Category Archives: Essays

My Experience with Offensive Speech after 15 Years in Europe

Spanish Basketball team

This will be my fifteenth year living in Europe. For many years, I was consistently shocked by the way Europeans could get away with all sorts of blatantly racist, anti-Semitic and otherwise offensive speech that we in America would consider either “politically incorrect”, socially unacceptable (though never illegal), or downright putting your job or personal safety on the line. For example, I simply couldn’t understand how the Spanish national basketball team could get away with something like this, how no one got fired over discussing Barack Obama like this (I actually sent numerous letters of complaint to Telecinco, with no response) (or like this), and generally how all things foreign are infantilized and treated as caricatures. In soccer stadiums, players and fans alike are constantly getting away with spewing racist insults at Black players. I recall a guy in Germany who I had just met telling me anti-Semitic jokes, and I had to do everything in my power not to clock him (and I am not even Jewish).

And of course, these types of behaviors are always shrugged or laughed off and thus become acceptable. Continue reading

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America: We the Extremists


Recent events – be it the death toll in Gaza, police killings of unarmed Americans, or the Torture Report – highlight that mainstream America takes positions with respect to the use of and accountability for violence that everywhere else in the world would be considered undeniably extreme. It may be time to look in the mirror and accept that we Americans are in fact extremists. Continue reading

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Isis, Ebola, Fear and Big Government

Ferguson Police NYT

[UPDATE below]

Before I begin:

Guns kill 30,000 Americans per year. The Flu kills thousands of Americans per year. You are nine times more likely to be killed by the police than by a terrorist.

Now let me begin:

The War on Terror is probably the greatest pro-Big Government sham in American history. We have spent trillions of dollars to fight wars against foreign enemies and in foreign lands in response to the murder of 3,000 people on 911, and in the process have created whole new billion dollar industries for government contractors. Those 3,000 lives we lost was a tragedy. But in terms of the real risks to national security that Americans face, terrorism has proven to be far down on the list of actual threats. Just look at the numbers.

As mentioned here previously, Americans are nine times more likely to be killed by their own police than by a terrorist. You are more likely to be killed by dog bite or diarrhea than be by a terrorist. The vast majority of the people we’ve been fighting in Afghanistan have never even heard of 911. Yet we fight on and are now supposed to believe that Isis is the next mortal threat to America. Yes, you heard it: Isis is a mortal threat to the country with the most expensive and most sophisticated military in the history of mankind.

At the same time, we are now supposed to be in a panic over Ebola. Some are even calling for a blockade on all flights out of West African. Is Ebola that big a threat to Americans? But doesn’t the run of the mill American flu kill around 20,000 Americans per year. As a matter of fact in 2004, 48,000 Americans died of the flu. Shouldn’t there have been a travel ban on all American domestic and international flights?

In recent days while one person died of Ebola in America, three American high school kids died after suffering head injuries during football games. Should we ban football?

Vox recent published a list of the less sexy but real life threats to Americans, and the top six were:

  1. Hear Disease and Cancer
  2. Traffic Accidents
  3. Guns
  4. Climate Change
  5. World War III breaking out in the Baltics
  6. The Common Flu

Guns kills more than 30,000 people in America. Could you imagine if Congress actually gave $22 billion to make gun deaths less likely instead of spending it on a bunch of nincompoops that call themselves Isis? Imagine if instead of fighting those guys in Afghanistan that had never even heard of 911 or the guys in Iraq who didn’t have any WMDs, we had spent trillions making guns safer?

John Hagee — the Christian pastor who endorsed John McCain in 2008 and whose endorsement McCain accepted — has recently claimed that Ebola is God’s judgement on America as a result of Obama trying to divide Israel (apparently by giving Israel more money). Does Mr. Hagee believe that 30,000 gun deaths per year is God’s way of punishing Americans for having the N.R.A. and an activist Supreme Court that rules in favor of a Second Amendment right to personal gun possession?

That’s right: we Americans — especially of the Bible waiving kind — love our guns as much as we love our Big Government military and its contractors.

So the next time you hear someone say Isis or Ebola, please ask them to do us (and our tax payer wallets) a big favor and shut the f_ _ _ up.

UPDATE (November 7, 2014):

Last week the Washington Post came out with an infographic on “How likely are you to die from Ebola” which compares numerous other ways Americans are much more likely to die than from Ebola, including – amongst other things – your pajamas catching on fire, spider bites, falling out of bed, and yes, the good old fashioned death penalty. Good thing we just elected into office a large swarm of Republicans who can keep us even safer.

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Reasonable Expectations of Privacy

Civil LibertiesSuffice it to say that it has been interesting to witness the different reactions to the recent leaks that the NSA is acting in conjunction with private companies to monitor our private conversations. These reactions have been more than predictable. Besides the obvious game of mirrors where Democrats (including Obama himself) who used to loath Bush and were tearing their hair out over the Patriot Act are now blindly defending the Obama administration’s expansion of the Surveillance State, you also have the mainstream, establishment media in a love affair with government secrecy, their arguments being that:

  • when we weigh the risk of a terrorist attack with our privacy rights, our privacy rights should lose,
  • the journalists who leaked the story (and are not real journalists) don’t know what they are talking about
  • we shouldn’t have any expectation of privacy in our online interactions
  • if we have done nothing wrong then we should have nothing to worry about, and
  • there is no proof that the government has actually bee abusive (ie, no harm, no foul).

It all makes you wonder which side of the fence the David Brooks, David Frum, Tom Friedman, Andrew Sullivan and others like them would have been on back between 1776 and 1791 when the American people were fighting for, amongst other freedoms, the freedom against government intrusion into their homes and personal lives. Their full defense of surveillance and secrecy is tantamount to siding with both King George and Big Government. Why is it that the guys who most hate our values are not the terrorists but the chicken hawks who are willing and eager to sacrifice our values as soon as a buffoon plants a faulty bomb in his underpants.

Now, I know that I repeatedly promise to steer clear from these American political issues and focus more on life in Europe, but I think that as an American living abroad, I am particularly affected by the Surveillance. So here are my two cents: Continue reading

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Democracy, Backwardness and Tribalism

This week Bill Maher had Glenn Greenwald on his show to discuss amongst other things, U.S. foreign policy, Benghazi and how backward Muslims are. On this last point – what I consider the most interesting discussion from the segment shown above – Greenwald makes three very good points: First, that violence in the name of religion is not unique, second, even if they are acting violently, our responsibility as Americans is not to focus on their backwards but to assume our share of the blame.  I think that last point is crucial and is the one I try to live by, at least on this blog. My goal is to critique the societies and cultures to which I belong, not the ones for which I am either ignorant or simply have no ability to influence.

In this vein, I particularly agree with Greenwald’s when he writes in an older piece,

Beyond all that, I find extremely suspect the behavior of westerners like Harris (and Hitchens and Dawkins) who spend the bulk of their time condemning the sins of other, distant peoples rather than the bulk of their time working against the sins of their own country. That’s particularly true of Americans, whose government has brought more violence, aggression, suffering, misery, and degradation to the world over the last decade than any other. Even if that weren’t true – and it is – spending one’s time as an American fixated on the sins of others is a morally dubious act, to put that generously, for reasons Noam Chomsky explained so perfectly:

“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it.

“So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.

I, too, have written before about the hordes of American commentators whose favorite past-time is to lounge around pointing fingers at other nations, other governments, other populations, other religions, while spending relatively little time on their own. The reason this is particularly suspect and shoddy behavior from American commentators is that there are enormous amounts of violence and extremism and suffering which their government has unleashed and continues to unleash on the world. Indeed, much of that US violence is grounded in if not expressly justified by religion, including the aggressive attack on Iraq and steadfast support for Israeli aggression (to say nothing of the role Judaism plays in the decades-long oppression by the Israelis of Palestinians and all sorts of attacks on neighboring Arab and Muslim countries). Given the legion human rights violations from their own government, I find that Americans and westerners who spend the bulk of their energy on the crimes of others are usually cynically exploiting human rights concerns in service of a much different agenda.

Now with regards to Maher’s convenient assertion that Islam and its followers are uniquely backwards and inherently violent and thus incapable of living under democracy, citing the Arab Spring as his example, I would like to add the following: Continue reading

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Why Don’t We Treat Guns Owners Like Potential Terrorists?

[Updated Below]

On an April 26th edition of Bill Moyers with Glenn Greenwald about the “High Cost of Government Secrecy”, Moyers opens the segment with the following:

On Fox News the other day, New York congressman Peter King said: “If you know a threat is coming from a certain community, that’s where you have to look.” Proceed with caution here, Mr. King. And first take a look at that “Council on Foreign Relations” analysis of an FBI study showing that from 1980 to 2001, around two-thirds of domestic terrorism was carried out by American extremists who were not Muslims. That number actually skyrocketed to 95 percent in the years immediately after 9/11. And the magazine “Mother Jones” found that of the 62 mass shootings in America since 1982 – mass killings defined as four deaths or more – 44 of the killers were white males.

While Greenwald takes a different approach, what I want to get at – which is something that I just recently wrote about — is that first quote that Moyers cites, because it says so much about how our political and social discourse on violence is centered in American life:

“If you know a threat is coming from a certain community, that’s where you have to look.”

And yet the vast majority of mass murders comes from white Americans with guns. So why aren’t Peter King and other tough guys like him who to act all tough as nails against terrorism doing more to address the community of people who buy, own, possess and sell guns?

In the meantime we have two tales of government: Big Government throws trillions of dollars at foreign wars and domestic surveillance to protect us from a relatively minor domestic threat, and Small Government that refuses to take any measures, no matter how sensible to limit the access of guns to those who may use them to kill innocent people, by far the larger of the two threats. And you guessed, the tough guys are both Big and Small Government advocates, whichever and whenever it best meets their political interests.

Could you imagine one these tough guys actually prescribing an anti-terrorism remedy to the sale and/or possession of firm arms: background checks, obligatory registrations, online surveillance? Of course not, we are a bunch of phonies selling snake oil. Continue reading

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On Boston

Boston StrongWithout much time to write in depth on various matters that interest me in relation to the recent Boston Marathon bombings, I am summarizing my thoughts here, many of which were previously expressed in 140 characters or less:

America is a Uniquely Violent Society

The Tsarnaev brothers’ violent rampage last week not only had a terrible human toll, it also revived the tough guys’  “the sky is falling” narrative. And the tough guys always react in the same way: they demand we be very scared, especially about foreign jihadists in our midst. We need to immediately stop immigration reform, suspend Miranda rights, and probably even impose a moratorium on all cookware.

Once the boys were identified and the press was drawing the Chechnya connection, I kept thinking that these brothers had finally become uniquely American, though something was missing. Come on, what is more American than a psychologically deranged person – disgruntled for any number of reasons – lashing out at innocent bystanders, resulting in a blood bath?

The only thing that kept the Tsarnaevs from earning true citizenship was that they hadn’t gone on a shooting spree (at least not until confronted by the police). And that was the good news for Massachusetts because had they used the Red, White and Blue weapon of choice, we would have seen death tolls in the high double digits, as we saw in Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine.

But Massachusetts wasn’t the only one to benefit from the fact that these boys were not American enough to inflict real carnage. The NRA also must have let out a huge sigh of relief. Everyone was so focused on their makeshift bombs, that no one was asking how they got their hands on a sizable stockpile of guns. Moreover, we were able to focus on Islam as being inherently violent and not on how guns and the violence they cause are are unique to American society.

As I wrote after the Sandy Hook shootings, where 20 children and 6 adults were slaughtered by a deranged gun owner,

So, for example, when a crazy Muslim American shoots up an American military base – something oh so uniquely American – we immediately call it terrorism and blame Islam. But if that American man had not been Muslim, as in the other 61 mass shootings during the last 30 years (seven this year alone), we’d all be talking about mental illness, how we’d be safer if everyone were armed, and generally treating the senseless murders as an unavoidable natural disaster that lasts a two day news cycle.

Consider that we have since learned that the Tsarnaevs did not receive any help from foreign terrorist organizations. They were, like in the case of Columbine, nothing more than very disturbed young men, intent on inflicting harm and getting attention; what Juan Cole has called “a tale of adolescent rebellion“. Continue reading

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