...

Okay, this one is geographically correct. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that finally brings me to professional athletics.  Most players do not hail from the city they play for and they rotate from team to team as trades and free agency arise.  To say that the average baseball player is our friend or neighbor is more than a little stretch.  Suffice it to say that there is nothing inherently Boston about the Red Sox except the franchise name, and the same goes for all other teams.   Nevertheless, the sports business has convinced the public at large that such a connection exists, which gets people excited about “their” team.  They then become willing to pay for tickets and t-shirts and all sorts of other expensive paraphernalia.   In theory, that’s not a bad thing.

In practice, it means the rest of us end up having to fund, with our tax dollars, increasingly more advanced stadiums because the sports businesses threaten to move away otherwise.  What other business can get away with demanding substantial government subsidies like that without the public becoming enraged about it?

I know the sports franchises often claim that athletics attract customers for other local businesses.  Just a thought: if we took all that money that would be spent on a new stadium and applied it to something that would benefit local businesses more directly, I’m sure we’d get more bang for our bucks.

Obamacare Insults the Unemployed’s Intelligence

ORBIS flying eye hospital - recovery room

These tubes are somewhat more straightforward than Obamacare.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that I’m unemployed and single.  Being unemployed, young(ish), and without health insurance, you might think I’m thrilled about the implementation of Obama’s health care scheme.

I am not.

The legislation was sold as something that would extend health coverage to people who don’t have it, as a warm and fuzzy legislative accomplishment that would ensure basic services for everyone.  And so I thought to myself that I’d visit the website to see what I’d have to pay.  I may not have an income, but I was always pretty frugal and parting with a few saved dollars to get insured might not be a bad idea.  Emphasis belongs on the word “few” because few is a euphemistic term for how many dollars I have.

Fortunately, the website links to a rate estimator (“subsidy calculator”) that asks for some basic information (age, income, number of dependents, etc.)  and spits out some numbers.  As it turns out, my income isn’t high enough to qualify for low-income assistance (Medicaid).   The webpage explaining options for the unemployed offers up this little gem on other reduced rate possibilities:

You may qualify for lower costs for monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs on private insurance based on your household size and income. Some people with very low incomes may wind up paying very small premiums. You can apply for Marketplace insurance now. Coverage can begin as soon as January 1, 2014.

You can click on that link in the quote if you like; it provides no new information.  And I’m hardly surprised.  The quote admits that “some” low-income people “may” pay very small premiums.  Nothing concrete is promised, and that doesn’t match Obama’s lofty political rhetoric.

So let’s assume I’d have to pay full price.  For the least expensive option, I’d be spending over $2,500 per year.  As you might imagine, this is why I don’t presently have health insurance.

But fear not!  I have discovered the silver lining.  Although Obamacare assesses a penalty to people who don’t enroll in health insurance, the website explains what I can do if I can’t afford the premiums:

If you feel that any Marketplace coverage is unaffordable and you don’t qualify for other exemptions, you can apply for a hardship exemption. If you get an exemption, you don’t have to pay the fee paid by other people who do not have health insurance. Read more about exemptions.

So, for an unemployed person like me, Obamacare expands my health care options by allowing me to apply for exemption from a fee that wasn’t previously required.  Brilliant!

Incidentally, the non-enrollment penalty is “sometimes” called the “individual responsibility provision,”  which accurately describes things.   The mandate to enroll is what Tea Party (radical conservative faction, for my non-U.S. readers) have opposed most vociferously.  However, the requirement was originally a conservative invention in the early 1990’s that was devised as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s proposals for reform.  Back then, conservatives were selling the mandate as a way to make sure people who could afford it were paying into the system.  After all, hospitals don’t turn away people without insurance or cash; insurance holders end up eating the costs for their uninsured neighbors through higher premiums.  The conservatives didn’t make any attempt to sell this provision as “universal healthcare” and I laud them for their honesty and their recognition that people who can afford it ought to be contributing.

As for me, I look at Obamacare and see a massively expensive government program that in no way accomplishes anything it was promised to do in a country that is too far in debt to afford much of anything.  Low-income assistance (Medicaid) already existed.

Shutting down the government and risking a debt default were rotten tactics, but now I understand the Tea Party’s continued opposition to Obamacare.  I only wish someone on the liberal side would stand up and proclaim some objections that are more damning than what the Tea Party puts forth.  In the meantime, I’ll have to grudgingly respect the Tea Party for having the sense to oppose this law… even if the ideological reasons they offer don’t resonate with me.

Negotiations Insult My Intelligence

English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I have a lot of non-U.S. readers, I should start by explaining that our government has shut down all so-called “nonessential” functions.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t include the usual bloviating by our elected officials.

Here’s what happened.  One of our major political parties professes a desire to reduce the size of government and a segment of that party has gone radical.  (I believe the segment is supported by over a fifth of voters, so it’s not insignificant.)  They express the desire to prevent Obama’s not-so-popular health care law from going into effect because they believe it represents government overreach.  The health care law wasn’t popular when it passed and Obama and Biden still have to sing its praises because the population as a whole never warmed up to it.  The radicalized politicians are refusing to allow the government to continue spending money until an agreement is reached to void or postpone the health care law.  Because the Republican Party (not Obama’s party) controls the House of Representatives, they have this power as long as the party leadership goes along with it.  On the other hand, Obama is calling this an ideological crusade and claims that they are trying to reverse the voters’ verdict in the last election.

In short, no compromise happened by the mandated funding deadline and the government shut down.  I do not wish to blame either side for this.  Instead, I want to look at how idiotic the concept of negotiations is.  Right now, one side crusades for reducing government spending and eliminating programs.  As long as no political backlash erupts against the Republicans exclusively, we will be living in the radicals’ paradise.  With a government shutdown, these advocates have almost everything they want and more than they could have ever dreamed of getting through the regular legislative process.  Of course the radicals won’t compromise.  Would you give up your paradise for the opportunity to make even more concessions?

It’s also no accident that the Republicans have floated mini spending bills for national parks and other things people are complaining about not having.  If those bills were enacted, the shutdown could continue indefinitely or at least until the next elections.  Since the public isn’t blaming either party for the shutdown, the specter of future elections can’t deter anything.

Politicians are usually morons, but I have to admit that the Republicans have performed a brilliant end run around the legislative process.  Almost every government program the Republicans oppose has died, at least temporarily.  The focus on Obama’s health care plan only disguises this.

Chemical Weapons Insult My Intelligence

English: Two Muslim women in colourful s (the ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I missed last week’s Weekly Writing Challenge so I suppose I should participate in this week’s.  Fortunately, the topic treats a critical issue of national importance: Miley Cyrus’ twerking debacle.  In the United States, we constantly hear of the value of leveraging our diversity to meet the day’s challenges.  And as it turns out, twerking originates from African American cultures, defined broadly.

It looks like we have some diversity to leverage.

I do not wish to delve into whether yet another overrated “entertainer” has crossed the bounds of decency.  I care about the contributions she can make to her country.  As we sit here debating her sexualized gestures, a much more important debate is taking place over military action in Syria.  We should all find this juxtaposition breathtaking; moreover, an obvious solution to both problems emerges if we just take a moment to think about it.

I suggest that we send Ms. Cyrus to Syria to perform in lieu of military airstrikes.  Let her keep the scant costuming and all the hip movements she wants.  Syria, being a Muslim country, is much less tolerant of such behavior by women than we are; her presence there should sufficiently punish the guilty parties.  I also suspect that the inevitable fear of an encore performance would prevent any further use of chemical weapons.

And for those of us who are sick of hearing about Miley Cyrus, this solution presents an added bonus.  Sending her to a hotspot of international conflict would ensure that we’d never have to hear about her again.  After all, the media usually avoids reporting on anything of real significance.

American Bread Insults My Intelligence

Russian black bread

(Photo credit: BryanAlexander)

I’m one of those types who rarely eats in chain restaurants and can cook for myself instead of eating a lot of prepackaged meals.  On a typical day, you might find my food snobbery obnoxious.

Today, I’m going to change course and recommend a thoroughly unfresh packaged food to my American readers: bread.  Although one can occasionally find good fresh bread in this country, the offerings are few and far between.  You may not know this, but the flour used in much of our bread is heavily processed and, as a result, the product turns out insubstantial and probably a lot less healthy.

Bread should be like a brick or thereabouts.  Think of bagels, naan, and pita bread.  These pack a lot more density than the standard loaves we normally find.  So when I have the opportunity, I like to buy a packaged eastern European bread that’s heavier than overcooked meatloaf and it’s shipped in from over 1000 miles away.  And I take it home and put it in the refrigerator where it lasts a while… even without all the preservatives in the standard grocery store fare.

I’m sure a refrigerated brick must sound really tasty to you.  Thing is, the toaster revives it.  It doesn’t come out tough either.  (My teeth are all still in place.)

This must be why so few Americans can tolerate whole wheat bread and other healthy options.  The substance (especially the flavor) has all been processed away.  And it’s not just dark bread that’s damaged over here; I get a great loaf of French bread from my local farmer’s market that in no way resembles what you would recognize as “French bread.”  It’s also less expensive than what the grocery store sells.

So do yourself a favor and expand your bread horizons.  Your tongue and colon will be glad you did.  And if you don’t want to be too health conscious, try some fatty cold cuts on it.   The toasted bread melts a lot of the fat and the result is unbelievable.  I’m not adventurous (or brazen) enough to try lardo (which is almost entirely fat), but a good pancetta, Polish bacon, or Russian ham works great.

Disclaimer: the blogger is not responsible for any heart attacks resulting from following this culinary advice.  However, he will take credit for your improved digestive health.  You’re welcome.

Self-Proclaimed Intellectuals Insult My Intelligence

I took German in college and one of the first readings in the intermediate course was called “A Table is a Table.”  In the story, an old man becomes bored with his surroundings and renames everything in his house.  Some amount of logic drives this; the names for everything are random conventions and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be called something else.

Deutsch: Rose mit Rauhreif / Eiskristallen

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But this isn’t a story about a rose by any other name.  By the end of the tale, the old man has become unable to communicate with anyone because no one shares his vocabulary.  The title serves as a warning: a table is a table.  Although the name “table” is random, the standardization works best.

I’m not opposing change per se, but I do see this pattern in the academic humanities of the past decade or more.  For instance, an “intellectual” is defined as someone who holds a particular set of political and social beliefs, regardless of whether the methods of acquiring those beliefs would legitimately be described as “intellectual.”  One sees this in politics as well; it’s convenient for some activists to conflate homophobia and religious views on sexuality as a way of winning sympathy.  The activists redefined “identity” as being the person and the sexual behavior, meaning that opposition to the sexual behavior is opposition to a person’s identity.  By that logic, the activist claims that the religious person’s call to “hate the sin but love the sinner” is disingenuous.  This causes conflict where none should exist.  (To be fair, there are quite a few religious folks who forget the love part of that statement.  That must be why Pope Francis’ comments are on the topic were so controversial.)

This points to a greater problem: the larger inability of the two sides to dialogue.  No shared vocabulary means no common ground.

A globe (Globus)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that brings me to high school English classes in the U.S.  Specifically, world literature classes.  At many schools, “world literature” emphasizes works by Americans and Brits, plus a couple of continental Europeans (usually ancient Greeks) and usually topped off by Chinua Achebe and perhaps Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

Is part of the world missing here?

Of course it is, unless I add Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.  But then again, Hesse was German/Swiss and only wrote about an Asian topic; that means I can’t count him as the token Asian.

So the world is now defined as white people and people who criticize white people.  (Remember, Hispanics are technically Caucasian.)   Does anyone else see a problem here?

The people who recognize the problem often prescribe a curriculum that replicates their opposition’s shortcomings.  The newly added texts add to the criticism of white people by others while eliminating “dead white males.”  If a text doesn’t follow the political ideals behind this curriculum, it is unacceptable because it reinforces current power structures.  Or something like that.

In the end, both sides have redefined “world” and have no common ground.  Unfortunately, they also can’t talk with the rest of the world  because no one seems to want to teach authentic foreign cultural traditions.  That’s too “subversive” for both sides.

To my non-U.S. readers: If you want to know why so few native-born Americans know anything about you, it’s because 49% define “world” as “Western world” while another 49% only define you as intellectual when you’re criticizing the Western world.  You are no longer a table.

This was my two percent’s worth.

Historical Illiteracy Insults My Intelligence

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language evolves.  For instance, the word “conversation” used to have a sexual connotation while “intercourse” meant something more like conversation.  Let’s be glad the censors aren’t industrious enough to try banning older books with “intercourse” in them.

Unfortunately, the public doesn’t understand how language changes.  Meanings sometimes shift over time; occasionally, such developments happen suddenly.

Soon after September 11, 2001, Americans came to associate the term “ground zero” with the World Trade Center site.  If you say ground zero to almost any American, that’s all that will come to their mind.  The earlier definition was erased: the spot where an atomic or nuclear weapon hits the earth.

But the greatest travesty emerges when the public, in effect, censors old works because they use the term “ground zero” in an “inappropriate” way.  Entire works of art and other cultural products become nothing more than incomprehensible anachronisms as a couple of historical chapters are forgotten.  I’m sure quite a few Japanese (should) take issue with this revision of history and public memory, as should anyone who ever had to “duck and cover.”

But I’m not here to write about Hiroshima and Nagasaki…

I bring you a song from 1986 that was commonly played at Christmastime until “ground zero” took on its new meaning.  Now we don’t hear the song as much.  You’d think that people could tell from the context that the song isn’t about the 9-11 attack site.

On the other hand, I once knew a guy who thought the song “Jesus He Knows Me” by Genesis was a great religious tune because it featured the word “Jesus.”  So one probably can’t realistically expect people to pay attention to anything more than a keyword or two.

Anyway, the video is below.  Since stores will be putting up their Christmas decorations in a few weeks, let’s have some Cold War holiday fun.

The American Music Industry Insults My Intelligence

Das letzte Einhorn, In Extremo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d like to introduce one of my favorite European bands: In Extremo.  They originate from Germany but they’ve toured in Mexico and probably some other places.  As far as I know, they have never made it to the United States.  Their exclusion from our market reveals much about consumer preferences in this country while enlightening us on what risks the music industry will take.  Let’s have a closer look.

1-  In Extremo has recorded songs in German, Spanish, French, Hebrew, Icelandic, and a host of dead languages… but not in English.  And unlike some other performers, they don’t offer translated versions of their hit songs.  Unless they decide to cover the Macarena or Du Hast, they have no chance here until they jump on the English bandwagon.

2- They released a CD called “Unbridled Sinners” (Suender ohne Zuegel) and that’s totally unacceptable to Americans’ religious sensibilities.  That must be why those devoutly Catholic Mexicans welcomed the band into their country.  Oh, wait, that album title came from the lyrics to a song and those lyrics were “I was searching for people like myself but all I found were unbridled sinners.”  So they’re implicitly criticizing less savory types who love metal (yes, this is a metal band) while still marketing the product to this demographic.

3- On the subject of darker types, metal in Germany is sometimes associated with certain extremist tendencies… which isn’t fair in most cases.  And then In Extremo has the medieval and occult-ish aesthetics that the Nazis also liked, plus the overly masculinized musicians.   That’s why In Extremo has to be kept out of the U.S.  That’s also why Rammstein could create a music video using clips from an old Nazi movie and still be imported into the U.S. market.

4- Americans don’t mind overly masculinized musicians, but the musicians have to play the part.  In Extremo’s lead singer goes by “The Last Unicorn” and that name isn’t particularly manly.  The original German name isn’t much better because “Einhorn” already exists in the American cultural vocabulary.  (In case you’re too young to remember, the first Jim Carrey “Ace Ventura” movie featured a crossdressing villain named Einhorn.)  Oh, and a few band members sometimes wear kilts… and that obviously makes them look like a bunch of neo-Nazis.  And then one guy plays the harp in a few songs.

5- The band’s traditional symbol is too violent for American tastes.  They use a gallows, kind of like the one you drew as a kid while playing Hangman.  I suppose crucifixes are also kind of violent, though.

6- In Extremo signed with one of the major American music labels and rebranded themselves by dropping all of their old costumes and symbols; the resulting CD also lacked flavor and didn’t earn great reviews.  A bonus CD included some of their older music performed in their new style and it disappointed.  And they adopted aviator jackets… which somehow reminded me of the giant bandages the lead singer needed after being injured by the pyrotechnics during their previous tour.  The nostalgic looking biplane on the CD cover didn’t help their image either.  Very medieval.  I suppose making it big can ruin a band.

7- I’ve told you that this metal band sometimes uses a harp.  So as you can probably guess, In Extremo’s choice of instruments lands them well outside of the U.S. mainstream.  Americans expect guitar riffs and more guitar riffs.  And three chords maximum.  I can’t list all of the instruments these guys play, but they do have one signature instrument that constantly appears in their music.  It will convince you that these guys are a bunch of neo-Nazis.

So, without further ado, I present a video clip from an In Extremo concert.  They will be performing a song from “Unbridled Sinners” called “Omnia Sol Temperat.”  It’s a cover of the Carl Orff composition that’s based on the thirteenth century poem from the Carmina Burana.

Classical music was meant to be played with an electric guitar and in the original Latin.

The Public Debate Insults My Intelligence

Lecturn view

(Photo credit: David Michael Morris)

On one of my recent posts, the blogger Rockettattoo commented on an acquaintance who goes overboard on the gun rhetoric.   I decided at the time that I wanted to follow up on a related topic and yesterday’s Trayvon Martin verdict added an extra layer to my thoughts.

If you’ve never read anything on my blog before, you need to know that I don’t like to blather on about controversial issues.  I’m not going to do so now, either.  Instead,  I’d like to rewind to the Giffords and Newtown shootings to find some useful lessons for today.

More specifically, I’d like to focus on the events’ aftermaths.  After the two shootings, we witnessed a popular sport in American politics on both sides of the aisle: using new events as evidence for preexisting beliefs without providing sufficient support for the asserted logical connection.  People who support gun control trotted out the former congresswoman and the murdered children’s parents as nothing more than images to sway our opinion.  Think “emotional blackmail.”  The message was “A shooting happened; therefore, we must restrict legal gun use to make this stop.”  And on the NRA (and allies’) side, the message was “A shooting happened; therefore, we must increase access and/or ownership of guns to make this stop.”  And sometimes, they trotted out the Constitution in a way that reeked of emotional blackmail directed at the patriotic.  (I didn’t smell much in-depth discussion of the Second Amendment’s original intent.)  Like Giffords and the grieving families, the Constitution became a convenient and powerful image that activists mobilized superficially.

Neither side was arguing for any compelling idea and neither side endorsed anything they wouldn’t have supported if these tragedies hadn’t happened.  If the debate were online, we’d probably claim that both sides were trolling.

And if politicians were comedians, we’d refer to these exhortations as tired one-liners.  Unfortunately, the intellectual and rhetorical laziness isn’t funny.  These sound bites devour the mental capacity of people who already demand lightweight political fare, further constricting their ability to exercise responsible citizenship.

With apologies (sort of) to Julien Benda, we are left with a politics of what is possible, not a politics of what will work.  Both sides of the gun control debate would be correct to argue that their solutions might prevent future tragedies.  Shooting everyone up with a large dose of Valium each day might do it too, and so might daily opera classes.  In theory, almost anything might solve the problem.

But there’s no longer any reason given to ask “why not?”  for any given proposal.  Each sides gives us something that might work and, in the absence of serious debate, no side has any reason to be converted to a different view.  And so we are left with gridlock and ineffective laws.

And back to Trayvon Martin.  By now, some people are arguing that the case proves the inability of Black men to get justice in the United States, or at least in Florida.  Others are taking the opportunity to complain about Stand Your Ground laws.  In most cases, the people making these claims already believed the social and legal diagnoses they proffer.  The Martin case only gave them an opportunity to speak.

Similarly, others saw a man being accused of racially motivated murder and listened to activists raising their voices against hate crimes.  Some will use yesterday’s verdict as evidence that the whole “hubbub” about race issues is an unwarranted stain on society.  Again, these people already held such a view before Trayvon Martin’s name entered the nation’s vocabulary.  The Martin case only gave them an opportunity to speak.

So both sides are speaking.  A lot.  Just not to each other…