Brian Williams’ Credibility Deficit

February 8, 2015

by Avi Davis

It has been some time since a famous news anchor actually became the subject of a sensational news story himself.  So it was with some interest that I read the revelations that Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC News Tonight and one of the leading news personalities in the country, may have concocted or significantly embellished his own status as the survivor of an RPG attack on a helicopter on which he was being transported  during the early stages of the Iraq War.  From the political left to political right the condemnatory commentaries are now pouring in and the media is roiling with indignation.   The soft spoken anchor whose calm demeanor and subtle balance once cast him as a deeply trusted voice, is now being targeted in a manner that most of us would have considered highly unlikely even a week ago.

Now that Williams has taken a leave of absence and has apologized, with a rather shaky explanation which itself is the subject of skeptical analysis, it is occasion for us to look at why this urbane and abundantly successful journalist, who had reached the pinnacle of his career would have needed to embellish or fabricate anything?  Was he not assured of an enticingly remunerative position as NBC’s  star journalist for the rest of his working life – much like Tom Brokaw and Walter Cronkite before him?  Perhaps if he just kept his emotional distance from stories and continued to present the news in his equivocal, relaxed manner, everything would have been fine, right ?

The answer has as much to do with the nature and development of journalism over the past 50 years as  it does with Williams’ personal foibles.   The change in reporting ushered in with the advent of the New Journalism movement, wherein such writers as Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Gay Talese and Joan Didion used fictional techniques to render highly stylized reportage changed the face and tenor of reporting.   Often these 60s wunderkinds would place themselves into the story so that readers could see developments through their focused perspective.

Journalism thus grew far more personal in the modern age and the journalist, far from being a mere cipher for facts reported, became a personality whose opinion mattered.  War reporting, a dangerous avocation at the best of times, became a special province of the adventurer/ reporter typified by such leading characters as the Australian Peter Arnett, the Vietnam era reporter Michael Herr and the 1990s Bosnian correspondent Peter Maas.  As the  concept of the embedded reporter gained currency so did the idea of the reporter as celebrity so that today such figures as Anderson Cooper, Geraldo Rivera and Richard Quest have become larger than life characters with huge followings and  whose personalities often overshadow the stories upon which they are reporting.

The problem with the shift in focus to the reporter himself was that reporters began to grow an overdeveloped sense of their own importance, seeing themselves not just as the necessary chroniclers of the story but as essential to its telling, as if the facts could not really have an independent existence outside of their involvement.

It is little wonder then that  Williams, not yet anointed the successor to Tom Brokaw, looked to the Iraq War for his own baptism of fire, something which might bring him within striking distance of his derring-do predecessors. Inventing a story which had him deeply involved in the ground action in Iraq was a way for him to pay his dues without having to undertake the risks of injury or possibly death in the field.

Brian Williams isn’t the first and won’t be the last of our reporters to lay claim to heroics he never performed .  Should he then resign or be forced from his job?  There answer is at best equivocal.  After all, he did commit the cardinal journalistic sin of fabricating  a story and refurbishing fact – although this perhaps pales when compared to the fictions his fellow journalistic transgressors have concocted without suffering any consequences whatsoever. So on this ground alone there might well be room for his contrition and rehabilitation.

Williams’ far graver sin is the liberal bias he allows to color his reporting and commentary which, given across in his appealing non-partisan manner, can be entirely deceiving.   It is this skewed perspective, more than any one thing, which has driven viewers from the older, more established networks and in to the arms of such conservative upstarts as Fox and One America. Sickened by their pomposity and sense of entitlement, viewers have also fled traditional news services altogether for the more instant news offerings which can be obtained on the Internet via Facebook or Twitter.

The media has generally proven itself to be unforgiving when one of its own reveals the inner chauvinism and machismo which undergirds their profession and it has already turned on Williams, much like the flock of blackbirds did to a bird painted by its human captor in Jerzy Kosinki’s 1964 novel The Painted Bird.  If he does fall his ruin may well be offered as a sacrifice by the media of one of its own as penance for its overall sins of hubris.  But this may ultimately be the wrong sacrifice at the wrong time and for the wrong reason.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of the The Intermediate Zone


Honor Thy Father and Mother

December 26, 2014
by Avi Davis

December 15th was my mother’s 76th birthday.   Being a bit of a sentimentalist and, I would hope, a loyal son, I never forget this date.   It is the time at least once a year, although there are many other occasions as well, to honor my parents and I do so with a phone call, flowers and any other gift which I know will bring them joy.

But in Jewish law, this is not truly honoring them.

The Hebrew word kavod in Exodus 20:12 , where the commandment to honor one’s parents first appears – does not really mean honor, which is a poor English translation.  A better translation would be dignity.

How do we know this?

Often to understand the meaning of one word in the Torah , we need to make reference to the same word used in a different context in another part of it.

In this instance, the Hebrew word for “honor” (ka-ved) consists of the same letters as the Hebrew word for “heavy” (ka-bed). The only difference is a dot in the second letter.

This could be said to mean, that “honor” should be understood as treating  one’s parents with the gravity (heaviness) that their position demands. It is interesting to note that, the Hebrew  opposite of “honor” is “kalel.” The word is always translated as “to curse,” but its literal meaning is to make light of (from the Hebrew “kal,” light). One curses one’s parents not only if one directs curses at them, but, indeed, if one treats them lightly.

In a Talmudic commentary this same word is used to state that human dignity is extremely important. Therefore, in Jewish law the true meaning of the word kavod is associated with dignity rather than honor. Thus, the commandment is to dignify one’s father and mother – or to keep their dignity – as in feeding them, clothing them, and helping them come in and out of their homes, outweighs what in English we would know as ‘honor.’

But this is not the only reference to treat our parents with dignity in the Torah. In Leviticus 19: 3 there is the verse ” You shall fear  your mother and your father.”  In the Talmud  “Fear” is defined as not sitting or standing

hand in hand

in a parent’s designated place and not contradicting a parent, while they are speaking.  This akin to what we would refer to in English as respect.

Dignity and respect.  Not quite the same understanding of honor we generally attach to the word.

It is of course interesting that the Torah teaches us to ‘honor/ dignify/respect our parents but not to ‘love’ our parents. Unusual, because other commandments admonish us to ” Love thy neighbor as thyself,” “Love the stranger,” “Love God with all your heart …”

Why no love for parents?

The answer is that love for a parent cannot be commanded.  It is instinctive, as we witness anytime we see a child with his or her  mother.   G’d has built that instinct into our genes – there is no need to think about the rightness or wrongness of love for a parent.  There is therefore no need to ‘command’ love.

That love flows instinctively from a child to his or her parent is exampled by the early life of Winston Churchill.  Churchill’s life from his birth until almost his 18th year  was spent in the care of nannies or at boarding schools.  His parents, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Randolph Churchill and his bon vivant socialite wife Jennie, paid him almost no attention and saw both their children as little as possible since they were seen as  hindrances to their upward social mobility.

Yet Churchill maintained an adoration for his missing parents which defies almost all explanation.  In his 30s he wrote a glowing biography of his father extolling his virtues while mentioning none of his many faults  and came to see his flighty mother as his most important adviser and confidante in his developing political career.

But while most children instinctively love their parents, that instinct can be diminished over time.  Some parents have been cruel to their children, some have abused them, some have done things in their own lives that makes a child ashamed. Love that might be instinctive can also be crushed by experience.

I was reminded of this by two encounters I had  on the very same day I celebrated my mother’s birthday.

On that day I spoke with two friends who shared with me the reality of their own family lives.  Both had fathers who had recently passed away. In the first instance, the father had gone through a bitter divorce with the mother many years before, splitting the family in two. My friend told me that her father hadn’t spoken to either her brother or sister for 20 years and they, when notified of his passing, demonstrated no sign of grief.  She too had not spoken to either of her siblings for the same length of time. The family had effectively ceased to exist.

My other friend told me that he was the only one of his three siblings who had maintained a relationship with his father who had similarly divorced their mother three decades before. When he died they had no interest in attending the funeral or dealing with any other details regarding him.  My friend was left alone to deal with the estate and tidy up his father’s personal affairs.

I had to think of the early lives of these rebellious progeny who so despised their parent(s) that that they could not bring themselves to say goodbye or even attend their funerals.    There is no doubt in my mind that they did not always feel this way and that their natural instincts for love had in some way been smothered.

It is doubtful that any commandment could have made these children now love their parents.

So it is here that the commandment to dignify and respect the parent, particularly in old age, when they are infirm and cannot fend for themselves, has its purpose and fills in where love is no longer possible.

This was certainly the case of my two friends who reached out, unlike their siblings, to their fathers in their old age, lending forgiveness for whatever sins they had perpetrated, and offering solace in their last days.

The notion that human beings are imperfect and can make ruinous mistakes is central to Judaism.  It dovetails with the notion of gratitude -an acknowledgement that we owe our very existence to a force outside our own beings  – and to two forces in particular who united to form us.

Therefore we acknowledge that for whatever our parents’ sins, whatever their errors, whatever their failings, we must, in the end, attempt to forgive them in order to help them in their infirmity and through their final days.   For they are responsible for having granted us the greatest gift of all – the gift of life.   We may no longer all have the capacity to love them, but we can dignify and respect our parents and prevent them from passing out of life forgotten.

While many quote the fifth commandment as an admonition to honor parents, they forget or ignore the second part of the same commandment –  “so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”   We should note that this is the first commandment to appear with a promise attached.  It is further emphasis that our lives are not separate from our parents’ lives but a continuum.  It suggests that in this continuum in which we, ourselves, would wish for a long life, so we must wish it for those who gave us life.
In this respect ‘ Honor Thy Father and Mother’ stands as not just a  commandment for cementing the bond between a parent and a child, but for securing the very survival of the human race itself.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles and blogs at The Intermediate Zone

 


Rolling Stone Rues Not Getting “the Other Side of the Story”

December 9, 2014

 

A rare event occurred in our galaxy last week, something I believed I would never see nor read about in my lifetime.  Rolling Stone Magazine,  the venerable chronicle of modern American nihilism, issued an apology for getting a story wrong.

The story A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA appeared in the Magazine’s November 19th edition and  revolved around  investigative piece by    involving a woman solely identified as “Jackie.”

The 9,000-word story recounted a horrific attack on the  U.Va. freshman on September 28th, 2012 in an upstairs room of the university’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. Crude comments attributed to fraternity members suggested the attack was part of an initiation.   The gruesome details of the story recounted how the girl was raped over a shattered table with shards of glass jamming into her back.  She alleged she had been raped over several hours by seven different individuals.

 

The Academical Village at U.Va.

 

 

The piece portrayed U.Va.’s response as tepid, reporting that students who cheat on exams are routinely expelled for violations of U.Va.’s Honor Code, but none has ever been expelled for rape.

The publication of Erdeley’s article generated campus protests and vandalism of the fraternity’s property. It prompted U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan to suspend the activities of the university’s more than 60 Greek organizations. The school’s Board of Visitors adopted a zero-tolerance position on sexual assault. Police began an investigation.

However, after a Washington Post investigation called Jackie’s account into question, pointing out that there was no Phi  Kappa Psi  event on September 28, 2012, no PKP brothers with the nick names “Armpit”and “Blanket”, no back stair access through which she escaped her ordeal, Rolling Stone was forced to submit an apology:

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,”  the Magazine commented on its website last Thursday.

Rolling Stone Managing Editor, Will Dana, tweeted later that day that “the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story.”

The apology itself aroused a storm of protest as the Magazine seemed to be blaming the victim for the story’s unreliability when  the onus should have been on the reporter herself  who failed to obtain any corroboration of the woman’s allegations.

Thereafter the Magazine published a second apology in which it shifted the blame for the story’s inaccuracies onto its own shoulders:

“We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.”

It is of course a good thing that the the Magazine, nearing 50 years old, has admitted that there are sometimes “other sides” to stories that are worth considering.   However that is not  an admission  you will ever find when the Magazine launches its vitriolic attacks on the Koch Brothers, Tea Party groups, big business and Climate Change critics.   But since Rolling Stone is now in the mood for a little self-examination, perhaps it might want to revisit some of these old stories for how ell its examined  ” the other side”: .

Take for instance an article by environmental activist Bill McKibben in the August 16, 2012 edition  of the magazine titled The Arctic Ice Crisis

In his piece McKibben offers a report from Jason Box, a scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center in Greenland who contends that large sections of Greenland are just falling off the continent:

“Box had conservatively predicted that it might take up to a decade before the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet melted all at once. That it actually happened in just a few weeks only underscores how consistently cautious ice scientists have been in forecasting the threat posed by global warming. Now, however, that caution is being replaced by well-founded alarm. “Greenland is a sleeping giant that’s waking,” says Box. “In this new climate, the ice sheet is going to keep shrinking – the only question is how fast.”

But in the same year, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, which is co-funded by NASA  – together with the Danish Meterological Institute, both revealed that the Arctic Ice Cap had actually grown.

In fact today the National Snow and Ice Data Center reveals an increase of 1.71 million square kilometers over the past two years –  which is an an impressive 43% while the Danes, using a different measure, have found a 63% increase!  We can debate how much global warming is responsible for changes in our climate.  But maybe Mr. McKibben’s reporting on the issue might have benefited from a discussion with  Dr. Ed Hawkins from  the U.K.’s Reading University who observed that year that the decline seen in the years leading up to 2102 was not caused only by global warming.  “It was,”  he said, “intensified by ‘natural variability’ – shifts in factors such as the temperature of the oceans. This has happened before, such as in the 1920s and 1930s, when there was likely some sea ice retreat.”  Like many scientists, Dr Hawkins has averred that these natural processes may be cyclical. If and when they go into reverse, they will cool, not warm, the Arctic, in which case, he said, ‘a decade with no declining trend’ in ice cover would be ‘entirely plausible’.

Did McKibben not know of the contradictory evidence and views or did he just decide exclude it?

Or take this September 24, 2014 attack on the Koch Brothers by investigative journalist Tim Dickinson.  His beef with the Koch Brothers seems to be largely that they are rich and successful, that they trade in oil and support right wing political causes   – all cardinal crimes against humanity in his and Rolling Stone’s world view

Among the many allegations made by Dickinson are that  the Koch Brothers are that they are unreformed toxic polluters, financial manipulators, Machiavellian political schemers and treacherous partners.

Here is how he sums them up at the end of his 5,000 word story:

“Koch has profited precisely by dumping billions of pounds of pollutants into our waters and skies – essentially for free. It racks up enormous profits from speculative trades lacking economic value that drive up costs for consumers and create risks for our economy.

The Koch brothers get richer as the costs of what Koch destroys are foisted on the rest of us – in the form of ill health, foul water and a climate crisis that threatens life as we know it on this planet. Now nearing 80 – owning a large chunk of the Alberta tar sands and using his billions to transform

the modern Republican Party into a protection racket for Koch Industries’ profits – Charles Koch is not about to see the light.”

In a long response to the multiple slurs, untruths and outright deceptions in the Dickinson piece, Koch Industries who had opened themselves to Dickinson’s inquiries  and had been assured by him that  he was attempting to engage in ” a good faith discussion”, they pointed out that of the 3,200 word response they offered Dickinson in response to his written questions, he only chose to quote 99.  There was barely a mention of the 900 awards for safety, environmental excellence, and community stewardship Koch has received since 2009 alone or that  the EPA has repeatedly praised Koch for a productive and collaborative approach to environmental protection. The article falsely claims that Koch’s petroleum coke business at its KCBX North facility in Chicago is endangering the “health of South Side residents,” despite the fact that they provided Dickinson with the Congressional Research Service research, findings from the city of Chicago that “there are no known illnesses or health effects associated with pet coke dust,” and EPA’s own conclusion that “petroleum coke itself has a low level of toxicity and that there is no evidence of carcinogenicity.” Nor does Dickinson note that KCBX was honored with the Good Neighbor award from the Southeast Environmental Task Force in 2001 and again in 2005.

They provided a summation of the absence of journalistic integrity, fairness and balance in Dickinson’s  piece:

‘”Any reasonable reader will conclude that this article is nothing more than a thinly veiled “hit piece.” We believe that Rolling Stone readers would have benefitted from an open and honest discussion of the issues Mr. Dickinson decided to write about. We are confident that if the true facts had been presented, Rolling Stone readers might have learned something about us that was contrary to the misinformation that Rolling Stone and other media have rehashed and regurgitated over the years. Apparently Rolling Stone and Mr. Dickinson do not trust or respect their readers enough to provide them with balanced information and an objective narrative, nor do they want their readers to make up their own minds.”

Balance and fairness – providing a wide perspective on controversial issues – is what we should expect from our journalists.   But how little editorial oversight there is of so many contributing writers to Rolling Stone.  The magazine regularly accepts hit pieces, just like the one above,  presenting opinion as if it is fact, excluding information which does not fit within its own political narrative and resorting to name calling and epithet slinging against all those who disagree with its polemical approach.  The absence of journalistic integrity puts Rolling Stone in the vanguard of the decline in standards we have seen in the U.S. over the past 30 years in both reportage and investigative journalism.

Maybe the failures of   to adequately corroborate her story will hasten a broad review of the magazine’s journalistic practices.   But don’t count on any real change until Rolling stone is hit hard by the a declining subscriber base and perhaps even the fall off of advertising revenue due to its abandonment of proper journalistic practices and its preferences for ideology over truth.

.


Must Everybody Now Get Stoned?

November 29, 2014

Three years ago my sons and I, returning from a rafting trip in Oregon, were driving the Redwood Highway through Northern California when we passed the entrance to a field with a banner which read The Kate Wolf Music Festival.  Intrigued, I suggested to the boys that we enter and check it out.  But my sons had had enough of what they called ” weirdo alternatives” having encountered them in large numbers almost everywhere we went in Southern Oregon. Threatening mutiny, they adamantly refused.  We drove on.

But my interest was piqued and for a year I awaited the announcement of  the next year’s Festival.  I was actually fascinated to discover what had become of the remnants of the hippie generation, which I was certain I would find at a gathering of this sort  – a question that had beguiled me ever since I had heard Scott McKenzie sing about San Franciscans with flowers in their hair in the mid 60s.

So in early July, 2012 I drove the 600 or so miles to Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, north of Mendocino.  I did not know exactly what to expect.  But as soon as I entered the gates, the aroma of one substance made it clear to me that I was no longer in Kansas. Marijuana was everywhere.

It took only an hour to find a group of friends.  A collection of men and women, in their mid to late 20s, had set up a tent near mine and were singing songs to welcome in the Jewish Sabbath, which would soon be upon us. I joined them and for three days we enjoyed each others’ company and they provided a rich vein of material with which to tap into the mentality of the hippie culture which still thrives in many parts of America’s West Coast.    What fascinated me most was the fact that every one of the fourteen people I met under that tent was involved, in one way or another, in the cultivation or dispensation of marijuana. From medical marijuana dispensaries to on-line websites to greenhouses, all of them had found a way to make a living from the sale of cannabis in modern day California.

Business, they told me, had boomed since California passed a ballot initiative in 2010 legalizing the sale of  medical marijuana.  Farmers, who had hidden their most lucrative cash crop for decades, suddenly came out in the open and were able to sell and have their cannabis processed unlike any time before. Some had become millionaires overnight.

Over the past few years  I have become quite used to seeing, smelling and sensing marijuana freely used in Southern California. My children, who attend Orthodox Jewish day schools, tell me it is easily obtainable in their own school yard; it is passed around at parties – and it is doesn’t matter much whether the party goers are conservatives or liberals.   Increasingly, pot smoking is seen as a sign of distinction, as if you are proving your credentials as a genuine bon vivant by rolling that bulging joint between your fingers.

Never having been a pothead in my youth- in fact having loathed smoking in general – I could not attest to the buzz so many seem to receive from the recreational use of marijuana.  But the fact  that so many people in California and other places seem to enjoy  the experience –  and can purchase and smoke (or otherwise ingest) marijuana on a fairly regular basis, has become the force which has propelled its acceptance in 21 states, first as a medical palliative  – and now increasingly as a recreational drug of choice.

As of today four states – Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  On November 4th it was legalized in the nation’s capital;

So we must have come a long way from the unenlightened 1960s right?

Well, not exactly.  Federal law still characterizes marijuana as a Substance 1 barbituate – placing it on the same level as heroin and cocaine in its addictive and health endangering properties. And this is for good reason.  There have been no conclusive studies which have rebutted the notion that marijuana , taken as a regular relaxant, does not have long term medical risks.   If cigarettes and alcohol are mind altering substances that can have deleterious long term affects on one’s health , marijuana is very much still in that category.

And although the relaxant properties of THC can alleviate pain, there are substantial doubts about its applications.

“Smoking is generally a poor way to deliver medicine,” says Dr. Akikur Mohammad, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist with a specialty in addictive medicine. “As a doctor, I assure you that it is almost impossible to administer safe, regulated dosages of medicines in smoked form. Morphine, for example, has proven to be a medically valuable drug, but no responsible physician endorses smoking opium or heroin.

Recent studies have also suggested that marijuana use in youth can lead to permanent damage, a problem that would likely be exacerbated by widespread legalization. Ultimately, though, definitive conclusions on the medical benefits or drawbacks of marijuana are hard to come by, since the drug’s status as a Schedule 1 substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency makes it’s difficult to obtain even for research purposes.

The immediate effects of taking marijuana  – what we refer to as our our “high” –  include rapid heart beat, disorientation, lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness. Some users suffer panic attacks or anxiety.

But the problem does not end there. According to scientific studies, THC, remains in the body for weeks or longer.

Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke. One major research study reported that a single cannabis joint could cause as much damage to the lungs as up to five regular cigarettes smoked one after another. Long-time joint smokers often suffer from bronchitis, an inflammation of the respiratory tract.

And the drug can affect more than your physical health. A recent study from the University of Texas at Dallas  links heavy, long-term use of marijuana  with smaller growth in the orbitofrontal cortex–a brain region associated with decision-making and addiction.  And a recent study in Britain linked high potency cannabis with the incidence of psychosis.

Young brains, that are not yet fully developed, are extremely susceptible to permanent damage from mind altering substances.  And the claims that marijuana is not addictive are nonsense,  according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

“It is estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it.1 The number goes up to about 1 in 6 in those who start using young (in their teens) and to 25-50 percent among daily users.2 Moreover, a study of over 300 fraternal and identical twin pairs found that the twin who had used marijuana before the age of 17 had elevated rates of other drug use and drug problems later on, compared with their twin who did not use before age 17.3 “

With such a significant body of evidence to suggest that this stuff is just not good for you, how is it that we are now seeking to legalize it as if none of it matters?  From the opium dens of Shanghai, Paris and  London in the 1800s to the drug dependencies of our greatest jazz men – Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz, we have seen the devastations that such addictions can wreak on vibrant minds. Why are we dropping our apprehensions about marijuana, and possibly other mind altering substances, when the evidence has been with us for hundreds of years?

Perhaps it has something to do with a hedonistic culture which just does not want any obstacles placed in the way  of enjoying the true recreational pleasures of life.  It is only when we start dying in our hundreds of thousands ( eg: from nicotine related causes or sexually transmitted diseases)  that we suddenly wake up to realize how wrong headed our attitudes and tolerances have been.

There is a legend that Bob Dylan, in recording Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 , the first single from his famous 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, insisted that all the musicians recording it with him be either drunk or stoned  – hence the famous refrain – Oh I would not feel so all alone /everybody must get stoned. 

Apocryphal though the story might be, I have to wonder if Dylan ever thought that one day American society, once the barriers to freely acquiring hallucinogenic substances had been demolished –  might be taking his edict quite seriously? And did he ever stop to wonder what kind of society we might have, when everybody, in fact, does get stoned?

1. Anthony, J.; Warner, L.A.; and Kessler, R.C. Comparative epidemiology of dependence on tobacco, alcohol, controlled substances, and inhalants: Basic findings from the National Comorbidity Survey. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 2:244–268, 1994.
2. Hall, W.; and Degenhardt, L. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. Lancet 374:1383–1391, 2009.
3. Lynskey, M.T.; Heath, A.C.; Bucholz, K.K.; Slutske, W.S.; Madden, P.A.; Nelson, E.C.; Statham, D.J.; and Martin, N.G. Escalation of drug use in early-onset cannabis users vs. co-twin controls. JAMA 289(4):427–433, 2003.

Ferguson Episode Betrays the Hollowness of Black America’s Leadership

November 27, 2014

In Ferguson, Missouri, a Little Caesar’s, a locally owned store that provided local jobs to members of the black population, has been completely burned down; nothing is left. The people who worked there are now unemployed.

Rocks, bricks, bottles and tear gas canisters flew across the streets of that city this week. Police cruisers were set ablaze. A law office was burned.

A Walgreens drug store close by, another source of local jobs, was looted.

Protesting the St. Louis County Grand Jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for having fatally shot 18 -year -old Michael Brown in August, huge crowds gathered in New York City and in Oakland, California. In New York, some 2,000 people took to the streets of midtown Manhattan, marching down Broadway and through Times Square chanting, “Justice for Mike Brown.” The marchers, most of them young adults, spread over four blocks.

What’s this furor about?

The St. Louis County Grand Jury declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson, 28, for the August confrontation that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.  A  jury of nine whites and three blacks  – empanelled months before they knew anything about the Ferguson shooting –  met on over 25 separate days to decide the matter.

Those jurors were the first  to hear, see, and read every last piece of evidence.  That evidence has yet to be seen by the public.  What we do know is:

  • They listened to 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses;
  • The jurors were presented with five indictment options, ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter;
  • Three medical examiners testified;
  • Three autopsies returned consistent results;
  • Two shots were fired while Officer Wilson was in his police car;
  • Brown’s body lay 153 feet east of Wilson’s car;
  • There was less than 90 seconds between the first shot and the arrival of a second police car;
  • Audio of the final 10 shots was captured on video.                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The reaction from America’s default black leadership was predictable:

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking at a news conference  on Monday in  Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina had has this to say on the topic of Ferguson:

“All we really want is justice, [the] issue is not riots, the issue is justice… it’s not uprising, it’s uplifting.  We need to stop police rioting and killing… which is provocative and painful… there is a fear of retaliation. It would not be smart to retaliate with the violence… not because we are afraid, but because we are wise.”

Notice that in Jackson’s view of the matter it is the police who are rioting.

Rev. Al Sharpton was no better.  He did not seem to think there was anything wrong with the Ferguson rioting by the black community, failing to mention it and restricting his comments to an attack on St. Louis District Attorney Bob McCulloch

” Last night the appearance by the district attorney made it clear to everyone why we had little faith in a state prosecution. I have been out involved in civil rights all my life. We have seen cases go ways that we felt were right and ways that we felt were wrong. I have never seen a prosecutor hold a press conference to discredit the victim. “

It should be noted that the entire case rested on the issue of whether in fact Michael Brown had presented a threat to the officer’s life . Characterizing Brown as a juvenile delinquent who had earlier in the evening robbed a convenience store and who had actually assaulted the officer was entirely relevant to the issue of Officer Wilson’s guilt or innocence.

In short, neither of the two most prominent black leaders in the country could bring themselves to outright condemn the rioting in Ferguson or elsewhere. In fact, by their silence, they seemed to condone it.

I have written extensively on the issue of the penchant of prominent black leaders to revert to the language of victimhood in the face of familial breakdown, high crime rates and lack of ambition within their communities.

But thankfully there are forthright black leaders who are not spinning on this very convenient victimhood treadmill.

Take  Stacy Washington,  a St. Louis resident who hosts a local radio talk show there:

“Now that we have a grand jury decision, may the process of healing begin in earnest. I truly hope for a refocus of protest energy towards reflection and away from blaming the police for the difficulties facing black Americans today. We must begin to look at improving ourselves instead of blaming groups of others for endemic problems that plague the black community. May God grant the Brown family peace and closure.”

Joe HicksOr my good friend, Joe Hicks, a former executive director or the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Los Angeles City Human Rights Commission who is now a conservative activist:

“From the inception — and despite the hyperbolic rhetoric from national black leaders, local protesters and political opportunists of all stripes — my position was that the facts and a thorough investigation would tell the story of what happened on that street between teenager Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson. Now that Officer Wilson’s actions have been deemed within the scope of a lawful police response to the dangerous actions of Mr. Brown, it’s now important to watch how the so-called black leadership responds. Will they irresponsibly reject the decision, along with the facts it revealed, and continue to claim that Brown was the murder victim of a racist white cop? To what extent will Ferguson protesters defy the orders of authorities for lawful behavior? We don’t need a replay of the violent, pathological riots we saw on the streets of that small suburb of St. Louis.”

Michael DozierOr Dr. Michael Dozier

“It amazes me that there are so many who dismissed the fact that Michael Brown robbed a convenience store and attacked a police officer prior to being killed.  Once again, the black community largely turned a blind eye to the real issues affecting the very lives of our youths. Black-on-black crime is an epidemic and thousands of black children are brutally killed every year, yet we do not see the Al Sharptons or Jesse Jacksons protesting their deaths. The President doesn’t proclaim their lives would reflect the life of a son he never had. The black community needs to stop with the excuses and victimization and stop allowing antagonists to come into their communities to promote their own agendas.”

Kevin MartinOr  Kevin Martin:

“Now that the grand jury has rendered a decision, people on both sides can now peacefully debate the result. The decision does not give anyone the right to engage in property destruction, physical assaults and general chaos if they don’t agree with that decision.  The grand jury looked at all the evidence, and it surely did its best to render a judgment respectful of all parties. It is long past the time for those who might seek to use violence to achieve an outcome to decamp from Ferguson and allow the community to heal.”

Perhaps it is best summed up by Johnathan Gentry  who wrote of the rioters on his Facebook page on  Nov. 25, 2014:

You showed absolutely no respect to Michael Brown, his family, your community, or yourself! But yet, you demand respect as a human being. His family asked for a “Peaceful” protest. Yet, you disregarded, dishonored & disrespected their wishes & burned down your own city anyway. It’s your own actions & behavior that’s keeping you bound, stuck & not getting ahead. Everything you stood for went down the drain last night by burning down your own community. That’s no ones fault but YOURS!! Your behavior confirmed everything .“Your iniquities have turned these blessings away, and your sins have kept good from you.” (Jeremiah 5:25)

His video below says it all:

It is time for men and women such as these, who respect the rule of law, who will not bow to a corrupt black leadership that uses any incident it can to out ” whitey” as a racist, bigoted savage, to now attain their place in the media as spokesmen for a new generation of black leaders. It is only with the encouragement of individuals such as these, providing leadership and inspiration, that the black community will emerge from their self inflicted cycle of violence and recrimination and join the rest of the population of the United States in responsible citizenship and communal achievement.


Annie Lennox Tells It Like It Is

October 22, 2014

Finally a major rock star has summoned the courage to reveal one of the
ugly truths of the music business. Last week, the Scottish rock star, Annie
Lennox, one half of the successful 80s duo, The Eurythmics, blasted Beyonce
for her crude, sexually suggestive stage performances and lyrical content.
Asked by Pride Source  whether Beyoncé
recent declaration of herself as “a feminist “rang true to her, Lennox
responded:

“I would call that “feminist lite.” L-I-T-E. I’m sorry. It’s tokenistic to
me. ………… I see a lot of it as them takingthe word hostage and using it to promote themselves, but I don’t think they necessarily represent wholeheartedly the depths of feminism…….I think for many it’s very convenient and it looks great and it looks radical, but I have some issues with it. ….I think it’s a cheap shot. …. What can I tell you? Sex always sell. And there’s nothing wrong with sex selling, but it depends on your audience. If they’re 7-year-old kids, I have issues with it.”

She followed this with this clarification to NPR’s Steve Inskeep on October 21st:

‘The reason why I’ve commented is because I think that this overt sexuality
thrust — literally — at particular audiences, when very often performers
have a very, very young audience, like 7 years older, I find it disturbing
and I think its exploitative. It’s troubling. I’m coming from a perspective
of a woman that’s had children,’ she explained.

Lennox, soon to turn 60, is no conservative. She is an
outspoken advocate for the LGBT agenda and quite a diehard on other issues such as the environment and climate change. But her surprising reaction to the steamy sexualization of our teeny bopper culture should be coming from the mouths of many other exprienced musicians and performers who must see the how live music business has been gradually turning into a platform for the pornographic arts.

She is talking of course about performers such as Nicki Minaj, Rhianna, Kei$ha and former child star, Miley Cyrus.

Of course what they do may be nothing new. Madonna, Britney Spears and  Lady Gaga have been doing much the same thing for years and in the 70s artists such as David Bowie and Lou Reed had few obstacles singing about gay sex and presenting transgendered stage acts.

But Lennox is right. Now even 7-year-olds are exposed to the direct sexual suggestiveness of their favorite pop stars, without fully comprehending what those stage movements and lyrics might even be suggesting.

Perhaps that was why it was so disappointing to read Paul McCartney’s response last year to what he thought about Miley Cyrus’ stage antics . He responded that he didn’t see anything wrong with her “twerks” and any of the other Cyrus lewd acts – which, he must have appreciated, were as sexually explicit as almost anything at a strip club.

Does he really think that this kind of personal exhibitionism in the name of free expression represents a great artistic leap forward? A classy guy, he must surely appreciate the dehumanizing impact of these wildly popular acts have on the same society that hoisted him to such fame in the 1960s.  True it might be that the Beatles were no paragons of virtue ( John Lennon appeared completely naked on the cover of a solo album in 1968; and McCartney, about the same time, wrote the sexually suggestive ” Why Don’t We Do it in the Road? “).   But they didn’t trade in what we used to call smut.

Why do these women do it?   The attention hungry stars on our nation’s stages today apparently feel the need to best one another in outrage – much like Janet Jackson did in 2004 when she bared a breast before millions of viewers during her half time performance at Super Bowl.

It is hard to know what to expect next. Perhaps performing sex live on stage will set the bar to the next level for these women and would of course place them  in a new category – “feminist pop star” as ” porn star”. Except of course, by the time this happens time there will be no essential difference between pop star and porn star at all. They will be one and the same and no one will even blink an eye.


Leaving

September 6, 2014

The day of parting with my son grew closer.  He called me one afternoon and told me that he was experiencing some anxiety and that I might help.  I went right over to the house and entered his room. The open suitcases were filled to the brim with clothes, shoes, books.  We spoke and I asked him what he was nervous about.  He couldn’t really tell me.  All he could mutter, quietly was,” I am leaving….”

As I sat on his bed I felt a blanket beneath me, familiar to my touch. Yes, of course it was familiar – it was his childhood blanket. That light blue velvet covering, soft and frayed, received in his first week of life . The same one I would wrap him in as I cradled him to sleep.  The blanket that I had thought lost or discarded years ago.  Then I looked around the room and saw things I had not noticed in years –  the wan, discolored rocking chair, the white teddy bear, the blue and white whale.  All the little mementos of  childhood and adolescence gathered on the upper shelves – a silent jamboree of memories staring down, distraught, at my son’s bulging suitcases.

Leaving, he was leaving. Silly, sentimental father, so caught up in his own memories that he was useless to his son.  Someone had warned me years ago about this parents’  rite of passage, the moment that comes when by necessity we must let go.   I had scoffed at the time, thinking it would never apply to me. But as I sat on that bed, I suddenly saw my own mother and father standing at Melbourne Airport 33 years ago with tears in their eyes as I boarded a plane for London. Brash, flippant, eager for adventure, I was too focused on my own future to truly appreciate their heartbreak.   Somehow they must have known, what I may have already known: I wasn’t coming back – at least not soon.  And I remembered, that as I turned away from them and headed down the ramp, the words of a song I had nearly forgotten, floated through my mind, stinging me then and now with pangs of melancholy and remorse:

  “Leaving home ain’t easy………no, it ain’t ever easy…….on the ones you’re leaving home.”

Now, I too, have crossed the Rubicon.

And it ain’t easy.

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