Monday, November 2, 2020

No Really, It's Okay to Vote Republican

Some are likely on the fence - not for whom, but if they should.

Certainly fellow Americans are plentiful who will vehemently disagree with my titular hypothesis. And really, this will do absolutely nothing to persuade them. These days, conservatives who do not take pleasure in swaggering daily Trump-promoting social media posts maintain a keen disposition in the shadows, and for enticing reason. Certainly, there is no deficit of rationale for veering left in protest or even scheduling November 3rd to wash one's cat during the entirety of voting hours - both explicable decisions for justifiable ends. However, that could actually be a sacrifice which ought not be made in spite. As Thomas Sowell reasons, "I prefer a disaster to a catastrophe."

Yes, Trump is a master bloviator. 

He is brash, thin-skinned, divisive, childish, of questionable moral character, and not entirely fluent with the truth. Yes, he has said things that should not be said. And yet there is something authentic about a man who has been asked over the years by Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman, and others about running for president, and he consistently replied that he believed that he could do a better job than the lifelong politicians and gave straight-forward thoughts as to how. While much of his current rhetoric can be better described as red meat to the base than authenticity, much of his record reflects the conspicuous businessman and celebrity we have known for decades. Donald Trump's goal is to win and to secure the accolade of great president. He knows to be successful in that endeavor, much like in business, that will take transcendent and tangible results. He once had a moment of self-reflection to say that maybe doing this job well is his last and only hope to get into Heaven. There could be worse motivations.

The greatest lie they tell may just be that your opinion is simply evil.

If you are old enough to remember, every Republican running for president this century has been called a fascist. The term has lost all meaning. Bush, McCain, Romney, and Trump have all had some comparison such as to Adolf Hitler. Yet in retrospect, at least Mrs. Obama's and Ellen's buddy, the politically moderate war hero, and the Mormon BLM marcher hardly have lived up to the hype. And so far, President Trump has been content to have immigrants and Jews working or even living in the White House. We are told that Republicans hate women, foreigners, homosexuals, Muslims and African-Americans. Liberal orthodoxy depends on these claims to survive. The venom for conservatives is so mainstream these days, it has become intrinsically hateful to have a public opinion about: life in the womb, the value of a mother and a father, fidelity to legal immigration, or the possibility that police officers don't systematically wake up every morning looking for Black men to murder. As if demonization of the outspoken was not enough, now even "silence is violence." Not to be conflated with the notion that evil only flourishes when good men do nothing, today reasonable challenges to popular opinion are detested, and failure to adhere to the vocally superior is itself a brutality. 

Perhaps conservative silence is regrettably better defined as enabling leftist chaos.

Remember Minneapolis' Democrat Mayor Jacob Frey, who at a Black Lives Matter event refused to comply to abolish his police department... and was humiliated and forced off stage? The bullies are out, and they have no interest in rational discussion. Have you seen how Black conservatives like Candace Owens are treated - as race traitors? How destructively enabling it is for good and reasonable people to maintain silence because they know their opposing point of view will be automatically treated as hate speech. The Democrat Party thrives on the idea of oppression, yet liberation would be the death of their ideology. That party controlling all of government - including stacking the Supreme Court - would result in the degradation of America perhaps beyond our tipping point. Just think, what is the opposite of making America great again? A blue wave may tell.

"Come on, man!"

Does anyone really believe Joe Biden's allegation that Donald Trump is responsible for one hundred percent of the American COVID-19 deaths? Meanwhile every other country on the planet also struggles with this pandemic. Never mind the lies people tell to get elected, truth in this country for many is simply not a priority. Refusing to bear false witness is not only a religious Commandment, but it is also necessary in preserving America. However, people are all too eager to promote viral fictions such as the story of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, or that a gang of pro-life high school kids surrounded and racistly taunted a helpless Native American man. We Americans have become way too willing to bear false witness with a single click if it supports what we believe politically. Governmental gridlock, racial animus, corruption, societal discord - these phenomena all predate our current president. They may actually be more a reflection of us than of one bad orange man. Truth may not be found in a successful politician, but for some reason it is easier to trust a wealthy man who took a pay cut to serve for 4-8 years, than a man who found himself - and family - wealthy while in office for half a century.

To vote is to matter.

Conservative theory is based on personal responsibility - the value of a virtuous citizenry necessarily recognizing and owning the gift of America. Beleaguered conservatives know this, but can often be uninspired, or even appalled, by the man Donald Trump. The truth that has become creepingly evident is that contemporary liberalism - for all its respectable ideals - is taking this country in the direction of: disdain for wealth and capitalism, weaponization of identity politics, permissiveness of anarchy, disregard for fiscal responsibility, contortion of truth and norms, rejection of American exceptionalism, and an unhealthy dependence on government. 

Citizens of good will across this nation - from the CEO of Goya, to Kanye West, to the average conservative on Facebook - know too well how voicing right-wing opinions or even a compliment of the president can result in shaming and retribution. Elections both reflect and determine to large extent the character of our nation - even if that of the incumbent is not our greatest specimen - so conservatives should stand up and be heard.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Why America Can't Breathe

Perhaps the world wonders what exactly is our problem. The recent killing of a fellow American George Floyd by police has ignited a massive response in protests, destruction, violence, and a prompt offensive for political organization and action. Chants of "Black Lives Matter" have echoed in our major cities across the country and throughout our social media; protesters have zeroed in on a few unifying targets: the police, White America, and of course President Trump. We all want justice, but some of our loudest voices have prevailed: "F- Trump!" "Burn It Down!" "Defund the Police!"  People want change, and they are angry. Unfortunately, even in a moment when the whole country should come together to address a horrific act, we find reasons to default to animosity.

No, the United States is not racist at its core.

Hardly unique even to this continent, a past of slavery and history of minority oppression still tortures the American soul. Protesters accuse our national identity of complicity to an enduring racism that most specifically targets African-Americans with unfair practices and violence. Many claim, largely unchecked, that our country is inherently racist. I disagree.

The birth defect of slavery which our founders were not able to cure - but bequeathed us a nation with the intellectual foundation to address - compels us to continually seek what often seems impossible in practice. Sins of fellow citizens from the past 244 years have followed us, and Americans alive today must face a prospect that not only are we an imperfect union, but perhaps an unjust one as well. However, inspired by our national creed, most Americans do believe that all men are created equal. Our founding convictions were a mission statement. Just as in any organization, you embark with an idea and the best team you can assemble, and you work toward your ideals every day. Our Constitution and related founding documents are some of the few things that bind us and define the core of America.

The United States' advances in racial equality, acceptance, and opportunity - from the time of slavery to the Civil Rights Era until today - have undoubtedly vastly improved. We persevered to abolish slavery and affirm rights for those whom Thomas Jefferson proclaimed in principle, but failed to secure in his time. We continue our tradition of welcoming new immigrants year after year as full citizens. We have opened up opportunities for individuals of minority groups to excel in education, business, entertainment, and government. African-Americans now finally represent an equal proportion in our Congress to their percentage of total American citizens, and we already have elected a Black president twice in this young century. We have come a long way in battling our demons, working in deed and in spirit to hold fast to the truth of equality as self-evident, and the proof is in our accomplishments.

Our economic system, based on the principles of capitalism, has helped us not only to thrive as a nation, but to continually provide opportunity unreliant on racial origin. Despite some backlash over the decades, often from places of economic ignorance, capitalism is remarkably democratic, colorblind, accessible, and rooted in liberty. Currently, the United States is home to five of the world's 13 Black billionaires - more than from any other country. Four of them - Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and David Steward - came from meager beginnings; all worked for and achieved their wealth and the American Dream empowered by capitalism.

Distinct to the core of America is the belief in a Creator whose promise of equality of rights is indispensable. How do we reconcile this principle with the oppression by myriad means that has occurred throughout our history? If it is truly God in whom we trust, likely it is because of some foresight that humans would perpetually be inclined to behave badly, especially in a place where freedom is so highly prized. Our founders understood (perhaps more than we can comprehend) that life can never be fair for every person, but equal basic human rights for all must be what we seek to achieve and protect as a people. However fragile or hypocritical the American promise may appear at times, we have a universal rejection of tyranny and an interminable quest for redemption - both based on divine inspiration. The soul of our nation exists to coerce individuals, not to abandon our desires of self-interest, but to continually recognize our liberty as a universal gift.

Has the Definition of Racism Changed?

As a child, I was taught one concept of racism in regard to behavior: prejudice is a thought process that prejudges a person or a group based on stereotypes or other notions, while racism is an action that discriminates based on prejudice. To be just, or to renounce racism, one should act in a way that judges people on the content of their character rather than their immutable traits.

"Institutional racism" - an inherent structure based on power and reinforced by history - appears to be the overriding definition of American racism today. Questioning the theory of institutional racism at all can be met with repudiation, rancor, and even abrupt branding as racist. The conviction of many in this country (mostly on the vocal ideological left) is that America is a racist country at it's foundation - evidenced by slavery and tainted ever since by white supremacy. If we are to define racism as a factual American trait rather than an individual behavioral choice, that may be expedient in identifying causes of injustice, but I fear we do so willfully ignorantly and perilously.

A contemporary interpretation of racism appears to be rather complex and makes several claims. Due to power structure, only certain people can be (or are inherently) racist, based on some calculation of genetic makeup that has yet to be explained to me. In spite of this inevitable power structure, there is still possible manipulation of racism via such activities as silence, self-realization of unearned irrevocable privilege, and even through unconscious behaviors. Racism can and ought to be resisted with an appropriate social media post such as a plain black image, setting a building on fire, or destroying a statue. Adding to this conundrum, it would logically follow that a certain segment of our country are immune to the curse of racist behavior and culpability (i.e. cannot be racist), hence seemingly innocent in all quandaries possibly related to race. In short, according to some, only White people can be racist, and everyone else are their victims.

The Effect of the Theory of Institutional Racism

A destructive consequence of the blind adherence to the theory of institutional racism was the Ferguson Unrest of 2014, in which a community-inspired fiction became an overwhelming narrative. Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown to death in self-defense - even conceded by then-President Obama's Department of Justice - contradicting a significant portion of America who had already jumped to the conclusion of murder. Unfortunately, Brown's name and image remain prominent features in subsequent high-profile deaths of African-Americans, deemed useful to the broader agenda. Inevitably, the case of the killing of George Floyd - having no specific evidence of racial motivation - has been taken as fact an illustration of racism. A man, and indeed a nation, can be judged racist based solely on the theory of institutional racism; the color of one's skin is automatically a factor of malicious intent. One might argue that skin color has always been considered such a factor, but isn't that something from which we have been hoping to depart?

*To be clear, it does appear and is my opinion (and that of most of America) that Floyd was unnecessarily and unjustly killed.

Proponents of this theory will cite a long pattern of abuses by police against African-Americans. However, they often omit or obscure if any illegal activity or resisting arrest occurred in these encounters. Point being, it has become difficult for the public to discern what exactly happened and who shared in any fault for use of deadly violence if it is always immediately deemed racist. Truth, it seems, is not always a top priority with these cases. Maybe it never has been - on one side or the other. In the end, if the system does not convict a cop, it is further proof of the narrative that law enforcement in this country is institutionally and interminably racist. If institutional racism remains an unquestionable given, we have entered the age of blind retribution, in which there can be little national conversation about how to move on from the enmity of our fathers' fathers; indeed, we have created our own.

What Racism Cannot Explain

We the people of the United States have not primarily a racism problem, although it certainly exists, as it does in many other countries. America has a hatred problem and a power struggle. Police brutality exists, and it is a problem - though not nearly to the extent of what we do to one another that require the existence of police. Injustices occur in our country's institutions and in everyday life, but there is something else dividing us other than a supposed one-sided malevolent system.

It is obligatory for all Americans to temper our judgments and carry the burdens together of a heterogeneous union. Unfortunately, there is a poisonous sub-cultural trait in America that might make reconciliation impossible - disdain. If racism is our original sin, disdain is what continues to divide us and degrade our national soul. While disdain for racism is certainly warranted, these past few weeks have shone a spotlight on people looting stores, destroying businesses, attacking police officers, and showing a general contempt for law, order, and rational debate. One person walking out of a destroyed building with a bag of stolen shoes may not be cause for grand speculation, but just ride the Metro transit system in DC, and you will observe ride-looting daily - both examples routinely (dare I say "systemically"?) ignored by authorities. While most Americans carry a healthy balance of restraint with disdain and just want to live their lives in decency, a fair amount of hate seems to be boiling over that cannot all be blamed on centuries past, and no skin color holds the monopoly.

Entering Our 245th Year

Racism may be at the root of why America cannot breathe, but our essence is far more a living mosaic than a single plant. Some of us cannot breathe because we feel racial oppression on a regular basis, while others cannot breathe because we perceive a tyranny of some overly woke vocal majority who are actively undermining America. Ridicule the latter if you please, but there are untold numbers of reasonable people who feel they cannot speak for fear of being denounced. Racism has morphed from a power structure that discriminates, dominates, and prohibits upward mobility, to an inherent trait of anyone who does not fit the designation of a "person of color." What is a person of color anyway? Nearly all Americans are of divided heritages - oftentimes plentifully. Our history is replete with stories of unwelcome immigrant - and indigenous - populations, yet we have a bounty of stories that show a people mightier because of how we have chosen to find ways to thrive together. Against our true nature as a people, some have worked to create a permanent state of oppression, and the antidote is unclear. One thing is certain - we have always sought to divide ourselves from within. Hence, the complexity of the source of our woes grows so as to obscure any possible reasonable accord. Furthermore, I fear an emanating chronic disdain for America - our culture, our systems, our history, our ideals - may be our collective emphysema.

Our national respiratory epidemic is self-inflicted. We caused our problems, and we can fix them if we choose. Many of us do! Many of us see the air pollution every day, but still decide not to smoke... and maybe even not to own a car. We have to be a people of ideas and not of blame, who seek goodness rather than dwell in disdain. We have achieved so very much, but it will only endure to the world if we decide not to destroy ourselves in the process of reconciliation.

Let's Breathe.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Redskins Can Keep Their Name

Some Native Perspective

Years ago, I asked my dad - a full-blooded American Indian - what he thought about the Washington Redskins team name and if it should be changed. The look on his face was resolute and his response was quick. With almost a chuckle, he said, "I hope they don't change the name." Just as with many queries, Dad had no interest in being convinced. The younger mind might easily write off such a dismissal as short-sighted or obtuse. The only problem was my dad wasn't either of those things.

When I moved to DC in 2000, I decided I would try to settle in and root for the local teams. Football season made it hard, but I cheered for the Redskins, hoping they would do well. However, my first impression was not a good one. They would find ways to lose every week, and it seemed that they fired a kicker every game - that was personal, as I used to be a kicker. I think after Week 5, I swore them off, but at that point hadn't thought much about the team name.

Where I grew up, my friends were White, Hispanic, Black, and Asian. I'm a special blend. The only Native Americans I knew were in my family. My friends and I grew up with a healthy sense of humor about our differences, and perhaps I was lucky not to have been born a certain color or in a place that made me a target because of how I looked. No one ever called me a "redskin." I had heard the term more historically, but never as a contemporary insult. On the contrary, people have always regarded my heritage from my dad's side with a certain reverence - even undue sometimes it felt.

Growing in my country and traveling quite a bit, I have gained some different perspectives. The United States is full of strangeness and inconsistencies. I remember the first time I heard a mayor refer to his city as a "chocolate city." Is that okay? It must be, since no one seemed to care. Some time later, Chris Rock did a standup routine that featured how peculiar it was that the Redskins team name exists, but would not be tolerable to name a team after any other racial group, especially with a pejorative. That resonated with me. I often posed the question to friends: "Why don't they change the name to Blackskins? Oh, would that be racist?" The team name never kept me up at night, but I always resented the double standard that I perceived. What's more, my thoughts on the subject - as a tribal member - didn't seem to change anybody's minds. So, I just decided not to watch the team, or if unavoidable to root against them.

There have been different opinions on the "Redskins" team name over the years, but what has seemed to be clear - owner Dan Snyder, Washingtonians, and 'Skins fans do not care what I think. As far as I know, before a few days ago, other than as a casual liberal stance, nobody really cared about the team name. Sure, some television announcers would find creative ways of referring to the DC football team without saying it, and you'd hear musings by miscellaneous White people from time to time. But FedEx didn't care. Pepsi didn't care. Nike didn't care... All of a sudden, people and corporations seem to care about changing the name - or to force a change rather - enough so that it seems inevitable that a new name is afoot.

Oddly enough, I've changed my mind.

DC, Snyder, you can keep your name, as far as I'm concerned. I don't care anymore. I won't buy your product, but I don't care about your team name. It's clear you are only considering a change because you may no longer have the option. People think they are doing some heroic thing by strong-arming a business that has no interest in changing their own image. As far as I'm concerned, the Redskins name is just the newest statue to bring down by force for points while everyone is watching.

Perhaps in Dad's wisdom, worrying about someone else's team or business name is a frivolous endeavor. Concluding that this far into my blog entry is actually somewhat annoying, but here we are. Perhaps Dad's pride in himself and the things he could control was what led him to chuckle at my question. Or maybe he liked the name. In any case, do what you like; it has no effect on my life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Exploring Qatar and the Delights of Doha

Getting to know the Middle East

National Museum of Qatar
Raise your hand if you think of the Middle East as one big scary sandbox in some far off corner of the world where no one knows how to play nice. I think I can speak for many Americans when I say that most of the countries from Libya to Pakistan are toward the bottom of our travel lists. However, if you do want to start exploring the region, I do suggest Qatar.

First of all, the place is fairly tiny, measuring close to fifty by one hundred miles - a peninsula nation sitting in the Persian Gulf, attached to the north of Saudi Arabia. Just across the gulf is Iran. I have mentioned before that if there isn't at least some small element of fear in your world travels, you're doing it wrong. This is not to say that Qatar should make you afraid - quite the contrary - but venturing here does seem a bit like you are very far from home and should be on your very best behavior.

Old world meets new

Dusty and quiet were my first impressions. The occasional call to prayer from nearby mosques cuts through the peaceful calm for the uninitiated, but after a while, it adds a bit of color to the simply tan-hued landscape which is much of the surroundings of the newer downtown skyscraper-laden big city. Men and women don what I would call robes, and are mostly conservatively, yet stylishly in many cases, covered from head to toe. The Westerner would see that as a requirement, but there is no such expectation that he or she follow suit. The souq is a market, or bazaar, and is a bustling tourist attraction come to life with hookah, coffee vendors, restaurants, and textiles. Some of the more affluent may be seen out with their falcons for a stroll. One thing you won't see is alcohol being consumed, unless you seek it out within the confines of certain more expensive hotels.

Traditional wooden dhow and Doha skyline

Culinarily speaking, I got a similar vibe to Singapore - that we were at a crossroads of many different cultures, and was hard-pressed to find something distinctly Qatari to eat. However, I did delight in being able to find Persian, Indian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and other cuisines from the broader region. Dates are a staple and are plentiful. Aside from Arabic coffee, one of my favorite drinks there is a boldly delicious and refreshing sweet lemon and mint. Shawarma lovers can indulge cheaply with beef or chicken cut from the spit and wrapped to go in toasty flatbread.

Lemon and mint beverage in Souq Waqif

Arabic is the official language of Qatar, but since Qataris are so rich, they have invited many Filipinos and other English speakers to do the work they don't want to do. Therefore, it is quite easy to get around speaking English most places you would be interested to go. The subway system is new and cheap and clean and glorious - only 2 Riyals (55 cents USD) to and from anywhere in the system. Soccer fans may already know the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be played in Doha, and the country is busy readying itself to accommodate. One of the top airlines in the world - Qatar Airways - connects the world to Doha and Hamad International Airport (DOH) is a quick and easy Uber or train ride from the city.

Katara Cultural Village

Friday, January 31, 2020

Is Mamba Mentality to Blame for The Girls' Deaths?

Don't hate me for asking the question. I'm a life-long Lakers fan as well as a Kobe Bryant fan. But even prior to the ascendancy and dominance of "The Black Mamba," I was a girl-uncle and a coach charged with the safety of teams of teenage girls.

How difficult must it have been to say no to Kobe Bryant? We'll get to the helicopter pilot in a minute. It seems the only time the Lakers organization told him no was when he asked to be traded. Over Kobe's career, he rightfully opened many doors for himself, gaining accolades and fame. Former teammates referred to his style as making people uncomfortable, which forced them to be better - setting a standard so high, while producing results, that those who did not crumble around him achieved a greater level of self. His work ethic and style of play became well-known and eventually revered. He became an international superstar.

Certainly, "Mamba Mentality" can be encapsulated by several tenets, among them: consistency, poise, pursuit of greatness, overcoming adversity, focus, relentlessness, no excuses, and fearlessness. Given the outpouring of respect after his passing for what Kobe Bryant was able to achieve as a basketball player, his approach to sport has become a bible for athletes and an enduring legacy for all who remember him. With his days as a professional athlete behind him, Kobe was able to apply his considerable talents, wealth, and celebrity to new endeavors in cinema and literary arts, charity, business, and youth sports. No doubt the "Mamba Mentality" continued to fuel his drive and color his influence.

We may never know the answers to the following questions, yet they should be addressed. Did pilot Ara Zobayan feel pressured to fly in unsafe conditions because of perceived or explicit expectations by Bryant? Did parents allow their 13-year-old daughters to fly in the fog in a helicopter because of similar expectations, out of infatuation with fame by association, or just a perception of safety? Did Kobe imagine flying when other helicopters were grounded was a better choice than waiting for clearer skies because of a basketball game? Was establishing the Mamba Academy two counties away from home (with LA in between), supposedly necessitating regular air travel, the best choice a father could make for his teen daughter and family? Do the pressures we put on ourselves and children, ostensibly to live our best lives, create greater risks than they should? Is it possible that the "Mamba Mentality" - seemingly rooted in self-centered goals and ruthless domination - may produce collateral damage for children off the court?

By all accounts, Kobe Bryant was a great man both on and off the basketball court. Nothing can take away from that. The vast display of achievements, good deeds, and love by this man will forever be etched in the minds of those with whom he shared space on this planet. The "Mamba Mentality" will endure as a guide and inspiration for athletes and others seeking greatness. I just ask that when it comes to the safety and well-being of children, we are able to consciously suspend ourselves from ego, ambition, and societal popularity on a regular basis to make decisions that do not put them in harm's way.