Saturday, March 31, 2012

That's the Story

While Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and elsewhere have come under fire (not entirely undeserved) in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, it seems to me that there are three other factors at work here, and it is their intersection where the trouble lies. The three culprits are jumping to conclusions, discretion and covering one's ass. These are surprisingly common. So much so, perhaps, that we really don't pay much attention to them.

Just to get it out the way, let's stipulate that George Zimmerman is being less than completely honest with his version of events. This shouldn't come as a surprise. There don't seem to be any eyewitnesses to the whole event, the other interested party can't contradict his version of events and a slightly different understanding of what happened could land him behind bars for a few years. While Zimmerman may, in fact, be entirely on the up and up, my personal philosophy of "never take someone at face value when you understand that the have a reason to lie to you," tells me to be skeptical.

According to the city manager of Sanford, Florida, Zimmerman was not arrested the night that he shot Trayvon Martin because: “By Florida statute, law enforcement was PROHIBITED from making an arrest based on the facts and circumstances they had at the time.” (Emphasis his.) This is almost certainly flatly incorrect. But it is likely that for one reason or another, they wanted to believe his version of events. And this has nothing to do with Florida. When I was training to be a security guard for a summer job back in college, our instructor (who loved to go off on tangents) basically mapped out for us best way to shoot someone dead in our homes and not be charged for it - in a nutshell: create a plausible self-defense scenario. Law enforcement, we were told, would want to believe us, and so giving them reasons to was a viable strategy.

This works because law enforcement agencies often have fairly broad discretion in whether or not to go forward with a case. There isn't an iron-clad handbook that details, for any given circumstance where a crime may have been committed, whether or not Probable Cause for arrest exists. Police Officers are no less individuals than anyone else, and what looks mightily suspicious to one may be completely normal to another. And even though it's a fairly low standard, not everything reaches it. By the same token, an anonymous leaker is said to have told ABC news that the state attorney's office said that there wasn't enough evidence to secure a conviction, and so they instructed an officer who was suspicious of Zimmerman's story not to pursue the case any further.

And this normally works - but when it doesn't, the wagons start circling. Police work depends on a certain level of trust from the community, and so police agencies often become alarmed at anything that might erode that trust. Such as the suggestion that they made a mistake in judgement, or exercised their discretion a bit too broadly. Which takes us back to the city manager's statement, which is clearly designed to let the police off the hook by implying that the way Florida statute was written, that law enforcement was simply doing what they had to.

Discretion on the part of law enforcement is nearly a necessity. It doesn't take long for things to go off the rails when that description is taken away. Every so often another absurd story comes along where a lack of discretion on the part of law enforcement leads to everyone looking like idiots. And as for people jumping to conclusions and covering their asses; you're more likely to stop tomorrow's sunrise than you are to ever eradicate them from human nature. So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with the realization that what happened to Trayvon Martin isn't unique, and that we can't rely on national outcry to put an end to it. Instead, we're going to have to keep a more watchful eye on the watchmen. Which isn't a new idea. Although really taking it seriously might be.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sooner Or Later

Eventually, everything becomes kitsch...

I'd seen the Original Grocers' Supermarkets around, but had never been in one. But now I needed some drinks for the party, and this place was the closest to the house, so in I went.

Just inside the doorway was a slim, heavily made-up young woman with long brown hair and a slightly orange fake tan. All she was wearing from the waist up was a brightly colored, and obviously padded, bikini top. Her faded blue jeans were at least two sizes too large and too long for her frame, and were cinched tight low around her hips with a broad leather belt, so that a good portion of her bikini bottoms were visible. To keep herself from tripping over the ends, she'd folded them into wide cuffs at the bottom, from under which her athletic shoes poked. A chain was clipped to one of the belt-loops and draped down to nearly her knees before swinging back up to disappear into a pocket, from which protruded a remarkably bright green-and-white bandana.

Behind her, a sullen-looking young man pushed a line of shopping carts into the corral. The sleeve of his dark hoodie had "Original" emblazoned on it in calligraphy so ornate that it took me a moment to realize what it said.

There was a display of chips and salsa off to one side. The advertising placard was designed to look like asphalt, and the prices were prominently displayed within chalk outlines on the right-hand side.

"Yo, Dog!"  the Greeter chimed, cheerfully, as I walked through the entryway, "Welcome to OG's, where we have the illest prices in town! My name's K-Ho. What can we help you ‘jack today?"

It was only then that I noticed that part of the garish pattern of her skimpy top was actually a name tape, with "Kaitlyn" printed on it.

In the back of my mind, I could just hear my grandfather chuckling.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

You Say You Want A Revolution...

I've always considered it interesting how people call for "Socialist Revolution" and "Democracy" in the same breath. The two don't really strike me as going hand in hand.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Opting Out

So... Been down on the farm recently? Well, neither have I. And that just may be part of the problem with our current economy.

No, I'm not one of those "No Farms, No Food" types who'll tell anyone who'll listen about how agriculture is getting the shaft. My point is a little different. Back in the days when most Americans were farmers, craftsmen, et cetera, if you went to the Big City to find work, you were looking for a better living than the one you could make for yourself to start with. And if it didn't work out, you had a fallback - you could always return to the farm. It may have been hard on one's pride, but you had a skill set that you could use to support yourself without needing to be consistently employed by someone else (and thus effectively dependent on a paycheck from that person). You had a way to Opt Out, and that created a level of balance.

So I've been wondering. How do we create another Opt Out economy today? How do we give people the option of walking away, without forcing them to risk starvation if they do so? A return to large-scale subsistence agriculture could work, but I suspect that it would take at least a couple of generations to get the needed skills out into the general population, and that still leaves city dwellers, who may have little or no land to work, at a severe disadvantage. Of course, there would be other problems as well.

But one of the things that we need to do, I believe, is replace some of the elasticity of the labor market. And the only way to do that is to give people more options than either working for the man every night and day or sleeping out on the streets.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Balancing Act

"Consumers need a healthy balanced diet and they need balanced, credible information," [said National Hot Dog & Sausage Council President Janet M.] Riley.  "When it comes to nutrition and cancer, check with health sources such as your doctor, dietician or the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. You can be assured that they will tell you that a healthy diet can include processed meats like hot dogs alongside your vegetables, grains and dairy."
Uh huh. I can tell you right now that if I swore off hot dogs for life, my doctor would pretty much immediately break into his happy dance. But as much as such obvious damage control as Riley's statement is often termed "irresponsible" and "deceptive," one has to wonder: Is anyone ever really fooled? It's not much different that displaying sugary breakfast cereals along side from fruit, juice and the occasional waffle and declaring it "part of a balanced breakfast." As one wag is said to have pointed out, you could swap out the cereal for dry dog food, and still say the same... (Actually the dog food, from what I understand, is better for you. Sure there's a higher allowance of bug parts and the taste isn't said to be anything great, but when was the last time you heard of a dog developing diabetes from eating Eukanuba?)

The cynic in me says that very, very few people are convinced that hot dogs are health food based on a statement from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, and parroted by the American Meat Institute. "Never take at face value someone you already know has a reason to lie to you," may not be stamped on one's forehead at birth, but it's not rocket science, either. After all, these are companies that derive their profitability from selling us stuff in the here and now, and aren't going to be on the hook for what happens thirty years from now.

Rather, it's all about cover. Cover for the person who enjoys the taste of hot dogs, but wants to deflect criticism that they're placing food above their health. Cover for the parent who wants to avoid a public meltdown by placating their child with a box of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. Cover for the person who's buying the cheapest, most filling food that they can find, but doesn't want to think that they're compromising their future health because of it. Cover for the shopper who's too "busy" to know what's in half the food they eat, but still wants to think that they'll looking out for themselves. Cover for the person who wants to outsource the thinking to government and/or corporations, by convincing themselves that if it were that bad for them, it wouldn't be on the shelves in the first place. Cover for an entire society that has invented the idea that children should be allowed to subsist on a high-carbohydrate, sugar-laden, high-fat, obvious-vegetable-free diet until they either graduate high school or are unable to move unassisted. (And then allows itself to think that voting age will bring with it an 180° turnaround in eating habits.) Cover from the pressure that we put on ourselves and each other, and are afraid to stand up to. Cover that we wouldn't need, if we had the courage to stand up for, and to, ourselves.

We take all sorts of risks on a daily basis - most without a second (or first) thought and many of them unnecessary. Saying "Yes, I understand that if a long, healthy life is my top priority, I shouldn't be eating this, but I'm willing to trade a month or two off the end to indulge in yumminess today. Now go get bent and let me eat," might do us all a world of good. It would most certainly let food producers off the hook from having to nearly lie to us to our faces on a daily basis. Acknowledging that we enjoy certain foods that, while they made sense for lumberjacks, pioneers and serfs, are way out line with our current lifestyles seems to be one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves these days. Not everyone is of the opinion that the future must always be prejudiced over the here and now. Maybe the most unhealthy part of our diets is the groupthink that we attach to them.

Hat tip to Mike Elgan.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pick a Side

In 2009, Margarita "Maggie" and John Anderson of Oak Park, Illinois decided that they were going to spend the year patronizing black-owned businesses, going out of their way to spend money with enterprises owned by fellow African-Americans. And sparked a current of outrage from aggrieved Whites who felt that the decisions of a family of four who lived just outside of Chicago victimized themselves and everyone like them.

Some of it is simple to understand (and perhaps simple-minded at the same time). "If we have to act as though the color of someone's skin doesn't matter," the logic goes, "why shouldn't everyone else?" Many Whites come across tired of being painted as racists due to the sins of their fathers, grandfathers and earlier generations, and this has, to a degree given them the largest investment in the idea of a post-racial society, as it is a society where punishing them (in their eyes) for the crimes of the past is no longer condoned. This partially manifests itself in the idea that if everyone simply pretended that race wasn't important and acted like that in their daily lives, that the status quo would wash way all of the lingering vestiges of the past, and create the meritocracy that the United States had falsely claimed itself to be in the past.

One of the things about modern America is that race has become less important. And a certain level of amorphous tribalism (which both includes and transcends race) has taken its place. It's amorphous in the fact that it's not carefully marked out or delineated; different observers often come to different conclusions as to where the boundaries are drawn. Be that as it may, people are often very sensitive to it, and therefore, activities that emphasize it often come in for added scrutiny. For instance, while the Anderson's experiment in buying Black for a year isn't substantially different than making the choice to buy "local" for the same amount of time, race triggers tribal awareness (and resentments) in a way that locale does not. So online posters who complained bitterly about the Andersons bypassing better (lower priced, better quality, et cetera) white businesses often claimed to see no problem with refusing to patronize a better business that just happened to be outside of an arbitrarily defined geographical area.

As time moves on, some tribal boundaries will continue to shift, while others will continue to ossify. Some will change seemingly overnight, while others will take decades to move even a small distance. But because the new tribalism is an internal construct, it will be an interesting mirror on ourselves and how we see our places in the world. Our prides, anxieties, aspirations and resentments will all be written into how we see the tribal divisions around us. Which will make them interesting ways to see how good a job we're doing at building the world we say we want. And of understanding if others see progress in the same way that we do.

Once too many...

Despite the kids' firm belief that Lucky never learned, this time, tragically, he was ready for them.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pied Pipers

One of the things that I dislike about campaign season is that candidates for high office often demonstrate just how poorly they think of us. Another thing that I did like is how people often prove them right.

The American right sure seems to like stories about foreign countries killing their citizens. Most recently, leading GOP candidate Rick Santorum claimed that 10 per cent of the Netherlands' deaths were from euthanasia, 5 percent forced, and that "elderly people in the Netherlands don't go to the hospital" or, if they do, wear bracelets saying "do not euthanize me," all of which is false.
The Dutch Euthanize Their Elderly, and Other Scary GOP Lies About Europe
This hits upon my impression of the political version of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - namely Rage, Anxiety, Ignorance and Distrust. And to my mind, none of these are positives in campaign season.

(While you could just as easily termed Rage as "Outrage," to do spoils the acronym, so we'll leave it where it is.) It's easy to spark outrage through telling people that innocent people are being murdered by politically wrong-headed foreigners who simply don't have the morals to have any respect for life. On top of it, over the past ten or so years, many Americans have become used to being outraged at Europeans for one crime or another. But Rage is almost always a distraction from the point at hand. Because even if you consider it appropriate to be outraged about something, the act of being angry does not, in and of itself, lead to any sort of positive changes. When politicians see people as easily provoked to Rage, they also see them as easily distracted.

Politicians often seek to sow Anxiety, because when it comes to motivating people to make grants of power, fear is very successful. Not only do people tend not to think things through when Anxious, but they are often willing to concede quite a bit of authority, in return for being lead to a place of safety. Mr. Santorum is clearly seeking to frighten people with the idea that the American health care system ever comes to look like that of Europe, they, or their loved ones would never be safe when going to the hospital. But, from where I sit, it's difficult to look at people who squeak with Anxiety every time you prod them, and not come to think of them as being basically cowardly. Part of it is just an artifact of modern American society - we tend to see ourselves as having a lot to lose and that understanding of the world tends to make risk aversion into a virtue. But someone who understands themselves as being able to scare you on demand isn't likely to see you as someone willing to stand up when the going gets tough, regardless of what they tell you to your face.

But one of the biggest problems might be the political instinct to rely on the Ignorance, willful or otherwise, of voters. Rick Santorum has made some demonstrably false statements during his recent campaigning. For instance, the idea that President Obama said that everyone should go to college (for which Mr. Santorum labelled him a "snob"). Someone who makes a statement that some basic research will show to be untrue is convinced of one, or more of a few things: One) their audience won't know any better, Two) their audience won't actually go and verify the statement that was made and/or Three) that if someone else comes along and says "that isn't true," their audience will ignore them, or assume that they're now being lied to. It's difficult to see how someone who considers you some combination of uneducated, incurious and closed-minded can, at the same time, think highly of you.

The act of demonizing people in other nations is, perhaps, one of the simplest forms of spreading Distrust. It would be difficult to imagine that anyone who took Mr. Santorum's claim about Dutch hospitals at face value would be ready to take a Dutch politician at face value. And, of course, to the stereotypical conservative voter, who would be in favor of establishing a system like that of the Netherlands here in the United States? Those dastardly Democrats. Who are, of course, to be Distrusted. But again, what is the positive side of being able to provoke someone to distrust with so outlandish a story? While we don't often feel that it's a good think to trust everyone, being quick to Distrust anyone who can be flimsily linked to someone else that you've also been primed to dislike is often considered primitive and dysfunctional in the wider world.

Of course, for the most part, this is simply my cynicism talking. It's not like Mike Santorum (or Mike Daisey, for that matter) is going to go on the record with the idea that he thinks that his audience is a bunch of easily-manipulated schmucks. Heck, he may not even believe it himself. It's a safe bet that the people who go to political rallies don't see themselves as being looked down upon by the politicians that they vote for. So maybe, as they say, it's just me...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stacked Deck

In a past life, I used to work with children who had been taken out of their homes for abuse or neglect. In my years of doing so, I heard three words over and over.

"That's not fair!"

Normally, my response was the same one that my father had taught me: "Well, life isn't fair." And I'd meant that in the same way my father had - that you shouldn't expect life to be fair, so make your peace with it. But one day, instead, I said "You're right. It isn't fair. Nothing about this is fair. You guys have gotten a really raw deal." Silence followed. "What?" I said, "It's not like I don't know why you're here." That became the start of a six or seven-way conversation about childhood. While we had a social worker for the unit, and the kids all went to therapy to talk about whatever circumstances had landed them in treatment, I don't know that they often had the chance to simply commiserate with one another over the crap hands that they'd been dealt. I told them about the kinds of things that I was doing when I was their age, and they told me, and each other, about the circumstances of their lives. It was a hours-long round of Misery Poker, where I always had the worst hand. Which was, really, as it should have been.

I was already inured to the horror stories that they would tell - you had to be, otherwise you simply couldn't manage. (It is, perhaps, one of the strange paradoxes of working with children under those conditions, being hard-hearted was almost a necessity.) But if I though that I was a misanthrope to begin with, I realized that people are always up to doing something to get you to dislike them even more.

While it's common for people to say that they learned some valuable lesson from the mouths of children, instead I simply came away with an appreciation for a simple fact that I already knew: Compared to these kids, and a lot of others, I'd hit the parenting jackpot. As much as I argued with my parents (sometimes, because the dysfunctional roles we played were so ingrained that forgetting the script bred suspicions) and as much as they had their flaws, they were really a great set of parents. And as far as the few children that had actually interacted with my parents were concerned, I'd been raised by a pair of real softies (although my own experience of them had been somewhat different). The difficult part was the realization that at a certain point in the future, it wasn't going to matter. Once they got to be a certain age, there was going to be no more sympathy, understanding or even concern. If the kids didn't rise above their pasts, those pasts would bring them down. I hadn't had to climb that same hill.

I didn't follow the children after I left that job. I needed to make a more or less clean break to decompress. And only by visiting regularly could I have kept up with any of them. But I do think about them from time to time, and wonder what life would have been like if I'd drawn the same hand that they had.

Monday, March 12, 2012

You Gonna Eat That?

So. A study has found that eating a diet rich in red meat (beef, pork or lamb), is riskier than cutting back.

To which most of us say: "What about this is new, precisely?"

The basic upshot is a familiar one - eating meats frequently raises your chances of heart disease, certain cancers, and so on and so on. Make that processed meats, like hot dogs (which somewhat stretch the definition of "meat," I think), and the chances jump even higher.

Of course, the meat industry weighs in with an attempt to debunk the numbers, vegans and vegetarians start crowing about the superiority of their lifestyles, the meat eaters shoot back and... well, you know the drill. But I think that something becomes lost in all of this, and it's a familiar idea. Everything is a trade off.

I, for my part, like meat. I find it tasty. I don't eat a lot of beef because I can't cook it very well, but lamb and pork are within reach of my abysmal culinary skills. And when someone else is doing the cooking, a well-cooked steak is wonderful, in my opinion. Will it shorten my lifespan? Probably. It is worth every forgone minute? Definitely.

I eat the foods that I do because I savor the pleasure of eating them. While I can go without meat when really want to, I find that I loose a lot of the enjoyment of eating, and I miss it, because I don't have anything near at hand to replace it with. Unless I'm traveling - being away from home with things to do is more enjoyable than eating, and so I find it much easier to eat better when I'm on vacation. Because while steaks are good, the British Museum, to name one thing, is MUCH better, and I can have steak when I get home.

But when my life is dull and boring, I good pork chop or lamb stir-fry goes a long way towards livening things up. And so I make the trade-off against my future health. Will I regret it? Maybe. But it's likely that if I get to the point that I'm an invalid, I'll regret a lot of things that I've done, and haven't done. And, in my estimation dying of something other than old age isn't the worst way to go. And I suppose that's what's always struck me as strange about these studies, and the reporting on them. The idea seems to be that we should always want to live as long as possible. Dying is always portrayed as something that you never want to have happen to you. Even when you're looking at spending the rest of days drooling on yourself or in an iron lung. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not in a hurry to start pushing up the daisies. The idea isn't that since I'm going to croak off anyway, I may as well go tomorrow and beat the rush. But I'm not on the bandwagon on doing whatever it takes to live a few more months or even years. Life's been good to me, but I don't need it to last forever.

And quite honestly, it seems that relatively few of us do. Okay, so I'm not risking shortening my life in return for a bigger paycheck, an adrenaline rush, being of service to my fellow man or for God, President and Country. Running an increased chance of not living to see your next birthday for those reasons seems somehow more acceptable than just because you like the taste of something. And that's okay - to each their own. And so if more people abandon meat to squeeze some more years out of life - well, that just makes savoring meals that much cheaper.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

This is a RAID

The website founded by Andrew Breitbart claims to have found evidence (in a videotaped hug from 20 years ago, apparently) that President Obama is a dangerous Black Radical who wants to reduce White people to slavery, or something. I don't know. And frankly, I'm beyond caring. I just see the battle lines being drawn. Again.

Easily-spooked White conservatives are suddenly running around like frightened chickens, convinced that the comeuppance that they've been avoiding for centuries now is suddenly going to find them in their beds. This idea, that all that stands between the stability and prosperity of the United States of America and a bloody African Intifada is a single, well-placed, radical Black leader is as old as the hills. And despite the fact that African Americans aren't any more organized or of a single mind than any other group on the planet (including Whites) it never seems to go away.

On the other side, Liberals of all stripes who are quick to point to yet more proof of lingering Racism, not seeming to understand that this is basically a political issue. Sure, the President is Black, but he's also a Democrat. Given the number of people who actually seemed to think that Herman Cain would have made a competent President, which do you think is more important? No-one with a "D" in their party affiliation is acceptable, no matter what the color of their skin. And on the flip side, anyone who will vote to ban gay marriage and lower corporate taxes is more than welcome, regardless of their extraction.

And the real problems that the country has go un-dealt with. I know that it's fashionable to say that the President, the Congress or even God has the responsibility to take care of things, and magically restore us to a place of untouchable world preeminence, but it's not going to happen. This is our work. That's what a Republic (or Democracy, if you must) really means. Yet it seems that every time, we look at the scope of the problem and then look for someone to swoop in and rescue us. If we want to fix the United States, we're going to have to stop bickering over every pointless bit of minutiae that we stumble across, and start working - or fighting - things out. The real things. Not the petty bullshit that we've taken to occupying ourselves with while we wait for a miracle. Not the moronic sideshows that we put on for no better reason than to convince people that "we're one of them." And not the cultivation of Rage, Anxiety, Ignorance and Distrust, no matter how good it makes us feel about ourselves or how comforting it is to be able to blame the Disloyal Others for our self-inflicted woes.

The big-picture, life and death issues. We can't keep pretending that things will magically turn out all right if we just keep it together a little while longer and pick the right political faith to follow. The path that we're on isn't sustainable. Hoping that it lasts until the month after we die isn't a viable strategy, regardless of how well it may have worked for some people a couple of generations ago.

The expectation that we've cultivated, that we can save the future with little more effort than voting for the right people, is a pipe dream. It's time to wake up, be sober and realize that we aren't special (or "exceptional" if you insist) enough for history to give us a pass forever.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Plan

Westboro Baptist Church is at it. Again.

I'm starting to come to the conclusion that these guys are really Deep-Cover Peaceniks. Their grand plan is to bring Christians, Moslems, Atheists, Jews, Shinto, Satanists, Zoroastrians, Wiccans, and pretty much any one else who can hold a bat together in what will turn out to be the final act of violence on Earth, before everyone realizes that they have a lot in common, go off to have a few dozen beers and sing cheesy drinking songs.

Now, were it up to me, I'd look for a way to bring humanity together that wouldn't result in being brutally beaten to death, but sometimes, taking one for the team means going all the way.

This Location Only

Because there aren't any other locations left, most likely.

I once knew the locations of 8 different Blockbuster stores. This is the last of them. I now can't think if a single going Blockbuster within 15 miles of my apartment.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

All Aboard

This is why I don't ride anyone's hate trains.

Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.

A little boy said to his mother; 'Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?' His mother replied, 'Don't even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!'
The Honorable Richard Cebull, chief U.S. district judge for Montana
When you find it "touching" to slander the dead to mock the living, I don't think that just saying that you're "not a fan" of the President comes anywhere near the truth; "but this goes beyond not being a fan" should win prizes for understatement from far and wide. It takes real emotion, actual feeling, to cloud one's judgement to this level. While Judge Cebull may have honestly believed that this e-mail would never have gone beyond his circle of fellow "non-fans," the simple fact he didn't come to the realization that he was effectively cosigning a mean-spirited slut joke about the President's mother demonstrates to me how the animosity that become such a large part of American politics is destroying our brains.

It's easy to lay this sort of thing at the feet of the right. They're worked long and hard to claim the best seats on this hate train for themselves. But four years ago, it was the political left who were the most vocal about letting their emotions get the better of them. It's always easier to emote than to think. To convince ourselves that the gut reactions that our feelings inspire speak to a deeper truth about the targets of our emotions - and say nothing about ourselves.

We are quick to cast ourselves as puppets of the more powerful - the forces that "make" us feel things. We wrap ourselves in a mantle of victimhood, controlled by outside forces that rob us of our better natures. It justifies not only our anger and bitterness, but our willingness to transgress on others in ways that we claim to find completely unacceptable. And our willingness to keep silent or even rush to the defense when people we want to see as allies take the very actions we decry in our adversaries.

As Americans, we have been brought up to be sensitive to the other in our midst, and to hound them mercilessly. For our entire history, we have shown a willingness to turn on one another, and do react with howls of outrage when confronted with it. But confront it we must, or it will be our end. For there are never pleasant destinations at the ends of hate trains.