After Charlie Hebdo, Balancing Press Freedom and Respect for Religion | Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project

After Charlie Hebdo, Balancing Press Freedom and Respect for Religion | Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.

The Pew Research Center just released a poll on what Americans think of our constitutional right to free speech in light of the recent assassination of twelve French journalists by Muslims over the matter of a cartoon. The results are unnerving, to say the least. The Pew poll found that:

  • 24% of Americans are so self-involved and oblivious to current events they were completely unaware that Muslim gunmen entered the Charlie Hebdo Paris office and murdered twelve journalists because they were upset about cartoon having a bit of fun at Islam’s expense. That means about ¼ of American voters are so ill-informed they will likely make the wrong choice when going to the polls. No wonder Oregonians legalized marijuana.
  • Of those Americans who actually heard of Charlie Hebdo, only 60% believe that freedom of speech should extend to politically incorrect topics like criticizing Islam for their bad behavior.
  • What is worse, is that of the registered Democrats polled, only 55% supported freedom of speech, while a whopping 35% actually supported censorship of politically incorrect speech.
  • The only positive in the whole poll is that 70% of polled Republicans supported freedom of speech over the sensitivities of the most intolerant religion on the face of the earth. I think a mere 70% is a rather pathetic, milk-toast number, but it is the best in the poll.

Frankly, I am shocked that an America born and bred on JD Salinger’s once banned book, Catcher in the Rye, would be so flip about giving up our Constitutional Rights to satisfy the sensibilities of a religion that will not be satisfied until Judaism and Christianity are extinct and all the world is Islam.

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Who is Loyal to Whom? – Retail Loyalty Cards and American Privacy

I am privacy wonk. I do not like faceless people peering into my life anymore than I like peeping Tom’s peering into my windows. People who peek give me the creeps. They are the cockroaches in the walls of our lives. I am also a copyright wonk. I own everything I think up, whether it is has immediate value or not. I own the copyright to my books, my blog, my habits and attitudes as well as my shopping list. Anyone who copies my shopping list or my e-mails or my anything without my express permission has both violated my privacy and the copyright of my life. By virtue of my birth, I own the patent and copyright to my genetic material. Its value does not matter – it is not for the taking without my permission.

There was a time, not too long ago, where this discussion was not relevant. It was not possible for Corporate America and Big Government to record our every word, movement and purchase. No one could use our DNA for anything interesting. That time has come to an end. Today, through the unethical use of rapidly emerging technologies, corporations across the globe are copying and tabulating who we are for their own personal gain without our express permission or any compensation. What should be a seller’s market, where I set the price for my goods just like I set the price for my books, has become a thieves market where Big Business simply takes what they want… and then discriminates against consumers who have the unmitigated gall to try to protect their private information.

I live in a cookie-cutter copy of Every Town, USA. I have the same strip malls with the same chain restaurants and chain retailers that dominate the American shopping experience from sea to shining sea. I can divide these retailers into two rough groups. Those who require customers to sign up for a customer loyalty card in order to get advertised prices, and those who will honor their best price without discrimination of any sort. The goods and services they all sell are the same. They sell the same brands names from the same manufacturers. The everyday prices and advertised sales are generally similar, and there is not a discernible difference in quality of service. If anything, the everyday prices are higher and the service is worse at shops that require loyalty cards. The only real difference between the two groups is that one steals a copy of your shopping list, tabulates your purchasing habits, and attempts to create a hidden revenue stream using the copyright of your life without your permission and without compensating you, while the other offers you the same goods and services at the equal or better prices without spying on you and stealing from you. It is ironic that the companies demanding loyalty are in fact betraying their customers, while the ones who do not demand loyalty are actually demonstrating that very virtue.

Obviously, I do not use loyalty cards, but the average American consumer has eight. The only time I shop at businesses that require loyalty cards is when time and convenience outweigh the ensuing fight. Last month I was in such a situation. I was traveling out of town and needed fuel and a drink, and was not willing to drive out of my way to find it. I stopped at a major national grocery chain with a gas station in their parking lot and went in to get a soda and a snack. I picked out a couple of sale items and went to the register.

“I am not a Club Card member, but I want you to honor your advertised price,” I told the cashier. I was friendly, but firm.

“If you are not a Club Card member, I am not going to do that!” he was just as friendly and just as firm. He had a haircut that made him look like Princess Toadstool and ear gauges so big I could have drove my truck through them.

“Then I want to talk to your manager.” I smiled. I have had this fight before.

When the manager arrived, I explained I felt his company was discriminating against me, and that he should honor his advertised price. He grumbled and he frowned and he smoldered, but in the end, he pushed the Club Pricing button on the register and I got my soda and snack for the advertised price… but not before that asshole made me feel like I was a back-of-the-bus, second-class citizen. He really did not want my business if I refused to give him my name, phone number, address and e-mail address. So I paid cash, just to piss him off. I refused to even give him my credit card number.

Today, if you want the aggravation of that kind of fight, you can get most of these chumps to honor the sale price without the loyalty card. Tomorrow, I am not so sure. I can easily see a future where it is extremely difficult to buy, sell or trade, without registering first. If that is the future we get, it will be of our own making. Just check your key-ring and wallet and count all the retail loyalty cards. Why aren’t you shopping at the competition and rewarding them for respecting your privacy? In today’s world it is not possible to make yourself invisible, but that does not mean you should sell your soul for a buy-one-get-one 50% off vitamin deal. That is just 25% off each, after all.

My Friend, Tom Kozlowski

My friend Tom Koslowski died Monday, January 12th 2015 from complications secondary to cancer. He died in his tiny, one bedroom apartment, a man alone, forgotten by most of the world. There was no hospice or visiting nurse at his side. His elderly mother found his body on Thursday. She called me on Friday. You will not see his obituary in the newspaper, nor will there be a memorial service, because Tom was a member of America’s invisible population of mentally ill citizens. He did not have two nickels to rub together, few friends, and no family besides his mother. He was sixty-one years old.

Tom was a paranoid schizophrenic who bore a marked resemblance to Tolkien’s character, Gollum. People instinctively recoiled from him, as though he were a ghoul. I will tell you right now, he was one of the kindest, most honest souls I have ever met, and as much as the ill-mannered stares and rude whispers from “normal” people hurt him, he never held a grudge or wished anyone ill.

In a life where he very heavily relied on government agencies, caseworkers, and healthcare providers, Tom came to hate being a burden to other people. He did not drive, was terrified of public transportation, and did not have the stamina to walk any sort of distance. Going to the store or doctor or pharmacy always required the reluctant help of someone else. Sometimes it was a government-funded taxi or the TriMet Lift, and sometimes it was a friend or neighbor. Regardless, Tom always had to work the phones and beg for the transportation that you and I take for granted. It embarrassed him and he hated it. Sometimes, if he were in a bind, I would stop by his apartment and drop off his prescriptions on my way home. I would always stay for an hour or so to talk and, most importantly, to listen.

When Tom was as a little boy he wanted to grow up to be a doctor. He wanted to help people. His symptoms emerged when he was nine years old and, instead of being the doctor, he became the patient. He suffered a lifetime of cruel tricks at the hands of the voices in his head, not to mention those wounds inflicted by the world around him. While Tom was often reluctant to talk about his adventures in life – most of our conversations revolved around his medical needs – once in a while, if he was in the mood, he would tell me a tale or two from his past. Sometimes the stories were painful, but sometimes they were downright funny. The pragmatic, self-effacing humor he spun into his recollections made Tom a good storyteller. His tales were good enough that I offered to write his biography. It would have been a best seller, and I am confident it would have been an honest accounting of his life. Tom declined the offer for fear of the pain of dredging up a continuous history, much to my regret but with my understanding. While he considered himself a worthless human being, his story would have been more interesting than 99% of the biographies ever written. He was a good man and he survived a life in a world we little understand and greatly fear. He was anything but worthless.

In deference to Tom’s wishes, I am not going to commit those stories he gave me to writing. There is but one story of his that I feel a need to tell and that is his last one. Last autumn, Tom had to make a decision to fight his cancer or let nature take its course. He was physically quite frail, and odds of him surviving the procedures and treatments were not in his favor. His oncologist and GP were pushing him towards treatment, so he came to me for advice. Medically, oncology is far out of the scope of my practice, so I left the clinical question alone. Instead, I asked Tom, “If you go through the treatments and survive, then what?” Tom knew what I was asking. We all die. Life is the leading cause of death. Did he want to be comfortable for six months? Or did he want to be miserable for eighteen months? At his age with his health, no matter what, death was relatively imminent and inescapable.

Tom took this final decision very seriously. He made it with a clearer mind and a braver heart than most of my sane patients. In the eight years I had known him, he had spent every minute of every day managing his health. Despite his mental illness and other health problems, Tom had learned to enjoy life and did not want to die in the least bit. If he had any fight left in his body, he would have fought. He simply didn’t, and he knew it. He opted to let the disease take its course.

As much as he could be, Tom was a good son and very much loved his mother. This is why he protected her as long as he could from news of his cancer, not wanting her to worry over him. Besides him, she had little in the world, and he knew there was time enough for her to have sleepless nights. The gift of ignorance was the only gift he had the ability to give, and he did it out of love. She found out a matter of weeks before he passed. She was likely a bit angry with Tom for keeping the secret as long as he did. I hope she understands it was an act of love on his part. He carried her part of his burden as long as he could.

Tom Kozlowski was more than my patient. Over the years we had become friends. Friendship is an odd thing, and is often found in the most unsuspecting places. I am a richer man for having known him, and that is no small thing. I hope that now, free of disease and pain, Tom’s soul can look down from Heaven and see how he touched my life. The little boy who wanted to grow up to be a doctor is finally free. As long as I live, I will not forget him.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed: Muslim Communities Must Disown Muslim Extremism – Al Arabiya News

Murdoch: Muslims bear responsibility for terrorism – Al Arabiya News.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed’s comparison of Muslim extremism to Nazi extremism is an “elephant in the room” observation. Western society’s modern attempts at diplomacy with and appeasement of radicalized Islam are overtly Chamberlainesque. I believe al-Rashed when he says that if a peaceful solution is to be found, it must come from within Islam itself. I believe him when he says that radical Islam is creating an entire generation of global citizens born and bred hating all Islam. Citizens who currently despise the radicals because the radicals rape, pillage, plunder and murder in the name of God, are coming to despise peaceful Islam for turning a blind eye. I believe him when he says that, if Islam cannot exhibit self-control, the global answer will eventually be a real war, making  the minor skirmishes of the past three decades mere footnotes in history. God help us all if “Islam versus the World” becomes our World War III, but mostly God help Islam, because they will run out of bullets first.

Russia Facts Compared To Other Countries – Business Insider

Russia Facts Compared To Other Countries – Business Insider.

This is a simple reminder of how great America still is when compared to the rest of the world. What makes America great is our Constitution as written by our forefathers and respect for the rule of law. We only diminish as politicians, corporations and special interest groups seek to undermine and ignore the rule of law.

The Trouble With Ndamukong Suh

The point of war is to kill your enemy by any means that you may dominate and survive. The end justifies the means. That is why, while virtually every country on Earth has signed The Geneva Conventions, the standards of good conduct during times of war, the men and women who fight wars often ignore noble conduct and commit atrocities.

The point of athletic contests is to allow that natural competitive aggression that exists in our species an outlet without anyone getting killed. Athletics are the way that we challenge our opponents, fight our opponents, and vanquish our opponents in a controlled and regulated environment, all without bloodshed. At the end of the day everyone goes home to his or her family as though the competition never happened. No villages burned. While we like to use the metaphors of war to describe athletic contests, never have two more disparate activities existed for the human race. In war the end justifies the means. In athletics, the means is everything, and the end, the winning and losing, is nothing more than an observable outcome.

All sports are DEFINED BY THEIR RULES. Adherence to the rules is the whole point. That is why judo is judged differently than karate. They are different disciplines with different rules of combat. If you use karate in a judo match, you might disable your opponent, but you will be disqualified. You will lose because you cheated. At their very core, athletic contests are purely matters of honor and character.

As a society, we are very conflicted about this. We want honor in sports, but we also desperately want an entertaining spectacle. We create standards in the classroom and in life for athletes, but often bend those rules if the athlete can get us a win. Sometimes we come down hard on the athlete, effectively ending their athletic careers. Sometimes we look the other way, as though their terrible behavior is perfectly acceptable. Horrid things like rape, assault, cheating, child abuse get little more punishment than a stern, fatherly lecture as the paychecks are handed out.

Once Lance Armstrong was finally pinned down for doping, he was stripped of his titles, ostracized and vilified. Baseball’s Pete Rose was banned for life for gambling. NBA owner Donald Sterling was banned, not for doping or gambling or cheating, but for the all-American crime of thinking out loud.

On the other hand, NFL quarterback, Michael Vick, ran a brutal dog-fighting operation and served eighteen months in prison for the crime. The NFL practically sent a limousine to pick him up at prison gates. FSU quarterback, Jameis Winston, has been convicted of and implicated in a never ending string petty crimes and felonies since his teen years. He was rewarded for his behavior with the Heisman Trophy and will likely get a rich NFL contract when he leaves school. The NFL’s Ndamukong Suh, one of the leagues most penalized players, has been suspended twice and fined over $200,000 for his on field violations of the fundamental rules of football. Despite these minor slaps on the wrist, his coach loves him. The team owner loves him. By virtue of the fact he is still playing in the NFL means that the NFL commissioner loves him, as does the players union.

Suh is from my hometown. He is a young man who turned tremendous, God given, athletic ability into a $64 million, five year contract with the Detroit Lions. That is more than one million dollars a month, or about $6300/hour based on a full time work year. Kudos to him. I have idly watched his career for years. The only things that Suh lacks in life are the things money cannot buy – honor and good character.

There was a time when Suh would have made a tremendous warrior, a real Goliath who could lay waste to the enemy. However, as an athlete he lacks self-control and the fundamental understanding of why he is on the field in the first place. He thinks he is at war. This makes him a lousy athlete. He routinely violates the rules of conduct on the field in the attempt to win the game. He fails to understand that every time he violates the rules of the contest, his team loses. He loses. Even if the score is in favor of his team, he brings shame upon self and team when he cheats. He fails to understand that if his opponents decided to break those same rules to take revenge upon him, they could end his career with a single cheap shot. Unfortunately, because of his tremendous athletic ability, society not only gives this young man a pass, we have showered him with awards for athletic excellence. We want to see him lay waste to the offensive line on Sundays, so no one has the guts to take him to task. The in-game penalties, ejections, fines, and suspensions have not proven to be a deterrent, and no controlling legal authority has the guts to bench him for good. Not his coach. Not his general manager. Not his employer. And certainly not the NFL.

Call me a purist. Call me old-fashioned. The most gifted athlete may not be the best athlete. Character comes before skill and ability. It was a rule I lived by when I was an athlete, and it is what I expect of my children when they compete. I have no respect for coaches or athletes who are not good, honorable citizens first. If you disagree with me, I have a question for you: Who do you want your daughter to bring home? Russell Wilson or Michael Vick? Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston? Who do you want for a son-in-law? Ray Rice? Who do you want raising your grandchildren? Adrian Peterson? Think carefully now…

My Number One Rule(s) for Writing

  • The First No. 1 Rule of Writing: Write because you love to write for the sake of writing.
  • The Second No. 1 Rule of Writing: Don’t quit your day job.

The Rest of the stuff, agents, editors, publishing houses, marketing and the like, all comes later.

There are an estimated 130 million books written in modern history. Amazon gives readers access to more than 12 million titles. Around two thousand books are published in the United States every day, more books than the most voracious reader could consume in a lifetime. A book that sells 1,000 copies in this environment is a real success. Congratulations, your huge effort might just pay a month’s rent every few years. If you like sleeping indoors, you best get yourself a day job. An average journalist makes about $34,000 a year. A great journalist might pull in $70,000 a year. As you can see, even for the college educated, professional writers, writing is not about the money. You have better odds of getting rich by playing the lottery.

So what is writing about? It is about that endless quest to thread a needle in the dark… on the first try. It is about trying to compose that perfect sentence of that perfect paragraph of that perfect chapter of that perfect book. It is about expressing your thoughts with such extraordinary eloquence that, no matter the reader’s attitude, you impress them and leave them to ponder. I did it once. Oddly enough, it was neither a happy or satisfying moment. It simply was.

Writing is a form of art, no different from music or painting. I know quite a few talented musicians, professionals at the top of their trade. Some are actual headliners. The one thing they all have in common is day jobs. The lucky ones teach their trade, while the others work mundane jobs, all so they can perform in some bar or small venue on Friday and Saturday night. I have published two books, both of which are an intrinsic part of my family history and very much labors of love. Getting rich was never part of the equation. To me, writing this blog, one of more than 150 million blogs globally, is the same as picking at the guitar alone at night or sitting at an easel painting the mountains in the distance. I simply love words, language and writing. When someone else occasionally appreciates it, for good or ill, is just icing on the cake.