Saturday, March 22, 2014

Time to update the "Washington Redskins"

Or, Why I'm Not Electable, Part Three and a Half

There’s a growing groundswell of public opinion over the past few years calling on the Washington Redskins football team to change its name and logo. The word “redskin” is obviously racist and hard to defend in the 21st century. The owners of the team have no good arguments to defend themselves, insofar as they even bother to talk about it. I agree with the critics, but only up to a point, and here I offer a compromise that the critics have to accept if they don’t want to be hypocrites.

Here’s where I agree with the critics:

Racism has been a major influence on the history of the U.S. Some of the influences are obvious and others are more subtle. Racism works in ways that many people don’t notice, and there are forms of racism that go unnoticed because many people simply prefer not to acknowledge it. “Racist” is a label that is easier to put on someone else than oneself, because sometimes it’s hard to see racism in yourself. One kind of racist behavior tends to promote other racist behaviors, and people use one form of racism to justify other forms of racism. I think we can all agree that sometimes people don't see their own racism even if it's obvious to other people. With me so far?

Now, here’s where I’m critical of the critics:

I don’t know if this makes a real difference or not, or whether it changes anything at all, but most Native American tribes today are also overtly racist organizations. Whether anyone wants to recognize it or not, most tribes are by their nature racist institutions. They were created by one form of racism and now maintained by another form. “Indian tribes” were and are to some degree products of white racism. They have suffered hardship, even genocide, at the hands of white-supremacist racism. Nowadays, native tribes have added to that racism their own form of Indian racism.

Pick at random any federally recognized Indian tribe and take a look at its constitution, especially its membership policies. Most of them still use a “blood quantum” measurement for membership. For example, you must be “1/8th Cherokee” to be a member of the Cherokee tribe. That’s by definition a racist rule. That’s just as racist as what the Daughters of the American Revolution used to do, which was to require its members to be white. That’s no less racist than the Nazi’s hiring you or killing you depending how little or how much Jewish ancestry you had.

Now, imagine if a professional sports team was organized that way. Imagine if an NFL team required that all its players had to be “at least 1/16th white.” That would and should be considered racist. (And American sports leagues used to be like that, banning people from playing based on arbitrary racial definitions.) If a team did that, the owners ought to be branded as Nazis, racists, bigots, all the words you can think of. I'd be right there branding them that, too.

(Ignore for the moment the fact that people are not fractions of races. No one has this percent of X blood and that percent of Y blood. There’s no such thing as blood quantum. It’s a racist illusion, or at best a racist metaphor.)

Meanwhile, what the “blood quantum” standard has created is a very diverse group of people who are card-carrying tribal members. Native Americans are a much more diverse population than most people realize. That doesn't mean tribes aren't racist, just that the racism may not be obvious. Anyone, no matter what that person looks like, could be a member of a native tribe. There are some tribal members out there with blonde hair and blue eyes. You CANNOT assume that someone wearing a Redskins jacket is not a Native American, no matter what the person looks like.
You can't look at a photo of the owner of the Redskins and just tell by looking at him that he's not a member of an Indian tribe. You can guess, but it's just a guess, and it's a racist guess. (That guess is correct, by the way, but it's still a racist guess.)
Don’t be one of those racist progressives who expect all Indians to have long, straight black hair or expect all Indians to talk like the ones on "Northern Exposure." You cannot say that Native Americans can use native icons but white people can’t, when there are people who are both white and native.

The Perfect Compromise
The legal solution is totally obvious:
The Washington Redskins organization should incorporate itself as an actual Indian tribe.
The team should file the paperwork to get U.S. government recognition. That way, it can be as racist as it wants to be, it has the sovereignty to use its symbols however it wants, and no one is allowed to question its racism as long as the team claims that it’s a fundamental part of its indigenous heritage.
Then, it can come up with the same kind of membership policies as any other tribe. To appease native critics, it can come up with its own blood quantum requirement. Let’s say to play on the team you have to be at least 1/64th native American. If documentation is not available, then a player just needs to sign an affidavit swearing he’s got some native ancestry somewhere.

When a player is cut from the team, retires, or his contract runs out, then that’s just “disenrollment,” which a lot of tribes do today as well. Most tribal constitutions allow tribes to cancel membership. They can actually declare someone “no longer an Indian.” Talk about racist power structure -- they can unilaterally change a person's racial status.

That would also open up new revenue streams for the team. Tax-exempt businesses in the stadium, a casino area in the training facility, the right to hunt whales and sell the meat to Japan, etc. All kinds of business opportunities.

Then, any Native American critics would become total hypocrites instead of just partial hypocrites. They may not want to draw too much attention to the details of tribal politics.

Applying for tribal recognition would also help show the public that the team owners are not racist against indigenous people. It's hard to brand them as anti-Indian if they officially embrace that identity. Hard to say they hate people if they want to join those people.

Of course “Redskin” is still a hateful, racist name. But, many common names for Native American groups began as racial slurs anyway. “Sioux” and “Iroquois” are hateful names given to those groups by their rivals. These names can and have been rehabilitated to some degree and could even be sources of pride. And, there are plenty of accepted tribal nicknames based on some sort of physical appearance. Maybe it’s no different than referring to a native group as the Blackfeet or the Flathead or the Nez Perce (Pierced Nose). "Red skin" could be a reference not to skin tone but to decorative paint. In any event, it's sacrilegious and even racist to tell a tribe what they can and cannot call themselves.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Religion is a kind of atheism.

If atheism is a religion, then religion is a form of atheism.
Bill Maher and other outspoken critics of organized religion are often met with the argument that atheism is itself a kind of religion. The implication seems to be that even atheists are religious, so therefore no one is really an atheist, so atheists are hypocrites because they say they’re against religion but they really have their own religion.

Okay. Let’s say that’s true for the moment. Let’s say atheism really is its own religion.
If so, that means we could just as easily say that every religion is a form of atheism. Religious people can’t be against atheism too much, because every religion has atheism as part of it. True believers are themselves atheists.

Look at it logically. Mathematically, even. If you count up all the gods people worship and count each one as one god, then every Christian, Jewish, and Muslim true believer is more than 99% atheist. Here’s why:

Almost every religion, and certainly every monotheistic one like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, says that there are people out there in the world who worship false gods. A dedicated monotheist looks at other religions in the world and says “that god doesn’t exist,” “those people are crazy to think that false god will answer their prayers,” “those people are deluded into worshipping something that doesn’t exist,” “this religion over here is just silly superstition,” etc.  

If there’s only one true god, then all those others don’t exist. So, when they look at all the religions on the planet and all the gods that people worship all over the world, true believers say that 99.99% of those gods simply don’t exist. They’ve eliminated the possibility of thousands of gods and left only one.

That’s just one step away from total atheism. An atheist just takes the argument one tiny step further. Atheists just round up from “99.99% false” to “100% false.” Really, Christians and atheists are arguing over a fraction of a percentage point. Christians deny the existence of 999 gods, while I question the existence of 1000.

If you were really strongly against atheism, you would become a polytheist or a universalist. That way you could at least have numbers on your side.

It's really not in any religion's best interest to say that atheism is a religion. If atheism is a religion and atheism is wrong, then that means an entire religion could be wrong. Okay, so what religious people are saying is that an entire religion could be made up of delusional people. Agreed.

And, if atheism is a religion, then atheism deserves protection under freedom of religion. If it's okay to teach religious values in public schools, and atheism is a religion, then it's okay to teach atheistic values in public schools.

Just simple, basic logic, no faith required.


Friday, March 7, 2014

(Don't) Tell Me What You're Thinking

Here’s a common scenario. Not universal, and sometimes a stereotype, but common:

A woman wants her male partner to speak more openly about what he’s thinking or feeling. He continues to keep his thoughts or feelings to himself.

Sound familiar? Now, how do we explain this phenomenon?

This phenomenon happens for multiple reasons. Put away your axe to grind for a moment. There is not just one factor at work here. It’s just not as simple as “women say X and men say Y.” It’s not as simple as “women are raised to be X” and “men are raised to be Y.” It is not just some simple sort of gender programming where women tell men to share their feelings, while men tell men not to share their feelings. Don’t put the blame all on men or all on women.
Here’s just one factor:

Men do pay attention to signs and signals about how they’re supposed to communicate feelings. We men pay attention to the messages, but collectively the messages seem inconsistent. Men are actually getting many conflicting messages about sharing their feelings, and many of those mixed messages are from women, not from men. Any common male behavior you don’t like is in some part a product of women’s behavior, just as any female behavior you don’t like is in some part a product of men’s behavior. I have always paid far more attention to what women say about feelings than what men have said. My caution about sharing feelings has way more to do with messages from women than from men.

Contrary to the popular stereotype, women do not spend all their communication with men trying to get men to talk more. Consciously or unconsciously, women spend at least some of their time *discouraging* men from talking.

Look around at male/female romantic relationships on the whole. For every moment like this scenario where a woman says “tell what you’re thinking!”, somewhere there’s another woman telling a man “I don’t want to hear it!” In some cases, a man may hear mixed messages from the same woman, even within the same conversation. For example, “tell me what you’re thinking,” then his honest answer, then she says, “I can’t believe you said that to me!” Bingo, mixed message – encouragement followed up with a penalty.

Other ways people discourage honesty or openness in their partners:
  1. Asking him to lie for you to other people
  2. Complaining that he was not convincing enough in his lies to other people
  3. Complaining to your friends, “Can you believe he said that to me?”
  4. Telling him “wrong answer!” when he speaks honestly
  5. Telling him what words to say to you
  6. Telling him what words to never say to you
  7. Telling him “here’s what I want to hear from you right now.”
  8. Asking a question that demands The Right Answer
  9. Asking a question that’s really a cover for another question
(Does any of THAT sound familiar?)

I’m not sure many people understand how the same question can sound so different to a man compared to a woman. I don’t know if many women realize how much “what are you thinking?” sounds like a trick question. This is where one of those big miscommunications happens. What something sounds like may be totally different than the original intent. Men hear a trick question even if most of the time it’s not meant to be a trick question.

It only takes a few times before even the stupidest man starts to apply inductive reasoning – that old thing where “two times is a coincidence, three times is a pattern.”

So, in the absence of consistent messages, many unsure or literal-minded men like me choose caution as the best approach. This is not the best approach for the relationship as a whole, obviously. Over the long term it’s one of the worst approaches, actually. But, in the moment, from the guy’s perspective, discretion feels like the better part of valor. This is not to rationalize a man’s emotional distance, but to explain where he may be coming from.

Yes, your butt does look big in those jeans. My butt looks big in my jeans, too.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Life is fair.

Life is fair.

There, I said it, and I’m somebody. Somebody has just said life is fair. Let me go on record as saying life is fair. Let me say it multiple times, in multiple tenses, just to make sure:

Life is fair. Life was fair. Life is going to be fair.

This is how I’m going to become famous. By uttering that one sentence, I can now become a household name, because in writing that one sentence I have destroyed a giant cliché. The cliché is “No one ever said that life is fair.” Now, anyone who reads my blog will be able to say that’s not true, because I said it. You can quote me, give the URL, print out this blog entry, give the date and time, you name it, there’s proof.

Same thing with “Where is it written that life is supposed to be fair?” Right here: Life is supposed to be fair. Life is supposed to be fair. It's written right here on this obscure blog.

Now if you’re really clever or want to forget reading this or don’t want to stoke my ego, you could of course offer your own individual rebuttal whenever anyone says the cliché. For example:

Trite Idiot: “No one ever said life is fair.”
You: “Life is fair. Now you can’t say that anymore.”

I’m not saying I believe that life is fair. I recognize the mountain of counterevidence against the idea of the inherent fairness of human existence. However, the trite proverb is that no one ever said it, not that no one ever believed it. I am perfectly capable of saying something or writing something online that I don’t really believe. I’m clearly not alone in that ability. You can disagree with me all you want, but you can never say that no one ever said it.

There is one major flaw in all this, which is that my attempt can be thwarted by the logical fallacy of equivocation, which (as I understand it) includes changing the definition of a word in the middle of a debate in order to prove the original statement. It’s extremely common and it’s a total no-no as far as rational discussion goes, but a lot of people fall for it or are tempted to use it. So, for example:

Trite Idiot: “Nobody ever said life was fair.”
Smartass: “Temujin said it just last week on his blog.”
Trite Idiot: “Who’s Temujin?”
Smartass: “Nobody.”
Trite Idiot: “See, I was right. Nobody said life was fair.”

P.S. I'm a trite idiot myself sometimes, so please don't anyone take that as a total insult. I don't use that phrase to suggest I'm a better person.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Radical Centrist Idea #3: Second Amendment Abortion Rights

Another Reason Why I’m Completely Unelectable

Totally Fair, Totally Offensive Idea #3:

Bridge the liberal/conservative divide by treating abortion as a gun rights issue.

What American partisan politics needs is more outside-the-box thinking. For example, American politics could end much of the nasty wrangling over abortion if someone could create a clever way to use firearms technology. If someone could perfect a procedure in which a doctor could perform an abortion using a handgun, terminating the fetus without unduly harming the pregnant woman, then much of the conservative criticism of abortion rights should evaporate overnight.

Perform a pregnancy termination using a firearm, and this would make abortion clearly protected by the Second Amendment. The NRA would have to take a pro-choice stance. It would be a simple matter of redefining the procedure as “standing your ground against a dangerous intruder.” Declare the fetus to be a burglar, claim you were afraid for your life, and the NRA has to support your right of self-defense. Any time a woman dies in childbirth, Second Amendment gun-rights activists could then say, “if only she had a gun on her, that wouldn’t have happened.” And, people against gun control can then say with great conviction, “when abortion is outlawed, only outlaws will have abortions.”

Meanwhile, in the absence of such technology, we’ll just have to make do with what we have. So, if Second Amendment truthers are willing to define “arms” broadly enough to include just about anything, then I wish to include every abortion instrument under the definition of “arms.” I hereby declare the razor-tipped curette as my self-defense weapon of choice. If abortion is murder, then that means there was a weapon used. Something used as a weapon can be used in self-defense. Something used in self-defense is in principle protected under the Second Amendment. I hereby declare all abortion instruments to be part of my national heritage, and I am within the spirit of America to resist any attempt by my government to restrict my use of it. You can take away reproductive rights from my cold, dead fingers.

Here's my vision: the NRA merges with NARA and become a political powerhouse covering the entire political spectrum. They already use the same letters. They can call it N(A)RA.

Radical Centrist Rule #2: Take the Whole Country

You can file this next to my previous immigration compromise, which liberals and conservatives can both hate in equal measure:

Whatever country in the world the U.S. should take as its model for national health care, the U.S. should also take as a model for immigration policy.

You want Switzerland's very solid universal health care? Then you take Switzerland's very restrictive immigration laws. You want China's really cheap universal health care coverage? Then you have to take China's incredibly stringent immigration laws.

(In order to get a visa to work in China as a teacher, I was required by the Chinese government to have a full physical exam, complete with an HIV test, TB screen, and an EKG. No one with a heart condition is allowed to immigrate to China to work. I had to demonstrate to the government of China that someone in the government of China had officially invited me. Now THAT is a tough immigration policy. China won't even let overweight people adopt babies from China. Definitely hard core.)

Let liberals import another country's health care system, and let conservatives import the immigration policies. Unless we're saying that not everything Europeans do should be emulated.....


My Radical Centrist Proposal -- Something for Everyone to Love and Hate

How a Fetus is Like an Illegal Immigrant
In American today, liberals and conservatives are both inconsistent in their politics. They’re both hypocritical in some ways. What I propose is the perfect political compromise, which will force both sides to be consistent. It is such a perfectly balanced compromise that it will never happen. (This  idea seems so obvious to me now that I can't possibly be the first one to think of this. I have to assume that someone else has come up with this before, probably Bill Maher or Dennis Miller).

So, here’s my new rule for American law:

Anything you can do to a terror suspect or illegal immigrant you can do to an embryo/fetus, and anything you can do to an embryo/fetus you can do to a terror suspect or illegal immigrant.
You can’t be a conservative who argues that non-citizens are people when the people are unborn but then treat non-citizens like non-people when they’re immigrants. You can’t be a liberal who says that non-citizens are people too no matter where they're born and then deny non-citizens rights just because they aren’t born yet. One side wants to deny equality for those not born in a particular place, and others want to deny equality for those not born.
Because, basically, a fetus is an undocumented alien. It’s not a citizen, because under current law a citizen has to be literally born in order to be a citizen. There’s an actual “place of birth” on all the forms, whether it’s a birth certificate, passport application, etc. Being born in a particular location requires that you are actually born.

If a fetus is to be treated as a citizen, then you will have the really awkward legal situation of one citizen living entirely inside another citizen. When you look at how the U.S. government treats “Indian nations,” which are officially nations living inside another nation, you get some idea about how well that one-inside-another works out in practice. Not so great. Those reservations are great foreign countries, aren’t they?
Then there's the really tricky scenario for anti-immigration and anti-abortion conservatives -- what do you do about pregnant illegal immigrants in the U.S.? Being born in the U.S. automatically makes a person a U.S. citizen, so does that mean all immigrant fetuses are also citizens? Or, are conservatives suggesting that some fetuses need protection and others do not? Tough call.

The federal government has done nothing to formally approve the existence of any particular fetus in America. There is no visa for it, and it doesn’t exist in any government records anywhere – no Social Security number, no citizenship status, no eligibility to get a job, and no driver’s license (the ultrasound ID photos tend to be really hazy). No paper trail at all, just here without anyone in authority giving it permission to be in this country. So, why not treat all fetuses the same way America treats *all* undocumented aliens?

Just declare your fetus an “enemy combatant,” and conservatives have to let you do whatever the hell you want with it. If conservatives protest, just tell them that they have to take your word for it, that for reasons of national security you can’t explain why your fetus is a risk to the entire country, because telling them all the details would compromise intelligence sources. Just refer to abortion as “enhanced interrogation of a terrorist suspect,” and conservatives should stop asking you questions about what you’re doing. Ask them if they're willing to risk a repeat of 9/11 by refusing to give the "good guys" all the tools they need to fight the "bad guys."
If they protest that the aborted fetus is innocent, just tell them you had to strike in a pre-emptive military action because the fetus was clearly showing the intent to acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction. Call it the Uterine Corollary of the Bush Doctrine. Call them bleeding hearts and suggest that they are giving aid and comfort to the enemies of freedom. They're pretty big on that whole "enemies of freedom" schtick.