The Israel-Hamas conflict – Choosing Sides

The goal of Hamas’s bombing efforts was to kill as many Jews as possible: Jews in hospitals, Jews in schools, Jews in old age homes, Jews sleeping in their beds, Jews wherever they may be.

The current conflict between Hamas and Israel has been seized upon by some to be a pivotal moment to re-evaluate the United States’ posture towards our ally in the Middle East. I specifically use the word ‘ally’ because on many different levels, that is what Israel is. Before we kick our ally to the curb and abandon the only Democracy in the Middle East to Hamas, whose charter specifically calls for Israel’s destruction, it would do us all well to throw the jingoisms from both the Right and the Left in the trash and look at the situation as it presents itself to those committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment wherever they may be found today.

Much is being made of Israel’s bombing of Gaza, specifically the targets chosen by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). As of this writing a cease-fire has been brokered, but over 1,000 buildings in Gaza have been destroyed, including 17 hospitals and the offices of the Associate Press. Hamas has a long and documented history of using schools, hospitals and other “soft targets”, as they are called, to hide weapons and fighters so absent a significant ground invasion of Gaza by IDF forces, the only alternative available to Israel was to return like fire. This brings up an important point which is noticeably lacking in most of the current discussions: what triggered this current conflict? Look no further than the 4,000 or so rockets that Hamas fired into Israel indiscriminately. The goal of Hamas’s bombing efforts was to kill as many Jews as possible: Jews in hospitals, Jews in schools, Jews in old age homes, Jews sleeping in their beds, Jews wherever they may be. This fact seems to be overlooked by many, especially from many pundits on the Left, who instead actually approve of Hamas’s actions. It is interesting to read some of the Left’s screeds justifying the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians by Hamas. Internationally, over 70% of UN condemnations are directed at Israel while the systematic starvation of the Yemeni people by Saudi Arabia, the religious cleansing going on in Myanmar, China’s genocide of the Uighurs, and North Korea’s brutal treatment of its own people, to name but a few, are mostly ignored. I’d go so far to say, dear reader, that some of the above examples may have slipped your mind, all of which are far worse than anything done or alleged to have been done by the IDF. Yet, if one is to believe some of the op-eds, Israel has ignored Nietzsche’s warning about staring into the abyss and have become no different than Nazi’s.

As I said earlier, Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East and that fact alone should have every single thinking person supporting Israel against the current aggression by Hamas. This does not mean supporting the Netanyahu government’s egregious actions towards the Palestinian people but it does mean that the criticism currently being directed at Israel as a whole is misplaced. It is not the Israeli people, who are also burying their loved ones because of this horrific state of affairs, but the actions of their current government that should be the target of criticism.

The solution is to root out and destroy Hamas where ever its supporters rear their ugly head. If the IDF forces had enough intelligence to target locations where Hamas stored and launched weapons and where they gathered then a ground offensive by the IDF to root them out was and continues to be the proper response. The collateral damage, specifically the killing of Palestinian non-combatants, would be reduced significantly. This alone makes the argument for boots on the ground extremely persuasive. Those actions and policies of the Netanyahu government which cross the line of international law should be condemned by the United States quickly and forcefully. In much the same way that the rest of the world made a clear distinction between the Trump administration and the American people, the same distinction should be made between Israel’s current government and the Israeli people and the State of Israel. The current rhetoric comingles the two and smacks of anti-Semitism which is on the rise here in the US as a result of the conflict.

Finally, I’ll leave you, dear reader, with a question. If a hostile foreign power started lobbing a few hundred missiles a day into your hometown while chanting, “Death to the American pigs!”, and it turns out that some of your loved ones were killed when the Middle School was turned into a smoking crater, what do you think you would want your government to do? I doubt very much you would shrug your shoulders and justify their actions in the same way Hamas’s actions are being justified in some of the US press.

The Only Freedom That Matters

Critical thinking is the alphabet and grammar of science.

This is a submission for the upcoming issue of Secular World.

“I am convinced that the act of thinking logically cannot possibly be natural to the human mind. If it were, then mathematics would be everybody’s easiest course at school and our species would not have taken several millennia to figure out the scientific method.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist

‘Freedom’ is a word that is on everyone’s lips these days or so it seems. From the stomach-turning image of the Q-Anon Shaman yelling “Freedom!” into his microphone as seditious group of terrorists stormed the US Capitol to right-wing pundits on TV screaming about how being asked to perform basic hygienic rituals to stem the spread of a deadly pathogen is a full-frontal assault on our freedoms, it seems that everywhere we turn we are told that our freedoms are being taken from us. This, coupled with the ever-present admonition that things have never been worse and are on the verge of chaos, makes it seem that violent action is what is needed and, indeed, we have seen these calls translate into action. We have seen the scourge of fascism march openly in the streets of the United States, chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” ending with a madman driving his car into pedestrians, ostensibly to “own the libs” and killing one of them while others, using metal pipes, beat a black man senseless in a parking garage. To any thinking person watching these events it would seem that a wave of madness has swept over society and, it could be persuasively argued, they would not be wrong in concluding this.

The freedom that is at stake, however, is not the freedom to believe that the Earth is flat or that vaccines cause autism, rather, it is the freedom to know both ourselves and the universe in which we find ourselves, rather it is the freedom that most do not realize they have yet swim in every day of their lives. It is the freedom to know ourselves and the world in which we live and that freedom comes directly from the inquiries of science. Science is under attack, ironically, by those whose lives are completely beholden to science in the very areas they attack. Take, for instance, the vaccine deniers: They pontificate about the dangers of vaccines while blissfully immune from the deadly diseases that have plagued mankind because they are fully vaccinated. A list of vaccines and the diseases which they prevent can be found here. I would extort the reader to pull up this list and be amazed at the amount of human suffering that has been eliminated by the science on that chart. To be free of those scourges hints at the freedom that is taken for granted. What is that freedom?

For the longest time, our species fought and struggled to stay alive. If you were lucky to survive childbirth and youth, you became a hunter or a gatherer depending on the gametes your DNA bestowed you with. At the mercy of disease, predators, weather, we spent our 30-40 years in pain, fear and suffering, helpless against the assault of the world around us. Fast-forward to the current day where we are flying drones on Mars, using mRNA technology to fight new diseases having already eradicated some and able to prevent many more, having all the libraries of the world and all their knowledge at our fingertips, the list goes on and on. What gave us this ability to first insulate ourselves and then to explore the world? Science did and by giving us all these technologies freed us from the life of a hunter gatherer and allowed us the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose how we spend our lives, how best to care for each other, who we are and how we got here, and the understanding that all we see was not made for us six thousand years ago by some vindictive and cruel god to who we are beholden in our every thought, word and deed. It is the freedom to live the life we choose, without the fears that had been constant companions to our species. This is what science gives us.

Today, we have a concerted effort to attack both science as a discipline and the people who practice it. There is a remedy for this and that is for our educational institutions to institute a K- 12 Critical Thinking curriculum in all public schools in the United States. This will have an immediate effect. High School seniors, even with just one year of Critical Thinking training, will have the essential skills to begin to parse what they hear and what they read. Imagine an electorate which asks “How do you know this to be true?” This is precisely the fruit that a Critical Thinking curriculum will give forth. As each successive class graduates, each will contain more sound thinkers more and more immunized to shoddy thinking and more and more comfortable with thinking in a scientific manner.

Critical thinking is the alphabet and grammar of science.

In a policy piece for Scientific American, Jim Daley wrote, “Since taking office on January 20, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have signaled a clear commitment to science and pledged sweeping initiatives to reestablish and elevate its role in the federal government.” The full article can be found here. All the proposals thus far by the Biden administration to get us back on track with science should evoke a sign of relief from any thinking person. More is needed, however, and the curriculum in our schools should also reflect this commitment to science by investing in both the methodologies (science classes) and the foundation of rationality and the scientific method, Critical Thinking.

Unity – a.k.a singing Kumbaya with the insane.

It seems that the airwaves are bursting with calls for unity after the horrific events of January 6th. This rhetoric is coming from both sides of the aisle; both Democrats and Republicans are pleading for unity, for a spirit of forgiving and healing to spread over our land, and a firm commitment to let bygones be bygones as we fasten our eyes on the future and move forward. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It tugs at your heartstrings in much the same way as do high pressure sales pitches for timeshares, Multi-level Marketing ‘success plans’, and, of course, your good old fashioned Ponzi scheme with its can’t miss guarantee of making you a millionaire in a few weeks for a small upfront investment.

Here’s the thing. If someone is of the mind that “Jews will not replace them!” I have a hard time find any sort of common ground upon which unity might be built. I happen to think that if someone’s anti-Semitism is so consuming that it makes them get out and march and chant such nonsense, they are, in a very real way, insane. When someone claims to have gone to heaven and had a talk with Jesus about, as it happens, Donald Trump and Jesus opined that Donald Trump would be re-elected, my first reaction is to make sure my grandchildren stand behind me. This is nonsense, every bit of it, and of the sort of hallucinations that could very well get one committed. In fact, my personal thought is that someone who claims this is, in a very real way, insane. It is certainly not the sort of thinking that I would expect to hear from members of Congress and yet, if the news is to be believed, there we have it. If you want to know what God thinks, you’ll have to come to them and they’ll tell you, for a fee, of course. Sinister doesn’t begin to describe someone who claims to have this sort of knowledge. I see no common ground with someone who thinks like this and wants this narrative guiding the politics of the United States. I do not want them in the halls of power; they should be standing on a street corner handing out menus.

What I see are a group of theocrats and fascists who tried to take over the government of the United States but failed and now want everyone to simply move on.

No.

Today starts the Senate trial of Trump’s second impeachment. If unity is what is wanted, then nothing less that a guilty vote with a lifetime ban from holding political office is acceptable. This is firmly on the shoulders of the Republicans, many of whom spread Trump’s lie that the election was stolen. These Senators were complicit in the events of January 6th and now they have their moment on the stage of history to repudiate their actions. We shall see if their actions square up with their pleas for unity.

Apostasy – The Triumph of a Free Mind

“The most tyrannical of governments are those which make crimes of opinions, for everyone has an inalienable right to his thoughts.”— Baruch Spinoza

“People who change their religion should face the death penalty.”
― Zakir Naik

Apostasy seems a strange word to someone raised in the United States. As we go through our lives both we and some of the people we know question the religious beliefs they were brought up in. As our friends and neighbors progress through their education and lives, it is not unusual to hear of some abandoning their religion of birth and becoming members of some other religion: Catholics become Protestants and vice versa, some may even leave the Abrahamic religions and search out New Age or Eastern Religions. Some even abandon their religious beliefs entirely becoming, as survey results are calling them these days, ‘nones’. This searching and experimenting with different belief systems strikes the rest of us as nothing out of the ordinary; no different than choosing a different sports team to root for or even rooting for a different sport entirely. The freedom to pursue whatever avenue the mind wishes to go down is one of the privileges of living in a society that holds to Enlightenment values, specifically the ideas that traditional authority is not always correct and humans can and should improve themselves through reason. When the claims of religion contradict reason and by extension science, the child of reason, we should be and are, in fact, free to reject those claims.

Every reader knows that this freedom is not a given in other places of the world. Depending on the religious fervor of the country in question, leaving the “official religion” (another strange concept to those of us raised with Enlightenment values) may and, unfortunately does, come at the cost of one’s life. Many religions contain commandments that demand apostates should be killed. The Old Testament and the Koran both contain verses instructing the faithful to do just that. Leaving the religious plantation (apostasy) is as illegal and life threatening in some countries today as it was for slaves attempting to leave the Southern plantations during the time of slavery here in the United States. This egregious behavior is not limited to theism; political religions such as Communism engage in this behavior. Having lived in the shadow of the Berlin Wall I know this all too well. Many paid the ultimate price at the foot of that filthy wall, their flight to freedom ending in a hail of bullets or an explosion from stepping on a mine. These days Saudi Arabia and Russia, both noxious and festering cauldrons of theocratic and political fascism, respectively, are shining examples of this barbaric behavior. Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the direction of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Putin’s attempted murder of Alexei Navalny, both for political reasons are clear indications that coming to the wrong conclusions about a political regime and voicing them will ensure a secular fatwa will be issued against you demanding your death.

“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes.” – Christopher Hitchens

Those who would charge others with apostasy (religious or political) and demand the required punishment of death all seem to claim a certain right over others. This right they claim, whether explicitly or implicitly, is the right of ownership. The purpose of your existence is to advance the goals of whatever system, political or religious, claims ownership of you. If you fulfill your duties, you will be allowed to live; assert or act in manner which repudiates that claim of ownership and you will either be imprisoned or killed, oftentimes both. This is, at its core, what apostasy really is: the assertion of self-ownership and the repudiation of fascist claims to the contrary. Each and every man and woman is free to think and question everything they have been taught to determine the direction of their lives. Against that are those who assert you are their possession, like some farm animal, and, like some farm animal, when you are rebellious, they will snuff out your life. Questioning their right of ownership over you is an immoral act of the highest order and deserves a like punishment. Every thinking person finds that claim of ownership and the people who make it and punish those who dare disagree with them disgusting.

“Freedom is self-determination.” — Baruch Spinoza

Secular individuals who can speak freely and inquire as their minds see fit owe this freedom to the Enlightenment values that created our modern society. It is the rediscovery of these values and the dedication to them, both as individuals and society, that will allow us to confront apostasy and the idea which underlies it, the claim to own people as chattel.

We must rededicate ourselves to the values of the Enlightenment and advocate them in the face who dare claim the right to own others. While no human endeavor is perfect, we can point to the new Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, to show the power of these values and what they can accomplish. Amanda Gorman, the inaugural poet at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, pointed out that we are in, “...a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.” Every lover of freedom and self-determination should have stood up and cheered at that utterance. Though the light has dimmed and ebbed, it is still burning. It is up to us, if we truly want to purge our world of apostasy, to advance that light forward in whatever way we can. The simple enumeration of the values of the Enlightenment will start a fire in all those yearning to be free and will crush the forces opposing freedom no matter where they are or how entrenched they may appear to be.

Worship Music – The Glue That Binds

These days, if you are looking to open a church, music is what is going to get people in the doors and music, more than anything else, is going to keep them there.

This was originally submitted for the upcoming issue of Secular World.

Having grown up in the Roman Catholic milieu of Long Island, New York during the 1960s and 1970s, worship was and always had been the Mass. Vatican II changed all that. Gone was the Latin mass and news ways of doing things were being introduced. The Ecumenical Movement in the Catholic Church, among other things, brought what was considered ‘new and daring’ ideas into the Liturgy. One of the biggest changes was the addition of the ‘Folk Mass’ into the Sunday cadence of services. Gone were the hymns accompanied by the ubiquitous pipe organs. In their place were several of the younger parishioners strumming acoustic guitars and belting out Kumbaya and other quasi-religious folk tunes. All in all, it was rather tepid although it did improve the attendance numbers of the younger demographic in the parishes.

My wife and I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn from Long Island after we were married. Not soon after, our new neighbors invited us to attend a service at their church. They, like us, were raised Catholic and told us about the wonderful services at their church which was just a few blocks away. What I did not know is that the church, Christ Tabernacle, was part of the Brooklyn Tabernacle family of churches. The main church is probably best known for its choir, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Their information page can be found here. They have recorded numerous albums and CDs, winning five Dove Awards and six Grammy Awards. At the time, the main choir in Brooklyn consisted of a number of singers both from the main church as well as singers from Christ Tabernacle and the other churches in the fold. Christ Tabernacle’s music ministry was led by a Julliard-trained pianist and consisted of professional NYC musicians. The choir was about 100 strong and it was well rehearsed. The sound system was state of the art and the people that manned it were professional sound engineers. The performance that day was incredible and you left with the overwhelming desire to go back and hear it again and again. In between the musical offerings were various ‘words’, or sermons, first by elders and then by the pastor. These consisted of expositions of various passages of scripture all centering around a common theme for that Sunday with each followed by one or two songs by the choir. After the pastor’s sermon four to five rousing numbers by the choir ended the service. The most moving musical experience I had up until that time was seeing the Rolling Stones live in West Berlin in 1982. This was just as moving.

That desire to hear more of that music was the driving force that kicked off a two-year stint of me and my young family attending that church. For a brief while I played bass during the morning service and got to know the musicians and choir members well. As time went on and I read the scriptures for insight, doctrinal issues started to rear it’s ugly head. Questions directed to church leaders about different interpretations of scripture were met with, “This is what we believe. If this is not what you believe you are welcome to find another church.” This presented a dilemma. Finding a church that aligns more with one’s reading of scripture is the easy part; walking away from that music was not so easy. There were a number of people who stayed in the church for exactly that reason: for the music they would hear every Sunday. Most would attend both the morning and evening services. It wasn’t the gospel or the various ministries doing ‘the Lord’s work’ that kept them there; it was the music.

Not soon after we stopped attending Christ Tabernacle we moved to North Carolina, a place which has been described by some as the buckle of the Bible Belt. Over the past two decades, I have seen the complexion of religion change from the traditional Baptist churches that dotted the landscape to the new mega-churches. I’ve seen these mega-churches grow in number and watched friends who attended the old fashion Baptist churches leave them and start attending these new houses of worship. A few of the larger traditional churches saw the writing on the wall and, like the Catholic Church did decades earlier, yielded to the modern trends and began having services with a worship band and professional sound systems. In the local music paper you will always see advertisements for musicians to join these worship bands interspersed with the regular ads by secular bands looking for musicians. These days, if you are looking to open a church, music is what is going to get people in the doors and music, more than anything else, is going to keep them there.

The Trump Coup and Why It Will Not Happen

The cover story for the November 2020 issue of the Atlantic, The Election That Could Break America, has been making the rounds all day on social media along with dire predictions of how The Great Experiment, our United States, is doomed. My Twitter feed is completely covered with this and political pundits from all sides are weighing in on how this will be pulled off by Trump and the Republicans and there is nothing that can be done to stop this. They are wrong.

Trump is certainly up to his usual tricks by refusing to commit to accepting the results of the upcoming election unless, of course, he wins. There is no doubt that the Republican political machinery is in high-gear figuring out ways to try and steal the election with tactics ranging from outright voter suppression to back room machinations in the various battleground states. All their work will be for naught, unfortunately for them.

In his Atlantic article, Barton Gellman outlines the various ways Trump and the Republicans will try to steal the election. I won’t dispute a single thing in the article; his research is impeccable and the different scenarios he paints are extremely plausible. From having the Boogaloo Bois and other right-wing groups show up at the polls to intimidate voters to throwing out thousands if not millions of mail-in ballots, as well as all the other nefarious tricks that Trump and his supporters could possible use to subvert the will of the American people, Gellman’s article is like a Mike Tyson barrage, the end result being Trump getting another four years or the US Government grinding to a standstill with no exit strategy other than capitulating to Trump and his demands. Make no mistake about it, a second Trump term is the most dangerous prospect this country faces. The fact that Trump is actively trying to subvert the election now should be taken as a signal that Trump knows how precarious his position is. A large voter turnout would, as Trump himself has said, “be the end of the Republican party”.

So what is the source of my optimism that Trump’s efforts to steal this election will fail? Simply this: Back in August, Politico and the New York Times reported that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson reached out to Trump regarding the Corona virus situation and the effects it was having on the economy. The conversation grew increasingly confrontational with Trump accusing Adelson of not contributing enough and Republicans are now very concerned that Trump has alienated Adelson and that Adelson’s cash has stopped flowing. Adelson, who is the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, was concerned because the revenues from his casinos had taken a significant hit due to the Coronavirus and the subsequent closing of the casinos. Adelson’s bio can be found here. While Adelson’s support has centered around getting legislation passed to further the interests of Israel, this spirit of philanthropy went right out the window when he saw the coffers of his casino empire starting to diminish. Hence the call to Trump. Trump, unaware of the tens of millions of dollars that Adelson has given in support of Republicans became antagonistic and, in typical Trump fashion, blamed Adelson for not contributing more. Adelson reportedly hung up.

While this story received very little coverage in the press and the little it did receive was quickly forgotten, the importance of the exchange is not diminished in the least. Adelson is a multi-billionaire and the huge transfer of wealth that we have been constantly hearing about has resulted in many millionaires becoming billionaires and billionaires becoming multi-billionaires. Most of this income growth has come through Wall Street, primarily the stock market. The stock market has a very fragile psyche and nothing causes investors to turn tail and run more than political unrest. If Trump makes good on his threats to undermine the democratic process the resulting backlash will render this country ungovernable and the economic hit will be catastrophic. Trillions of dollars will vanish with little or no hope of recovering it. You can be sure that all this wealth and power is not going to let a conman and huckster like Trump destroy their fortunes and the lifestyles they live. They will turn on him like they turned on Bernie Madoff who is currently serving a 150-year sentence in Federal Prison for running a Ponzi scheme that bilked these very same super rich clients. There will be no coup, the election will proceed as all elections have and, hopefully, the Trump nightmare will be over along with the Republican party.

Review | Why I Am Not A Christian by Richard Carrier

This short book (84 pages in the Kindle edition) is another instance of the proverb, “Good things come in small packages.” Borrowing Bertrand Russell’s title, Dr. Carrier gives four main reasons why belief in Christianity makes no sense. While every atheist should take the time and read through the arguments he presents, the real value of this book is that it is the perfect book to give your Christian friends and family members who will almost certainly state at some point, “I don’t understand how anyone could be an atheist given all the evidence for God and Christianity.”

Leaving aside the fact that were there any evidence, any evidence at all, for Christianity’s claims this debate would have been over centuries ago and there would be only one religion, this book presents four arguments that it is incumbent on Christians to answer since they are the ones making the claims. While the arguments are directed towards the Christian religion, they could easily be used in a debate over Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or any faith-based belief.

Critical Thinking – Time for a Comprehensive National Curriculum

“If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence. If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?”
— Sam Harris

It seems there is no shortage of existential crises facing us here in the United States.  Some of these are global in scope and require a global response much in the same way the discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, gases which were used in aerosol cans, were destroying the Ozone layer required a global response.  Climate change, ocean acidification, wanton destruction of forests and other habitats, pollution of the air, ground, and water for short term economic gains are just some of the issues that modern civilization has to deal with.  Each one, if allowed to proceed unchecked, is more than capable of destroying most of humanity’s habitat, if not all of it. All of these issues, in spite of the gravity and pressing nature each one holds, have been stubbornly resistant in gaining the global consensus that will be needed to successfully solve the problems they each present.

When we look into the situation a bit further, it becomes even more depressing to those of us who want the human race to exist and flourish rather than become extinct in a handful of generations. When I talk about a consensus I do not mean solving disagreements among groups as to the most effective way to mitigate the effects or which technologies would be the best to embrace in the short and long term.  No, the consensus I am talking about is way more basic than that:  It is gaining a consensus that these issues even exist.  But wait, there’s more!  The inability of our society to agree on what is real and not real is not limited to facing existential crises.  This intellectual paralysis has infected just about every aspect of our lives and, as with all paralysis, the effects couldn’t be more damaging.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

― Issac Asimov

Since Issac spoke those words the cult has become a full-blown religion with mega-churches and celebrity pastors. The ideas they preach to their millions of followers are a full-throated defense of anti-intellectualism and the moral duty of each congregant to advance this Zeitgeist into the culture at large.   In a particularly bizarre example of this celebrity grifter Franklin Graham engaged in a bizarre attack on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the county’s leading epidemiologist. The issue for Graham?  What is truth and who has the monopoly on it.  Graham posted this to his Twitter feed during the brush-up:

Truth

So let’s stop and take a look at the claims being made.  One one hand we have Dr. Fauci and the science of epidemiology.  This science has eradicated diseases that have plagued the human race for thousands of years. On the other hand, we have Franklin Graham who offers us, “Pestilence is caused by sin.” Now, while others may justifiably go after the utter moral bankruptcy of Graham, the fact we really need to consider is that millions of people unquestioningly accept Graham’s claim and actively reject the evidence of Dr. Fauci and science. Why this is so and, most importantly, what can be done to change this and get the nation as a whole back on the road to sanity is where we should be directing all our efforts.

A brief look at why this is so will allow us to put everything in focus. We’ll be able to see that the primary battleground is not in the political, scientific, or religious arenas. These are all secondary skirmishes.  The real fight is for the contents of our children’s education. This is not a recent battle; it has been going on for decades.  Anti-intellectual interests have been trying to get their narrative into the school system with such ploys as Intelligent Design buttressed by a well-coordinated political campaign against Boards of Education exhorting them to “teach the controversy”.  The defense against this effort has failed miserably and the result can be seen all around us from anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, homeopathic medicine, just to name a few.  While there was a robust defense in the courts with rulings all in favor of the science, there was no response to the attack by the educational system to the ideas that were introduced while the controversies raged. If, at the time, the educational system would have responded by instituting a mandatory national curriculum of Critical Thinking skills we may never have had to endure things such as the anti-vaxxers and the subsequent reappearance of childhood diseases in epidemic proportions that were virtually non-existent, for example. Certainly, the correctly predicted re-appearance of said diseases should have resigned the anti-vaxxer narrative or fable, as I like to call it, to the intellectual septic tank where it belongs.  Yet, they persisted as preventable disease after preventable disease made their reappearances.  They know the science; they wield all sorts of technical jargon in their vacuous arguments.  It is a lack of critical thinking that is the culprit.  Those educated in critical thinking could see right through their nonsense arguments and could have dispensed with it and their attempts to hijack actual medicine long before any child needlessly contracted a preventable disease.

Now, the stakes couldn’t be higher.  We are decades into this anti-intellectual mess and the halls of power in this country are filled with people who pride themselves on how little they know.  Worse yet, conspiracy theories and the people who push them, are now gaining political power if the recent primary elections here in the United States are any indication. We need to equip our children with the tools to stop and reverse this and we need to start now.  The most effective way of doing this is by making Critical Thinking Skills a required core curriculum nation-wide, K-12. A majority of the educators, the teachers, in this country would sign onto this effort wholeheartedly.  Many are already advocating for it. If we graduate a generation of children equipped with the robust education available to them augmented by the ability to reason correctly the intractable problems we now face will disappear and we will be able to find the needed consensus to tackle any problems we face. Finding a cure for Polio and putting a man on the moon are the results that critical thinking has given us. It can give us so much more if we put the effort into teaching it to all our children starting now.

A country with no defense.

As the pandemic rages across America, social media is filled with memes and personal declarations about the ‘right’ to choose to wear a mask when out in public.  Earlier this week, President Trump ordered that hospital data regarding COVID19 will no longer be sent to the CDC.  Instead, it will be sent to the White House.  A little further digging showed that the data will actually go to two private companies both owned by friends of the President. There is a coordinated campaign by the White House to undermine the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci as his statements regarding COVID19 are “undermining the President’s message.” The White House views this pandemic as a PR battle, not as a battle against a pathogen that is killing Americans and threatening to overwhelm our healthcare system to the point where it may very well collapse completely from both the number of cases and the attrition of healthcare workers from the virus.

I could provide example after example of the dysfunction in our political leadership and in our citizens in failing to deal with this pandemic. What is clear is that the American response to COVID19 has been a failure by any objective standard one wishes to use. The end result is that we must resign ourselves to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, the crippling of thousands who are lucky to survive a bout with the virus, and the damage to the economy that has yet to be fully grasped. We may very well feel the effects of this for generations.

The response by the foreign press and my friends who live outside of the United States is quite sobering.  The most common sentiment I see is pity and confusion.  How could the United States, the world leader in science, be crippled by this virus? How much needless suffering is being imposed on Americans?  Why does the United States refuse to follow the practices of all the other countries that have beaten this virus and now report zero cases at their hospitals for days and, in some cases, for weeks? There are attempts by many political pundits to understand why this has happened but there is one fact that they all agree on: The United States was wide open to both the introduction and spread of this virus.  It has neither the infrastructure nor the will to fight this virus. The infrastructure has been dismantled by the Trump administration and various media outlets have convinced a significant number of Americans that science is only one opinion among many. The eyes of our friends and allies are filled with tears as they watch us suffer through this.

There are other eyes watching the goings-on here that are not filled with tears. They are watching intently at our catastrophic failure to deal with a pathogen that has a five to ten percent mortality rate at best. They see the rest of the world walling us off; a US passport is essentially useless at this point.  These eyes are also in possession of military-grade pathogens that have been engineered to be incredibly effective at killing their hosts. We are talking about mortality rates of 50% or better. At this point, it is even questionable if we could identify the pathogen before it killed millions of Americans.   Were we to uncover intelligence that something like this was about to happen, our intelligence communities would not be believed by a significant number of Americans and politicians. Our once great laboratories have been shut down and defunded and hundreds of scientists who specialized in the field of pathogens have been given their walking papers. The scientific capability to identify and fight something like this is gone. Our pathetic response to COVID19 shows every bad actor in the world we are completely defenseless against a concerted biological attack against this country.

We live in a culture that has become detached from reality.  We have people here in America that believe the earth is flat and is only six thousand years old.  Some of these people hold positions of immense political power.  The Vice President comes to mind as does the Secretary of State. They have deluded themselves to the point where they have left this country completely defenseless. Let us hope that none of the existential threats that are out there decide to take advantage of this situation we find ourselves in.

 

 

Sic Semper Tyrannis|The cry of cowards.

Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots coming to the aid of the protesters to defend their Constitutional right to be there protesting? No where to be found. 

Sic Semper Tyrannis, which means “thus always to tyrants”, is a shortened version of Sic Semper evello mortem Tyrannis.  This Latin phrase, which means “Thus always I bring death to tyrants” has been attributed to Marcus Iunius Brutus ( et tu, Brute!), one of the people who participated in the murder of Julius Caesar.

Karl_Theodor_von_Piloty_Murder_of_Caesar_1865

Let’s fast forward approximately 1900 years to the Ford Theatre where John Wilkes Booth has just shot Abraham Lincoln.  Before jumping on his horse he shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!”

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Today we see Sic Semper Tyrannis being sported by various right-wing militias, white supremists, 2nd Amendment advocates, and various other ‘anti-government’ organizations.  Their existence, they claim, is to prevent a tyrannical government from taking over the United States and taking away our constitutional rights.  For this, it is argued, they need guns and not just any guns.  These guns need to be military-grade weapons in order to stand a fighting chance against the fascist soldiers and secret police who will certainly be armed with the same. This is and has been the claim. Recently, the clarion call to defend first amendment rights has been issued.  It is interesting to see what has happened. Before we look at that, a little background information on your’s truly, the author.

I’ve had some first-hand experience with fascist and totalitarian governments.  I was a Russian linguist in the United States Air Force and was stationed in West Berlin from 1979 to 1982.  Berlin, both East and West, was a geopolitical hot spot, with the Berlin Wall being an ever present reminder of the state of the world: fiercely divided

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Looking across that no-man’s land full of “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” was the Soviet-controlled East.  The East Germans were subjected to not one but two Secret Police organizations, the East German Stasi and the Soviet KGB.  These are the people who would come for you in the middle of the night if you were a dissident or a reporter who was not following the party line and writing “subversive” articles.  On that side of the Wall, there were none of the freedoms we have. The desire to live in a world where those freedoms existed motivated many to try and get across that wall.  Many made it, others did not. We were told that the government in the East was a fascist and totalitarian one and rightly so.  They were. A brief study of history is enough to show that repression, fear, and control of information are the tools of the trade of any fascist regime no matter what flag they fly.

Fast forward to the present day.  The streets of America are filled with protesters exercising their Constitutional First Amendment right to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The press are also out in the streets documenting the happenings and the goings-on.  This is the same press that has been under attack by the current administration for the last three years. At night, the protests turned violent as clashes between the police and protesters escalated.  The President and the Attorney General both issued statements that elements from Antifa, a far left organization, were responsible for the violence and took no questions from the press regarding that claim. Soon enough, the President wanted to designate them a ‘terrorist organization’ as are groups such as the Taliban and ISIS.   But as the FBI gathered intelligence and arrests were made a different picture began to emerge.  Right wing groups were the ones responsible for the violence.  A number of specific right-wing groups, according to an ex-FBI agent interviewed on TV. These right-wing groups were using social media to tell their members to go down and cause havoc. Their job, as they saw it, was to turn peaceful protests violent.  As the violence escalated, the police turned their weapons on the press.  One officer, when asked why he was shooting at a press crew filming, apologized and said, “he was just following orders.” Freedom of the press was being trampled on by barrages of rubber bullets. Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots defending the press? No where to be found.

Lafayette Square, where peaceful protesters were fired upon with rubber bullets, tear-gassed, and attacked by riot police so the President could get a photo op holding a bible in front of a church, has been renamed Black Lives Matter Square. While history is still being written, BLM Square will be remembered as the spot Freedom to assemble was trampled on.  Where were the Sic Semper Tyrannis patriots coming to the aid of the protesters to defend their Constitutional right to be there protesting? No where to be found.

As it turns out, these “patriots”, as they often describe themselves, had the opportunity they have supposedly been waiting for.  An authoritarian government was and is trampling on our Constitutional rights.  Here they were, aiding the government, by trying to cause havoc to validate the government’s narrative. Riot troops, with no insignia or identifying patches, began roaming the streets.  Who they were and what government organization they came from was a secret, in other words, they were secret police. If you haven’t felt the urge to fly the American flag upside down, now is the time to start thinking about it.  Where are the Sic Semper Tyrannis chaps fighting this no-name army of secret police patroling our streets?  No where to be found.