Saudi Arabia and Parenting: How to Persuade Bad Actors to Behave


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Tonight my wonderful son decided he didn’t want to eat his dinner. His belly only wanted desert he told me repeatedly. But of course, you don’t get desert if you don’t eat your dinner. So, he cried, screamed, begged and pleaded his case to no avail.

When his sister got her desert his pleas only got louder. Still, no dinner, no desert. Finally, he relented, reluctantly eating his dinner before being allowed chow down on his much-desired desert. Now imagine if I had handled that differently.

Say I made a deal with him along the lines of “if I give you your desert now do you promise to eat your dinner afterwards?”. Now every parent reading this knows exactly how this would have worked out. He would have taken the deal in a heartbeat, eaten his desert then promptly refused to eat his dinner.

It’s common sense that this strategy wouldn’t work, yet it’s exactly the type of strategy that the United States is currently deploying with Saudi Arabia. We agreed to sell them 110 billion dollars of war materials; tanks, missiles, guns, etc.… and in return we got a meager investment into our already thriving military industrial complex.

We decided to sell weapons to a nation that orchestrated 9-11 (15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudis) and hid away Osama bin Laden for years (and we trusted the government so much to help us catch him that we didn’t bother to inform them when we conducted a military raid in their country to get him).

And what happened in return? Saudi Arabia used those weapons to conduct human rights violations in Yemen (killing thousands of civilians, raping women, conducting torture, and using child soldiers as young as 8 according to the UN) and kill journalists in foreign countries.

And yet the United States continues to sell them weapons to bolster their military. It’s beyond time that the United States wakes up to the fact that you can’t persuade bad actors like Saudi Arabia to behave responsibly after you’ve given them their desert.

 

White Privilege and High School Football: How I realized racism is still alive and well today

When I was 20 years old I worked for a newspaper company down in Abilene, Texas going around covering high school football games. I didn’t get paid much but I had it pretty easy, I would go to small towns all around the area (and in Texas “the area” means up to an hour and a half away) and record stats and write a brief story about it after the game.

For a sports nut like myself it was a dream job, I got to watch a bunch of football games and bring home some extra cash in the process. Still the biggest takeaway from the job happened at one game, and it had nothing to do with football or writing.

The game was in a small town called Comanche, population 4,335. The day started out like any other, driving through the barren desert that is West Texas, out to a small town and following all the other cars to the stadium. I gathered up my laptop, notepad and other materials that I would need to cover the game and headed into the stadium.

I got to the gate told them that I was with the paper and they let me in. No credentials or anything, it wasn’t needed, who else could the stranger in town coming to watch their beloved Indians be? So, I trekked my way up to the press box and gathered my bearings.

There were the coach’s rooms (because only in Texas would you need two coaches calling plays down to the sideline from the press box for high schools of 50 kids), the radio and stadium announcer’s box, and a separate press box for me.

The press box was tiny, four seats across and already there was another man sitting in there. I headed in and set up my stuff, so I would be ready before the game started and struck up a conversation with the man beside me.

I’d done something similar at every game I’d went to, everyone had always been more than generous to me proving true their southern hospitality that you’re always hearing about. I’ve been offered free food and drinks, programs, and anything else that I could possibly need up in a press box.

This man was no different at first. The conversation that we struck up was much like the conversations that I had at every other game that I had covered. We started by talking about the game that we were about to watch and trust me when I say that everyone in a small Texas town is an “expert” when it comes to high school football.

The conversation went from that to college ball, and inevitably to the NFL. Now this was before players started kneeling during the anthem, but after the Ray Rice debacle showed how the NFL repeatedly tried to brush domestic abuse under the rug.

So, to me the man’s question of “Do you know what’s wrong with the NFL today?” didn’t seem out of sort. There were PLENTY of things that he could be talking about. So, I answered with what I thought was an intelligent response about how players coming from nothing are suddenly bestowed with millions of dollars and didn’t know how to handle it.

What I heard next from this stranger legitimately stunned me. He cleared his throat and said “No it’s more than that. The problem is all the black people”.

Now I’m not from Texas, my formative years were spent in a rural town in Pennsylvania. And we had racism, but not like this, at least not that I had experienced as a white male. People from my town know, and for the most part accept, that racism isn’t cool. So racist behavior, for the most part, is confined to the confines of one’s friends and family. In public you wouldn’t dare come out with it. So never in my life had I heard a full-blown racist rant before.

But while I sat there still stunned from the man’s second sentence that’s what I started to hear. He continued “You see the problem is somewhere along the line people got it in their head that black people are better athletes then whites, and that’s just not true. Just look at Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and all their receivers, they’re all white because whites are better athletes”.

Now I was only 20 at the time and I wish I could say that I had this super witty response or put him in his place. But still I knew that I didn’t want to keep hearing this man talk about how the white race is superior to all others.

So I did what I thought would help and started listing prominent African American receivers that both quarterbacks had played with, before finishing up by talking about how in some areas African Americans are generally athletically superior to Caucasian athletes (it helped that I had just finished reading The Sports Gene which is a book that high lights these physiological reasons for these differences).

But before I could finish my point he cut me off “no, no no. You see it’s just all in your head. White athletes are far superior. And the problem is that enough people in the NFL think like you, so they keep drafting blacks. They’re like animals and they can’t control themselves”.

Now I’m sitting there wondering how my perfectly normal conversation about football had morphed into this conversation based in nothing but bigotry. Bewildered how quickly it had gone from normal to insane. I guess the man realized that he had made me uncomfortable because he up and left or maybe he just didn’t want to deal with me anymore.

But the conversation with this man got me thinking in a way that I never had before. It made me think of my African American coworkers, especially the ones that worked at the newspaper with me. All that hospitality that I had experienced in every small Texas town, would I have still gotten those warm smiles and offer of food if I was black? Did they?

This was before I had ever heard of the term “white privilege”, but in that moment I understood it. I never wondered if the people I shared a room with were racist or not. I never had to worry about how they were going to treat me based off the color of my skin.

And if you’re a white male like myself and you haven’t had an eye-opening moment like this I don’t think you can ever fully understand how privileged you are. It’s not until you take a step back and look at what other people must go through can you understand how lucky you are.

Who do you believe, Kavanaugh or Ford? Depends if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.

Mike_Pence,_Brett_Kavanaugh,_Mitch_McConnell,_and_Jon_KylEven in the post-Trump world of US politics not many things have garnered the level of attention and controversy that his confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh has brought.

Still it’s just another example of the stark political divisions that reside within the country today. Think about it, and whether you believe Judge Kavanaugh or Doctor Christine Blasey Ford can almost always be answered by one simple question, are you a Republican or a Democrat?

And if you think your side has the moral high ground, think again. Because I can guarantee you that if the roles were reversed and it was a Democratic nominee being contested by Republicans you would almost certainly feel the exact opposite of your current stance. All one needs to do is look back at the allegations surrounding former President Bill Clinton to see this.

Think about the situation objectively for a second. A Supreme Court nominee stands accused of sexually assaulting a woman 36 years ago while he was in high school. Currently only two people know what truly happened that day 36 years ago, Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford.

If you claim to “know” otherwise you’re only fooling yourself. You choose to believe Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Ford, and your belief is likely directly tied to your political views.

If the Senate confirms Judge Kavanaugh and he is guilty they just put a rapist on the Supreme Court. If they deny him the chance to serve on the Court and he didn’t do it, they just ruined an innocent man’s life. It’s an impossible decision to make if you aren’t being influenced by outside factors, which is why the issue is so starkly divided by political lines.

More importantly though, nothing being said in the Senate is going to change anyone’s mind. Republicans will believe Judge Kavanaugh and Democrats will believe Dr. Ford, and once again the political lines that divide this nation will be dug a little deeper.

Both sides need to step back and realize that the accusations around Judge Kavanaugh can never be proven or disproven, and that if they were on the other side of the aisle, they’d be believing the other person. Instead of focusing on the accusations we should be looking at his record on the issues that he will be addressing if he is nominated to the Court.

As a nation we need to start looking at the issues that matter in the country and start ignoring some of the political and media fluff that is designed to draw votes and money.

 

Dear NFL: Take a Knee

Washington Redskins National Anthem Kneeling
Photo Credit: Keith Allison: Raiders at Redskins 9/24/17

With the recent changes to the NFL policy regarding player conduct during the country’s national anthem, and the decision by President Trump to withdraw his offer to the Eagles to show up to the White House for the annual Super Bowl Celebration, the spotlight has turned back to the player protests during the anthem.

The issue has often been convoluted into something it’s not, with many individuals labeling the protesting players as “unpatriotic” or claiming that they are “disrespecting the military”. But by shifting the focus of the protest to something that it has never been about allows those opposed to it to avoid what needs to be talked about, the racial disparities and inequalities present in our country today.

In 2017, 457 white individuals were shot and killed by police. In that same year 223 blacks were shot and killed. This is despite the fact that 63.7 percent of the population is white, while only 12.2 percent of the population is black.

So statistically speaking if you reversed the population percentages (so 63.7 percent of the population is black while 12.2 percent of the population is white) you would have 1,164 black individuals shot and killed by police, and 88 white individuals. And if all these numbers just seem like gibberish to you just remember this one, in the country today blacks are more than 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police then a white individual.

The sad fact is that this is just one statistic representing the disparity in the way our police force handles black individuals. When you look at statistics on police brutality and other means of excessive or deadly force, the trend remains roughly the same. Blacks are more than 2.5 times more likely to be brutalized by police.

Take a step back here and forget about all the protests and just look at the numbers. It’s clear there is a problem that needs to be addressed. So instead of worrying about the fact that players are kneeling during the anthem, look at WHY they are kneeling.

And in the meantime, lose all that gibberish about the kneeling disrespecting the military, kneeling during the anthem was RECOMMENDED by a veteran to Colin Kaepernick, the athlete that got all this started.

And lose the nonsense stating that kneeling during the anthem makes them “unpatriotic”. This is the country where protesting is your constitutionally guaranteed right and exercising that right surely doesn’t make you hate the country that grants that right to you to begin with, in fact, it might make the individual exercising that right even more grateful to be in a country where they have that right. And wouldn’t that make them even more patriotic?

But most importantly, don’t lose focus on the reasons behind the protests. And if you really want them to stop, start by correcting the issues that caused them in the first place.

Roseanne and Racism: How did we get here?

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Roseanne Barr, star of the show Roseanne, was fired by ABC following a racist tweet comparing Valerie Jarrett to a monkey, and conservatives collectively lost their minds.

Let’s begin by getting one thing straight, comparing an African American to a monkey is racist. Failure to recognize this overlooks years of racial oppression and the use of this comparison to marginalize Africans’ and African Americans’ for years. It is racist (If you still can’t wrap your mind around that read more about it here).

Secondly, conservatives being “outraged” by a private organization choosing to act on an individual for making a “political statement” is laughable. After years of conservatives preaching that the NFL should punish players for kneeling during the national anthem, they claim outrage that a private organization can punish an individual for exercising their free speech.

The same conservatives that voted for Donald Trump, who said this about the NFL protesters “Wouldn’t you love to see one of those NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

You don’t get to get upset when every private organization doesn’t follow your political and personal ideology. You either continue to support the company or you don’t. Personally, I don’t see a problem with a company condemning racism.

The fact that this has divided the country epitomizes what exactly is wrong with the United States today. Racism in all it’s forms must be stamped out. Since when did that reemerge as a partisan issue? Since when did open racism become acceptable once again? And more importantly, how do we condemn it once and for all?

Genetic Sequencing and Your Privacy: Should You Be Worried?

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Photo Credit: Max Pixel

Genetic sequencing was used to catch the Golden State Killer in a way that it never has been before. And because of the phenomenal result the privacy implications of what was done has been largely overlooked (to check out how police used genetic sequencing to track down the killer click here)

To be clear, getting a serial rapist and murderer off the streets is a fucking phenomenal result. But it shouldn’t be used to justify the ethical quandary of the methods that they used.

So, what did they do exactly? They used publicly available genetic information on millions of individuals to track down the identity of the killer without having the genetic information of the killer himself. Instead, they found the genetic data from the killer’s relatives and were able to utilize that data to determine who the killer was.

Where does the potential ethical dilemma arise? It’s with what else that publicly available data can be used for. As an example, your genetic information can be used to tell if you are more susceptible to certain diseases or health conditions.

The problem isn’t that the police used this information to track down the killer, they’d be foolish to not utilize the databases that are available to them. The problem is that ANYONE can access many of these databases.

Think about if a potential employer had this data. Two applicants, one who is more susceptible to develop cancer than the other. Which do you hire? The individual that is more likely to get sick, miss time from work, and raise your company’s health insurance costs, or the individual that is more likely to stay healthy?

Of course, using this data to determine who you are going to hire is illegal. Just like it’s illegal to pay a woman less than a man for the same day’s work. You see how well that’s going.

The obvious solution is not to put your data out there, that way you are protected right? Wrong. The problem is that even if you protect your data what the police investigating the Golden State Killer proved is that your data is extremely similar to your relatives’ genetic data.

But we already knew this, that’s why brothers often look so similar. So, do you have a family member in the military? A convicted felon? Register for a program like GEDmatch? If so your information is already compromised.

The Dangerous War on Media

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The war on the media is stronger then ever. If you haven’t heard the term “fake news” you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years. Yet it’s still gaining traction every day and the results are dangerous.

First let’s clear a few things up, every journalist has a bias. You see journalists are human, just like you and me, and if you think you can write a political story without any bias you are only fooling yourself. Bias is a human condition, and as such will always be present in the work created by humans.

Second, most journalists that write for national media outlets in the United States have a liberal leaning. This doesn’t make the stories that they cover “fake news”, but it does mean that most national news stories will have a liberal bias. But it doesn’t change the fact that the facts presented in their stories are just that, facts. You see you can disagree with facts all you want, but a fact will remain a fact.

Facts are something that President Trump has convinced himself, and many of his supporters, changes depending on the bias of the story. Yes, a biased story might mean that there is more to the story that isn’t being presented but it doesn’t make it “fake news”, and the facts presented remain relevant.

News today isn’t any more or less biased then it’s been in the past, the difference is that people used to know how to pull the facts out of the story that they were hearing and form their own opinions. They used to get the story from more then one source to make sure they got the whole picture.

Americans today have lost that ability.

And as such Americans are gullible to attacks labeling legitimate media sources as “fake”. You see once you start labeling a news source as fake you have no way of distinguishing reality from fiction. Certain politicians would have you believe that all news sources are fake. Once they convince you of that the only person you feel like you can trust for your information is them. And if they are your news source they can convince you of anything they want to. And at that point you are following the most biased source of all, the politician.

Boy Scouts, Masculinity, and Feminism: The Hard Truth

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Every time a story about Boy Scouts of America allowing girls to join their organization pops up on one of my newsfeeds I scroll through the comments and am appalled with what I see. The amount of resistance to the idea is horrendous. A private organization has decided to change their policies to try and be more inclusive and the world responds with hate.

Who cares if they decided to allow girls to join? Why does it matter? As someone with both a son and daughter I don’t see why my son should have the opportunity to go camping and learn survival skills while my daughter is told to go sell cookies. And honestly, I don’t understand why my son can’t sell cookies if he wants to.

But it’s not until you understand the basics of masculinity and feminism that you can make sense of either the reason for the change or the opposition to it.

The right wing screams that masculinity is dying or dead, but what they fail to realize is that feminism is doing the same thing. Feminism is evolving into masculinity, and masculinity is evolving into feminism. But this only makes sense if you understand what both feminism and masculinity used to be, so you can understand what they are becoming.

Being masculine used to mean that you drank beer, watched football, and objectified women. It used to mean that you protected and provided for your family. It used to mean that you took care of your family by going to work every day.

Feminism used to mean that you stayed at home and were submissive to your husband. It used to mean that you were meek and quiet. It used to mean that you raised your kids and loved them unconditionally. It used to mean that you took care of your family by staying home every day.

But now that changes.

Masculinity still means that you protect and provide for your family, but now it also means that you raise your kids and love them unconditionally. It means that you take care of your family at both work AND home. It means that you can still drink beer and watch football, but that you respect women, even in the locker room.

Feminism still means that you raise your kids and love them unconditionally, but now it also means that you protect and provide for them as well. It means that you take care of your family at both work AND home. It means that you can drink beer and watch football, and that you respect men, even in the locker room.

You see they’re becoming the same thing, as they should be. And in a world that defines masculinity the same way it describes feminism there is no longer a need for an organization that raises boys to become men in a different manner then it raises girls to become women.

Feel free to let me know what you think in a respectful manner in the comments below!

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: You’re Missing the Real Issue

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There are two groups of people that are upset by the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal rocking the world right now. There are those upset because they are just now realizing that they have no privacy on the internet, those that are upset that Facebook sold that information to a foreign individuals and governments to try and influence elections.

The former group’s outrage is based off their own ignorance. No, those posts you put on Facebook telling them they can’t use your information didn’t do anything. The fact that you thought it did would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. You don’t get privacy on the internet, especially when you are using a free service. That’s not going to change, nor should it. It’s what allows services like Facebook to make money while offering a free service.  

The second groups concerns have more merit, but what is going unaddressed is the disturbing underlying reasons on why this is such a problem. No, I’m not talking about the overall plethora of groups that have probably been doing this long before the 2016 election. And no, I’m not talking about the fact that Facebook could have and should have done more to prevent this.

What I’m talking about is that sad fact that this might be an effective way to influence elections in the United States. The founding fathers knew that the republic that they had created was entirely dependent on a well-educated populace to be effective.

That well-educated populace would not be susceptible to such rudimentary tactics by foreign entities to influence our elections. With all the ways the people can access information today there is no reason for people to be swayed by biased or outright false ads on a social media platform. With the information available people can independently verify or determine where each candidate stands on each issue and be able to determine the truth behind any other claims being made.

But the sad fact is that a large portion of the country is unable or unwilling to do this. This leads to a large portion of the country voting in an election that they really don’t know much about.

And yes, the way that Facebook sells ads on their platform needs to be addressed. But unless we address the underlying issue that makes Americans so susceptible to attacks like this we can rest assured that Cambridge Analytica won’t be the last group to exploit it.

Chemical Warfare: The “Red Line”

Missile Strike.jpgThe coalition strikes in Syria has been subject to a lot of scrutiny and speculation on what is going to happen next. Realistically though, not much is going to change. The fact that the United States didn’t act alone all but assures that.

There isn’t much worry about what Syria is going to do in response, mainly because there isn’t much they CAN do in response. They are going to rely on other countries that support them, like China or Russia, to respond for them, with the only country that might even think about doing something being Russia.

And while the recent strikes are sure to raise tensions, especially between the United States and Russia, I don’t foresee anything else happening, in part because tensions with Russia were so high in the world to begin with.

Russia doesn’t want to get involved in World War III more than any other country in the world, and they know any direct action against United States troops will lead to just that. And by not acting alone, the world has shown that they stand behind the United States against Syria and Russia when it comes to chemical warfare.  

What this latest strike has shown, and will continue to show, is that the United States and President Donald Trump are serious about cracking down on chemical attacks throughout the world. It shows that if chemical weapons are used that the United States will respond. It’s a welcome change in policy from the Obama administration who had set a “red line” on chemical warfare only to back down when the illicit weapons were used.

Quickly, efficiently, and lethally responding to chemical warfare isn’t a partisan issue. If you don’t think that chemical attacks should be retaliated against with lethal and overwhelming force, then you are a part of the problem. Because as the saying goes, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.