Thank You Obama and Boyd for Demonstrating Your Historical Indifference: It is Far Worse Than ISIS or Christian Violence

Someone I know posted a link to the following blog by Greg Boyd on Facebook. The title alone piqued my interest, and because I like to keep an open mind, I read it with genuine curiosity.

Thank You Obama for Denouncing "Christian" Violence: It is Actually Far Worse Than ISIS

This article was obviously written in response to President Obama's recent comparison between the barbaric practices of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the actions of Christian Crusaders from centuries ago. President Obama was speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is hardly the appropriate forum to make such a comparison, but just to set the mood for this discussion – here are the president's exact words from Mr. Boyd's blog with regard to the recent spate of murders that have been committed by ISIS:

"Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ."

President Obama has taken a considerable amount of criticism from Christians for that statement, and at face value that criticism might seem justifiable. However, that particular sentence is being taken out of context, which makes it somewhat difficult to evaluate on its own. To be fair to President Obama, here is a more complete quote from his speech, which adds a little more depth to his earlier statement:

"So how do we – as people of faith – reconcile these realities? The profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths – operating alongside those who seek to hijack religions for their own murderous ends; humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country slavery and Jim Crow [were] all-too-often ... justified in the name of Christ."

By including the quote from President Obama within the context of his original discourse, his intended meaning does not seem to suggest that he possesses an anti-Christian ideology like most pundits are proclaiming. To be sure, President Obama's speech was poorly-worded and poorly-delivered in what was probably the poorest choice of locales. But what is worse, the President's examples are poor history, and while I could easily expound on the foolishness of his revisionist narrative, I will gladly refrain from doing so in favor of simply addressing Greg Boyd's equally lamentable indifference to the history of Western Civilization.

To begin with, it is sheer lunacy for anyone to attempt to draw a comparison between the actions of present-day terrorists with the actions of uneducated, Medieval warriors from 1,000 years ago. I whole-heartedly acknowledge that quite often the actions of the Crusaders were horrific and condemnable, but those actions took place many centuries ago and there is nothing that can be done about those atrocities now. However, the world can do something about the atrocities that ISIS is currently committing. For those reasons alone, making a comparison between these two sets of objectionable behaviors is completely ludicrous. In fact, making such a comparison is even worse if you hope to garner some degree of sympathy for ISIS, because comparing their current behavior with those of the Crusaders would seem to suggest that the members of ISIS have failed to evolve during the past 1,000 years. Christian armies are not currently marauding across the Middle East and oppressing the innocent – but ISIS currently is. This means that Europe and other Western Cultures have obviously moved past what is considered by many to be a dark period of religious dominance, imperialism, and intolerance, even though ISIS remains fully-engaged with theologically-sanctioned slaughter.

But let us set aside the comparison between the behaviors of two disparate cultures that are separated by a millennium. Instead, let's look at a few important historical subjects. But before I continue, I need to stress that I do not know Mr. Boyd personally. He could be a great guy, and I mean him no disrespect. However, based on his discourse he seems willfully dismissive of history. His rhetoric consistently employs a very common argument that I often hear about the Crusades, which is this: when you want to portray Christians badly, simply bring up the Crusades, regardless of the fact that nearly 1,000 years have passed since that time. While I agree that Christians should not attempt to ignore the atrocities of the Crusades, it is also true that anyone who wants to bash Christians by mentioning the Crusades desperately needs to get some new material. If the best that you can do is to bring up something from the Middle Ages, you really need to rethink your argument.

With that in mind, if you were to believe Mr. Boyd's blog – which would be a very foolish thing to do – you could easily infer that the Crusaders were a bloodthirsty mob which ravaged the Middle East on a quest for glory at the expense of the peaceful Muslims which inhabited the region. Nothing could be further than the truth, and it would seem that Mr. Boyd is simply regurgitating the uninformed drivel that was passed down to him as a by-product of his higher education.

Let me briefly step back in time to frame this historical discussion, and it is completely necessary for me to paraphrase a narrative from Jewish Scripture in order to put a few things in perspective. It is very important that you realize that I do not mean for anyone to believe the story that I am going to relate – you are welcome to believe that this is a fairy tale which is best reserved for Sunday Schools. But it is absolutely essential for you to understand that the inhabitants of the Middle East believe this story, which serves as an ancient foundation for unrest in the region.

According to Jewish Scripture, in approximately 2000 BC, God promised to give a son to an aging Abraham and his wife Sarah, and from that son God would make a great nation. However, when Sarah could not conceive a child, Abraham and Sarah grew impatient. So they took matters into their own hands, and Sarah offered her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar had a son with Abraham, and she named the boy Ishmael. Many years later, Sarah gave birth to a son, whom she named Isaac. When sibling rivalry ensued between Ishmael and Isaac, Sarah insisted that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. Hagar took her son and left as instructed, and when she felt certain that she was doomed to die in the desert, God spoke to her and told her that her son, Ishmael, would also become the father of a great nation. (Genesis 16:1-18, 21:8-21, and 25:16-18.)

As I said earlier, you need not believe the preceding story as historical fact, but you need to understand that many inhabitants of the Middle East believe it to be true.

With that in mind, the present-day Jewish population of the Middle East traces its heritage back to Isaac, and the present-day Muslim population of the Middle East traces its heritage back to Ishmael. The descendants of Isaac believe that they are the true inheritors of God's blessing to Abraham, and therefore they are the heirs to God's promises for a great nation in the Middle East. They base this claim on the fact that God made His promise to Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and not to Hagar. Conversely, the descendants of Ishmael believe that they are heirs to God's promises for a great nation in the Middle East because Ishmael was the first-born son, and according to regional traditions of the time, the first-born son has the principle inheritance.

Leaving aside the Jewish and Muslim Scriptures, the kingdoms of Israel existed for several centuries, although many of those centuries were spent enslaved to other kingdoms which had conquered Israel. When the Jewish revolts of the first century AD failed, Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70 AD, and the kingdom of Israel ceased to exist. Many Jews and Christians fled Judea, (this exodus was called the Diaspora), although considerable numbers of Jews and Christians chose to remain in the area despite their loss of national identity. As Christians made their way throughout the Mediterranean and European regions, they faced tremendous religious persecution due to their unwavering faith and subsequent refusal to convert to the religions of their host countries. Christian pacifism led to their widespread slaughter and martyrdom, although eventually their example of "turning the other cheek" and forgiving their aggressors won over the hearts of their oppressors. When emperor Constantine embraced Christianity in the 4th-century AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and thereby most of Europe. In addition, the ancient city of Jerusalem was under Roman rule, and therefore it passed peacefully to Christian control, (or more accurately to Byzantine control). In short, Christianity spread throughout Europe based on a lack of aggression, and not by violent overthrow.

Jumping ahead a couple centuries, Mohammed rose to power based on proclamations that he was the last prophet of God. Mohammed asserted that – as a direct descendant of Ishmael – he was heir to the kingdom that was promised by God to his forefathers, and anyone who followed him would be part of that kingdom. At the age of 40, Mohammed began to preach the message of Islam publicly, and he soon began a campaign of military conquests throughout the Middle East to spread Islam through violent oppression (Jihad). To Muslims, each new conquest was not new territory to them – they were the rightful heirs based on their promised inheritance. As they conquered each region, any non-Muslims residing in the conquered territories were offered few fates: forced conversion to Islam, paying the jizya (which is mandatory tax on non-Muslims), enslavement, or death. (It should be noted that the jizya is little more than an early form of a "Protection Money" racket, where non-Muslims are paying for their 'protection' from Muslim harassment.)

The stark contrast between the first centuries of Christianity and the first centuries of Islam is incontrovertible; early Christianity triumphed through pacifism and forgiveness, whereas early Islam conquered through violent subjugation. A series of Muslim rulers spent the next several centuries rampaging throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southern Europe. By the start of the second millennium AD, Jihadists had brutally conquered much of the Mediterranean region. (As the Muslim armies made their way through the Middle East, Jerusalem was one of their most-prized conquests.) In each region they conquered, the existing Jewish and Christian populations were confronted with the fates that I mentioned earlier: conversion, jizya, enslavement, or death.

After centuries of militaristic aggression, the armies of Jihad stood poised to conquer all of Europe. When faced with that possibility, the European nations banded together under the Crusades and – with the Pope's blessing – set out on the First Crusade to halt the advance of Islam and retake Jerusalem. In this particular instance, one could rightly make the argument that the Pope – and thereby the Christian Church – had no just cause to promote warfare based on the theological tenets of their religion. However, the political situation of the time must also be considered; European leaders were often preoccupied by wars between their countries, and therefore they could seldom agree on any unifying purpose – even when their inaction might result in their own destruction. By rallying the individual nations for a single cause – however misguided or misrepresented that may have been – the Pope managed to unite the disparate European nations to join together and thereby preserve Europe from Islamic domination.

I should mention, however, that Mr. Boyd attempts to play games with his English vocabulary when he suggests that the Christian-affiliated armies were not called "Defenders," but rather that they were called "Crusaders" because they were consumed with offensive actions rather than defensive actions. I disagree – they were called "Crusaders" because they were sent out by the Pope and they believed that they were on a "Holy Crusade." Their mission actually was – at least in part – to defend Europe. For Mr. Boyd to make such an assertion – especially as someone with a Ph.D. – is rather poor form.

For the sake of reference, the following video illustrates the staggeringly-large scope of Islamic conquests over the centuries, and it compares that with the relatively minor impact of the Crusades; I highly suggest that you watch the video before you continue reading.

Jihad versus Crusades

As you can see in the video, for several centuries the Muslim armies wreaked havoc across the entire Mediterranean region – where they routinely slaughtered or enslaved the native populations of each territory. In contrast, the Crusades were a collection of relatively minor skirmishes. What's more, after the First Crusade, most of the subsequent Crusades were abysmal failures which have done little more than to serve as the foundation for Muslim hatred of Western interference in the Middle East.

However, it must be reinforced that the Crusades were not a situation where a group of Christians woke up one morning and decided to march to Jerusalem and kill its peaceful inhabitants; the Crusades were launched as a reaction to centuries of violent oppression at the hands of invading Jihadists. It should also be repeated that Christians facing persecution in the first centuries of Christianity won over their oppressors by following the tenets of their religion: pacifism and forgiveness. While the Crusaders may have embarked on their journeys with the blessing of the Pope, that did not mean that they were actually Christians, nor does it mean that they were following Christian Scriptures. In fact, the opposite is true; the Crusaders were going to war in direct opposition to Christian beliefs.

On that same thought, much has been said of the condemnable actions of the Crusaders when they sacked Jerusalem: the invading Crusader armies killed Muslims and Jews throughout the city, which is hardly following the foundations of the Christian faith. However, that method of warfare was true for all conquering armies of the time; the Muslims behaved in a similar fashion when they conquered new territories, as did the Persians before them, and the Romans before them, and the Greeks before them, etc. The nature of warfare until recent history had always been that of systemic slaughter. While it does not excuse the behavior of the Crusaders, you must consider their actions in light of their time period and their society – their actions were neither worse nor better than the Muslims whom they were conquering. In a similar manner, when the Muslims retook Jerusalem, thousands of Crusaders were slaughtered.

Having expounded on the history of the Crusades long enough, there are literally thousands of better examples of violence that were committed "In the Name of Christ" that would have made both Mr. Boyd's and the President's statements considerably more valid. For example, I would consider the centuries of bloody wars between Catholics and Protestants in the wake of the Reformation even more apropos as discussion points for their position. But that being said, choosing the Crusades as a fodder for their arguments simply displays a wanton disregard for historical accuracy.

When considering Mr. Boyd's and the President's other examples, I have to agree – the Inquisition was inarguably a horrific episode in Christian history. But once again – the people engaged in torture and genocide were not following Christian Scripture. To restate my earlier premise, there is a world of difference between claiming to behave "In Christ's Name" and actually following Christian teachings. However, that does not excuse the actions of the Inquisition, nor does that absolve true Christians for failing to bring an earlier end to the Inquisition, (although many Christians died in their attempts to do so). Likewise the people who abused Christian Scripture to justify years of slavery and Jim Crow laws where decidedly un-Christian in their behaviors, and it should be noted that thousands of genuine Christians spent several decades fighting against those who justified slavery and racism based on false interpretations of Scripture.

The behaviors of false Christians are what led Gandhi to say, "I like your Christ, [but] I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Or, as Brennan Manning once summarized, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle." In other words, when people claim to follow Christ and do not follow Christ in their actions, they are not Christians, and they easily confuse non-Christians who cannot tell the difference.

As I mentioned earlier, committing atrocities on behalf of Christ is a violation of the core principles of Christianity. Over the two millennia since the foundation of Christianity, countless despots have justified their actions by claiming that they acted "In the Name of Christ," or they have convinced others to follow their orders based on a personal revelation from God. There is a section of dialog from the recent movie The Book of Eli which illustrates this concept perfectly; in one particular scene, the film's antagonist describes the Bible in the following manner:

"IT'S NOT A @#$% BOOK! IT'S A WEAPON! A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small, @#$% town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they'll do exactly what I tell 'em if the words are from the book. It's happened before and it'll happen again. All we need is that book."

Carnegie (played by Gary Oldman), from The Book of Eli (2010)

Even though the film is purely fictional, this statement has a ring of truth to it; many people have abused Christianity for their own, selfish ends. That does not make them Christians, and their actions are easily identifiable as contrary to the Christian beliefs of forgiveness and pacifism. Conversely, Islam was founded as a "Religion of the Sword," where violent subjugation of non-Muslim peoples and places was foundational to the spread of that religion. There is an irrefutable difference between the two religions in that regard, and to compare the two is utterly ridiculous – with one exception: condemnation of their evil actions. Those who commit evil in the name of Christianity are acting in opposition to the tenets of Christianity, and their acts are to be condemned. Likewise, those who commit evil in the name of Islam – even if they are acting in accordance with the tenets of Islam – are also to be condemned. Evil is evil – regardless of the motivation.

In a savage turn of events, Mr. Boyd probably owes his physical existence to the Crusades, for without the Crusades the marauding armies of Jihad would more than likely have conquered all of Europe. And since each of us is the by-product of thousands of chance encounters between our respective ancestors, it is very likely that a Muslim conquest of Europe would have altered the face of Western Civilization to the point where someone in Mr. Boyd's family tree would never have met someone else, and as a result he would not have been afforded the opportunity to dispassionately persecute the actions of the Crusaders from the relative safety of the religious freedom that has been afforded to him by centuries of sacrifices on his behalf.

Just the same, it wouldn't hurt if both President Obama and Greg Boyd brush up on their history before they attempt to draw a comparison between the actions of 21st-century terrorists and 12th-century Crusaders. Because in the end, trying to compare the two simply makes them look silly.


Update: I discovered the following op-ed piece after I had published this blog; it's a great read on this subject: Obama's Morally Confused Prayer Breakfast Lecture

Anti-Vaxxers are Idiots

Warning: I will be a little more... um, blunt.. than usual in this blog. I make no apologies, because this is a very serious topic.

Someone I know posted the following article to Facebook with the caption, "When you don't vaccinate your kids, you contribute to this:"

Disneyland Measles Outbreak Hits 59 Cases And Counting

But what was the most-troubling about his post was an anti-vaxxer who responded to it; this anti-vaxxer was suggesting that: 1) measles isn't a deadly disease, 2) it can be treated by homeopathic herbs and essential oils, 3) contracting the disease will build natural immunities, and 4) we should be more concerned about the amount of sugar in our food than the measles. Unfortunately, this person was being serious. Adding insult to injury, when she was corrected with information from the World Health Organization (WHO) which pointed out that hundreds of thousands of people die each year from the measles, this anti-vaxxer changed her story and claimed that since only 145,700 people died from the measles in 2013, that's only 0.000024% of the world's 6 billion people, so measles isn't that big of a deal. This anti-vaxxer was completely blind to the fact that we were discussing 145,700 people who didn't need to die because the cause of their deaths was easily-preventable. In other words, what she really meant was - since the people who are dying from the measles aren't people that she knows personally, their lives obviously don't matter.

Before I continue, I need to state that I passionately agree with my friend's original statement: if you do not vaccinate your kids, you are contributing to potentially lethal outbreaks. Let me put this another way, and let me be very clear as to how I feel about vaccinations: if you are part of the current crowd of crazy people who oppose vaccinations for easily-preventable diseases - you are an idiot. Period. End-of-story. And if you are a parent who refuses to vaccinate your children, and your children contract an easily-preventable disease - you are a terrible, wicked, stupid, horrible, despicable person. Child Protective Services should take your children away from you because you are endangering your children, and you are obviously too inept to be a parent.

Let me dispel some of the anti-vaxxer's arguments with actual facts about the measles from the WHO at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/, (note that the added emphasis is mine):

Key facts

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.
  • In 2013, about 84% of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. In 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.

The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Approximately 145,700 people died from measles in 2013 – mostly children under the age of 5.

Measles is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the mucous membranes, then spreads throughout the body. Measles is a human disease and is not known to occur in animals.

Accelerated immunization activities have had a major impact on reducing measles deaths. During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths. Global measles deaths have decreased by 75% from an estimated 544 200 in 2000 to 145 700 in 2013.

Let me reiterate some of those facts: immunizations have reduced the number of deaths by 95% in just the past 35 years (from 2,600,000 fatalities to 145,700 fatalities). When we discuss childhood immunizations for diseases like the measles, we are not discussing whether your child will stay home from school for a couple of days with a temperature - we are talking about preventing your child's death. Your child could die because of your parental incompetence, and all it takes is a simple vaccine to remove the possibility.

This anti-vaxxer also suggested that natural medicine was sufficient for the measles, which is a ludicrous proposal; if natural medicine was sufficient, then we would not have had millions of people dying each year throughout the history of humanity. I have met several people in my life who have grown up under the mistaken premise that centuries of naturalistic alchemy was more effective than present-day medicine. I would love to point out that for the thousands of years that homo-sapiens have walked the face of the planet, the life-expectancy of the average human was ½ or ¼ of what it is now. During that time, thousands of pseudo-doctors prescribed any number of naturally-based remedies, yet the majority of people could still expect to die before the age of 30 or 40, and millions upon millions of children died before they left infancy due to disease. In contrast, modern medical science has introduced thousands of real cures based on real science which have produced real results in terms of preventing disease and improving the quality of life. Natural medicine may make your feel better about yourself in an isolated, narrow-minded, yuppie universe, but a host of readily-available facts tell a decidedly different story: science actually works, whereas visiting a modern-day witch doctor does not.

I grew up in a time where contracting a large number of easily-contractible diseases was still a frightening fact of life, when millions of lives were seriously impacted by global diseases like measles, polio, etc. In the decades that preceded my childhood, a plethora of deadly diseases ravaged our society; diseases like smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, etc. Times are vastly different now; in today's United States we are blessed with a society where decades of successful vaccination programs have reduced these diseases to the point where apathy and complacency have set in, and as a result we are forced to endure the idiocy of anti-vaxxers who think that vaccines are no longer necessary.

However, vaccines are still just as necessary as they were in the past. An essential part of our country's life-blood is immigration; millions of new immigrants settle within our borders each year, and most of these people are coming from countries which have no regular vaccination program. If your unvaccinated children go to school with children who have inadvertently brought diseases to the United States - your child will likely become infected. And as our world becomes increasingly more global, your child's chances of travelling outside the United States increases, and immunizations are necessary to prevent overseas exposure to diseases that we no longer worry about domestically. For example, thanks to a successful vaccination program, the United States hasn't seen a case of polio since 1979; however, when I was in India a few years ago, I met someone whose brother was recently paralyzed by polio.

If there was no measles vaccine and people were still dying to the left and to the right, people like this anti-vaxxer and everyone like her would be clamoring for a measles vaccine. You might recall the recent Ebola panic; suddenly everyone was screaming for a vaccine. I am completely confident that science will eventually come up with a vaccine for Ebola, and I am just as certain that 100 years after its debut the world will have anti-vaxxers who think that they just need to apply a homeopathic salve until they build up their immunity to Ebola. (There should be a special category in the Darwin Awards for anti-vaxxers.) Just because we don't see a specific disease in our day-to-day lives, that doesn't mean that it isn't a threat to the rest of the world.

I understand that some parents were unnecessarily frightened by a popular myth that was floating around which suggested that the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine could cause autism. That theory has long-since been debunked, but a few ill-educated people are unwilling to let it go. However, even if the infinitesimally-small chance of autism was remotely true, the theoretical number of people actually affected by the risk of autism would still be staggeringly-less than the number of lives that are actually saved by vaccinations. Penn and Teller put together a presentation which beautifully illustrates this point (Warning: Foul Language):

I have wasted enough time and effort on this subject, so I will leave you with a final parting thought: vaccinations have a proven track record of saving lives. If you are an anti-vaxxer, I do not care which stupid theory you are adhering to - you are just wrong. If you believe that natural medicine is the cure for everything - you are just wrong. Or if you believe that vaccines were designed by evil pharmaceutical companies to get rich - you are just wrong. Or if you believe that the side-effects from vaccines are worse than the disease - you are just wrong.

The simple fact is - vaccines save millions of lives each year. If you are too foolish to be immunized, perhaps you are doing the world a favor if you die from an easily-preventable disease and your genes are removed from the global gene pool so humanity can evolve past your demonstrably-lower level of intelligence. However, if you are a parent and you refuse to immunize your children, I will state once more - for the record - that you are a terrible, wicked, stupid, horrible, despicable person.


Updates:

Since the time that I published this blog, several relevant articles have been published on this topic, so I have decided to periodically update this blog with pointers to articles that I think will add to this discussion.

And even though this subject isn't funny, there are a few humorous posts on the subject:

I Cannot Believe I'm Saying This, But...

There has been a great deal of babbling going on in the press about Sony's last-minute business decision to pull the almost-released movie The Interview before it hit the theaters. In Sony's defense, their actions were based on pressure from anonymous sources which were threatening to harm theater-goers.

Hollywood was quick to respond, of course, claiming censorship, threats to expressive freedoms, and violations of the First Amendment. Hollywood's reaction is hardly surprising, of course, since Hollywood routinely hides behind the First Amendment whenever they have done something wrong – whether it's undressing children in public in films like Moonrise Kingdom or favorably portraying sadomasochistic serial rapists in movies like Fifty Shades of Grey.

But all of this is an indication of something that is broken in Hollywood; people in the entertainment industry do not trifle with frivolous matters like right versus wrong; they are far too busy trying to turn a profit. It's kind of like Richard Oppenheimer describing the creation of the atomic bomb; he was so obsessed with the potential success of the project that he never bothered to consider the eventual outcome.

With that in mind, let's think about the content of The Interview for a moment. This is a movie about assassinating the current leader of an actual foreign country. Sony could have made this movie about a plot to kill the fictional leader of a fictional country, but they chose to make their target a real-life person who is currently the head-of-state for one of our most-condemnable adversaries. But what is worse is that this movie is not an action flick starring Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger – this is a comedy, which means that Hollywood is so self-absorbed that it hasn't bothered realize that it is taking the subject of a real-life assassination plot against a foreign national leader and turning into some kind of joke. What country wouldn't be offended when the cold-blooded killing of their chief executive is portrayed with such obtuse indifference?

Look at it this way, what if ISIS made a film where they sent the Middle Eastern equivalents of Harold and Kumar to the United States as part of a plot to murder President Obama? After Americans got over the initial shock that ISIS was somehow organized enough to create a movie, they would be appalled at the subject matter, and even more so that it was some sort of joke to our enemies. Why should Hollywood get a free pass just because we all think the Communists in North Korea are a bunch of thugs?

Let's consider another example: what if Russia made a movie about Lee Harvey Oswald, where they hired someone like Jim Carrey to portray Oswald as a bumbling idiot who was sent by the KGB to assassinate John F. Kennedy? Or how about an example that hits even closer to home: what if someone decided to make a comedy about the recent deaths of Michael Brown or Eric Garner? No one would in this country would remotely consider any of those tragedies for their comedic movie potential; every American would find all of those storylines morally reprehensible, degrading and disgusting.

I deplore North Korea's retaliatory actions against Sony just as much as the next person, and you cannot honestly expect the world to believe that the United States would take no actions in retaliation if the shoe was on the other foot. However, even though Hollywood jet-setters have been quick to speak out about CIA and NSA abuses, they pat themselves on the back and hold themselves above contempt when it comes to their own decisions. But just because we detest a petty dictator who is sitting on the throne of our enemy, that does not give Hollywood the right to mock his assassination in order to make a quick buck.

I'm sorry Sony, but the underlying plot of this movie was wrong. And I can't believe I'm saying this, but you should apologize to North Korea for your callous stupidity.

Communism Is Stupid, And So Are The Environmentalists Who Believe In It

A friend of mine recently posted the following article to Facebook:

Climate Movement Drops Mask, Admits Communist Agenda

I have to admit, I had never heard of the PJ Media website before, and at first glance it appears to be pretty right-leaning from a political perspective. With that in mind, I expected the article to be someone's paranoid and sensationalistic tirade about left-leaning environmentalists. But that wasn't the case; the article was full of real-world examples of just how stupid some people can be.

Before I go any further, I have to confess that I am pro-environment. I think that our current society is ignoring the irrevocable damage that it is causing, and most people are simply turning a blind eye to the situation because they think that disregarding the problem will not have any negative impact during their lifetime. That simply isn't true. The wanton destruction of vast portions of the globe in the last few decades has shown us that a few years of greed and neglect can cause irreparable harm to the environment. However, I also believe that our efforts must be tempered with common sense and actual scientific evidence to back up our actions. I do not ascribe to fear mongers on either side of an environmental argument; I want facts, not opinions. And when the facts do not support a hypothesis, I do not believe that "The Ends Will Justify The Means," so it is not acceptable to tell a lie in the hopes that the future will eventually prove you to be correct.

So - what does all of this have to do with Communism? In the article I mentioned above, the author attended a large Climate Change Rally in California, and he is shocked that the prevailing message is to overthrow the current government of the United States and supplant the existing political system with Communism. The justification for this hardline approach is the theory that capitalism is the single-greatest cause of environmental damage, and if we simply switched to Communism then the world would evolve into a blissful, global utopia.

And this is where I am obliged to interject - once again - that these people are morons.

Apparently these Communist apologists have failed to study the recent past of Communism, which has the worst track record in history when it comes to the environment. (Communism's environmental atrocities pale in comparison to the glaring humans rights violations and the millions of people who were slaughtered in the name of Communism throughout the 20th century, but I digress.)

I was living in Germany in 1989 when the years of Communist rule had finally brought the Eastern Bloc nations to the point of collapse, and the people in power were forced to open their borders to the West by millions of people who took the streets in unanimous protest against Communism. (An important lesson here is that millions of people who were forced to live under Communist rule rose up and overthrew their oppressors, whereas the article that I listed in the beginning of this blog illustrates the actions of a few hundred misguided people who somehow think that adopting a political system which everyone else opposes will somehow make their lives better. The word "ludicrous" comes to mind.) In any event, once the borders were opened, we were finally able to enter countries of Eastern Europe that had been closed to the West due to decades of Communist imprisonment and isolationism. What we saw was appalling - the Communists had trashed the environment beyond what the west could have surmised, and the damage was so great that I heard one prominent political figure from West Germany declare that it would be better to simply bulldoze all of East Germany into the sea rather than attempt to clean it up. Across the country the water was heavily polluted, acid rain from coal plants was destroying the forests, and most of the cities suffered from horrible pollution due to a complete lack of emissions filtering for transportation and power stations.

However, the actions of Eastern European Communists are not isolated incidents; one need only look at Communist China for a myriad of environmental atrocities. Moreover, the perpetual damage to Russian resources like Lake Baikal, Lake Ladoga, and the Aral Sea by the former Soviet Union cannot be undone. Communism does not breed environmental awareness; it completely ignores the environment. Forasmuch as California's Communists would try to urge everyone to rise up and overthrow their government in the name of environmentalism, those same fools are fighting a system that has done more for the environment than almost any country in history by regulating pollution, creating National Parks to preserve millions of acres of pristine wilderness, and countless other deliberate actions.

Could the United States do more to protect the environment? Yes, it could. We should be doing a lot more to help cut down on pollution, to use our existing resources wisely, to cut our dependency on foreign oil, and to research alternative methods for creating energy.

Is the political system of the United States free from corruption? Of course not. Any system is a by-product of its individual parts, and we have way too many people whose actions are more about personal gain than about caring for the rights and property of the people and environment which they are sworn to represent.

Is Capitalism free from corruption? Certainly not. The old Biblical adage that "the love of money is the root of all evil" is an apropos observation for much of the Capitalist world. Where there is money to be made, people will often chase after ever-elusive profits while ignoring the consequences of their actions. This leads to environmental disasters, and it leads to economic meltdowns like the Great Depression of the 1930s or the more-recent 2008 Recession. Capitalism has enabled people in power to drive multi-billion-dollar corporations into the ground, leaving thousands of their loyal employees out-of-work with no retirement savings, while the people who caused such debacles walk away with multi-million-dollar severance packages. These scenarios are also atrocities which should never happen again, although they are somewhat outside the scope of this blog.

In any event - in a free society, we are not powerless to act when see wrongs being committed; we have the freedom to do something about it. We can write about it, we can march in protest, we can push for legislation to make things better, etc. In a closed society (like Communism) you do not have the freedom to do anything about it. The Communist system controls every part of your life, and any form of dissention will be quickly suppressed.

With that in mind, I reiterate my earlier claim that anyone who suggests overthrowing our current system of government and adopting Communism in order to save the environment is a blithering idiot.


PS – For more information, here are some good articles about Communism's track record with the environment:

Global Warming versus Common Sense

I have to admit, I love a good conspiracy theory. But I need to explain what I mean by that - I don't actually believe conspiracy theories, but I love to read articles and blogs from people who do. I typically think that most of the people who believe various conspiracy theories are kind of insane, and therefore they are a never-ending source of amusement for me.

This brings me to one of the biggest conspiracy theories that's circulating the planet right now: Global Warming and Climate Change.

I thoroughly love watching the endless debates that inundate the blogosphere about these two subjects. The bulk of the Internet appears fall into one of two ideological camps: there are "Deniers" who think that nothing is happening, and there are "Chicken Littles" who think that the world is coming to an end. (I personally fall into the group of amused spectators who are constantly laughing at everyone else's reactions. And mark my words people - I am not laughing with you, I am laughing at you.)

With that in mind, let's look at some of the actual science. To begin with, the following new article offers up a dire prediction that the Antarctic ice will melt and the oceans will rise as a result:

This should come as a shock to the NASA scientists who were reporting less than two years ago that the Antarctic ice had reached an all-time high:

With conflicting articles like these making their way around the Internet, what's a poor armchair scientist supposed to believe? Fear not, for I bring you undisputed truth: ice melts. That's pretty much it. Your scientific takeaway should be this: unless the sun burns out, we're going to have ice in some places of the planet, and no ice in other places. The ice in some places will eventually melt, and some places where there currently is no ice will eventually get ice. If you've studied the history of this planet, then you already know these facts. If you haven't studied the history of the planet, then be quiet until you do. Period. End of story.

That being said, it is an undeniable fact that the earth is getting warmer. Although it needs to be said that the global temperature is rising from one of the lowest temperatures that has occurred in the past several thousand years. 1,000 years ago the earth was considerably warmer than it is now, but 500 years before that it was cooler than it is now, and 500 years before that it was even warmer than it was 1,000 years ago. That's the way that our planet works: the earth heats up, then it cools, then it heats up again. This has been going on for millions upon millions of years. The questions with which we need to be concerned is how fast the temperature is rising, and what is causing the temperature to rise. Here's where I need to intercede once again: unless you are a scientist who is qualified to analyze these two questions based on the staggering volume of information available and years of professional research experience, then you need to be quiet and let someone who is qualified do their job.

As I mentioned earlier, we can easily see that the earth has gone through several demonstrable heating and cooling periods over the past several millennia. But there is one major difference between those periods and the present: we can now take detailed measurements of the process, and unfortunately the scientific world is filled with scientists who cannot agree on the severity of this new data. But what is far worse is that the media world is filled with reporters with nothing better to do than to create ominous predictions in order to drive traffic to their websites and thereby increase their advertising revenue. So we wind up with a situation where people can throw news articles back and forth all day long saying one thing or other without ever proving a valid point. Here's a perfect example:

As for me, the story gets better, because eventually the conspiracy theorists get involved. There are several theories out there, and they come from all sides. For example, there are some "deniers" who feel that all of this Global Warming stuff is a bunch of malarkey, and their position seemed to be reinforced when it was revealed that a lot of climatologists were faking their data. (It seems that some scientists believed that "The Ends Justify The Means," so they thought that it was acceptable for them to manipulate their data because "The World Will Eventually Thank Them." That may have been a noble cause in their minds, but unfortunately that's bad science.) Then there are the Global Warming proponents who believe that the real impetus behind the deniers is big business and the evil global corporate cabal who would sell their family members if it made a profit. (Unfortunately, there really are some people who are that heinous.) In either case, I love reading the theories from both sides of the argument, because it's not that simple. As a result, their competing theories bring me unending amounts of entertainment.

But at the end of the day, a few categorical facts remain in this debate:

  1. The average person is not an actual scientist, and is therefore unqualified to interpret the available data, so he or she is just repeating something they read. As I said earlier, these people need to either go back to school and study the subject in detail, or silence themselves because they're just adding useless noise to the debate. (Although I have pointed out in previous blogs that some people are just parroting whatever their political party of choice is saying, and those people look like idiots.)
  2. The actual scientists involved in measuring the data are fractured into opposing groups who think that either the sky is falling or this is a normal process which is nothing out of the ordinary. (And there are a host of other opposing theories, too.) These people are at least qualified to publish their findings in a place where the average person is free to read, (as long as these average people keep their unwelcome and uneducated comments to themselves).
  3. The earth is constantly changing as the continents move around, and as a result the global temperatures will be higher or lower than the present, weather zones will shift locations, volcanoes will erupt and spew greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, tsunamis will devastate coastal regions, the ice caps will shrink and grow, earthquakes will change the landscape, and sea levels will rise and fall.

The only constant in all of this turmoil is change. But unfortunately when change is detected within our current ecosphere and subsequently over-represented by the press, opportunistic knee-jerk reactions from bone-headed idiots are the inevitable result. To quote the great philosopher John Osbourne, "The media sells it, and you live the role."

There is one last thought which I want to leave you with: regardless of your views on Global Warming and Climate Change, we only have one planet - so we only have one chance to get things right. If we destroy the planet, then it's gone. Forever. Period. The Boy Scouts teach that you should leave a place in better condition than you found it. That's a good rule to live by, and it's pretty easy to implement in your daily life through simple actions: recycle as much as you can, turn off lights when you leave a room, pick a car with better gas mileage (or ride a bike when possible), etc. Even if it turned out that humanity had no impact on Global Warming or Climate Change, everyone should still do their part to cut down on pollution and make the world a better place; that's just good stewardship.


UPDATE (October, 2015): The following information is a perfect illustration of why climatology articles cannot be taken out-of-context by their title alone:

To summarize the article, NASA's monitoring of Antarctica has revealed that snow accumulation exceeds the loss of ice shelves; however, if you walk away with this single talking point without reading the rest of the article, you are ignoring the fact that NASA fully acknowledges that Antarctica is actually losing ice. So even though the frozen regions of Antarctica are increasing in volume, that does not mean that glaciers in Antarctica have ceased melting.

Brain Teaser Spoiler Alert

I keep seeing people repost this annoying little image to their Facebook pages with a question that asks "How many squares do you see?":

00

First of all, I find these kinds of brain teasers annoying, and the fact that this image shows up every few months or so is only adding to my pre-existing dislike for this particular distraction. What's more annoying, however, is watching the debate that inevitably unfolds with regard to how many squares are displayed.

With that in mind, I will ruin this for future generations by stating that it contains 40 squares, and I created the following animation which shows where that number comes from:

40

With that in mind, please make the madness stop and just say "no" to posting useless brain teasers.

Dear Unknown Pickup Truck Driver

Dear Unknown Pickup Truck Driver,

I'd like to personally thank you for failing to see the bicyclist (me) in the clearly-marked bike lane and nearly hitting me. I flipped my bicycle to avoid running into you, so your brain-dead vehicular maneuver restored my belief that some people are too dumb to operate a car. Next time, try hanging up your @#$% cell phone and watch the road.

As luck would have it, I was riding to the hospital where my wife works as a nurse when this mishap occurred, and she used Tegaderm to bandage everything. (Although that was after the painful experience of scrubbing all of the dirt out of the wound.)

On the positive side, this was a great test of the brakes on my new bicycle. (FYI - The brakes work really well; maybe a little too well. But as they say, any landing you can walk away from...)

I should also mention that I'm very fortunate that minor bumps and gashes were the worst of my injuries; I was foolishly wearing neither my helmet nor my gloves when this happened. Both hands were a little bruised and my right arm had several nasty-looking scrapes, but nothing was broken. (And I have learned my lesson; I will always wear my helmet in the future.)

Hashtags: #itsokaythegroundbrokemyfall, #lookicanfly, #itsonlyafleshwound

How Hippies Destroyed America

Someone recently posted the following image on Facebook, and even though I know they were simply trying to be amusing, I found it highly offensive... (for reasons which I will explain in a moment).

hippies-are-vermin

Unfortunately, posting an image such as this reveals how little someone actually knows about how much damage "Flower Power" and the so-called "Love Movement" did to America. While hippies may have been right about some things, (like environmental responsibility and ecological activism), they were dead wrong about most others. Here is a brief summary of a few of the lasting effects that the single generation of 1960s-era youth had on society: an out-of-control drug culture, the unchecked rise in numerous sexually-transmitted diseases, hundreds of thousands of PTSD cases of veterans traumatized by counter-culture attacks, and the embarrassment of our nation in the eyes of the rest of the world.

When you follow the emergence of the hippie movement, it is one that outwardly preached living in harmony with all of society, and yet inwardly its actualization was one of extreme selfishness and unbridled, destructive power. Timothy Leary's invitation to "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out" encouraged a generation of youth to abstain from any semblance of civil and moral responsibility in favor of seeking personal, self-centered desires. In the span of a few short years, the hippies managed to negate nearly all of the hard-won victories of our country's "Greatest Generation," (those who banded together to survive the Great Depression and win the Second World War). Our country descended from an industrious world leader populated by hard-working, family-oriented citizens to a vicious brood of misguided, distrustful, lazy, addicted, self-worshippers.

Like much of the hippie movement, the so-called "Summer of Love" is something of an oxymoron, because it achieved the opposite of its intended goals. When thousands of lost youths descended on the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, they did so with bold proclamations of free love, uninhibited creativity, and peace-for-all. Yet the size of this group collapsed the infrastructure of the local area, which was unprepared to deal with the sudden arrival of thousands of drugged-out, socially irresponsible vagrants. This should have been one of society's first warnings about the pure selfishness of the hippy mindset, but this event was largely ignored by anyone except other teenagers and twenty-somethings who were tired of listening to their parents telling them to grow up, get a job, and contribute something to society other than folk songs and clouds of pot smoke.

One of the rallying cries for the hippie movement was a general objection to the Vietnam War, and while I agree that anyone in their right mind should oppose war as best as possible, the hippies reacted in the worst possible way. Instead of gathering peacefully across the country, hippies engaged in numerous cases of what would now be referred to as "Domestic Terrorism." In their naïveté, thousands of youths openly proclaimed their support for Marxism/Leninism/Communism to overthrow the government of the United States, even though none of these impressionable youths had ever lived under such oppressive regimes, and many of these same degenerates would not have lasted a year if they had emigrated to the USSR.

Please do not misunderstand me – I fully support the right to peaceful assembly and vociferously objecting to war, both then and now, but there are proper ways to do so - and conversely, there are improper ways to be avoided. For example: hippies used to call my mom in the late 1960s while my dad was stationed in Vietnam, and they would pretend to be the Department of the Air Force calling to inform my mom that my dad had been killed in combat. This happened many, many times - and she would hug my brothers and me as she wept inconsolably for hours; my mom's life was probably shortened by several years due to insufferable grief caused by the heinously evil and unnecessary actions of these particular vermin who called themselves hippies.

There are two things that can be learned from the hippies' response to the Vietnam War:

  1. War is a terrible thing which motivates some people to do terrible things.
  2. The way some people choose to protest war is far worse.

Tragically, my experiences were not isolated incidents; the history of the Vietnam War on the home front is rife with examples of the complete failure on the part of the hippy movement to make their protests known while still treating veterans returning from battle like fellow human beings. (Many of these veterans were draftees instead of volunteers, and therefore they had no say in their years of military service.)

Some of the most-damaging aspects of hippie culture were the concepts of "Open Marriages," "Free Love," etc. In their efforts to rid themselves of any vestige of what they believed were their parents' outdated sensibilities, hippies managed to convince themselves that committed, monogamous relationships were a thing of the past, and they substituted "Do What Feels Good For You" casual relationships in their place. There is an age-old axiom which states, "Why buy the cow when the milk is free," and in keeping with that notion, the men of the hippy generation managed to convince the women of that era to abandon their morality in what was probably the most-condescending deception of women in the history of the United States. To quote Steve Martin, "Free Love ... was the single greatest concept a young man has ever heard. This was a time when intercourse, or some version of it, was a way of saying hello. About three years later, women got wise and my frustration returned to normal levels (Martin 2007, 100)." Despite the ill-guided assertions that the hippy movement gave birth to the Women's Liberation movement of the following decade, male hippies treated their female counterparts little better than objects for their own, self-desires. As a direct result, a conflagration of sexually-transmitted diseases spread across the country like a raging inferno, divorce rates skyrocketed, and millions of children were forced to grow up in single-parent homes due to the hippy-based philosophy that marriages need not be permanent.

Ultimately the hippy movement was a complete failure of society on both sides of equation: the hippies failed to behave in any fashion which reflects the better ideals of humanity, and the United States' government failed to effectively respond to the subculture which infested much of the Baby Boomer generation. Our nation still bears numerous scars from societal wounds inflicted by the selfish and amoral youth of the 1960s, and history will eventually reveal that their actions irrevocably damaged the fabric of our culture and hastened the demise of our once-great country.

On a personal note – forty-five years have passed since the time when my family was individually targeted and tormented by faceless cowards who publicly preached love for their fellow man while privately living for their own selfish gains. I have neither forgiven nor forgotten the traumatic pain that these so-called "Peace Loving Hippies" caused my family and our nation to suffer.


Martin, Steve. Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life. New York, NY: Simon & Shuster, Inc., 2007.

Meryl Streep and the Most-Vilified Segments of Society

At last night's 74th Golden Globes Awards, Meryl Streep had the audacity to compare the occasional inconveniences of Hollywood elites to the suffering of immigrants when she was delivering an acceptance speech for yet another unnecessary award. However, my sarcasm and rhetoric cannot do justice to just how out-of-touch Ms. Streep is with reality; here are the ridiculous thoughts she actually uttered out loud before a crowded auditorium:

"All of us in this room, really, belong to the most-vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, Foreigners, and the Press."

First of all, it simply amazes me that Ms. Streep cannot comprehend the irony of equating whatever fake oppression she believes she is experiencing with the real-life suffering of others while standing onstage at another over-the-top example of Hollywood's infatuation with itself. Awards shows like the Golden Globes are - of course - nothing more than another opportunity for self-indulged entertainers to fall in love with themselves all over again. Judging by the number of times per year that Hollywood entertainers need to pat themselves on the back for doing their jobs, you quickly get the impression that they are anything but a vilified segment of American society. (Hollywood types are, however, incredibly insecure cry-babies with delusions of grandeur, but I digress.)

Think about it, no other career field - not even professional sports - has anywhere near the number of awards shows that Hollywood film, television, and music entertainers have for themselves every year. Here is only a partial list:

AACTA Awards, Academy Awards (The Oscars), Academy of Country Music Awards, ACTRA Awards, Alternative Press Music Awards, Amanda Awards, American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal in Music, American Country Awards, American Country Countdown Awards, American Music Award, ARIA Music Awards, ASCAP awards , Atlanta International Film Festival, Awit Awards, Back Stage Garland Awards, BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award, BET Awards, Billboard Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Brit Awards, British Academy Film Awards, British Academy Television Awards, British Composer Awards, Canadian Cinema Editors Awards, Canadian Screen Awards, Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival awards, CMT Music Awards, Comet, Country Music Association Awards, Country Music Awards of Australia, Critics' Choice Movie Awards, Critics' Choice Television Awards, Directors Guild of Canada Awards, Distinguished Service to Music Medal, Donaldson Awards, Drama-Logue Awards, Drama Desk Awards, Drama League Awards, Edward R. Murrow Awards, Emmy Awards (Creative Arts), Emmy Awards (Daytime), Emmy Awards (Primetime), Emmy Awards (Sports), European Film Awards, Evening Standard Awards, Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards, Filmfare Awards, FIPA awards, Game Show Awards, George Peabody Medal, GLAAD Media Awards, GLAAD Media Awards, Gold Badge Awards, Golden Bear, Golden Globe Awards, Golden Leopard, Golden Lion, Golden Melody Awards, Golden Nymph Awards, Golden Orange, Goldene Kamera, Governors Awards, Goya Awards, Gracie Allen Awards, Grammy Awards, Grand Prix du Disque, Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, Grimme Preis, Handel Music Prize, Herbert von Karajan Music Prize, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Humanitas Prize, Independent Spirit Awards, Indonesian Film Festival, International Indian Film Academy Awards, Iris Awards, Ivor Novello Awards, Juno Awards, LA Weekly Theatre Awards, Latin Grammy Award, Laurence Olivier Awards, Leo Awards, Logie Awards, Lola Awards, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, Los Premios MTV Latinoamérica, Lucille Lortel Awards, Léonie Sonning Music Prize, MOBO Awards, MTV Africa Music Awards, MTV Asia Awards, MTV Australia Awards, MTV Europe Music Awards, MTV Movie & TV Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, National Dance Awards, National Film Awards, National Television Awards, New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards, New York Film Festival, Obie Awards, Otaka Prize, Outer Critics Circle Awards, Ovation Awards, Palme d'Or (Cannes Film Festival), Peabody Awards, Polar Music Prize, Praemium Imperiale, Prix de Rome, Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Pulitzer Prize for Music, Royal Television Society Awards, San Diego Film Awards, Sanremo Music Festival, Sarah Siddons Award, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Shooting Stars Award, Sibelius Prize, Stellar Awards, Suntory Music Award, Theatre World Award, Tony Awards, Young Artist Awards, YouTube Music Awards, etc., etc., etc.

And these awards are simply for doing their jobs. While I recognize the fact that such awards are ostensibly being given to those who did the best job for the year, it's still an award for doing something that often does not require that much skill. Seriously. It takes very little talent to pretend to be someone else for a few days per year. The guy who recently fixed the air conditioner in my house has arguably more skills than many of the Hollywood A-Listers. But then again, the guy who fixed my air conditioner doesn't get any awards for doing his job; he gets paid. Of course, he probably only made a few hundred dollars while working for me, whereas Ms. Streep makes millions of dollars every time she steps in front of the cameras to do something that any number of struggling actors could undoubtedly do better.

And yet Ms. Streep is oblivious to just how ridiculous she sounds when she compares her life of awards shows, exorbitant salaries, first class jet-setting around the globe, designer gowns, luxury hotels, and palatial mansions to the sufferings of refugees and immigrants. I find it difficult to believe how someone - how anyone - could be that self-absorbed.

Contrary to her feelings on the matter, Ms. Streep is not a member of a vilified segment of American society; but she should be.

Being Sick in the Military

One of my family members posted the following picture to Facebook:

I'm not a teacher so I can't speak about the veracity of that statement, but nevertheless I felt compelled to post the following response:

"Not true - when you're in the military, it's much worse. Here's just one example from my years in the service:

"I had food poisoning and I spent the night throwing up so much that I lost 10 pounds in one day. (Seriously.) But the military owns you, so you can't just call in sick. Despite feeling like I was about to die, I had to drive 30 minutes to the military post and show up for a morning formation, where I stood at-attention or at-ease for a 30-minute summary of the days' news and events. After that formation ended, all of people who wanted to go on sick call were ordered to fall out to a separate formation, where I had to describe my symptoms to the NCOIC, who was tasked with determining if anyone should actually be allowed to head to the clinic or go back to work.

"Bear in mind that the clinic that I was sent to was not a hospital where I would see an actual doctor, but a tiny building where no one had any formal medical education. For that matter, sick call is a horrible experience where you eventually get to meet up with a disgruntled E-4 who's sorry that he volunteered for his MOS and generally wants to take out that frustration on every person who shows up; since he has no formal education, he is only capable of reading symptoms from a book to diagnose you, so it's a miracle that more deaths do not occur in military clinics due to gross negligence. (Although I have long stories about deaths and permanent injuries that were the direct result of misdiagnoses in military clinics, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

"Before I got to see said disgruntled E-4, I had to sit in a waiting room for around an hour, so by the time I was finally sent to an examining room I had been on post for several hours and it was probably approaching noon. The E-4 was able to figure out that I was seriously ill pretty quickly - all of the vomiting was an easy clue. He decided by taking my blood pressure that I was severely dehydrated, (duh), so I spent the next few hours lying on a cot with IV bags in my arms until he decided that I was sick enough to be put on quarters for the rest of the day and I was sent home.

"By the time that I finally arrived at [my wife's and my] apartment it was sometime in the late afternoon, which is when the normal workday would probably have been over for most civilians. But when you're in the military they try to make your illness so unbearable that you'd rather show up to work, so here's the worst part: when you have something like the flu that lasts more than a day, you have to repeat the process that I just described until your illness has passed or you are admitted to a hospital because you are not recovering. Of course, having to sit in a clinic with a score of other sick people means that everyone is trading illnesses, so you have this great breeding ground of diseases in the military, which undoubtedly helped cause a great deal of the military fatalities during the great influenza outbreak in the early 20th century.

"So being sick as a teacher may be awful, but trust me - you could have it a lot worse."

As a parting thought, there may be some qualified people in Army medicine, but I have always pointed out that people who graduate at the top of their class in medical school do not become Army doctors; they take prestigious positions at world-class hospitals. Who usually winds up as military doctors? Medical students with barely passing grades and large student loans to pay off.

Given a choice between a doctor with a 4.0 GPA from Harvard Medical School or a doctor with a 2.5 GPA from The Podunk Medical Academy for the Emotionally Challenged, who would you pick? Well, when you're in the Army, you don't get to pick. And unless you're a general, it's usually the latter of those two choices.

I have always summarized Army medicine as follows: "You get what you pay for when you see an Army doctor; you pay nothing, and you get nothing."