Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Legacy of Subjugation

It must be Pick On Pat Buchanan Week. But then again, his ignorance and prejudice are such that exposing them is the only responsible thing to do. The problem with Mr. Buchanan receiving as much air time as he does is that viewers are duped into thinking that he speaks for a large number of people. The consequence of this is the further polarization of the races. The marginal thinking of Mr. Buchanan deserves marginal exposure. But the networks eat it up because nothing sells like controversy.

Newsflash: Pat Buchanan does not represent the thinking of educated and informed white people. If he speaks for anyone anymore, he speaks for an ever-dwindling fringe of backward-thinking, ultra-conservative people who have no sense of history or responsibility vis-à-vis Black Americans and their experience.

Mr. Buchanan likes to point to statistics that reveal a state of affairs in the Black community today that is, shall we say, wanting. And then he has the temerity to suggest that Blacks in America are wholly responsible for whatever blight has befallen their condition. Statistics in a vacuum of context mean absolutely nothing. What does it mean that the illegitimacy rate among Blacks is 70%? What does it mean that Blacks commit crime at a rate seven times that of Whites? What is really behind the phenomenon of so-called self segregation among so many Blacks? What does it mean when no Blacks perform highly enough on a New Haven firefighter's examination to qualify for promotion?

We could ask questions like this all day long, and those who tend to disregard the truth about the Black experience in America probably see no connection between hundreds of years of subjugation to White authority, subordination to White privilege and the state of affairs in the Black community today. Plus, pointing up only the negative statistics serves to contradict and deny the reality that despite what they have had to endure, Blacks have enriched American culture immeasurably.

When Black intellectuals like Michael Eric Dyson or Cornell West make the point that White America has yet to accept its responsibility for the struggling plight of African Americans or that this country has yet to live up to its promise of equality and opportunity for everyone, they are castigated by those able to disguise their ignorance and prejudice as moderate, populist rhetoric.

The irony of Mr. Buchanan's statistical pontificating is that any enlightened interpretation of these statistics is infinitely more damning to Whites than Blacks. Rather than revealing a lack of responsibility by African Americans for their own plight, they reveal the extent to which White America has abdicated its responsibility for cultivating a society where fairness and opportunity are not just words but cherished ideals.

While it cannot be denied that much progress has been made toward realizing America's promise, it is ludicrous to pretend that we have done all that is necessary to level the playing field. As it exists today, the so-called playing field is pockmarked with craters of injustice. White America needs to grow up and accept its share of responsibility for the disproportionate levels of social ills afflicting Black America. It has had a big hand in fomenting the conditions where hopelessness and despair can take hold and complicate the struggle to thrive.

Black Americans aren't looking for excuses - just validation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Theory vs. Fact: The Erroneous Premise

A common representation by many religious people who are skeptical of the theory of evolution is that it is "just a theory" and not "fact." Making this statement reveals an underlying misconception of just what a theory is. In the realm of science, "the meaning of theory is very rigorous: a theory must be based on observable facts and must make testable predictions." (Wikipedia: Evolution As Theory and Fact)

In some respects, theories are on a higher order than simple facts because theories serve to explain facts. Very often the word "fact" is used to convey something that is presumed to be immutable or unalterably true. This is not the case in a scientific sense. Something is factual when its predictions have survived so many tests that continuing to perform tests makes little or no sense; its degree of probability is extremely high. In this context, the consensus among scientists is that evolution is indeed a fact as well.

It's quite possible that what many skeptics intend to say is that evolution is a hypothesis, i.e., a proposition set forth as a possible explanation for certain phenomena. The problem here is that it has been a hundred and fifty years since evolution has been considered a hypothesis. It has long since graduated to accepted theory. Bearing in mind that theories are never proven absolutely true, current or accepted theories - to be more precise - have survived numerous tests to invalidate them, thereby rendering their probability very high.

At this point, we arrive at the reason something like intelligent design is unacceptable as a scientific theory: its predictions are not testable! Rational scientists do not preclude the possibility that there may be an intelligent designer behind the creation of the universe; they merely contend that such a hypothesis is untestable, ergo not fit for presentation in the scientific classroom. To be more precise, predictions made by intelligent design are not based on observable facts. They often purport to be, but so far these claims of fact have been scientifically refuted. The essence of ID is that where there is no explanation for something as of yet, e.g., gaps in the fossil record, the default explanation is there must be an intelligent designer.

In short, ID proponents thought that if they presented intelligent design as a scientific theory, it would be suitable for the science classroom. As jurisdictions throughout the country are beginning to confirm, whatever ID is, it is not science. "...[I]t is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom." (The TalkOrigins Archive: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Best 'Health Care System?' - Not a Chance

A persistent claim by many politicians opposed to major health care reform - most of whom are Republicans - is that we here in the United States already have the best health care system in the world. Their hope is that if they can sell the American people on this feeble myth, they will be able to preserve a system they amazingly see little wrong with.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said something very stupid. Like telling Americans they can have good health care coverage too if they just "went to work for the federal government." Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) also said that people without insurance are not really denied health care because all they have to do is "go to the emergency room." Not only do these idiotic remarks need no elucidation, they are indefensible.

What are these detractors referring to when they make this claim about Americans having the best health care system in the world? What is clear is that the United States can deliver the best emergency care of any country. "Highly trained American doctors can summon Star Wars-type technology in saving patients who have become seriously injured or critically ill." (Myth: The U.S. Has the Best Health Care System In the World)

What this means is that from a strictly medical perspective, i.e., economic considerations aside, we have the best doctors and the best system for providing high-end, complicated care and procedures to people in critical situations. As remarkable as this ability is, it has little effect on the issue of providing coverage and delivering services to the every day masses who are in need of more routine - but nonetheless important - medical care including preventive medicine. Being able to safely perform quadruple-bypass surgery or highly complicated neurosurgery is great, but what about the uninsured individual who simply can't find a primary care physician?

A sustainable, profit-driven model has yet to emerge as a viable option for providing comprehensive health care to an entire society because covering everyone for all conditions would eviscerate the bottom line of any profit-driven scheme. In other words, to realize a profit in the business of health care delivery, coverage must exclude certain conditions as well as a certain segment of society.

If the goal of making any public option a self-sustaining one is to be realized, there may be no alternative other than to tax high income earners enough to achieve this. As the United States has the world's worst income disparity between rich and poor, such a tax would serve to mitigate this cruel inequity. Further, young and healthy people should be legally obliged to participate in a health insurance program because their contributions are necessary to provide for the poor, sick, elderly and indigent among whom they will one day be counted.

The American health care industry may well be profitable, but its health care system is loathsomely deficient.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama Shoots From the Hip - Finally

If there is one thing that has characterized President Obama's approach to sensitive or difficult situations, it has been his rock-steady sense of reserve, caution and deliberation. Something recently happened, however, which finally revealed a chink in his armor of prudence.

After admitting that he didn't have "all the facts" about the arrest of Harvard's Henry Louis Gates, he then said something that not having all the facts should have precluded him from saying. It was an unlikely reaction for someone of President Obama's stature. By saying that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" he has accomplished a near-infamous feat. Despite all he has said and done to bring wisdom to the issue of race relations in America, the president's remark holds the potential for raising tensions between the races.

That the Cambridge police might have "acted stupidly" is a matter to be determined by the facts as they are revealed. It's quite possible they did act stupidly, but it was not for the president to make this judgment prematurely. Some would argue - with good reason - that even if the Cambridge police acted with egregious malfeasance, any reaction from the president should necessarily be both measured and cautious.

As President Obama himself has stated several times, we are all prone to the occasional gaffe. The problem is this particular remark smells more like a Freudian slip than an unthinking gaffe. This does not mean the only interpretation of this incident should be sinister. The hard truth is that white Americans do not know what it is like to be treated as little more than a suspect class of citizens. Racial profiling remains a stubborn stain on the otherwise honorable uniforms of many law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

The president should make a humble and unambiguous apology for his remark. This is the all-important first step toward repairing whatever damage may have already been done. Police agencies across the country should, with equal humility, move to accept his apology. Certainly Americans have achieved a sufficient level of understanding about each other to know that an incident such as this is not beyond our ability to comprehend and put into proper perspective. A mutual offer of emotional leeway should be more than sufficient to turn this incident into something everyone can learn from. And anyone looking to capitalize on this miscue for nefarious purposes should be exposed, called to account and deservingly marginalized.

Pat Buchanan: Ignorant White Supremacist

Rachel vs. Pat

You gotta love Rachel Maddow. Yes she's liberal, gay, progressive and spunky. It's also plain she has a nose for BS. In the video linked above, Maddow corrects the record as put forth by the all-too-obnoxious Pat Buchanan.

This writer once complimented Mr. Buchanan as an insightful critic who often had something of value to say despite his ultra-conservative, out-of-touch political orientation. (Pat Buchanan: Tolerable Critic?) This writer would now like to offer himself up for ridicule and derision for having ever been so naive.

Pat Buchanan represents all that is ideologically bankrupt about conservative punditry, especially concerning matters of race. He asserts that affirmative action is an institution that discriminates against white people. Allow me to put it this way: He is absolutely correct! Affirmative action does in fact put into place a system of granting favor to minorities in matters of employment, school admissions, etc. What he conveniently forgets to tell us is that affirmative action was conceived as a remedy for past illegal discrimination against minorities. He has been known to acknowledge the legitimacy of affirmative action on occasion, but contends it has long outlived its usefulness - presumably because he believes we have achieved the goal of leveling the playing field. He can't seem to wrap his head around the fact that we still have a very, very long way to go before the playing field is anywhere near level.

The MSNBC video speaks for itself, so go ahead and watch it. And to anyone who finds himself in agreement with Mr. Buchanan, may I make a suggestion: Ignorance is at the heart of your prejudice. Educate yourself, and do honor to our first duty as American citizens - our duty to the truth.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finding Common Ground

Forty years ago today man first set foot on the surface of the moon. After eons of gazing skyward with blissful ignorance and total wonderment, our journey to the stars was finally under way. In all, twelve human beings have walked on the surface of our nearest celestial neighbor, and in time others will surely return.

Why did we go to then moon? Was it, as many have so succinctly pointed out, just because it was there? Can the challenge of defining a purpose for something so grand be that simple? One reason Christopher Columbus no doubt traversed the mighty Atlantic Ocean was to find out what was on the other side. The instinctual need to know, our unquenchable thirst for knowledge, lies at the heart of what motivates us as intelligent beings.

For some the need to know cannot wait, and the need to believe takes precedence. As life goes, this is not a crime. The complexity of the universe is more than sufficient to make us wonder whether or not the goal of understanding it all will ever be within our grasp. Believing in something greater than ourselves can be a noble and admirable sentiment. We who call ourselves rationalists also sense the urge to be a part of something greater than ourselves. For us, however, that something takes the form of a purpose - not a being whose very existence is a matter of debate.

Sadly, the overriding trait of the relationship between theists and rationalists is antagonism. For a culture that celebrates diversity, this is something of a mystery. What is it about the nature of these world views that makes each so unpalatable to the other? Are we in fact precluded from sharing the things that make life most worth living? Or does the pursuit of ideological détente provide the best hopes for finding common ground?

The most obvious thing rationalists and theists share is their humanity. In the context of divining purpose, however, one's humanity defies description in terms of whether it is religious or secular. It must be conceded that ultimate truths about human nature and the universe are beyond our understanding for the time being. This does not mean that having religious faith is something to be looked down upon. On the contrary, it is eminently worthwhile insofar as it invites healthy speculation about that which we someday hope to understand.

Questioning the commitment to our own presumptions about life - and about each other - is critical to the task of understanding, which, in turn, is critical to the task of living with tolerance. Agreeing to disagree has its place, but in the quest to find common ground, there is no substitute for seeking out, even among our adversaries, that which is truly deserving of respect.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Founded on Christianity? I Think Not

Time and again many religious conservatives invoke a most fallacious claim in defense of their ideologically bankrupt perspectives regarding the founding of our nation. If it has in fact been long-settled that the United States was founded precisely upon secular precepts, why do claims that our nation was founded on Christianity persist?

It is likely many of these arguments stem from the notion that the vast majority of early American settlers were indeed Christians. Much of what they were looking to escape from was in fact religious persecution. However, it was persecution from other religious groups they were seeking freedom from.

Nine of the thirteen original colonies did in fact establish official state churches. But as time went on, the same kind of persecution they had fled in Europe began to surface in the colonies. People fled from one colony to another in search of the freedom to practice the kind of faith they believed in. When the colonies morphed into the original United States of America, a conspicuously secular governing constitution was conceived. Nowhere is there a mention of a god. Further, the First Amendment to the Constitution specifically prohibits the making of any law which either establishes a religion or prohibits the free exercise of religion.

The important distinction to be made is that while the original New World settlers were indeed very religious people, it was a secular ideology which enabled the notion of free religious expression to thrive when the colonies later united to form the nation-state of America.

It's not complicated.