The Folly of Absolutism and Abortion

Simply mentioning the word ‘abortion’ is guaranteed to close minds, especially in the United States, not least because almost no one pays attention to what Roe v. Wade actually says…and more of that is a-comin’ soon with a Supreme Court nomination fight underway.

When I taught Composition, I started the semester asking students to write an opinion paper providing their opinion (duh) on the subject.  Were they ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ (this was almost thirty years ago…so you can already see that some things never change….)?  But as a teacher of writing and critical thinking, you should know there’s something coming….  The catch?  For their final exam, they were given the same topic, but had to argue the opposing point of view.

I think that’s important–in any discussion, for there to be real progress, you have to understand the other side and where they are coming from and how they reached their points of view.  Unfortunately, the willingness to discuss is receding from American civil society–that’s the fault of fundamentalism and absolutism.

So, to show the folly of taking a complete black/white view of ANY issue, especially one like abortion, consider the following two situations.  You have an either/or choice.  There are no ‘Yeah, but…’ permitted, no exceptions–we are dealing with absolutes here.

As context, please understand that the fundamentalist position on abortion is that a fetus has equal value as a human and that life begins at conception.

Situation 1: Your wife is in her third trimester of pregnancy–or perhaps she has started labor (this doesn’t matter for the scenario).  The doctor tells you it is serious–she can save your wife or save the fetus.  Who do you choose?

Are you really choosing the fetus?  If all life has equal value, what did you just declare about your wife’s value?  …or should she have the final say–since it is her life on the line?

–the problem is, that if we accept that she should have the final say because her life is in jeopardy, we’ve established the logic that a woman has the right to determine events within her own body (which is a pro-choice argument).

Situation 2:  You are in a burning clinic.  A woman has left her baby while going to the bathroom and can’t get back to the room.  In the same room, there’s a container of 50 fertilized eggs/test-tube babies, all ready to grow.  The fire is spreading and you only have the time to grab the baby *OR* the test-tube container.  Which do you grab?

Again–does anyone leave the baby?  Do you even think more than 0.5 seconds about it?  No, not if you’re honest with yourself.  Heck–put it out to sea…save a drowning baby or retrieve a container–no one goes after a container, but we all know adults who would risk their own lives to save a drowning baby.

–the problem is, if we accept that life begins at conception and you save the baby rather than the fertilized eggs, you’ve effectively murdered 50/100/1000 human beings.

Thus, the reality is that banning abortion is not the right choice and arguing for such a ban, claiming to be ‘pro-life’ is an attempt to pull on heart-strings (who is NOT pro-life because life is good, so opposing life must make you evil….) and not something that should ever be done.  Emotional appeals are the resort of arguers who can’t sustain a position with facts.

To be clear-I’m not arguing for abortion on demand or interested in valid arguments pro/anti abortion.  I know the arguments on both sides, I do my research.  What I’m arguing against is absolutism, fundamentalism, the idea that there is no middle ground, that abortion must be a 100% evil or else a 100%-available procedure regardless of circumstance.

There IS middle ground, there is room for valid debate–but to return to that point in our culture, we must first fight the addictive hate of seeing everything as us vs. them or that anyone opposed to us is automatically evil. 

If we go back only to the 1980s (before the Gingrich-led radicalization/polarization of Congress), you can see how this works.  Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, et al. had differing views from their Democratic counterparts like Tip O’Neil or Daniel Moynihan and yet government functioned.  They realized the folly of absolute positions, that effective policy comes from discussion and compromise, that, in the words of Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts”.”

Work to help find that middle ground again–the area John McCain searched for in working across the aisle before his death.  And if you’re one of those all-or-nothing fundamentalists (far left or right)?   Well, you’re an enemy of the Republic.

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The Wisdom of John McCain…

Senator McCain died this past weekend.  He’s been lauded in enough other places, there’s really no need for me to link to them or anything like that.  Instead, I came across a story of his wit in comparison to a couple of other guys…Bush and Obama.

Bush made a comment that when he looked into Putin’s eyes (Russia’s leader), he saw the man’s soul.  A nice, poetic sort of comment.

Obama talked about Putin and in the Russian’s eyes, he saw a man willing to ‘reset’ US/USSR relations.

McCain’s comment:  “When I look in the eyes of Vladimir Putin, I see three letters: K. G. B.”

In the end, as with many things when it came to foreign policy, McCain was correct.  I think the US will miss him more than the ignorance on the extreme right realizes–McCain worked tirelessly for free trade (a benefit to the US), NATO/Atlantic security (again, to the benefit of the US), to help Vietnam and the Pacific (putting away the grudge of his treatment to rebuild relations–it is peacetime, not war).

Have there been better senators in history?  Absolutely.  But I’d sure like a couple dozen more like John McCain in office right now.  I didn’t always agree with him, but there was never a question of him believing in the American system, that he understood good ideas came from all ends of the political spectrum, and that his opponents (Democrats) were good people, just with opposing ways to work things.

Godspeed, Senator.

PS.  Bless you for poking Trump in the eye by not inviting him while inviting the two men who kept you from the presidency (Bush/Obama) to speak and THEN poking Putin by having one of the men he tried to poison/murder by a pall-bearer for you.  I hope I get as good a last word in when they put me in the ground.

The Dietz Foundation

So–at the end of June, I started something.  Quite a while ago I was terminated by a different company after selling my first one to them–my ideas for how to run a business didn’t jive with the person hired to “supervise” me….a long story.

So for the past 18 months, from the point I knew my contract would get terminated, I’ve been debating whether I wanted to start another business.  I started Jolly Roger Games when I was 27.  I’m 50 now and that’s a whole lot different life situation.  I was leaning towards ‘no’, but changed my mind for a few reasons:

  • The irrational hate from partisans preferring to ‘win’ rather than help everyone
  • The blatant lack of knowledge of history and politics
  • The denial of science by 25% of the American population
  • A guy withdrawing a huge donation to a university because they didn’t do EXACTLY as he demanded–the donation wasn’t about doing good for students, it was driven by pure ego.

The thing is–it is easy to complain and decry these problems.  Everyone can complainBut are you going to do anything about it?  I decided that if I was going to continue to complain about the direction society has taken recently, I had to make efforts to change its direction, to make it better, and so–the Dietz Foundation. 

The intention of the Foundation is to promote education through scholarship endowments, funds to schools for purchasing alternative materials for education, and hopefully in the near-future, funds for teachers/school administrators to go to conferences to learn how to use games, group projects, etc in new ways–because the world is constantly changing.

I want to do that through producing games and books–just like a normal publisher.  The difference is that the profits aren’t going into my pocket–they are going back out there to do good.   The Dietz Foundation is non-profit.  Everything short of the kitchen sink is going back out there to do good wherever possible helping kids, helping teachers.  It reminded me of something from George Washington, written at the end of the Revolution:

“Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly, than a recollection of the happy conjuncture of times and circumstances, under which our Republic assumed its rank among the Nations; The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment… have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society.”

Washington believed in education, felt that free learning was the only way the U.S. would ever reach its goals, maintain its status of respect among the nations of the world.

Anyhow–as this progresses, I’ll mention the DF here in the blog from time to time.  Want to donate?  Let me know–it’s officially a 501-c-3, so it’s a full tax-break.   It won’t take much–if I’ve got my calculations right, for every $5,000 I accumulate, I can endow a scholarship at a college or go to a high school and create two smaller ones.  For that $5,000, the Foundation could outfit a rural school with 5-6 years worth of modern technology or provide 20 schools with games for classroom use.

And that’s for $5,000!  Donations or not, I’m hoping the games the DF makes will supplement those donations to make a bigger difference.  Games are a sneaky way of teaching!

One last thing–this isn’t about donating to Harvard and Yale, the schools billionaires donate to to fill their egos.  This is about your land-grant colleges like Iowa State, your former ‘teachers colleges’ like Ball State, your community colleges like Allen CC or Lincoln Land and Lake Land College.  It’s about those hundreds of small schools that struggle because of low property taxes or poor state funding.    

 

Re-arranging history to suit our own needs

The danger of data is that many people willfully misinterpret it.  Others have a conclusion and arrange for experiments that will produce the necessary evidence to support their pre-ordained conclusion.  Personally, I’d like to think that I’ve been able to keep a relatively open mind on most things–or at least open enough that I can understand or empathize with differing opinions, though if it is a matter of actual fact, I’ll absolutely switch positions when confronted with cold, concrete evidence.

There are a lot of ways people will deceive you.  In terms of history, one of my favorites is to give information with a date, a bunch of other facts, then read another fact with a date several months/years down the road.  The author is using your natural instinct to put things in chronological, logical order to deceive you.  Those ideas in the middle aren’t necessarily taking place between the two events/dates given…they are just being mentioned in-between.  So, if I’m giving a history lesson on World War 2, I could do this:

  1. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War Two began.
  2. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
  3. Determined to increase the size of the Empire, Japan went to war with China.
  4. After entering the war on the Nazis side, Italy was thrown out of Africa very quickly, failing in their Greek campaign, too.
  5. Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad proved decisive for the war in Europe.
  6. Japan conceded after two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945.

By listing events in that fashion, I’ve re-ordered how World War Two actually went.  I’ve deceived someone who isn’t a history buff/aware of how WW2 actually went.  A couple more points on that….

1 – Our brain’s ‘need’ to make sense of things is what magically creates concepts like momentum in sports.  Our inability to understand the sudden, untimely death of a friend–we chalk that up to ‘God’s will’ when it is simply that we do not see a linear chain of events leading to the tragic end result.  In every instance, we string events together into a specific order, completely ignoring the 500 other ways a battle/relationship/game/tournament could have turned out.  Instead of believing in numbers, concepts like ‘regression to the mean’ or ‘standard deviations’, we say a team has momentum.  Bookums.  It just isn’t true.

2 – It’s a little bit PG-13/R-rated, but there’s an easy way to remember the dates of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The bombs were dropped August 6 and 9.   Yeah–you’re thinking it.  And that’s fine.  The A-bombs screwed Japan….and what number gets associated with that.  Exactly.   (Maybe in a blog down the road I can explain how you can explain quite a bit of US history from about 1600 to 1865 with ‘PISS’ and the original three Star Wars movies–if you had me as a history instructor, you bloody well better remember those even now!)

Anyways, this mostly started while I was watching a baseball game tonight.  There’s a young outfielder who’s a vet (brought up early)…he’s put up the following yearly stats:

  • 259/326/389, 11xHR, 4xSB
  • 254/349/427, 14xHR, 2xSB
  • 230/306/325, 7xHR, 11xSB (he’s young, right…maybe just a temporary unlucky dip)
  • 271/351/384, 11xHR, 20xSB
  • 227/319/389, 14xHR, 9xSB (may be swinging for the fences too much, hmmmm….)
  • 284/351/421, 11xHR, 2xSB (6 years in..looks like he won’t take another step forward)
  • 293/359/439, 13xHR, 23xSB (dang…definite speed improvement)
  • 277/393/456, 18xHR, 11xSB
  • 269/335/479, 27xHR, 21xSB

The player is now 28 years old.  You’ve got solid improvement over five straight years.  Pretty much, you’re not getting a superstar, but you’ve got someone who’s a great supplemental player–nice and consistent now.  Do you recognize the player?

Jason Heyward

All I did was move his seasons around.  If you follow baseball, you know that Heyward’s been declared a disappointment going back to his rookie season–that’s the year with the 18xHR and 11xSB.  He hit .227 the following year, then ‘broke out’ by hitting 27 homers and stealing 21.  He hasn’t had more than 14 home runs in a season since that point.

Both are the totals of Jason Heyward…but I rearranged the narrative with those first points of data.  See how you can deceive?  Cub fans would be happy with the first, are upset with the second, yet they are the numbers of the same individual.

Pay attention to numbers, but verify them.  When you are told a story, consider the agenda of who is telling it (everyone has their own perspective–there are always three sides of a story–yours, mine, and the truth in between).  Even with true statistics, people will aim to deceive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vietnam War movies

Up until its end, Vietnam represented the longest running conflict in U.S. history.  Of course, for perspective, we’ve now been in Iraq and Afghanistan 50% longer and with no end in sight (I mean, once you’ve spent $1,000,000,000,000 on a couple little wars, what’s another $1-2,000,000,000,000 among taxpayers, right?).  Given the way Vietnam tore American society into polarized bits, I guess it should be no surprise that the same has happened to our society over the past fifteen years.

It got me thinking–what films are the best representation of the Vietnam conflict?  Do they tell us anything about the era in which they were made–and that time’s opinion of the Vietnam conflict?  Are we able to learn from them anything useful to inform us on American society of today?  The films here below don’t always do that, but I consider them significant for something or another.

The Green Berets, 1968:  At the height of the war, this John Wayne film was released and is ultimately the only gung-ho, pro-war film out there.  It’s over the top in being pro-American, but it’s the only movie I can think of that shows ARVN Rangers in action (with George Takei taking time away from his role as Lt. Sulu to play the Ranger leader).

Go Tell the Spartans, 1978: One of the best anti-war films of the post-WW2 era.  It is a twist on the tale of the 300 Spartans (hence the title).  It is worth taking the time to seek out.

The Deer Hunter, 1978: Really, the first movie to deal brutally with the effects of coming home and the aftermath of combat.  He had a short career because he died from cancer–but ANYTHING with John Cazale in it is great (every movie he did was nominated/won an Academy Award)

The Odd, Angry Shot, 1979 An Australian Vietnam movie–it’s more about the boredom of being on a base and only rarely fighting.  It pokes a finger in the eye of Americans though and ultimately, the stupidity of fighting in South Vietnam.  People forget that the Vietnam War saw commitments from other nations allied to the US such as Australia or South Korea.

Apocalypse Now, 1979:  A modern retelling of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”  It’s horror at a more personal level.  You’re either going to think this is brilliant or despise it.  For me, I can’t help but think of Martin Sheen playing this character in every role he does later throughout his career.  There are great one-liners in this, but it isn’t a realistic Vietnam.  Is it?

It’s a few more years down the road until you get to the next batch of great Vietnam movies.  Those would be:

Full Metal Jacket and Gardens of Stone in ’87 and then 84Charlie MoPic two years later.  All three are radically different films.  Full Metal Jacket is two halves, one of Marine training and men pushed to their limits in one form, then the second is Hue during the Tet Offensive and men pushed a second way to the breaking point.  Gardens of Stone is about soldiers guarding Arlington just after Tet and the desire of a younger soldier to see fighting before its over and an older one knowing that war is not glorious and that there are thousands of young soldiers who were itching to see combat now buried under Arlington’s white stones.

84 Charlie is the first ‘first-person’ movie I can remember.  The film is told from the lens of a military cameraman (his designation is ’84C’, thus the movie’s title), so you are limited to seeing what the camera sees.  People give horror movies credit for this, but it’s really 84 Charlie that went there first.

The last two are different as well, each focusing on a single ‘battle’.

We Were Soldiers, 2002: Mel Gibson starring as Hal Moore in a role based on his book “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young.”  It’s about a nasty battle in the Ia Drang Valley in the fall of 1965, less than six months after the first US forces have officially entered South Vietnam.  Unlike a lot of war movies since it is 30+ years from its subject, it presents both sides fairly and also tries to show the cost back home.  It doesn’t glamorize war.  It is really the point where the war is portrayed as history rather than a visceral reliving of events for people who actually participated in the war.

The Post, 2017: Wait, what?  Yes, a newspaper movie’s here.  This is the story about the Washington Post’s fight to have the Pentagon Papers see the light of day (the leaked papers showed the government had been dishonest and was fighting beyond SVN in Cambodia, Laos, and even the coastal waters of North Vietnam).

All of these are ways to learn more about a war that is now more than 40 years in the past.  The youngest American combat veterans are now all 65 or older.  Vietnam continues to affect America–look at the divisive politics…it’s no coincidence that the main actors all were 16-24 or so during the height of the Vietnam war, so it is important to understand the conflict and the ripples it still generates in US society.

 

If you like history stuff, it’s a different war, but consider reading my The Five Days of Osan.  It’s a fictional account of men in Task Force Smith during the first five days of American involvement in the Korean War…and it’s $4.99 on Amazon.  Really.

 

 

The U.S. National Anthem

A few things first…

Here’s the Anthem’s lyrics.  Yeah, let me know if your eyes don’t roll back in your head and make the sockets bleed reading them.  Also note, the poem was written as “The Defense of Fort McHenry”…not exactly a big event by the time the anthem was adopted in 1931.

Wait–for the music, those aren’t the actual lyrics.  Those are here.  To create the Star Spangled Banner, they ripped off the song, To Anacreon in Heaven.  Basically, it’s an English society/beer-drinking song.  Yes, you read that right.  The U.S. National Anthem is a pub/drinking song from London.

So, we go back to 1931 and the decision to have an official anthem.  Nevermind that we have the Great Depression underway and a lot of serious issues to deal with, we have a debate on what should be the anthem and Congress INTENTIONALLY chose the worst option for a national anthem, a paean to war and the cheap symbolism of a flag…not to mention the U.S. getting it’s butt kicked throughout the War of 1812.   I assure you, there were much, much, much better choices available for a song toportray the US as what Reagan later called ‘The City Upon the Hill’ that were also much more sing-able.

#1: Also written originally as a poem called ‘Pike’s Peak’ by Katherine Bates, it was put to music in 1910 and given a new title, “America the Beautiful.”

One of the people most associated with the song for many, many years was blues artist Ray Charles:

Can you really dispute which is a more beautiful song?

#2:  I suppose you don’t need lyrics for an anthem (it has them, don’t worry…they are in the video about a minute in)–in which case you’ve got John Philip Souza’s 1896, “Stars and Stripes Forever”.  As of 1987, this is the national march, but does that mean anything to anyone?  Really?  That’s basically an admission of “Hey, this should be the anthem, but we don’t want to change the one now, so here, be the National March.”

#3: Written during a different war in 1918, Irving Berlin composed “God Bless America” to inspire patriotism as US soldiers fought in Europe.  The lyrics are here

The singer associated with the song for 50+ years was Kate Smith.  This is her singing it 1974 when she was in old age.  So why this video?  Because the Flyers didn’t play the anthem before games–they had Smith come out and sing “God Bless America” instead.  How many of you reading this can remember an American sporting contest where the anthem wasn’t turned into a big puffy show of faux-patriotism?  Exactly.  And you know what?  In 1974, *everyone* was totally fine with this.

#4: Another alternative available came from 1831, a century before the U.S. selected a national anthem.  Indeed, it served as an unofficial anthem at United States official ceremonies for a century.  The song is “My Country ’tis of Thee.”  There’s a small problem with the song though.  Just as the “Star Spangled Banner” ripped off music, so, too did this.  The tune for “My Country ’tis of Thee” happens to be the British anthem “God Save the Queen” (until QE2 dies in which case it’ll become ‘King’ instead)

All of these songs were available and yet we chose the Star Spangled Banner.  The lesson to take from this?   Congress and the government can screw up everything.

*****

Okay, today was the start of silly-season for me as a coach.  That means the history-related stuff will slow down a bit.  I figure you’ll see something every couple of weeks.  If you like this stuff, spread the word, tell people, hit ‘Follow‘…or send me cash.  Cash is preferred, honestly, but I understand if you want to stick with spreading the word.

 

 

 

Dwight Eisenhower and the Declaration of Independence

 Interesting pairing, huh?

As the United States heads for what is considered its birthday, No.242, on July 4th–there’s some stuff to consider (not including the fact that the United States’ birth doesn’t arguably take place until September 1787 with the creation of the Constitution) that most people don’t really think about.

First, Eisenhower letter he distributed to American soldiers as they began the Overlord campaign in June, 1944–D-Day:

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

“But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

“I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

“Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower “

A classic letter, written simply and clearly.  Ike had faults as a commander, but an understanding of the psyche of the men under his command was certainly not one of them.  The thing is, when General Eisenhower wrote that letter, he wrote a second one, one that didn’t get published.  It’s significantly shorter:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.    —–July 5.”  (It tells you the stress he was under that he whiffed on what month it was when he wrote the letter…not just the day, but the month.)

Anyways–with all that, what about the Declaration of Independence, Jim?   I’m glad you asked.  It’s a bit too long to put here in a blog, so here’s the link to the text.

Eisenhower wrote two notes–one explaining what we were doing, then a second in case of failure.  Read the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress manage to do both in a single document.   Just as Ike’s plain message resonated with its target audience, so, too did Jefferson’s more elegant prose.

The DoI gives the reasons for breaking off from England’s control, but in doing so, it lays them out in great detail–enough that if the revolution fails, the rebels will still have history on their side to judge their causes (and never underestimate the long term power of history as judge).   It is a brilliant document, and reading it for what it is, it is one of the 3 or 4 greatest pieces of propaganda ever written.  It inspires you to take up arms against injustice, just as those soldiers on June 6, 1944, took to Normandy to help liberate nation from the Nazis. It inspires you just as the French peasant Army of the Rhein’s marching song, La Marseillais, makes you want to defend France from all comers, especially in a Casablanca bar.  

Take the time to read the Declaration.  Admire its brilliance in terms of rhetoric and writing.  Read the objections the Continental Congress had to Britain’s oppression–how many of those objections are afflicting the US today?  And think of this all with the understand that when it was written, Jefferson and those others expected to lose, to be hanged as traitors to the British Empire.

The United States has a responsibility to try living up to the ideals within the Declaration of Independence.  We can never achieve those goals–they are ideals, after all–but we owe it to the Founding Fathers and we owe it to our children and our children’s children to try.