Political Correctness is the arch-enemy of truth, justice, and rationality.

Congratulations! You’ve found the Third Rail blog.

Censorship is alive and well. The vast majority of it comes from the left, from so-called “progressives.” An unexpected legacy of my generation’s ‘Free Speech’ movement, perhaps? As they say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Support this blog site, stand up for real free speech, not just politically correct free speech. Become a follower and contribute to the discussions. Thank you.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Wonder Years

It’s either a Tuesday or a Thursday, whichever is first in the month, 1965. If during the school year, it would be afternoon.  The place: Brooklyn, the local candy store. The occasion?  The day the comics come out.

I might arrive before they’ve been put up. If so, they’re in a stack, maybe a foot high, wrapped by wire on four sides like Christmas ribbon.  I’d ask Mr. Z, the Jewish proprietor, to pleeeez open them up. No need to look for a scissor, just unwind the wire. I can do it! Don’t delay!

And there they were!  Maybe three or four of the first batch of this month’s titles. Perhaps Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish. Perhaps a Sgt. Fury.  Hopefully at least one of the major titles: Fantastic Four, Thor, Spider-Man. Gold.

Those stunning Jack Kirby covers, jumping out at me, demanding to be lovingly picked up and oh-so carefully opened. Or a Steve Ditko Spider-Man or Strange Tales.  Beautiful also, though in a distinctly different way.

This was the ritual that dominated my youth at ages eleven, twelve, and thirteen. If I remember correctly, the comics would come out as early as the first Tuesday or Thursday in the month. It might take two weeks of Tuesdays and Thursdays for the full complement of the month’s Marvels to come out.  Then would come the unbearable two week-or-so wait for next month’s issues.

Kirby spoke about the importance of the covers. It was a business, after all, and the cover was the sizzle that sold the steak. Those covers had to leap out at you and demand ownership!  This was why Kirby drew most of the covers regardless of who drew the stories inside (except for Steve Ditko’s, the lesser giant).

My first Marvel was Thor #114. It’s not hard to see why it grabbed my attention and compelled me to part with 12 cents—which was probably a lot of money to me back then.

You could buy 2 candy bars and have enough left over to buy two Tootsie-rolls or 2 Bazooka Joes with 12 cents.

Who can remember that far back?  My weekly allowance—if I had any—might’ve been 25 cents. Possibly a buck?

Look at this image!  Imagine seeing it through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy. The noble hero combating an escaped convict. Kirby is the acknowledged 'King' of the medium, and this picture illustrates why. That hammer is hitting that ball and chain! Like, really! The motion of the arm and the body twisting in concert; the surefooted stance from which derives the upper-body strength. The brutal ferocity of the “Absorbing Man,” seemingly equal in power to the noble Thunder God.

They were a revelation.  Where have you been all my life?  Within a couple of months I became a collector of every single Marvel title. I read them and re-read them, in the most delicate fashion. Fingertips only. Never—ever!—bending back. No one was allowed to touch them, let alone read them. Not even my brother. They were safely stored in a box; unfortunately, not in bags with boards.

As these moments defined my life at this time, I naturally sought companionship to share this with. I made friends with the other kid in the neighborhood who understood. He was a Puerto Rican kid from across the street.

After buying the new comics we didn’t take them home to read them—we read them immediately. Wherever we were. We’d find a stoop to squat on, or just stand on the sidewalk. First the awesome splash page, almost as good as the cover. As we looked at the panels, at the action in those panels, we were those characters! We became Captain America jiu-jitsuing Batroc the Leaper. This was the power—no, the magic!—of Jack Kirby’s art.  He had an ability to capture motion, not just fighting motion, but just normal movement of the body, in a naturalistic way that no other artist came close to approximating.

And Kirby’s figures lived within frames of exquisite composition and masterful design, often with stunning background detail.

After discovering Marvel comics, we began a daily routine. Every afternoon, as soon as we got home from school, we went on our pilgrimage to track down past issues. Some stores did a business in buying and selling used comics. I don’t recall what they sold them for—it might’ve been a dime.  There was no premium on older issues.  Perhaps the storekeepers bought them for a nickel.

Perhaps they were just taken for free off the hands of some mom who was sick of her son reading “those comic books.” An alternative to throwing them into the garbage—which was the common final resting place for most comics.

When we first discovered this trick, we of course bought every single old Marvel around. There were maybe three or four merchants in the neighborhood who sold used comics. They kept them in boxes behind the counter, so you had to ask for them. These were places that did a brisk trade in 15-cent egg-creams and nickel bags of Wise potato chips.

So our daily routine was to hit these stores and see if someone had brought in any Marvels since the last time we checked. In a way, this was almost as exciting as the thrill of seeing the brand new comics, because you never knew what might turn up.  This was before there were any reprints. We had no idea what previous issues contained. Who the FF fought in some random previous issue. Earlier costumes. We didn’t know that a few months prior “Thor” was titled “Journey into Mystery.”  A Tales of Suspense with no Captain America feature? Imagine the thrill of finding one of those!

These excursions were for us, literally treasure hunts. Any old Marvels that we found were, indeed, treasure to us. There is nothing—nothing!—we wanted more. Treasure.

We were relentless in pursuit of the older issues. We researched leads. We traded with each other. My goal in life was to get every single Fantastic Four and Thor. We wanted them all.
What actually happened is that these ‘behind the counter used comic books’ sources eventually dried up.

And then I moved. From the ghetto that was Williamsburg to a better neighborhood: Bay Ridge. I continued collecting Marvels... for a few years. My Puerto Rican friend’s family returned to Puerto Rico. We wrote a few times. I eventually made new friends who collected Marvels.

But it was Junior High now, and I was discovering new interests. Music (after all, it was the mid-sixties). Girls.  I kept collecting for awhile, but the magic incrementally disappeared.  In fact, it wasn’t just growing up—the magic really had gone!  With hindsight, it’s clear that there was a peak period for Marvel comics, roughly spanning the years 1964 through 1967. When Jack Kirby and Stan Lee fed on each other’s creativity like Lennon and McCartney.

Jack Kirby eventually left Marvel, but the decline began some years before. Some of the titles began simply reprinting older issues. That seemed like outright theft to me.

It’s hard to be completely objective, but looking back it really does appear as if latched on just in the nick of time. Very lucky, I guess.

Here’s to you, Jack Kirby, and to my Puerto Rican buddy from Williamsburg, wherever you are. Thank you. And yes, I still have my comics.

# # #

Jack Kirby Gallery
# # #

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Profiling: The Elephant in the Room at Zimmerman Trial

Those that want to “hang” George Zimmerman rest their hopes on the prosecution’s success in showing that he profiled Trayvon Martin—singled him out for suspicion—because he was black.

If the jury can be convinced of this, they reason, then regardless of who jumped who, of who was in fear for their life during the fight, the shooting of unarmed Trayvon constitutes murder in the 2nd degree because of the racial animus implicit in the racial profiling, without which there would have been no altercation.

“Profiling” is commonly thought of as using a person’s race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background (the list continues to grow...) as a primary predictor of their likelihood to commit some egregious act.  To get an operational definition of “profiling” we need to append the clause: “when the target of the profiling belongs to an acceptable victim group.”

Profiling is inextricably linked with political correctness.

It turns out that there had been many recent break-ins at the Twin Lakes gated housing development in Sanford, FL where Zimmerman lived and Trayvon was visiting. The recession had decimated the property values of the homes in the relatively young housing development. Units that originally sold in the $250k range to owner-occupiers had since plummeted in value to the $80k range—a situation familiar to many throughout the US, and especially so to communities in Florida which was particularly hard-hit by the housing bubble collapse.

Subsequently, many of the units at Twin Lakes were rented, and a crime-wave of burglaries ensued. According to statements heard at the trial and corroborated by crime reports, all of the most recent 7 break-ins were committed by black men. Therefore, there is a likelihood that the next break-in will also be committed by a black man, or put another way, it is statistically more likely that a black male rather than a white male will commit a burglary at the housing complex.

But under the prohibition against profiling, any crime-prevention efforts must ignore the statistical likelihood that break-ins at the development are caused, perhaps exclusively, by black males. This begs the question: When does it become okay to acknowledge that the perpetrators of the break-ins are black males, and act accordingly with that knowledge in any preventive measures to address crime in the complex?  What if there were 10 break-ins, all perpetrated by black males? One hundred? 

At what point does it become not only an absurdity but also, and more importantly, does it actually undermine law enforcement efforts, when the demographic profile of the people committing the crimes is deliberately ignored?

Apparently no one questions that profiling is an evil practice, the accusation of which will cause an alleged “profiler” to twist and turn in linguistic contortions trying to explain how recognizing the racial identity of past criminal behavior in a given community is not ...  recognizing the racial identity of past criminal behavior in the given community.  Yes, it’s an impossible task, and amusing to watch in the Zimmerman trial, in a perverse sort of way.

This illogical, counterproductive obeisance to political correctness is not restricted to the disproportional prevalence of black crime. It also explains why TSA agents avoid profiling the group solely responsible for all the acts of terrorism at our airports since 9/11—middle-eastern/northern-African Islamics—by also body-searching white grandmothers in wheelchairs and 4-year-old children.

But as stated above, profiling is only profiling when the target group is a legitimate “victim group” as established by the canons of political correctness.

One particularly virulent strain of profiling occurs each and every day throughout the nation, but it is never acknowledged as such and hence it’s never in the news and never the subject of a “study” by well-meaning, progressive social science academics. Nor is it fodder for a Hollywood drama starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, screaming out for social justice and warmly rewarded with an Oscar on that night when Hollywood celebrities revel in their circle-jerk of self-righteousness.

The most pernicious, pervasive, unjust —and apparently completely invisible!—form of profiling is visited upon men accused of “gender crimes,” mired in everyday courtroom dramas that never make it to cable TV.  Accusations of domestic abuse/violence that coincidentally occur when a divorce is filed and custody of children is an issue. Men accused of sexual assault or rape in so-called “date-rape” cases after the “victim” has second thoughts the following morning. Men who seek custody of their children, even when there are no allegations of abuse made by the mother.

In the abstract, profiling is akin to the process of using discrimination (in the textbook, i.e., good sense of the word) to make decisions. That is, the process whereby we employ observation, logic, perhaps supported by some probability and statistics analysis, all in concert to make strategic decisions about a future action.  To optimize a choice. An example might be in industry whereby decisions are made in Quality Control on how to test a production line of widgets in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
“Profiling” in the common, legal usage, i.e., circumscribed by the parameters of identity politics, transmogrifies this process into something evil.

Somehow, when it comes to matters of crime prevention and air-traffic safety, to use two of the more familiar examples, we have all been brainwashed to pretend that recognizing a profile of the criminal perpetrators is somehow wrong and must be condemned and prohibited. George Zimmerman should be found guilty of 2nd –degree murder because he profiled Trayvon Martin, regardless of the facts of the actual altercation that are emerging in the trial.

If you lived in the Twin Lakes gated community and were aware of the history of break-ins, would you be more suspicious of a strange black man in a hoodie than you would of a white man you didn’t recognize? If no, then you deserve the politically correct seal of approval for your bias-free powers of observation; however you fail miserably in life skills and common sense, and if it were your job to safeguard the security of the residents you would be woefully derelict in your duties and should be fired.

Consider these crime statistics: 
  • Blacks commit 42% of all burglaries, a rate exceeding 3 times their proportion (13%) in the general population.[i]
  • Blacks commit 55% of all robberies, 4 times their proportion in the general population.[ii]
  • Blacks are 7 times as likely as whites to commit murder.[iii]
  • The single biggest predictor of violent crime levels in an area is the percentage of the population that is black and Hispanic.[iv]
  • 28% of people arrested for burglary are black.[v]
Look closely at the last stat. How do we account for the fact that though 42% of all burglaries were committed by blacks, only 28% of those arrested were black?

This is not an aberration. It turns out that, contrary to what we are led to believe, blacks are not arrested “en masse” on suspicion of criminality. In fact they are arrested at rates less than the actual rates at which they statistically commit the crimes. With respect to arrest rates, blacks are in fact, “reverse-profiled.” The explanation for this is that in response to political pressure, police departments have adjusted policies to afford especial leniency to blacks and minorities.

An example of this can actually be found in the Zimmerman trial. Trayvon Martin had a criminal history—though the jury has been protected from this knowledge. Trayvon benefitted from a policy of the Miami-Dade Sanford Police Department geared to minimize school arrests of black males. Trayvon had been apprehended with a burglary tool and also with pilfered jewelry. These offenses should’ve been arrestable, but political pressure to show improvements in juvenile delinquency in the school district fudged the reports, including one for pot possession, such that Trayvon’s punishment was limited to two school suspensions.

Unfortunately I suffer from an acute case of rationalism, so to me it seems a no-brainer that rather than looking for ways to hide these politically incorrect inconvenient truths by attacking “profiling” and “stop-and-frisk” policies, we should be using any and all legal means at our disposal to actually deal with these crimes, including profiling.

And if you’re really interested in the ‘why’ of the appallingly high rates of black crime, refer to the paragraph above regarding the “invisible” profiling. The strategic correlation to be made is with children raised without their fathers...  but that leads to a 3rd rail even hotter than racial profiling.

[i] NCVS incident-level data for the years 2001 to 2003 were extracted from US, Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics

[ii] ibid
[iii] Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011, Nov. 16, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/htus8008pr.cfm
[iv] The Color of Crime: Race, Crime, and Justice in America, 2005, New Century Foundation
[v] US, Dept. of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Crime in the United States, 2002 [This is the official title of document that is based on the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR).]

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Online Education: Full-speed ahead, or time for a fire drill?

by R Tarpaeian

Education isn’t the first industry to be upended by the internet, and it surely won’t be the last. Online education, aka distance learning, is rapidly proliferating throughout colleges and universities; its future appears inevitable. But there are other seismic trends and innovations ongoing in education. How these trends eventually intersect is unpredictable, but one thing seems certain: higher ed. as we know it will grow increasingly unrecognizable.
With online and self-paced education, the role of the ‘chalk-and-talk’ lecturer gradually disappears, being replaced by students essentially doing the work themselves. Learning is done through a variety of “delivery systems,” all accessible online: video lectures, the e-book textbook, e-tutoring chat systems, etc. The course needs a real teacher to set up, but once that’s done the process can be easily automated.
The second trend affecting higher education is economic. We’re all familiar with the dismal employment statistics of recent college grads due to a global recession that shows no sign of abating.  Chances are you were served your Starbucks coffee this morning from one. Likewise the salesman who put you in that new car. It’s an inconvenient reality and an ugly truth, but in the employment stakes derby a college degree today serves the same purpose formerly satisfied with a high school diploma: a certification of sorts that someone is educable, as in capable of learning tasks required for a specific job for a prospective employer. But there’s one big difference: the high school diploma is free.
College grads struggling to get a job that comports with their expensive education are asking themselves if the thousands of dollars of debt are actually worth it? When considering $250 textbooks, overpriced room-and-board, and perhaps the ultimate injustice: required internships where students pay for the full cost of the credits “earned” from their (usually) unpaid work, the answer for many of them will be “no.”
A third trend is related to the first: open education. Many universities are experimenting with open online classes. These courses don’t qualify for actual credits toward a degree, but at some point that distinction becomes unjustifiable. Why is math expertise learned from khanacademy.org inferior to that obtained by taking a credit course from a university–especially when it’s an online course?  It’s only a matter of time before students rebel at this educational apartheid and demand that their self-directed academic work be treated equally, once institutional rubrics on the same material are satisfied and some appropriate fee is paid.
Colleges are racing to embrace online education. Unless one looks at long term consequences, it appears to be the best thing since sliced bread. A profit-generating machine. Essentially, once an online course is set up, a monkey can be trained to administer it. Classrooms and much of the attendant overhead are eliminated. Costs are slashed. Why is a full-fledged professor required to merely process data from an application program, occasionally communicate with students through the software and generally make sure that everything operates smoothly? Think of the epic labor battles to be waged by teachers’ unions fighting to defend full pay and status—or just simply require a (human) administrator!—in an online-education environment where students teach themselves.
Perhaps the ultimate nightmare scenario on the horizon is the “turnkey” college degree. The criminal mind is always one step ahead of the forces of law and order. Can we really expect humanities professors to recognize every plagiarized paper given the virtually unlimited wealth of literature available online with a few mouse clicks, not to mention the growing number of online businesses created explicitly to service this ‘need’?  How long until it’s possible to purchase a Harvard degree for some fixed but presumably substantial amount of money, from an enterprise that will guarantee a degree after the requisite years of “enrollment”? The ‘customer’ will be required to provide vital statistics including social security number and the infrequent but unavoidable flight-in for the occasional face-to-face.
In short, educators need to carefully consider the consequence of the following trends:

  • Functional equivalence of college degree with high school diploma of generations past.
  • Sky-high college tuition costs resulting in crippling debt loads for graduates.
  • No guarantee that a college degree will be rewarded with a secure, good-paying, professional job, and the growing awareness in students and parents that a college education isn’t necessarily required for a happy, debt-free, prosperous life—there are alternatives.
  • Online education that is ripe for fraud, and not worth the cost as professors (the main cost factor) are removed from their teaching role.
  • Competing, often free, online education systems delivering a product of equal quality.
Educators rushing to take advantage of technological advances in education should be careful what they wish for...


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Domestic Violence "Science" on Trial with Jodi Arias

Guest Op-ed, from R. Tarpaeian

Alyce LaViolette, domestic violence expert extraordinaire with over 30 years’ experience, is giving battered women a black eye.  She is the star witness for the defense, brought in to convince a jury that Jodi Arias, who admits to the brutal slaughtering of her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander, was actually a battered woman—a domestic violence victim.

Bear in mind that this murder was particularly gruesome. Arias stabbed Travis 29 times, one cut an ear-to-ear throat slashing, and for good measure shot him in the face with a handgun.

Other than Ms. Arias’ own testimony after the fact, there is no evidence to support any allegation of domestic violence on the part of Mr. Alexander. There is, however, ample evidence that Jodi Arias stalked Travis, and of course eventually savagely butchered him.

It should come as no surprise that Ms. LaViolette has come under severe criticism. Feminists and “battered women’s advocates” fear that she is doing irreparable harm to their cause.  She is being criticized as a typical defense shill, no different than one of the other expert witnesses for the defense, psychologist Richard Samuels. He attempted to paint Arias as a sympathetic victim who suffered an abusive childhood. Because Arias eventually admitted to the murder only after floating several alternate realities (including one claiming that two ninjas did the deed), the primary goal of the defense is to avoid a murder-1 conviction that could bring the death penalty.

Enter domestic violence expert Ms. LaViolette.  

As everyone knows, using behavioral “scientists” of one breed or another in criminal cases is standard operating procedure.  Everyone in the courtroom recognizes these people as hired guns. They are hired only if their analysis bolsters the side’s case. It’s a game. After they lend their expertise in the direct, the opposition attempts to discredit them in the cross-examination.

But it is a big mistake to view Ms. LaViolette through this lens.  She is not just a hired gun who, had she been hired by the prosecution would have testified just as authoritatively on Mr. Alexander’s behalf. There is ample evidence that Travis was afraid of Jodi. Friends warned him that she was dangerous. The state has a much stronger case that Jodi Arias fits the “batterer profile,” someone that could carefully plan and commit the ultimate act of domestic violence, which after all is what this trial is about.

She stalked him. She was obsessed with him. If she couldn’t have him, nobody would. Her behaviors are in line with many of the classic benchmarks of “abuse” defined by the “experts” such as LaViolette—one of which asserts that an “abuser” will eventually kill “his” victim if there is no intervention.

But there is no circumstance that would ever find Ms. LaViolette defending a male victim of domestic violence. In fact, under intense cross-examination she admitted that she had never served as an expert witness on behalf of a man.

But rest assured Alyce LaViolette knows men very well. Most of her employment has been counseling “batterers,” a profitable business these days. Had the prosecutor been on the ball he could have easily discredited LaViolette at jump street by simply asking her about the circumstances of the men in the “batterers groups” that she runs.

Are they all guilty of beating women? Undoubtedly some of them are—but most people don’t understand the legal machinery involved in domestic violence allegations. An accusation of domestic abuse, something routine in a contested divorce involving custody of children, usually results in an “abuse protection” order. Once in place, it requires literally nothing other than a verbal claim to haul the man into court for a criminal prosecution of a technical violation of the abuse protection, or “restraining,” order (which is “civil” in nature when issued, but transforms to criminal when a violation is alleged).

Men are prosecuted for ridiculously innocuous things, such as phoning their child at a day or time not “allowed” by the restraining order; happening to be in the same public place as the “victim,” or even being intentionally invited by the “victim” for the express purpose of entrapment.

Once accused, the punishment often results in probation to avoid a jail sentence if the accused successfully completes a “batterers program.” Besides her forensic career as a domestic violence expert witness, which pays her $300 an hour, this is what LaViolette does. She runs batterer programs for men who have been accused of domestic violence.

Another pertinent question the prosecution could have asked is: Do the men LaViolette treats volunteer for her counseling? Well, in the first place, if they don’t, they go to jail, as it’s a condition for probation.

Once wringing this admission from LaViolette, the prosecutor should have then probed her on the issue of guilt or innocence of the men assigned to her program under threat of jail time. Do they ever claim innocence, i.e., that they were falsely accused? 

Well, under the rules of these batterer treatment programs, this can’t happen. In order to be admitted into the program the men have to sign a lengthy document that among other things requires them to confess to committing domestic violence. And of course, if they refuse to sign they violate probation and... go to jail.

This then, is the captive audience for LaViolette’s treatment. If it sounds like something out of Stalin’s Soviet Union, it should. These are, in fact, re-education camps.

Back to LaViolette’s defense of Jodi Arias.

Ms. LaViolette is symptomatic of all domestic violence experts. When confronted with a situation where a woman has abused, battered, or even killed a man, the response is always the same: 1. Deny.  2. Minimize. 3. Excuse.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s part of the standard mantra of domestic violence pseudo-science.  It is presented in the canonical literature as the pattern of responses by (always) male perpetrators of domestic violence when confronted. First they deny that it happened. Then they minimize the extent of the abuse, and/or they attempt to excuse it by blaming the victim for doing something to provoke them.

Battered women advocates like LaViolette at first even refused to acknowledge that domestic violence runs both ways. Unbiased research, what little there is, has shown going back to the late seventies that women are at least as likely to initiate domestic violence as men. Eventually they were forced to acknowledge it, as even LaViolette grudgingly did on the stand once or twice. But having been forced to admit that female-on-male domestic violence exists they then resort to... minimizing and excusing it. They claim that the frequency of women abusing men is insignificant , and in the same breath are careful to remind us of why women do what they do... i.e., they rationalize it by claiming that the man was ultimately responsible because of some past actions and behaviors.  They excuse it.

And this is exactly what LaViolette attempted to do on the stand to support the murderess, Jodi Arias.  The only problem is that she is trying to excuse an unbelievably brutal murder using testimony solely from the murderer! Incredibly, in response to a juror’s written question directly putting it to her if the gruesome butchery of Travis Alexander wasn’t the “greater act of domestic violence” than those supposedly committed by Travis as represented to her by Jodi; she actually answered “No.”

Alyce LaViolette, with her 20-page CV, and her 30-some-odd years in the field, is not an aberration. She is the face of victim-feminism, of a worldview that has indoctrinated two generations of women and men into believing that relationships between men and women are based on power and control, rather than love and reciprocity.

It is no secret that many of the women in this arena have evolved into lifestyles that exclude men from their beds. It is no secret that the majority of lesbianism is the product of learned, adaptive behavior. To believe that women who suffer bad marriages and turn into man-hating harridans (often disguised as compassionate, well-meaning, learned “educators”) and “discover” a latent sexual preference for women that was actually innate, is almost as absurd as believing that incarcerated men who turn to homosexuality were born that way but just required the right environment to discover their true sexual appetites.

Quite frankly, the notion that women—or men—who are incapable of having intimate relations with the opposite sex are gainfully employed as experts presiding over any aspect of male-female relationships should give pause to any rational person. Surely, it’s time to recognize that the inmates have been given the keys to the asylum.

Alyce LaViolette defending Jodi Arias as a victim of domestic violence is Exhibit A of the corruption of the behavioral sciences. I won’t say that psychobabbling behavioral experts have no place in the courtroom... they do: as criminal defendants.

It’s time to take the keys back. 

# # #


Friday, February 8, 2013

Predator Drones and American Exceptionalism

It’s estimated that US drone attacks have killed between 3,000 and 4,500 people since 2002... and that less than 10% of those were the actual targeted terrorist killers. Among the “collateral damage” are about 200 children.

Now, I will listen to arguments that these remote-control killings are necessary and justified; however, if that is what you believe, you cannot, in my opinion, make any claim as to the US’s moral leadership in the world. The argument that “the behavior of {country X} is worse,” doesn’t cut it. We now, as official policy, strike and kill people in other nations with whom we are not at war. We also have a policy of (foreign) assassination. Furthermore, we practice torture and often employ agents in foreign countries to do this work (“extraordinary rendition”).

So, if you believe this is all justified, fine, but please put aside any claims to any moral superiority.

The idea of other countries acting this way­—targeting victims in the US with the use of drones, for example—is of course, unthinkable. But this notion that we alone are justified in such action is the original meaning behind the expression “American exceptionalism,” which was first used by the Brits under Tony Blair. It did not mean that the US is exceptional in the sense of “the best,” it meant that rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to us.  We are the “exceptions” to the rule. We are exempt. For whatever reason, the usage has since changed to reflect the more pedestrian interpretation.

So, “American exceptionalism,” in its original coinage, is in fact the justification for killing people in foreign countries by remote control. Can you say “manifest destiny?”

The post-9-11 CIA Predator Drone attacks on al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan began under President Bush. But they have vastly increased under President Obama’s tenure. Now, why is this so?  Isn’t Obama a ‘leftist’?  Didn’t he campaign on closing Guantanamo, ending the Iraq War and in general reining in military excesses? Was he some kind of closet right-wing militarist who showed his true colors once he gained the office of Supreme Commander?

Of course not. When faced with the reality of the military-industrial complex, he and his cabinet, including (former) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, lacked the personal strength and will to oppose them. This is one of the pitfalls of hiring a weak chief executive.

What would have happened if Obama or (W) Bush were president during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962?  Would either of them have had the will, wisdom and personal power to say ‘No’ to the Joint Chiefs’ recommended course of action?  Would we still be here today if it wasn’t someone of the caliber of John Kennedy in the White House at the time? Perhaps it takes someone who has experienced the horrors of war firsthand, such as an Eisenhower, Kennedy or a McCain, to man-up to the task of responsibly executing the job of Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful nation.