Whose Facts Do You Trust?


A new study published in Social Science Quarterly confirms a suspicion I’ve had all along. The study finds that people develop “distorted factual beliefs” because of their views.

In other words, we subconsciously tend to accept “facts” that substantiate our beliefs.

And no, it’s not only Fox News (although they’re probably the world’s leading example). It’s basic human nature. Anyone who has had an argument with a spouse or lover will probably know what I mean.

The situation becomes diabolical when professionals make a living by using this instinct to promote propaganda. And that’s the way it is in America today.

Already, the spin machines are at work reconstructing the tragedy in Ferguson to suit one political agenda or another. I am sure you have your own version of what really happened in that wretched town, and it could be quite different from mine.

The demonizing of Michael Brown – the unarmed black teenager who was shot dead by white police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9 – is being countered by the demonizing of the local police, for example.

Meanwhile, the situation in Ferguson shows no sign of improving. CNN reports this morning that:

Stun grenades and tear gas canisters arced through the night sky and into crowds of protesters overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, after police said they had been targeted with rocks, Molotov cocktails and gunfire amid continuing demonstrations over the death of Michael Brown.

Two people were shot — not by police, authorities said. Four officers were injured. Police arrested at least 31 people.

The two sides seem to be drifting farther apart as the days go by. While supporters of the black protesters air their grievances not only in Ferguson but far and wide, supporters of the shooter are speaking out, too. CNN reports they held a rally in St. Louis this week, and “as of Tuesday, more than 500 people had donated in excess of $20,000 to a fund for Wilson.”

Both sides are clamoring for the truth to be told.  But what truth? Their truth, of course. And you can bet those two “factual” versions will have little in common.

Without the real truth, how can there be justice?

Perhaps the sooner the case goes to court the better. With witnesses testifying under oath, there’s a better chance of getting at what really happened on that fatal day in Ferguson.

I don’t see how anyone could argue that there’s not enough “probable cause” to file charges against Officer Wilson. But – hey – that’s just my understanding of the “facts.”

Click for the CNN report.

Click for more on the study.


What is Tyranny?

Police deploy tear gas to impose first night of curfew in Ferguson

When does keeping the peace become tyranny? It seems to me that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon may be crossing that line. Sending troops to quell rioters is a drastic move, and that’s what he is doing. Isn’t that what George III did back in the 1770s?

Wasn’t the American Revolution an occasion for looting and vandalism? You bet it was!

What makes that event a magnificent blow for freedom and the Ferguson riots a display of lawlessness?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the rioters in the 1770s were white and those in Ferguson are black?

Am I supporting the ugliness in Ferguson? No, I am not. I deplore the use of violence and I hope with all my heart that reason will prevail and that calm will be restored.

But do I understand why black American protesters might get out of hand? What reasonable person wouldn’t?

How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?

To an outside observer – and after 35 years in America I am still an outside observer -  the way Americans of color have been treated over so many years is astounding. Denied equal status both socially and economically, deprived of the vote, shunned by employers, quarantined by “white flight,” and gunned down with abandon at the slightest pretext …

How long would you put up with that kind of treatment?

I don’t know whether Michael Brown was a thug, as the Ferguson police are making him out to be. But that would not excuse the wanton way in which his life was snuffed out.

And I don’t think that’s the real reason for the fury in Ferguson.

It goes deeper than that.

It is the mestasis of a deadly cancer that has been festering for generations.

When there was looting and rioting in Egypt, Americans hailed it as the Arab Spring. When Assad turned his troops on protesters in Syria, Americans shrieked in outrage, and the President threatened to send in the drones.

Is it time to take the log out of our own eye?

Click for the situation in Ferguson.

Click for looting in the Revolutionary War.


Life in a Bubble

Today I will go to Publix, There’s no beer in the fridge, and the cats are running low on Fancy Feast (and the canned salmon I give them as a treat). Those cats! They live better than a lot of people.

I know you’re thinking why don’t we buy canned salmon for people? We do – kind of. We send money to Lighthouse Ministries, and donate to food drives. Not nearly enough of course. See what you’ve done? You’ve made me feel guilty.

But the cats are here where we can see their needs. Those needy people are out of sight, and, I suppose, out of mind.

We live in a bubble, Sandra and I. We sit on the breezeway and admire the lake as we sip our morning coffee. And we sit on the breezeway and watch the cats watching the sun go down.

The sun is shining today. Yesterday the sky was dark and it rained off and on, sometimes a drizzle, occasionally a downpour.

I played golf anyway - Julius and I. Two codgers dodging raindrops and grumbling at our flubbed shots. By the 13th hole, we had had enough. We decided to call it quits. We’ll be back on the golf course on Monday, God willing.

Meanwhile, in the real world, all hell is breaking loose. Islamic militants are rampaging and beheading and raping. The folks in Ferguson are protesting the apparent police disregard for the lives of black teenagers. And the pundits on TV are pontificating about it all, as usual.

Thank God there are golf tournaments to watch today. For me, anyway. Sandra will likely find relief in a Turner Classic Movie. That’s when she isn’t Swiffering – you can’t possibly imagine the cat fur she has to contend with! Or reading the local newspaper. She will probably be calling me any minute to share some outrageous letter to the editor. This part of Florida is Republican territory and the letters can be really ripe.

Maybe I’ll do some yard work. The garden is overgrown – ferns and Mexican petunias are smothering the other plants and the walkways are choked. I guess it’s because of all the rain we’ve been having.

Maybe I’ll sweep the patio. The rain unloads dirt and leaves and twigs on it faster than we can clean it.

Or maybe not.  The overgrown garden will be there tomorrow, and it will probably rain again this afternoon and mess up the patio.

Besides, I have to go to Publix.


This is the USA?

Click on the link below and watch the video, then tell me: Is this what you expect to witness in the United States of America?

Police fire on peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

Yes, that was the scene on Wednesday night in Ferguson, Missouri, USA - a town of about 25,000 people.

(By the way, isn’t it somehow symbolic that you had to watch a Walmart ad first?)

Now look at this picture:

How’s that for small-town America? Not exactly Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, is it?

Notice something else? The “liberal” Huffington Post web site is blaming President Obama!

Apparently, he’s the one militarizing the local police. It’s all his fault that St. Louis County’s police force rolled out the tanks when the natives got restless.

I’m sure there must be some basis for the accusation, but I don’t get it.

Isn’t Obama the guy who stepped in and cowed the governor of the state into taking local police off the case? Isn’t he the one in the video lamenting the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown?

It’s a strange, strange world we live in, all right.

One other question: Where were the armored vehicles and SWAT teams when white supremacist militias invaded the Bundy ranch in  Nevada? Who if anyone has been arrested for pointing loaded weapons at federal agents in that confrontation?

Is it a question of two kinds of law – one for black protesters and another for white militants?

Two-thirds of the population of Ferguson is black. Hardly any of the folks running the place – including the police force – are black.

Why? Nobody seems to know.

All I know is that this is not the America I had in mind when I raised my hand that day in Tampa, Florida three decades ago and swore allegiance to “the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.”

Click for more on the Ferguson riots.


A World of Make Believe

pantomimeMore and more, this world of ours becomes a pantomime, a charade, a chiavari. Nothing is what it seems. Not even the “news.”

You will read about the power of “social media” in the press, and the TV pundits will talk of Twitter and Facebook and the blogosphere as if they were the real “voice of the people.”

Of course the pundits are wrong. In fact, who knows whether they are real pundits or fakes? Many of the “experts” you see on TV are in the pocket of one special interest or another. Those impressively costumed generals, for example, who were on the Pentagon’s PR payroll. Remember?

It’s all a kind of astroturf, created by billionaires and their army of operatives, who are paid to write the comments and blogs and tweets and so on that news outlets rely on. Meanwhile “think tanks” professing to be dispassionate centers of scholarship find innovative ways to slant existing data to suit the ends of the folks who fund them.

Hour after hour, armies of hired hacks churn away at their keyboards, spewing out the propaganda that “the media” will mistake for news and genuine opinion.

Turn on the TV and you are fed the contrived arguments that we are meant to accept as reason. Even God’s blessing is on the block as those “religious” stations compete for our souls and our contributions.

So it should not surprise me that the Republican Party has come up with ersatz news sites as a new way of deceiving the American public. They are posting attack ads disguised as local news sites, and – here’s the diabolical part – paying Google to ensure these fake sites show up in search results.

An article in Salon.com this morning credits the National Journal with exposing this latest scam. According to the article:

Not only do the sites look like a local news page, but the “articles” they feature are written with the authoritative and seemingly nonpartisan voice of real journalism.

So much for the “objectivity” they taught us in Journalism school.  Obviously, the techniques that make a news story seem objective can be used to mask propaganda as “news.” And as long as there are those who will betray their craft for the manipulators’ money, they will be used that way.

Ben Franklin wisely warned us to believe half of what we see and none of what we hear. Today, he would probably advise us to believe nothing.

Click for the story.


Yes, I Know How to Whistle

Actress Lauren Bacall, the husky-voiced Hollywood icon known for her sultry sensuality, died Tuesday, August 12. She was 89. Click through to take a look at the iconic actress' life.

One by one they go, the icons of our lives, the magical images that kept the stars shining in our eyes. Yesterday’s bad news was about Robin Williams; today it’s about Lauren Bacall. Robin Williams made us laugh. Lauren Bacall made us dream. Now, their passing makes us cry.

Lauren Bacall lives in my memory, of course, the willowy dream girl with the acerbic wit, the glamorous half of “Bogey and Bacall.” But she was so much more.

I was 10 years old when Bacall first lit up the silver screen. Living in Malvern, a hamlet on a Jamaican mountain top, where such amenities as movie theaters did not exist.  But once or twice a year, my dad would load the family into his old Ford and make the 100-mile pilgrimage to Kingston, where the Carib Theatre would usher us into a magical, twilight world of air conditioning and daydreams.

While World War II raged and the Ford was up on blocks because gasoline was rationed, we took the train, getting up before dawn to ride the Royal Mail van to the railway station. Nothing was going to keep us from our trips to the city.

Among the films we saw over the years were several starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I can see them now in “The Big Sleep,” Bogey jaded and hard-boiled, Bacall every inch his match. I don’t recall seeing “To Have and Have Not” but I must have because I can still hear her husky voice telling Bogey:

You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.

Of course, that line is so legendary that I could have unknowingly incorporated it into my memories without actually hearing it.  An old man’s memory plays tricks like that.

I don’t know if the films were great works of art. I don’t know whether Lauren Bacall was a great actress. She must have been. She won an Academy Award and a handful of Tony Awards for her stage performances.

But to me, her movies were far more than all of that. They were a part of my dreams, a part of my life, a part of my growing up.

And now she’s gone.

Click for the news story.

Click for more about Bacall.


The “Fool’s” Legacy


Long ago, when monarchs ruled supreme, they often had a “fool’ around to keep them grounded. Under the guise of jest, the fools were free to speak truth to power as nobody else in the kingdom dared. It was a hazardous trade. Go too far and you might end up in chains – or beheaded.

The tradition of the fool is maintained today by comedians like the late Robin Williams. They kiddingly show us our feet of clay and we laugh with them while – hopefully – being enlightened. Yes, I know, he was more than a comic. I saw “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting.” But it is for his comic genius that he will be remembered.

In America today, comics are desperately needed. As real life becomes more unfair, more absurd, more hypocritical, Americans need to find relief – and understanding - by laughing at themselves.

Robin Williams’ loss leaves a gaping hole. Who else could have given us “Good Morning Vietnam”? Who else could be so believable as Peter Pan? As Mrs. Doubtfire? As any of the myriad masks he donned to show us the reality behind society’s many masks?

He dared to skirt the far edges of comedy and this risky business took its toll. Like Richard Pryor, whose lines he once helped to write (and like Lenny Bruce and John Belushi and a few others), he ventured into uncharted emotional territory. And  he paid the price. For great comedy is fueled by great rage, and rage ultimately consumes you.

Especially, as it was with Robin Williams, when the rage is buried under a gentle and empathic persona. In such cases it is manifested as deep and dark depression.

Here’s how he described it in an NPR radio interview:

Do I perform sometimes in a manic style? Yes. Am I manic all the time? No. Do I get sad? Oh yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh yeah.

Oh yeah. It hits you hard when you glimpse the underlying truths of the human condition. The sad truths. The depressing truths. The enraging truths.

So you find relief by sharing the truths, pretending it’s all a big joke.

It’s an old story – the story of the sad clown.

But nobody is laughing now. The world weeps for the loss of this great talent. Perhaps his passing will make us -some of us, anyway - take a little time to ponder the human condition.

At such times, I am reminded of “The Fool’s Prayer” by Edward Rowland Sill. Here’s how it ends:

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”

Rest in peace, Sir Fool. The world is wiser for your time in it.

Click for the news story.

Click for more on Robin Williams’ death.

Click for “The Fool’s Prayer.”


What’s the UN Doing?


I just learned there’s a “UN mission in Iraq.” Really? What do they do? Why haven’t they stopped ISIS in its tracks, protected the Kurds and rescued the Yazidis? It seems the UN is a shadow of what it could be. And that’s a great pity.

The UN performs an admirable humanitarian service throughout the world. And the organization has an impressive – if overlooked – peacekeeping record. But it is underfunded, under-equipped and under-authorized. Imagine how much safer the world would be if the UN were adequately funded and equipped and given the go-ahead to keep the peace globally.

The US would be relieved of its perceived obligation to intervene in various trouble spots for one thing.

But to many Americans the UN is a threat, not a promise. They fear American sovereignty is in danger. They fear “a one-world government.” They fear “socialism.” FDR must be turning over in his grave.

In the current global environment, America cannot in good conscience avoid becoming entangled in Iraq once again. The horrible situation there is a consequence of reckless American intervention back in the Bush era. Obama is morally obligated to finish what Bush started.

Of course, a far saner solution would be UN police action.

But that option doesn’t seem available. Getting peacekeeping action authorized can be a bureaucratic tangle, and sometimes the missions themselves are sabotaged by misinformed or corrupt diplomats. Because of this, UN failures in places like Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia and Darfur have severely damaged the organization’s credibility.

Obviously, the UN has huge problems. But – like democracy itself – it’s the least fallible option available to the world.

Until a better idea comes along, world leaders would be well advised to set aside their rivalries and ambitions and work together to make the UN all it could be.

Admirably, most Americans feel obligated to do what they can to fill the vacuum created by the UN’s weakness.

I don’t like it, of course. Nobody elected the US to the global peacekeeping role. And shouldn’t the world’s leading democracy want such decisions mae in a democratic manner?

But, on the other hand,  can good people stand idly by and allow evil to prevail when they have the power to prevent it?

You tell me.

Click for more on the UN in Iraq.

Click for more on UN.


A Time to Act



If you’ve been reading these blogs, you know how much I abhor war. I especially loathe war in the Mideast. And war in iraq is about as loathsome as it gets.

But sometimes you don’t really have a choice. America has to jump back into that pit of Hell.

President Obama cannot abandon the Kurds after all they’ve done for America. And after all America has done to Iraq.

He cannot in conscience abandon the  thousands of Yazidis, including women and children, trapped on a barren mountain where temperatures rise to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

ISIS must be stopped. The maniacal militants cannot be allowed to to take Iraq. That would just be the first step in an area-wide conquest.  The United States would sooner or later be in grave danger – this time for real.

Pray that troops on the ground will not be necessary. Pray that the Kurds, a formidable warrior race, and the discredited Iraqi army will get the job done with US air cover and US arms.

But if they don’t, US troops will have to go back – horrible though that might be.

If only America had not meddled in Iraq in the first place….

But regrets are futile.

As the Persian poet Omar Khayyam expressed it many, many years ago:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

It is what it is. And it is heartbreaking.

Click for the story.



It Makes No Sense



I’ve been watching the PGA tournament online this morning,  when I should have been reading about world events and writing a blog. But what can I say about the world? What can I say about America? Nothing fresh and original, I’m sure.

I cannot offer any new insights into current events. All that comes to mind are familiar refrains, tired old sayings like: Things are not what they seem… You never know how things will turn out… Never give up … The darkest day is before dawn … Time heals all wounds … This, too, shall pass …

And so on.

I listened to America’s president conduct his press conference yesterday, and I could feel his frustration. Here’s a man who is obviously trying to do his best and getting no respect. The Russians mocked him on his birthday, splashing racist images on the US embassy in Moscow. The Israelis are heaping invective on his graying head as he tries to help them solve their deadly impasse with the Palestinians.

The ebola virus is wreaking havoc in Africa and threatening America, and his best efforts to help the people of Africa cope with that and so many other challenges are all but ignored by the media.

Meanwhile, he is wrestling with a heart-rending immigration crisis and facing the choice (as an ABC reporter put it) between being called an “imperial”  dictator or an ineffectual layabout. He is damned if he acts, damned if he doesn’t.

The House of Representatives, controlled by a bunch of raving maniacs, is suing him for delaying a law they voted 50 times to repeal. And that’s not extreme enough for the Republican base. They want him impeached. For what? Who knows?

His ratings are at an all-time low. Better than the approval level of Congress, but even head lice have a better approval rating than Congress.

The latest polls show Americans hate their government, hate the Democrats, and hate the Republicans even more,

And yet I keep reading that the Republicans could win the Senate and keep the House in November.

Does that make sense?

Nothing makes sense. Not even the PGA tournament.

Who is that guy that looks like Tiger Woods? Why can’t he hit the ball like Tiger Woods? Why can’t he putt like Tiger Woods?

Why am I watching him?

Click to read about Russian insults.

Click for the press conference.