Race Relations: Even a scholar can have a shoulder chip

Bill Maxwell-2s

Syndicated columnist, Bill Maxwell

Syndicated columnist Bill Maxwell is a writer for the Tampa Bay Times and a darn good one. His Op-Ed column appears everywhere. Although the Times choice in political cartoons conveys a subtle, hidden agenda, Maxwell’s editorials are always contemporary, thoughtful and analytical.

Not this time. His recent article on race relations smacks of a lingering resentment that ties innocent language to the race card. I have long thought highly of Bill Maxwell, and I still do. But I hope that he reconsiders the opinion espoused here: At a Restaurant, call me ‘Sir’.

Bill notes that when approached by an unfamiliar, white waiter, he is sometimes addressed as ‘Boss’, ‘Buddy’, ‘Chief’ or ‘Ace’. He interprets these salutations as signs of false respect and racially motivated spite. He also feels that the term ‘Chief’ suggests that the white server wishes upon Bill the same fate that was meted to Native Americans, presumably because the word has it’s roots in the title of tribal leaders.

Nonsense, Bill! While these greetings are certainly imprecise and pedestrian, they are not racist. Please revisit your logic and perhaps your overall mindset. Let me help… [Continue below photo…]

Heat of the Night-s

In the Heat of the Night: Sidney Poitier & Rod Steiger, 1968

I caught your op-ed, while eating at my local diner. Coincidentally, I was just starting to read as an unfamiliar waiter approached with coffee. He said, “How ’bout a cup of Joe, Boss?” These were his exact words.

I enjoyed the coffee while reading of your frustration with angry white servers who call you “Boss”.

My initial and instinctive reaction was to immediately support your position. If a server is aware that you take offense at a salutation (“What can I get you, Boss?”), I feel strongly that he should address you in a manner that you prefer. Any good employer trains servers in this simple maxim. After all, in a tolerant and respectful society, we should avoid discourtesy and slights—whether intentional or unconscious—and we should certainly avoid alienating or offending customers based on their religion, culture, race, national origin, or sexual orientation.

But after dwelling on your frustration and contempt for a few days, I reread the opinion and reflected on the particulars. I still think that the server should switch to a greeting that you prefer. But I disagree that he should have known in advance that you might find these terms disrespectful or disagreeable. These terms are neutral and the perception of racism is your personal quirk.

First, I am a middle age, white guy. I am often called “Boss”, “Chief” or “Buddy” by those serving me. To be sure, they are typically a stranger, younger than me, and probably less academic/professional/white collar (take your pick), but we are the same race.

While I agree that “Sir” is the gold standard (an indisputable observation!) and that these other terms convey a slight hint of disrespect, I honestly don’t think it has to do with serving an African American customer. After discussing the issue with colleagues and the waiter who called me “Boss”, I am convinced that it has more to do with culture (the server), class (the customer) , and ignorance (the establishment). Rather than racially charged greeting, I suspect that the umbrage you feel when being addressed “Boss” is related to your personal baggage and perhaps a small chip on your shoulder. The only person invoking the “race card” is you!

It would be interesting to determine if you encounter these salutations from white servers more frequently than me, or if you are more likely to encounter them while sitting at the same restaurant. But since this experiment is difficult to arrange, I respectfully request that you revisit your assumptions and conclusions—based simply on the fact that the same imprecise greetings are directed at me.

On a related note, I submit that the word ‘Chief’ has been integrated into the English language as a non-cultural term with similar meaning to its antecedent. It is in the job title of every CEO and even our president. Native Americans may take offense at the name ‘Red Skins’ (a sports team) but I doubt that anyone is offended by “chief”. Although it originates from American tribes, its English use conveys similar stature and rank. It is no more offensive than a hearing Spaniard use the phrase ‘El Presidente’.

Bill, when you enter a restaurant, you are effectively a temporary ‘Boss’ of the entire staff. If not for you, they would not be in business. Isn’t it just possible that the less refined person serving you simply wants you to know that he is grateful for your patronage? If you take personal exception with the term (and I assure you that it is a personal quirk), then I suggest that you politely explain that you would prefer ‘Sir’.

I realize that this isn’t the hot political issue of the day. But, a remarkable fraction of society’s ills can be traced to unintended inferences. Wild Ducks already know my feelings on this issue, and so I ask readers of this Blog: What do you think, Boss?

Colossal PR Failure: Taliban effort to silence Malala

If you have picked up a newspaper or turned on the TV news in the past 11 months, then you probably know of Malala Yousafzai, a courageous Pakistani girl who stared down the Taliban and took 2 bullets to the head. Today, as Malala’s influence spreads across the Muslim world, the Taliban is realizing that attacking a 14 year old girl was a terrible move. Even among religious zealots, their cause was dealt a blow.

Malala was targeted by Taliban militants who sought to suppress her appeal for an education. They stormed her minivan school bus and shot her twice in the face. But she survived. After surgery to replace parts of her cranium, implant a cochlea into her inner ear and reattach nerves to facial muscles, she is making an astounding recovery thanks to triage surgeons in Pakistan and a team of specialists at Queen’s Hospital in Birmingham England.

Mala didn’t want a free education, or one that was mandatory for girls who accept the radical Islam enforced by Taliban militants. She simply advocated for halting their intimidating ban on the education of all girls, including the destruction of 250 schools, and the murder of families who object to their twisted religious doctrine.

But many Wild Ducks have yet to learn of Malala’s back story. For many in the West, it began when the New York Times created a 32 minute video about the life and efforts of Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. In the picturesque Swat Valley, just north of the Islamabad, he operated a private high school and college for girls. Ziauddin recruited and paid a professional staff and maintained surprisingly high academic standards.

The New York Times profiled Malala’s life 2 years before she was shot

Although the Times video ends with Malala meeting President Obama’s attaché, she was not yet the object of international attention. Filmed just before and after her twelfth birthday, it captures the profound regional change. It begins with interior scenes of Malala’s home and her father’s school. The family lives with unbearable stress, because of a Taliban decree that schools admitting girls must close within the week. Their radio broadcasts warn that school staffs and parents will be held accountable for any girl who receives an education. The meaning of ‘accountable’ isn’t lost on parents or schools. Gunman shoot, burn, amputate or bomb anyone violating the Fatwa. Half of the pupils stop coming (and stop paying tuition). Across the region, the few schools that weren’t already destroyed are shut off to girls.

Ziauddin Yousafzai

Ziauddin Yousafzai

Then, The New York Times video covers siege and exile. It follows the father’s flight from Swat, including his 4 month separation from family. Eventually, he returns to a home and school that was occupied by the local army in an apparently successful effort to expel the Taliban. But the narrator explains that Taliban militants are hiding among the refugees, taking food from western charities and slipping back into the region along with returning citizens.

But what about Malala? In addition to exhibiting extreme chutzpah, she is a living testament to her father’s educational methods. Even at 11, she is poised, articulate, multilingual and startlingly proficient in math and science.

Malala talks about her remarkable recovery after being shot in the face by Taliban militants

What does AWildDuck think about Malala and the events that forged courage amongst depravity? There is an astounding array of ignorance, hate and extremism in this world. Extremism inevitably leads to trauma, like that which this girl has endured. Yet, here, we are witness to the emergence of an intelligent and astonishing young adult! Her strength has risen with each ignorant and evil act of tormentors. In short order, she has become a beacon of truth and human dignity. What an amazing triumph of compassion, medical skill and sheer will power over the forces of intolerance.

Malala Yousafzai will go on to do great things. She has demonstrated that she cannot be silenced—certainly not by a bullet. She is an incredible force for good and an inspiration for us all.

French air strikes in Mali: Noble effort to stem a cancer

Summer vacation? Scratch Mali and Timbuktu

Summer vacation? Scratch Mali and Timbuktu

When I was young, my parents occasionally invited Aunt Millie to stay at our home and babysit, while they traipsed off to exotic places like Tahiti, Bora Bora, Bali and Fiji. That was back in the 60s and 70s. With an arctic blast sweeping across North America this week, some of you may be planning your own summer getaways to warmer climates. If you are fortunate to be part of the economic recovery, then you might be thinking about a tropical paradise like your folks visited back in the day.

Mali and Timbuktu were never a match for Bali or Fiji. But for many Europeans of my generation, they attracted independent travelers seeking adventure. They were safe, fun and the locals were very friendly. These sunny places are no longer hospitable to anyone–at least not anyone who fails to cover up women and face Mecca every few hours. Lately, they look more like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Eight months ago, a region of Mali that is larger than all of France or Texas was overrun by Qaeda rebels. In an effort to ratchet up fear and control, they force Sharia Law by amputating limbs from anyone who fails to live by their twisted principles. By any reasonable measure, these are Barbarians… positively sick bastards.

Lift it in praise or lose it

Lift it in praise or lose it

For the past 3 months, citizens have been rounded up for public amputations (either as witness or participant). The crime? Nothing terrible. Gaze at an unrelated girl, fail to praise Allah after a sneeze, or dare to suggest that woman should be allowed an education, and you will lose both a hand and a foot—Instantly.

Justice is swift under Sharia law. Don’t expect a trial, a defense, an appeal or a delay. Reprieves don’t exist, praise Allah! Want to sneak a kiss with your honey? You had best not have a honey. Young brides are bought from parents. Just the act of holding hands is a risk you dare not attempt. For this and anything else that strikes the Mujahidin as unholy, you will pay with your limbs and perhaps your nose too!

The Mali government represents the majority of its citizens, but they are helpless against the hordes of Qaeda allied Muslims sweeping across their territory. They outnumber and out gun the army and are driven by visions of 18 willing virgins in the hereafter. I don’t know about you, but virgins in a swimming pool next to Allah’s throne probably trumps civility, cash or fear of justice in this life.

Bibi Aisha's father sold her to a Taliban fighter who hacked off her nose and ears.

Bibi Aisha’s father sold her to a Taliban fighter who hacked off her nose and ears.

The zealots’ latest scheme is to compile a mandatory registry of unwed mothers. You can imagine what comes next. Don’t bother to justify a woman without a husband (many husbands were killed by the very same thugs). ‘Islamic justice’ is an oxymoron. In their view, a woman with child should be the property of a man. By this logic, any woman in the catalog is guilty of a crime. Sister, if you are on this list, be very scared.

Should the west become isolationists in order to avoid the financial burden of war? We certainly don’t want more nation building (including cash for rebuilding), propping up governments, arbitrating another Middle East dispute. But what to do when we learn about brutality like the pirates in Somalia or the sick, brutal behavior in Mali. Can humanity opt for isolationism when presented with such abominations?

Last week, upon receiving an urgent appeal for military intervention, France came to the aid of her former colony. They launched blistering and superbly targeted air strikes against the holy rollers in Mali. This is no small task. It will be terribly expensive to sustain. It could turn into another Afghanistan or even a new Viet Nam.

The French seek to liberate northern Mali with air strikes targeted at operational bases, religious enforcement offices, training camps, and centers of  logistics and supply.

French Mirage Fighter Jet is fueld in mid flight

En route to strike fundamentalist rebels in Mali, a French Mirage fighter gets mid-air refueling

What is truly amazing is that the targets are spread across a region larger than France itself! According to reports from liberated citizens, the strikes from bombers & missile-firing helicopters target foreign extremists with remarkable precision and avoid civilians for the most part. But the precision cannot be perfect. Ten children jumped into a pond and drowned, in an effort to escape from bombs that they thought would hit them.

As terrorists and extremists regroup, I suspect that they will be more difficult to target without civilian casualties. Now that they are facing a powerful outside enemy, they will begin to distribute their activities throughout the population. Their movement of supplies and communications will become very difficult to distinguish from peaceful economic activities.

Regarding French intervention, they are getting US help, including advisors, logistics, mid-air refueling, and probably access to satellite images and US air bases. But so far, the US has not placed any troops into the operational theater. At least for now, the Yanks are not at risk. Despite this help (which I support, because the adversary is so evil and malignant), Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into another western war or even a long term sink for money or manpower. At least, we hope that evil can be contained—and if possible, killed off—without creating martyrs, righteous murderers and elevated dogma.

Culture of Violence: Are games & media part of the problem?

This is the 4th and final Wild Duck editorial related to the Newtown school
massacre in December 2012. Scroll down to view these articles:

? Logan’s Guardians: Poignant Sandy Hook back story
? 3-Prong Approach to School Security Avoids Lockdown
? Few tributes to killer’s mother? Don’t feel guilt
? Violence in Games & Media: Not part of the problem

Liza Long has become an internet sensation of sorts. Her Blog post “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” [alternate site] went viral in the aftermath of the Newtown school shooting. Of course, she is not Nancy Lanza. The shooter’s mother was the first victim of a calculated rampage that left 28 dead in all, including 20 first-grade students and 6 staff members.

Mrs. Long’s 13 year old son exhibits periodic, aggressive and threatening outbursts. This violent behavior alternates with longer periods of high-performing academics and true remorse over the violent episodes. As you can imagine, the boy has had numerous diagnoses. Brief episodes of aberrant behavior interspersed by apology or confusion could be a symptom of mental illness, a tumor, or even a trauma. It could relate to his food, his family environment, or even religious delusion (In this case, none of these are among the various diagnoses of mental illness).

But the article is not an analysis of the boy. It is a sharing of the enormous effort and anguish of being parent to a teenage child with mental illness and, as Liza explains in follow-up interviews, it is a plea for help and also an expression of her opinion that identifying and treating mental illness may save more lives than gun control.

Mrs. Long is one heck of a great writer! Her story column is among the most compelling and persuasive editorials I have ever read. I could learn from her communication style: captivating, thought provoking, and very clearly articulated.

I suspect that both issues factor into the number of mass murders: mental illness and easy gun ownership & transfer. But some pundits, including the current head of the National Rifle Association are pointing to America’s culture of violence, especially the violence depicted in Hollywood films, on TV and in computer and video games.

I would not be quick to ban violence in films or in fiction (TV and video games). It is a slippery slope that easily leads to banning Roadrunner cartoons (Wiley E. Coyote frequently blows himself up or falls into canyons). What about non-fiction? Why not ban guns and bombs in historical documentaries? What about War and Peace? What about Disney? (the beginning of Bambi or Finding Nemo). What about the Bible? That’s probably the most violent book ever written!

In my opinion, banning violence in media provides a false panacea. Research demon-strates a connection between fictional violence and immediate attitude. I acknowledge this. For example, when kids play military “kill” games, they are more likely to react to an innocent bump as if it were intentional—and they are more likely to escalate the interaction.

While I do not dispute these findings, I believe that the reaction is temporary and superficial. The Japanese culture is filled with horrific violence in both games and fiction. Hentai cartoon books are a popular staple in subway kiosks and snatched up by business commuters. They depict rape, gore and dismemberment. Yet, the incidence of real violence, including violence directed toward woman and children, is almost non-existent. It is far, far below the statistical rate in America.

In fact, a contrary force may actually correlate violent media with peaceful coexistence. I suspect that fictional violence provides a personal release for aggressive tendencies and therefore reduces violent interaction in the real world.*

If I am correct (that fictional violence offers a relief valve), then the real question is what mechanism or what types of individuals cross the chasm from imagination to practice? Certainly, easy availability to weapons can play a role in transforming a moment of intense passion or rage into an act of aggression. So, introducing gun control is very likely a good thing. But guns will never be impossible to obtain, and so we must also explore the roots of mental illness and more importantly, the mechanisms or identification of individuals who may “cross the chasm”.

Some people choose to commit suicide by jumping into the Grand Canyon. Because of this, the National Park Service briefly fenced off every lookout point in the mid 1980s. I was incensed! They were taking away from every citizen and visitor the privilege and majestic view! It just didn’t make sense. I was relieved when they buckled to an outraged public reaction. After all, someone bent on suicide could step in front of a car or slice open a vein. I see the removal of violence from media not as an overreaction, but as completely ineffective and quite possibly counterproductive. (Imagine outlawing Terminator, Rambo, or a World War documentary).

* I believe that the same is true of pornography. Fortunately, an increasing number of feminists have dropped a tired, outdated argument that pornography debases {name a gender, race or socio-economic class} and subtly alters a consumer’s attitude toward the characters depicted. But I dasn’t mix venues. It is a separate issue.

Ellery Davies clarifies the intersection of Technology, Law and Public
Policy. He is a contributor to Yahoo, CNet, ABC News, PCWorld and
The Wall Street Journal. He is also Chief Editor of A Wild Duck.

Few tributes to Nancy Lanza? Don’t feel guilt

In the wake of the Newtown Connecticut school massacre, there were many tributes to the 20 students and 6 teachers who were slain by Adam Lanza. The number of victims, 26, was repeated by news media, bloggers and even the US President as they honored the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School and shared in a nation’s collective grief.

Shedding a tear for 26 victims

But Adam Lanza killed 28 indivi-duals on that day. In addition to killing himself, the first shooting victim is absent in this count. She wasn’t at the school. Having re-turned from a resort vacation, she was still asleep on Friday morn-ing. As he set out to decimate a community, Lanza started the day by shooting his mother, Nancy Lanza, four times in the head. Minutes later, he parked at Sandy Hook Elementary School and entered the building, commando style. The rest of that morning is etched into our collective psyche by the sheer enormity of its evil.

Today, CNN anchor, Carol Castello asked viewers how Adam Lanza’s mother should be remembered. Specifically, should she be part of the many moving tributes to the victims of her son’s massacre? After all, with 4 gun shots to the head in her own bed, was she not also a victim?

Regular readers may notice that this posting has no photo of Mrs. Lanza. Adam Lanza’s mother is certainly a victim. There is no doubt. But deserving of a nation’s collective grief and the outpouring of homages to the school victims? Hardly! Grieving or honoring her life is a personal decision. Anyone can offer a tribute or honor her memory as a victim. But I certainly don’t think of her in the same light as the slain students & staff in Newtown.

Hers, is an individual story of a woman killed by a family member. I place it in the realm of domestic violence, even though, in this case, the violence came about as the result of mental illness and easy access to weapons—rather than at the hands of an abusive spouse.

But the children and staff killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were murdered by a stranger and on a massive scope. By any definition, they are the “innocents”. They present a tragedy of national interest–­not just because of our collective grief, but because they raise such important questions about our safety, views and laws… Questions that are finally being debated in earnest by the electorate.

It is not clear to what degree that Mrs. Lanza bears responsibility for the actions of her son. But, the death of a mom who played a role in enabling her mentally unstable son is of less collective, emotional import than the death of 26 women and children who were so innocent of any involvement in Mrs. Lanza’s affairs. For me, this is the real reason that I will not be celebrating the memory of a killer’s mother.

3 Prong Approach to School Security Avoids Lockdown

This past Friday, we witnessed the aftermath of violence and tragedy: The murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. In the article before this one, AWildDuck shared a poignant and emotional story of Logan Dryer, a 6 year old boy who was protected from his fears by four victims of the massacre.

In the wake of tragedy caused by violence, it’s inevitable that politicians, pundits, and specialists rush to patch the security apparatus or call for new studies of mental illness. For many in the United States, it’s high time for more restrictive gun control laws, and certainly, something could be done to improve detection and intervention of individuals capable of massacring children. A national dialogue on meaningful gun control is certainly in order, but this won’t address the root of the problem and it certainly won’t solve the problem. It’s hard to imagine that criminals and high performing individuals with aggressive forms of mental illness will not get access to weapons.

Of course, a better understanding of mental illness would be a great leap forward, but we certainly don’t want a police state that incarcerates people because of what they might do.  In this moving Blog post, the mother of a 13 year old boy with mental illness explains the tribulations of dealing with her son. He has brief explosive bouts during which he presents a danger to anyone in the vicinity.

Improved school safety could definitely be part of a solution, but here – again – we don’t want our children studying in prisons that are inhospitable to pupils, educators and community participation.

Bob Strang: Importance of tightening security in school

Bob Strang, the CEO of Investigative Management Group is a specialist in threat-assessment. In a Fox News interview, he proposes addressing the effectiveness of all three areas: weapons, criminal psychology, and school security. His 3-prong proposal is designed to reduce the likelihood of a lethal school rampage like the one we witnessed this past week.

Mr. Strang suggests that we simultaneously change or reinforce these areas, not necessarily in major ways. For example, he does not propose that we ban civilian guns or prevent all unannounced visitors to a school. The first may be unrealistic and the latter may set a grim tone for socializing and learning.

  1. Gun Control:  For example, ban assault weapons, limit clips, end the gun-show loophole
  2. Mental Illness:  He has no specific suggestions, but I think he is hinting at better identification and preemptive intervention
  3. School Security: This is where it gets interesting . . .

Strang suggests that every school have an armed security professional, possibly recruited and screened from returning war veterans.

In my opinion, suggestion #3 has several problems.

  • I wonder if Strang envisions a sniper in a watch tower? I cannot imagine that a single officer in an interior office or even patrolling corridors could be very effective. I could see using armed guards at some inner city schools that struggle with violence daily.
  • And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!
Elementary school of the future?

Elementary school of the future?

■ Most importantly, a subtle shift from an inviting campus to a restrictive campus has profound implications. The presence of armed guards contributes to an environment that feels more like a prison than a place for learning. It deters unannounced visits from parents and educators—even if the guard is undercover. It bakes into our daily routines an omni-present fear of terrorists and murderers and teaches children that strangers are inherently bad, rather than the judgment they need to develop personal safety habits and an ability to adapt. I prefer an inviting campus that does not have intimidating barriers to plays, concerts, sports events, community groups, and especially parent-teacher conferences. The presence of guards and guns puts a chill on all of these venues.

This led me to think of a slightly less apparent security apparatus and a less restrictive environment. I wonder if it could be effective. Rather than an armed sniper at every school, I wonder if this plan could be an effective alternative to part 3 of Mr. Strang’s suggestion…

3a)  A national school-safety czar. Not necessarily at the cabinet level, but under the auspices of our Department of Homeland Security. His role is to set coordinate studies, gather consensus, set policies and encourage standardized practices for drills, lockdowns, spotting suspicious activity, negotiation, etc.

3b)  An individual at each school (perhaps existing staff), who is liaison to the safety czar. She gathers intelligence (identify aberrant behavior, online threat absences, etc), investigates cause, implements a standards-based policy, verifies that cameras and perimeters are alert and secure, trains teachers & admins, avoid the complacency that comes with peaceful years on end.

She also works with local law enforcement to plan and practice response time,
review interior maps and perhaps install quick reacting defense, such as tear gas
or floor-level grease dispensers that can disable aggressors in access corridors.

How does my #3b differ from Mr. Strang’s #3. First, it doesn’t add lethal firepower to an area that seeks protection from firepower. I don’t buy the NRA claim that more guns is a solution to ending gun violence. After all, with a population of 200 million adults, America already has 300 million guns. It certainly hasn’t shielded her citizens from violence. Second, it is probably cheaper. Third, it relies on brains, standardized plans and preparation rather than brawn and bullets. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that this fits within the ethos that we teach our children.

Using a loose analogy, this is why Captain Picard solved problems with his head rather than using his fists and groin like the original Captain Kirk. That earlier Star Trek series looks like a slapstick satire next to the newer one. This is not just due to an improvement in special effects. The Next Generation series is more believable because it is not a “shoot-em-up” western.

And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!

Logan’s Guardian: Poignant Sandy Hook back story

Lives cut short. Such enormous loss. So much grief

Lives cut short. Such enormous loss. So much grief

This is a difficult Monday morning, as a nation reflects on the Sandy Hook / Newtown Connecticut school massacre. Six adults and twenty children (all of them, 6 or 7 years old) were slaughtered as they started school on Friday.

Emilie Parkers Dad, Robbie

Depth of despair: Emilie Parker’s Dad, Robbie

It’s possible to have empathy for distraught parents and families and to imagine their grief, but it is impossible to experience the depth of their despair. Somehow, it seems unfair that we are powerless to shift some of their overwhelming grief onto our own shoulders.

There are many tributes on TV and across the country with photos of individual victims and a vignette about a favorite color, hobby, school work or their families. But here is a simple story in the Los Angeles Times that has no photo, yet it is a profoundly emotional read. (This is triggering-It left me shattered)…

The family of one victim, Madeline Hsu, has not provided a photo of their child. So far, news bureaus have refrained from using school photos. The family does not want her face broadcast in the media. They are grieving privately, with a police cruiser outside their home to discourage reporters or well-wishers from bothering them.

Across the street lives a little boy, Logan Dryer, who is 5. He is one year younger than Madeline and suffers from panic attacks. (He does not yet know about the shooting). Since the start of the school year, he has been afraid of going to school, especially afraid of leaving on the school bus. But with the help of Madeline and another shooting victim, Carolyn Previdi, he has been getting onto the bus on most mornings. Madeline promised Logan’s mom that she and Carolyn would be “Logan’s Guardians” and demonstrate to him that there is nothing to be scared of. Each morning, they take over for Logan’s Mom and hold his hand as they wait for the bus. Then, these two girls – both are dead now – would sit next to Logan and help him to be calm, happy and engaged on the bus ride to school.

According to the Times article, Madeline and Carolyn’s parents didn’t know that their daughters had taken on the role of guardians to a panic prone child. In fact, they had never met the Dryers. The girls did this of their own volition.

Dawn Hochspring and Mary Sherlach

Dawn Hochsprung (Principal) and Mary Sherlach

Once Logan arrived at school, two caring adults took over from the girls, holding Logan when he needed it and whispering away his fears: Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung and school psycholo-gist, Mary Sherlach. But Fate took another gut wrenching turn for little Logan, because these two adults were the first shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The killer had apparently fingered them as targets from the onset.

There is no doubt about it, school shootings have devastating consequences. However, it is important to remember that there are protections that can be put into place to prevent shooters from getting access to schools. Turnstiles can be used throughout a school to monitor and protect different areas and to only allow access to authorized individuals. You can learn more about using turnstiles from Daosafe by visiting their website.

Now, Logan’s mom asks herself the really tough question: How can she explain to Logan that all four of his guardian angels were killed without cause and without warning? These were very individuals who brushed away fear and gave a 5 year old the strength to go to school. They assured him that it was safe to do so. And it wasn’t.

Ironically, Logan did not get on the bus last Friday. He had a panic attack. That was just before a shooter entered his school and began killing.

How can anyone read this story and not cry? Is safety and illusion? How will Logan’s family eventually explain this to the frightened boy? How can he believe in anything now?

Other back stories, selected by AWildDuck:

Did US voters elect a Wingnut to Congress?

To our friends in America—For just a moment, put aside the coming presidential election. Rise above politics, skin color and debate polish. Focus, instead, on this question: Exactly how does a guy like Paul Broun get elected to your national congress? As these Palinesque characters proliferate in your high offices, the esteem and importance of America in world affairs gradually erodes. Do the views of this man represent what they teach children in your country?—Your adult voters apparently agree with his position on science and technology. By God! It’s the devil’s work…

U.S. Congressman (GA-R), Paul Broun, is a trained medical doctor and serves on the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Recently he spoke at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. He told his audience that the Earth is about 9,000 years old, and that the Big Bang Theory and Evolution are “lies from the pit of hell”.

Let’s assume that constituents elected an individual who represents the religion of the majority. But most adults are reasonable to basic truths. They understand that religion and science needn’t be interpreted as contradictions. One is a set of moral constructs backed by customs, ethics and a long history of tradition. The other is a gradually improving knowledge of the universe, through the analysis of evidence, specifically, the observation of measurable properties and laws. Even if we let the unbalanced religious interpretation go, how can the citizens of Georgia appoint such an ignoramus to the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology? Do you suppose that it baffles elementary school students In Europe and Asia. It certainly baffles my 11 year old daughter. She is incredulous. Wake up Americans! It’s not like Congressman Broun hides his whacked out beliefs. Ignorance is displayed with pride on his sleeve. The problem isn’t his devotion to scripture. It’s the empty-headed, literal interpretation.

Congressman Paul Broun on  Evolution, Embryology & Big Bang Theory:
“These are lies from the pit of hell”  [Full speech: 47 minutes]

The first 24 minutes of the congressman’s speech are about his great hunting prowess. Europeans might overlook the Yahoo factor…After all, he is an American and he is speaking at a sportsman’s banquet. But then, as he begins to speak about his religious re-birth, he explains that modern science is filled with lies. To bolster this arguments, he emphasizes that he is a medical doctor and a scientist. Clearly, he has no clue what is a scientist. How disappointing that Broun chose to serve in congress rather than preach on a street corner. His neandrathal view raises doubts that he can serve citizens who don’t share his head-in-the-sand, southern, born again revelation. He certainly doesn’t represent non-Christians in his district and cannot possibly lend substance or credibility to his role on a legislative body for Science, Space and Technology.

In the above video, he boasts of his credentials as a scientist, and explains that “evolution, embryology, and big bang theory are all lies from the pit of hell.” (Geez!) He also says that the Bible is the “manufacturer’s handbook” and that as Congressman he holds the Holy Bible as a directive for all of his votes and decisions in Washington.

This is precisely the type of nut case that Bill Nye refers to in this video: Creationism is not appropriate for children:

Bill says to adults:

“If you want to deny evolution and live in your world that is completely inconsistent with everything that we observe in the universe, that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them! We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need engineers that can build stuff and solve problems.”

It is sad that the phenomenon of confusing religion and science is unique to the United States. The rest of the world is devoid of whack jobs like Congressman Broun, with the possible exception of Muslim regions under Taliban and Al Qaeda influence.

Ellery Davies, freelance columnist and editor of AWildDuck, focuses on the intersection of technology, politics, law, privacy and social phenomena. He is a frequent contributor to Yahoo, Amazon, Engadget and The Wall Street Journal.

Is Fox News Fooling Anyone?

After years of rumors, high-profile CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper, acknowledged his sexual orientation last month in an editorial at The Daily Beast. A most eloquent analysis was offered by Huffington Post contributor, Chuck Gomez.

Today’s point of view has nothing to do with Mr. Cooper or sexual orientation. But it has a lot to do with network news and—like the Anderson Cooper revelation—it deals with the inflection point between an unacknowledged fact and one that is acknowledged by the subject, or at least, universally recognized.

Today, the inflection point involves Fox News. Once and for all, this Blog uncovers what so many readers already know. Let’s please not make this political! This posting has no conservative or liberal agenda. It doesn’t question the quality or value of Fox News (Well, at least not as a biased, editorial Blog with celebrity entertainers). It’s not meant to be inflammatory. It just shines a bright light onto an unspoken truth. A truth that many Fox insiders, friends, foes and viewers already know.

Bloviation? The Spin stops here? Do you take us for idiots, O’Reilly?!

Does Fox News strive to be neutral, balanced, fair and unbiased? (O.K. These are synonyms. But it is the key question). Is Fox News a mouthpiece of the Republican Party? Does Bill O’Reilly really believe that his popular editorial show is a “no spin zone”?

To better understand how a special interest operates, it helps to understand a little bit about media, entertainment, News, and the Fairness Doctrine. AWildDuck is not an expert on all of these things, but we allude to each and you can take it from there…

Consider the World Wrestling Federation. They refer to their stage craft as “professional wrestling”. Yet, in a dispute with the World Wildlife Foundation, they changed their name and website to ‘World Wrestling Entertainment’ (WWE). This pleases linguists and anyone who cares about truth-in-advertising. After all, they are hardly professional and the entertainment nomenclature fits…

To be fair, the definition of a ‘profession’ is that participants get paid. For this reason, most Olympic athletes – no matter how good – are not ‘professionals’. That term applies only to the ones that compete for money apart from the Oympics. But by any common definition, there is nothing ‘professional’ about television wrestling (aka: WWE or “rubber wrestling”), because it is not a sport. It provides choreographed media entertainment with slapstick antics. Wrestlers bounce off ropes, flip opponents into the air, whip them into body slams and then jump on faces. Performers are rarely hurt, but actors with names like Hulk Hogan and Mad Dog yell into the camera about crushing skulls and rupturing internal organs.

At first, organizers denied that these fights were choreographed for entertainment value. It took Geraldo Rivera to push the group into more truthful packaging. Of course it is rehearsed and structured. It’s all play acting in the guise of a professional sport. But hey! Entertainment can have just as much value as a professional sporting event. Fox News is no different…

Fox may have evolved from a pure journalistic credo in its early days. But anyone who watches Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” understands that it’s all about spin…and a pervasive religious undertone. Even journalists and editors within Fox news have gradually begun to acknowledge that the broadcaster has taken on a role of unofficial spin doctor for conservatives.

Off camera, they no longer deny the far right perspective of their ‘news’. They represent family values (at least for white, Christian families), a Republican/Tea Party perspective, and an agenda that is slightly pro-military, anti-pluralism, and somewhat redneck.

When they were disguising the agenda in a cloak of balanced journalism and the Fairness Doctrine, they thought it might win the hearts and minds of viewers—or at least undecided voters. Now that the horse is out of the barn (and the Fairness Doctrine is no longer the Law of the Land), they still serve a useful purpose. Their talking heads help to explain and interpret the Republican platform and contrast candidates from one corner of the ring. But they certainly aren’t a balanced news organization. They are a reasonably good editorial platform and a spokes piece.

For the past 6 or 7 years, the winks and nods were all too evident. They are one sided and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t agree with them or simply want to learn another perspective, tune into Bill Maher or read The Huffington Post. We live in a world of balance through choice. Fox news is an extreme proponent of the far right. My only beef with the organization is that they masquerade as a legitimate news organization.

I was once a Republican. I respect Fox News. But Republican or Democrat, Black or White, Jew or Gentile, Resident or Immigrant, let’s just call a spade a spade. Anderson Cooper finally came out of the closet because rumors were beginning to interfere with his job. It’s time for Fox News to come clean, so that legions of viewers can move them back from the Entertainment column to the News & Commentary column. Face it, Bill: Fox News is biased as all get out! No disrespect intended. We’re just nudging the organization toward truth in packaging.

» Ellery Davies is a frequent contributor to Yahoo, CNet, ABCNews
» and The Wall Street Journal. He is also editor of AWildDuck.com.

stopradicalislam.org: Tactics Undermine Noble Purpose

Check out the video clip below. It’s also in Meira Svirsky’s inflammatory piece at Stop Radical Islam (www.stopradicalislam.org). US Assistant Attorney General, Tom Perez, is apparently unwilling to respond to what Rep Trent Frank of Arizona claims is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question: Will he categorically rule out entertaining legislation that erodes free speech, even if it is against a religion (read: against Islam). Representative Frank repeatedly demands a simple Yes/No answer, even though “the defendant” attempts to explain that the answer is not quite as simple as demanded.

Just answer the question: “Yes” or “No”. Is this a hearing or a witch-trial inquisition?

The question and Mr. Frank’s demand for a 1-word answer–without any clarification–degrades the US House of Representatives by turning the Grand Jury session into a inquisition reminiscent of 17th Salem witchcraft trials. Unfortunately, a lot of congressional hearings slip into this mode, because US Senators and members of Congress can confer upon themselves Grand Jury status at will. It’s a slick, legal construct that means the visitor/guest is compelled to appear, has no right to an attorney, no right to cross examine, no right to abstain, and cannot even invoke the 5th amendment to the US constitution—the right to refrain from self incrimination. This wholesale withdrawal of constitutional protection is justified by the fact that the proceeding is part of evidence gathering and that no formal charges, court session or legal action has commenced. Life and liberty are not at stake and so protections be damned.

We’ll save a discussion of Grand Jury ethics for another day.[1] What disappoints me about this particular hearing is that it was posted to stopradicalislam.org as an example of a government official who is soft on the erosion of constitutional freedoms and either soft or blind to the gradual Islamification of western democracies.

The attack by Representative Trent Frank on Assistant AG, Tom Perez, and the implication of reporting it in this way is unwarranted and misleading. It undermines the important mission of radicalislam.org.

First about street cred: I am not in favor of abridging free speech, especially against a growing threat to western democracies, even if disguised as a religion or a different cultural perspective.

I strongly support stopradicalislam.org. The public service watchdog sounds alarms and shines a bright light on a bona fide threat to western civilization. Although the scope of the threat is debated,[2] significant numbers of individuals and a growing body of Islamic organizations are proactively and purposely undermining basic freedoms, including freedom of speech.

I once thought that Islamification was the inflammatory fantasy-fear of rednecks and others who don’t–themselves–embrace a tolerant, inclusive society. But I have grown to understand that these Islamic groups are antithetical to inclusion. They seek to bend every society that offers them sanctuary to their ridged, intolerant views.

Now, about Tom Perez and his refusal to simply say “Yes”: Give the guy a break! The Yes/No demand posed by Trent Frank in the video clip above was not only belligerent; it is intentionally presented in a way that could not be answered with “Yes”. Four times, Assistant AG Perez attempted to explain that the very act of opening a communication and presenting it to his committee could be construed as “entertaining a legislative proposal”. Therefore, he could not rule out “entertaining a bill that would restrict free speech against a religion”. (The question was inflammatory and insincere! It certainly doesn’t mean that the Assistant DA is Communist or that he seeks to overturn the cornerstone of constitutional freedom). Had he been allowed to answer the question without constant bullying, it seems likely that he would have reaffirmed his mandate to uphold the US constitution, including—especially—our right to free speech.

I still identify with the laudable objectives of stopradicalislam.org, and even the alarmist tone to most of their bulletins. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify with any organization that buttresses its argument with bullying and misdirection. C’mon guys…Your battle is too important to water down with unethical or intentionally misleading citations.


[1] Pssst! Express Yourself: Are the unchecked discretionary powers of a Grand Jury a reasonable tool in a democracy? Ellery has not arrived at an informed opinion. We invite a guest OpEd from an attorney with courtroom experience, clear writing style, and an opinion that can be supported with eloquence.

[2] For many westerners, the mention of Arabic Islam brings to mind images of terrorists, the suppression of basic freedoms, burqas, honor killings, clitoridectomies, the exclusion of girls from schools & driving, and hacking off fingers for minor infractions against narrow and extreme religious ideology (so called, Sharia Law).

What fraction of those identifying with Arabic Islam match this western impression?

Wild Ducks might debate the fraction of Islamists that exhibit religious zealotry, cultural intolerance and a penchant for violence & martyrdom (suicide during cowardly acts of terrorism). But few dispute the growing threat of a significant fraction and their front facing proxies. The institutions are just as extreme as the most radical individuals: anti-women, anti-western, anti-pluralism, and culturally intolerant. Propaganda and subterfuge is disseminated by feel-good shills, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other innocent sounding NGOs. For most westerners, the message is falling on deaf ears, because actions and television pictures speak louder than words. Acts like 911, Bangalore, Madrid, and London followed by jubilant dancing in the streets and a silence by Islamic spokespeople suggest that extremism and intolerance are either in the majority–or at least a very significant minority.

» Ellery Davies is a frequent contributor to Yahoo, CNet, ABCNews
» and The Wall Street Journal. He is also editor of AWildDuck.com.

Mormons “Baptize” the Dead. Why the outrage?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are known as Mormons, just as people who practice “Plural Marriage” are known as polygamists. Of course, The Mormons claim to have given up that practice years ago. But then, we keep hearing of rogues and outcasts who make the evening news. Who can forget Warren Jeffs, his 14-year-old brides and the babies he fathered.

Alive—makes a more meaningful Baptism

This week, our slightly odd neigh-bors in Utah stirred up another ruckus. Yup! It concerns another practice they promised to stop. But, Whoops! Like a poltergeist, It’s B-a-a-c-k!  It seems that the Church has an official program to convert dead people of other faiths. It works like this: Get the name, birth & death dates, and other facts about anyone that you fancy. Then, assemble the faithful in a Utah mountain, sprinkle water on a voodoo effigy and pronounce the departed soul a faithful congregant.

Actually, I’m using a bit of artistic license with perhaps an unfair dose of sarcasm. Wikipedia offers this condensed explanation: A living person, acting as proxy, is baptized by immersion on behalf of a deceased person. After giving a short prayer that includes the name of the deceased individual, the proxy is immersed briefly in the water, then brought up again. Baptism for the dead is based on the belief that baptism is a required ordinance for entry into the Kingdom of God.

However the ritual plays out, suffice it to say that atheists and followers of other prophets are insulted. Why would anyone claim to baptize someone who can’t even consent? They’re baptizing the dead in the hopes that they will have one last chance to accept Jesus—or perhaps Joseph Smith—as prophet, savior, Mullah, whatever. (I apologize for being flippant. I shouldn’t blaspheme the rituals of others. But c’mon! It’s difficult to suppress a chuckle when someone dunks a stand-in for a departed Muslim or Jew and solemnly expects the unsuspecting corpse will switch horses and meet a new maker in the Afterlife.)

Did Simon Wiesenthal Convert to Mormonism? Well—not, at least, in his lifetime!

This practice has been reported in the past, when a journalist finds a prominent individual of another faith among the beneficiaries of this bizarre practice. The Church typically apologizes and promises to exclude the hapless corpse from a shot at everlasting life. But this time, they really caused a stink. This time, they exercised a ghostly baptism on the souls of Simon Wiesenthal and his parents. Wiesenthal, founded the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance. He was a prominent concentration camp survivor who died in 1999. His parents were gassed by the Nazis. As you might imagine, his organization soundly protested the posthumous “baptisms” of their founder.

Today, Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel (another prominent camp survivor) publically asked Mitt Romney to instruct the Church to stop this practice. Of course, Romney is a candidate for President, but he is not a spokesman for the Mormon Church.

Wild Ducks have a different take on all of this. I have been reading about the practice of Mormons baptizing the dead by proxy with a chuckle. This one is a red herring, my friends. A fantasy play that is acted out within Mormon temple walls has no bearing on you, me, Elie Wiesel or Simon Wiesenthal. It is futile, harmless, and–if you ask me–outright goofy. But it certainly keeps them out of trouble.

I don’t think it is worth a second thought. Have you ever had a friend or roommate who is an Assembly-of-God Christian? It’s like asking them to stop praying for your soul. To coin a phrase by Sarah Palin, Good luck with that one!

Baptism is a symbol. It’s not real. The whole brouhaha reminds me of George Bush, Sr. and his obsession for criminalizing the burning of an American flag. Sometimes, we get symbols confused with the real thing. I recall one ardent supporter of a Flag Amendment who screamed “My brother died protecting that flag!” With all due respect for the dead brother…No, he did not! The flag is just a symbol, and you cannot force everyone to feel the same way about it. He died in his fight for what the flag represents. If a protester cannot burn a symbol, in what way would you prefer that he show his anger and frustration?

A friend forwarded a petition urging the LDS Church to stop a “heinous desecration”. I gave him the perspective that prompted me to post this article. I half expected him to be angered or insulted by my lack of respect for the dead. Instead, I was validated to read this quick response:

Praise the Lord and pass the Pizza

“The truth is I was a little confused about why we should care. If they give me $10, they can dunk me in a pool and call me a Mormon. I’ll continue with my own practice just like always, but I’ll have $10 to spend on a pizza!”

Exactly! To the non-Mormons who bristle at hearing that Mom, Dad or a favorite rock star was unwittingly converted, I say: They weren’t! They’re dead. It’s not as if a gravestone was vandalized. Leave the Mormons to their practices and get over it! Or better yet, get them converted back (Thanks to a reader comment, below!)

Update: Late today, The LDS Church apologized for including Simon Wiesenthal’s parents in their dead guy conversion rituals. Of course, they have back stepped before on this very same issue. But again, I say “Who Cares?” It keeps them off the streets and reasonably happy. When confronted by delusion – and if that delusion is manifest by harmless, self-contained ritual – I believe that it is best not to interfere.

Christmas Trees & Menorahs: No place on Public Property

In 1990 and 1991, an atheist organization filed suit against cities and towns in Illinois, including Rolling Meadows, Zion and Palatine. It argued that a religious symbol in the official city seal constituted government recognition of a religion and caused harm. A city seal appears everywhere that official business is conducted. It is emblazoned on permits, forms, stationery, recycle bins, police cars, and even street signs.

At first, the towns fought back, arguing that a Latin cross in the corner of a city seal, an angel or a reference to God represents an aspect of town heritage and history. In fact, some towns were settled for religious reasons during colonial times. They also pointed out that US currency displays the words “In God We Trust” and that religious motifs are enshrined in government documents, buildings, history and even cited by our founding fathers.

Although decisions were split, the plaintiffs won their case on most counts and in most cities. Religious icons were stripped from the seals and eventually the court houses of many towns. Some civic leaders considered appealing the decisions, but after losing hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the initial action, most towns gave up the fight and agreed to remove religious symbols.

How is it that a religious symbol can cause harm? For an atheist, I am a bit puzzled. To them, I would think that it should be no different than an artifact of fables and legend. But for people of other faiths, I certainly understand the problem. In one case that gained brief, national attention, the wife of a Rabbi covered the seal on her recycling bin and on an automobile windshield sticker. But this small act of protest had repercussions. The municipal government blocked her trash pickup and fined her for not displaying (or perhaps defacing) a required vehicle permit.

Before this post attracts all sorts of rants from the right, please consider this. Asking a devout Jew to display a crucifix in front of her home, even if it is small, is no different than asking a devout Muslim to wear a Star of David for the purpose of gaining access to the town dump. Preposterous! Even if the effect is unintended, the incorporation of religion into government – even if symbolic – is not harmless. It is intimidating, unfair and a form of bullying. It says that the town recognizes and serves this citizen, but not that one.

Some will argue that in a democracy, “Majority rules”. But this cliché is a bastardization of democracy. This type of thinking leads to Fascism. A true democracy protects the rights of individuals and never forces citizens into acts that benefit no one and isolate individuals. Rather, democracies actively protect diversity. For this reason, I stand with the Rabbi’s wife.

But let’s move forward 20 years. It is now Christmas 2011. Why, today, do most towns still decorate Christmas Trees on public property? I have no idea! Christians should be even more outraged than atheists and people of other faiths. Having government usurp a matter of family and personal faith is trite, insulting and nauseating. It is far worse than the commercial exploitation of faith that we see in malls and on television.

The issue is reaching a boiling point in the town of Evergreen Colorado, in which I have a friend. The town offered local Jews “equal access” by placing a giant menorah next to the town Christmas tree. The pendulum is swinging wildly this week. Early this week, newspapers reported Evergreen Bans Menorah, Keeps Christmas Tree, but just as abruptly, the two sides reached an accommodation. Now they are again saying “Let’s drape our court house in both faiths.”  If I were a local Jewish leader in Evergreen, I certainly wouldn’t want a symbol of a minor children’s holiday placed next to a Christmas tree. For God’s sake, get rid of both!

Do you really want equal time and equal space for Jewish symbols amongst Christian symbols?! Doesn’t that open a can of worms? What about Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto and Wicca? Does each minority get a symbol on the front lawn of City Hall?

Rather than “Equal Time” for flaunting Jewish holidays & symbols. I would much prefer that governments get out of the religion business altogether! It’s trite, bigoted and incredibly insulting. I have never understood why governments like to erect Christmas trees. I would rather teach my children that faith is expressed by the faithful and within their respective communities. Let us please end state funding or any state recognition of religious holidays & events. Let the tree to Christ go up on private property and let the Menorah go up on Mr. Levine’s front lawn or in front of Weinstein’s Deli (I made up the names, but you get the point).

Why not display a religious alphabet soup to assuage all residents?

What about the The Salvation Army? Projects of missionaries, and some self-help groups. Should they be granted meeting rooms in schools or donation pots at the post office? Of course not! Let them find donors in a church parking or at the entrance of Wal-Mart. (I am not arguing against retailers making their own decision). But wait? Is the Salvation Army a religious organization? Many people believe that their motives are as benign as the Girl Scouts. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but it seems reasonable to ask what the “Salvation” Army is trying to save?!

Should there be exceptions to my rule?

Sure! Every restriction should accommodate facts on the ground and be applied within reason. Even though Hanukkah is a minor children’s holiday blown out of proportion because of proximity to Christmas,  I accept that our national holidays include Christmas, Easter and the Gregorian New Year (I won’t even call that last one ‘religious’). The plurality of Christians is a fact and it seems reasonable that major holidays convenience the largest group. Likewise, I appreciate the fact that towns with a large Jewish population (like Brookline and Sharon in Massachusetts) structure the school calendar to accommodate Passover and Yom Kippur. I wouldn’t demand that the holiday be recognized (not even locally), but on the other hand, I bet families in these towns appreciate that teachers accommodate individual students who cannot attend on those few days.

What about the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts? Fortunately, the Girl Scouts are not religious at all (they are not affiliated with the Boy Scouts). However, the Boy Scouts credo and pledge includes an oath of anti-atheism, and of course, they tried hard to block gay scouts and leaders. Alas, this isn’t a perfect world. Personally, I overlook the subtle and non-pervasive remnants of intolerance and religion in the Boy Scouts as long as their regional outposts are inclusive and accommodating. Their record is mixed, but religion is certainly a very minor footnote in their activities.

I have no problem with a school giving after school meeting space to scouts, as long as the on-site affairs are completely nonreligious and as long as the donation of space and service is treated like any other non-profit (e.g. the Red Cross or a local food drive).

So Sayeth Ellery. Tell me what you think.

Merriam-Webster dictionary banned in California

I was about to begin this post with the words “Every once in a while, politicians and school boards come up with some truly bizarre edicts.” Then, I would have gone on to report one really whacked out policy…

But in truth, it’s not just ‘once in a while’. In this age of space exploration, cultural pluralism and enlightenment, common sense and fair play have gone out the window like a bat out of — well, you get the idea!

Dispensing with the usual introduction, gaze at an incredulous article:

Dictionaries Banned From Schools – “Not Age Appropriate”

The original story is shorter than this Wild Duck retort. But in case the link no longer works, here’s a thumbnail edition: Based of the complaint of one parent, a Southern California school board pulled Merriam-Webster’s 10th Edition from fourth and fifth grade classrooms because “it is not age appropriate”. The parent was upset that the dictionary did not censor itself. It defined a sexual term.

Oh my gawd! An uncensored dictionary!

Note to whacked out parent: It’s a dictionary, not a Bible! (speaking of Bibles, a dictionary is certainly less obsessed with sex.)

It is a religious zealot or a narrow-minded fanatic who values ignorance and “innocence” over a comprehensive scholastic dictionary. Dictionaries are a repository of language and culture. Not just your language, but the words and phrases that are a product of the world around you. Dictionaries obviously define terms for many activities and things that you might not wish to visit upon your children. Good Gawd, lady! That’s no excuse to keep them under a rock.

Why not ban the definition of “murder”, “diarrhea” and “warts”. We certainly don’t want our kids to be visited by these plagues. Yet, few parents would attempt to shelter them from these definitions.

Don’t want your child to experience this? Simply ban it from the dictionary!

Who taught you that information is poisonous? For how long do you want your 5th grader to be ignorant of sex or even its basic terminology? From whom should he or she learn – If not from a dictionary, a school and from family?

Actually, I am more concerned with the response of the school board than with one ignorant parent. To be fair, the board is complaining, but not about the parent! Believe it or not, they are upset at the difficult task ahead. They plan to read the entire dictionary to see if other terms might offend another whacked out parent! Quoting the immortal Homer Simpson, “D’OH!”

Some people fear learning. They believe in the ostrich axiom “ignorance is bliss”. But school boards stand for education – that is, if brains aren’t checked at the door. Why would a school board kowtow to ignorance or fanaticism? Perhaps, the fanatic has a louder voice than the silent majority. Hopefully, parents who want educated offspring are still in the majority.

The “Ground Zero” Mosque

Stephen Prothero is a professor of Religion, author, and lecturer. He also writes the CNN Belief Blog. In July, 2010, he wrote an op-ed for CNN in which he supported the efforts to build a mosque near Ground Zero, the hallowed ground of a great number of 911 victims, including the many 1st responders who died there.

Stephen’s take: Ground Zero mosque good for America and New York

CNN also published my feedback. Now that I have created AWildDuck, the retort is as relevant today as it was last year.

Does this belong at Ground Zero?

I get it… Stephen Prothero argues that blocking a Mosque at ground zero is a win for terrorists, because they will have succeeded at changing our pluralistic ways of tolerance and coexistence. But the argument doesn’t cut it, Stephen! In this century, Islam stands for intolerance in our front yard, and it is inextricably linked with violence and hate. Imams here in the US call for the overthrow of America, implementing Sharia Law and death to Americans.

The religion routinely calls any outsider an infidel (and you know what that brings, don’t you?). It is just too much to ask that we look at these individuals as a fringe minority within a peaceful religion. The nuts are driving the car and we needn’t choose to give them the auto loan and the dealership.

I grew up in Skokie Illinois. Our village of 70,000 had a large number of concentration camp survivors from Nazi Germany. Neighbors and store owners had numbers burned into their forearms at Auschwitz, Sobibor, Matthausen and Treblinka. While I supported the ACLU and admired their stance on free speech, they lost my respect and support when they backed the march of Nazis through the streets of Skokie. The ACLU claimed that political, legal and financial support was offered to these nuts in the name of free speech and fair representation. Perhaps they have the right — I don’t know. But certainly, the ACLU could find other worthy causes for their time and money. The decision to represent these screwballs was about as looney as the intent to allow a mosque to be erected at Ground Zero. For hundreds of millions of individuals (perhaps more than a billion around the world), that juxtaposition represents a win for radicals, cowards, and nut cases. To claim that it represents a religion of peace and tolerance is a PC delusion. At the very least, it is shockingly insensitive and inappropriate.

Is there even a contest of opinions here? I realize that true freedom is not subject to the whim of public opinion, but let’s just vet this one question: How many people in New York want to walk past a Mosque at Ground Zero. Seriously…How many?!