The unfortunate events in Ferguson, Missouri, yet another shooting of an unarmed black male by white police, along with some other recent shootings of blacks by cops, have led to increased discussion of the legacy of race in this country. It has also resurrected the discussion of "white privilege".

For those not familiar, white privilege is the notion that white people, in a society such as the United States, receive certain deference or privileges based solely on the color of their skin. The evidence can run from the trivial, blacks more likely to be followed in a store when shopping for example, to the more profound, such as blacks more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than whites for the same offense.

While some whites acknowledge the existence of white privilege, many do not. Some doubt its very existence or downplay its significance. For what it's worth here is the perspective of a white, middle-class, middle-aged American male who also used to be a "white privilege skeptic".

Growing up and in my earlier adult years I did not believe in white privilege. I'm sure my reaction to the notion was similar to that of many middle-class white males. My thoughts would have been something like this:

"What privilege? Nobody handed me anything on a silver platter. I had to work for my grades. I had to work to get into a good college. I didn't get in to any school because Daddy gave a big donation or knew the right person. And I had to find my own job. Mummy and Daddy didn't have one waiting for me at the family business, or put in a word with an uncle or a family friend to get me a job. I've earned what I have. So what privilege did I get?"

I even recall an incident sophomore year in college, sitting in our dorm room with my roommate, an aspiring pre-med student from Long Island. One of the freshmen on the floor came in to introduce himself. He was African-American. We got to talking and he told us he too hoped to go to medical school. Of course he threw in that he had to achieve a 2.75 GPA or so to insure getting in.

After he left my roommate looked at me with a smirk, shaking his head. He stated something along the lines of, "do you know what happens if I apply to med schools with a 2.75 GPA? I might as well not bother if that's what I have." And shook his head some more. 

Because while he and I could acknowledge that many blacks had been disadvantaged and deserved some breaks to account for that,  we chalked it up more to poverty than skin color. Sure, cut someone some slack if they came from a bad neighborhood with bad schools. But don't give breaks if they came from a suburban neighborhood and a decent school (as the aforementioned freshman had) just because they were black. Due to our middle class background we didn't see ourselves as privileged. We couldn't see where anybody had paved any paths for us.

This ambivalence concerning affirmative action and to the concept of white privilege stayed with me most of my adult life. It began to change when I served on the Board of Education in my town in Connecticut. 

About the same time as my service on the school board began the Sheff vs. O'Neill case had made its way through the courts. A brief summary for those who don't want to follow the link:

  • In 1989 several school children and their parents sued the state of Connecticut alleging that as urban and minority students they were not receiving an equal education compared to other children in Connecticut
  • In 1996 the Connecticut Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs and stated that every child in Connecticut was guaranteed an equal education as a constitutional right
  • In 1997 Connecticut's General Assembly (state legislature) passed laws in response to the Sheff ruling to attempt to eliminate racial and socio-economic inequalities in the public schools

Among the efforts supported under the legislation were seminars or group sessions within the schools concerning diversity. Our school board formed an ad-hoc committee to implement this aspect of the law. One of our board members (the only person of color on the board) ran diversity training and workshops as part of his business. He was a natural selection to head up the committee and run the workshops. They wanted another board member to participate as well. I don't know what the reasoning was, but I was asked to join the committee. With no real enthusiasm I agreed.

To say that the experience was educational and eye-opening is an understatement. The first group as I recall consisted solely of staff members from the district. Later groups would include parents and administrators. 

The first group focused on the changing demographics of our town and our schools. As with many communities we were seeing a growth in the Hispanic population in particular and minorities in general, while the staff remained almost exclusively white. We had a mix of "old guard" teachers, and younger Hispanic staff who were involved with ESL and other support services, in the first group. We met several times over a some months exploring diversity, understanding, etc. The discussions were very interesting and informative, at least to me who was in a position to really sit back and observe the interactions and perspectives of this diverse group.

One day the topic was white privilege. We watched a video of an Oprah show where racism and white privilege had been the focus. That did open me up to the concept of white privilege and lead to much discussion in the group. But it was a story told by my fellow board member during the group discussion after watching the video that somehow really drove it home to me.

He related a story of one of his first jobs at a corporate headquarters in New York City. I believe this was in the late 1960's or early 1970's. As you may imagine there were not too many people of color in the office at that time.

There was a really good soul food restaurant not too far from where their office was. So occasionally the minority employees got together to go there for lunch. At first they would meet up at someone's desk. Once they had all assembled they would then go out to lunch. As I recall we are not talking about more than 5 or 6 people, maybe even less. 

One afternoon after he had returned from one of these trips to the soul food restaurant my colleague was approached by his boss. The boss began by asking if everything was alright. The response was sure why do you ask?

The answer was that "they", the others in the office, had noticed the black people congregating and talking together and then taking off. Just wanted to be sure there were no issues, they weren't upset about anything, etc. My colleague answered that no they were just meeting to go out to lunch together to a local soul food restaurant.

From that day on whenever their group wanted to go out they always met on the sidewalk a short ways from the office before going to the restaurant. No sense making their bosses and co-workers nervous seeing the black employees together in one place, probably talking about "them".

That anecdote is what finally drove home the truth of white privilege to me. How silly. How stupid. And how exhausting. If a group of white employees ever gathered together before going off for lunch, or for any reason, would anyone have cared? Would anyone have noticed? Would it have made anyone nervous? Would anyone have mentioned it to them? No. No. No. And no.

From that day it was like the scales fell from my eyes. I won't pretend to be able to fully understand, or to "get it",  but I can empathize and at least understand at an intellectual level. And I can certainly see the many ways, both mundane and profound, that white privilege asserts itself in our society.

Whether it's not being able to congregate in a group, large or small, with people of like color without causing suspicion; whether it's being stopped outside a store because you, having dark skin, could not possibly afford that $350 belt and must be using a stolen credit card; whether it's driving or walking or sitting while black; or whether it's being steered to certain neighborhoods no matter your income or occupation; being suspended or incarcerated at higher rates for the same behaviors or crimes as whites; or to be considered threatening and therefore a justifiable homicide, simply due to your skin color and physical features; or gunned down in a store while holding a toy gun pulled off a shelf; or be met with a militarized heavily armed unit and tear gassed when peacefully marching for your rights; while all the while a white person can open carry automatic weapons into fast food restaurants, or point weapons at federal agents and be hailed as heroes and it is law enforcement that stands down to "avoid conflict"; the evidence for white privilege is ample and obvious, whether intellectual heavy weights like Bill O'Reilly care to acknowledge it or not.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show segment addressing Ferguson and the issues of race and white privilege probably summed it up as well as I've ever heard it:

"Race is there and it is a constant. You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it."



It's that time again. Election time. We just finished with a Republican primary in my home state for the gubernatorial nomination.

Both candidates promised the usual crap - they will cut taxes AND balance the budget.

How? By cutting spending naturally. And of course giving the "job creators" the keys to the store so they can steal us blind and "trickle down" some of their magic to us.

But mostly the promise is to "cut spending". 

Not just any spending mind you - but "wasteful spending". The term was even highlighted in one of the candidates ads.

How easy. How conveeeeeeeeeenient. How utterly ridiculous.

"I'm going to cut wasteful spending". It's the easiest promise to make in a campaign. And the most bogus.

Notice they never tell you what constitutes "wasteful" spending. And that's by design, because let's face it, everyone has a different definition of what government spending is "wasteful". One person's waste is another person's necessity and all that.

So the candidate doesn't tell you specifically what they will cut. He or she simply tells you they'll cut wasteful spending and leaves the rest to each voter's imagination. And each voter naturally assumes the candidate means the spending that benefits other, less deserving, people. People, who unlike them, haven't earned the government spending that comes their way.

So, the candidate gets to sound resolute and like a tough budget hawk. And not one specific promise has been made. Zero courage is required to come out against "wasteful spending".  Courage would come from defining it - during a campaign.
This past Sunday my wife and I put in a rear appearance at Mass. It wasn't what some might consider a traditional old-fashioned sitting in the pews kinds of Mass.

No, this was a service at an outdoor grotto at a local Shrine here in the northwest corner of Connecticut. Even so, it was still a Mass, with a priest, some singers, communion, offertory, the whole works.

We like going to this particular venue in the summer time. The weather was nice and it's a pretty setting. Plus the priests who do the services at this Shrine tend to stay away from the political and deal mostly with the spiritual side of the religion. The intermingling of the spiritual and the political is what had driven us away from regular attendance at mass at other churches in our area. There was no overt politics associated with this service, but the undertones were there anyway in interesting ways.

By way of context, we probably meet the criteria of "lapsed Catholics". Though technically I can't be a lapsed Catholic. I was raised and confirmed as a Methodist and have never converted to any other religion. Still ever since marriage to my Catholic wife (who attended parochial school through the 8th grade), and raising our sons as Catholics, my adult religious life, such as it is, has been spent attending Catholic services.

That is until some years ago when we just couldn't take it anymore. The steady preaching about the War on Christianity, the War on Christmas, the War against Marriage, the evils of the homosexual agenda, the terrible sin of abortion, got to be more than we could stomach. We stopped going. The last straw was when we attended a service shortly before the 2008 election because our beloved dog was fighting cancer and had survived a surgery. Like many we had made a bargain, "get her through this operation and we'll go to Mass".

The priest stood up there and said the Church would never tell anyone how to vote. He then proceeded to instruct the parishioners on how to evaluate candidates for public office. He basically said when it comes to choosing a candidate, "he/she can be on the right side of the issues of poverty, war and peace, social justice, capital punishment, but if they're on the wrong side of the issues of sex, marriage and abortion, then forget it". Words to that effect anyway. And of course the converse, a candidate could disagree with the Church's teaching on every other subject, but if they had the marriage being between a man and a woman and the abortion issue correct, that was your candidate.

Needless to say this upset us greatly. Since then we have even stopped being "Christmas/Easter Catholics" feeling no compunction to go to services even on those most holy of Christian holidays. Still, especially for my wife, all those years of parochial school and Catholic upbringing does exert a tug on the conscience. So in the summer we tend to make it to the shrine now and then to attend Mass. The recent passing of a good friend's brother probably was the immediate impetus.

So there we were. Now there was nothing political about the Mass itself or the homily. But I did find the bumper stickers on some cars in the parking lot telling. And later when we visited the shrine's gift shop so my wife could buy a sympathy card for our friend, it got even better.

The first sticker that caught my eye as we pulled into the parking lot was one of those "I Love My Wife" bumper stickers. For those who don't know those come from the Promise Keepers. This is a mostly right wing Christian movement of men whose basic tenet is that the general direction of society is anti-marriage, anti-fidelity, anti-family, anti-religion, but in the face of those tremendous pressures these men are not afraid to remain faithful to God, country and spouse and bravely put that on a bumper sticker for the world to see. 

Color me cynical, but if someone feels the need to publicly proclaim they love their wife and put it on a bumper sticker, well if I'm the wife I've got a good lawyer on speed dial.

The second bumper sticker I saw was after we parked the car and were walking out of the parking lot to the service. "Repeal Obamacare" it said. Yes, because as we all know Jesus was all about denying medical coverage to 15 million of your fellow citizens. The fact that many of those who now have coverage thanks to "Obamacare" are poor, working poor or those with pre-existing conditions, just makes it more likely they would draw the condemnation of the Son of God. I guess.

Okay at this point you could make the argument that these were just two cars, two parishioners among hundreds in attendance and not reflective of the mindset or politics of the entire group. A fair enough argument, and for all I know, true. I wouldn't want to generalize and paint everyone at the Mass with the same brush. 

Some good insight into the overall feelings of the shrine and its followers however could be found in the gift shop. My wife went in following the service to buy a sympathy card as noted above. While she perused the selections I scanned the two shelves of books offered for sale that stood nearby. Most of the offerings were religious in theme, but there was one shelf with the tag "Politics". 

On that shelf there was one of Tom Friedman's forgettable tomes about the Earth being flat, hot and crowded. Brilliant. And somehow one of Paul Krugman's books made it on the shelf. I suppose to give a passing nod to fighting poverty and caring about poor people. 

However the following were more representative of the books found on the "Politics" shelf:

  • Treason by Ann Coulter
  • Going Rogue by Sarah Palin
  • Two, count them two, books by Newt Gingrich

The other books by title seemed to point to being about the culture wars. I could feel the love for all of God's people just dripping off the shelf. I pointed the books out to my wife. She was especially upset seeing the Coulter book there. "She is so hateful." Indeed makes you wonder what her book is doing in a shop whose institution supposedly teaches "love thy neighbor".

As the final icing on the cake, as we got in our car and headed out there was a long line of cars making its way slowly down the narrow road from the Shrine to get back to the state road. We were behind a car displaying a bumper sticker identifying the driver as being a "Tea Party Patriot". Of course it was affixed to a Prius, which last I knew was widely ridiculed in conservative circles as the vehicle of liberal elites trying to sell us on that global warming hoax. So at least that person gets some points for some degree of independent thinking.

Again, I don't want to over-simplify and generalize as to the "typical" person attending services these days. Obviously from just the presence of me and my wife it would be dangerous to do so. But when every bumper sticker seen was associated with the politics of the Right, and almost all of the political books on the shelves in the gift shop likewise were from the Right, what conclusion can one draw? 

So yes not everyone going to these services is conservative or right-wing. But people who are conservative and right-wing, and not overflowing with charity toward their fellow humans, certainly feel welcome there.  

Today's installment of GOP projection comes courtesy of long-time conservative columnist, and noted baseball fan,  George Will. His piece apparently was in the Washington Post last Friday, 8/1, but it only hit one of our local papers this morning.

Decades ago Mr. Will was actually a columnist worth reading even if you rarely agreed with him. He was articulate and thoughtful. Even if you didn't reach the same conclusion he did, at the least he made you think. And more often than not he approached an issue from an angle that made you believe he was a decent and caring human being.

Unfortunately as he fights to remain relevant in the modern world of knee-jerk radical right wing punditry that has become the modern conservative movement, Mr. Will has descended to their level rather than attempting to elevate the discussion.

Case in point is the article noted above. Instead of thoughtful analysis we find just another conservative attempting to define and describe modern progressive politics. And in so doing we find them merely projecting their own partisan biases.

Will's main thesis is that Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a champion for progressive causes in the U.S. Senate, should be a major contender being talked about for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination. The fact the he is not, and that the only two people prominently mentioned are Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, can only mean one thing to the inquiring mind of George Will. It can only mean that Senator Brown is falling victim to that old bugaboo of the modern Left, identity politics.

He basically states the liberal wing of the Democratic party will never support a white male again for President. His version of "once you go black, you never go back" I suppose. No, in George's fevered imagination, you better be a woman, or black, or Latino, or a one-armed lesbian raised by same-sex, endangered wolves, or who knows what, if you want to be the Democratic Presidential candidate.

Of course as pointed out by saner types such as Dave Weigel in Slate, the more realistic explanation could be that Senator Brown has expressed zero interest in running for President, nor made any moves to even explore such as effort or put together an organization needed to take on such a challenge. Of course for that matter neither has Senator Warren who has steadfastly stated she will not run for President in 2016.

But why let pesky facts get in the way when instead you can repeat your prejudices about what progressives believe in and stand for?

And as Weigel also points out in his article, Will has been all too willing in recent columns over the last few months to play the identity politics card when it suits his purpose. He loves highlighting GOP candidates who are women or from more recent immigrant backgrounds. He then delights in dreaming about what impact their success might have on the Democrats claims that the Republicans are conducting a "war on women", or are somehow "anti-immgrant". 

God only knows where Democrats get such crazy notions. George Will can't figure it out either. So he can only conclude it is their slavish devotion to identity politics. 

Call me cynical, but:

I'm beginning to suspect that the Israelis might be, you know, intentionally, targeting those UN schools in the Gaza strip.

They warn Palestinian civilians to flee their homes. The civilians flee their homes, which are then destroyed, and they take refuge in UN schools.

The UN notifies the Israelis that there are civilians in their buildings and they should not be targeted.

The Israelis bomb the UN school, killing and injuring civilians they had encouraged to leave their homes because they were about to be bombed.


aka Neil's Special Circle of Hell.

So this past weekend my wife and I went to Boston and took in two games at Fenway Park.

We had tickets to the Saturday game already. Then a few weeks ago a friend of ours said he had tickets to the Friday game and was wondering if we wanted to go up with him and his wife.

So I attended back to back Red Sox games.

Full disclosure - I'm a Yankees fan. But my wife is a Red Sox fan. It's what we in Connecticut refer to as a "mixed marriage". But I do enjoy watching games at Fenway Park and have attended more baseball games there than any other park.

But they have begun a tradition over the last few years which has just become totally obnoxious. It needs to stop.

I'm referring of course to "Sweet Caroline". They play the old Neil Diamond song during the 8th inning break. So for two nights running I was treated to 35,000 plus people, with varying amounts of alcohol in their system, belting out parts of the chorus. 

Hands, touchin' hands
Reachin' out, touchin' me, touchin' you

Sweet Caroline
[crowd screams: "OH OH OH!"]
Good times never seemed so good
[crowd screams: "SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!"]

It. Has. To. Stop.

Okay I get it. There was the Marathon bombing. And the song became one of the rallying cries that helped the city through it. But enough is enough.

As Neil Diamond songs go "Sweet Caroline" was mediocre to begin with. And when you read in an interview that he was inspired to write the song after seeing a picture of a young Caroline Kennedy (probably about age 10) sitting on a horse, and then look at lines like "touchin' me touchin' you", it gets down right creepy.

So please Neil I'm begging you. Do the right thing. Stop the madness. Revoke your permission for the Red Sox to abuse, er I mean use, your song every damned home game. 

If not I fear there is a special circle of Hell reserved just for you.
Quick prediction.

The Roberts Court, and more specifically, its five radical ideologues, will go down in American history as one of the worst Supreme Courts ever, if not the worst.

The Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby cases especially will rank up (or down) alongside Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson as among the most wrong-headed in our nation's history.

Corporations are people.

Money equals speech.

Certain religious beliefs can take precedence over duly passed legislation and you, or more specifically your company, can get special exemptions from the laws of the land if you really, really sincerely believe something in the name of religion. Especially if that something deals with female sexy times for something other than making babies. And even if the belief is about how certain medical processes work (like birth control) - and the belief is demonstrably wrong!

And of course even if you continue to cover male contraception in the form of vasectomies but don't want to cover female contraception that also simply prevents fertilization from occurring.

Yep the Roberts Court is one for the ages. It just won't be quite the way the gang of five probably believes they should be remembered.

Something like that was the question posed by an attorney for the U.S. Army to Sen. Joseph McCarthy at the McCarthy-Army hearings during the anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950's. It is credited as the turning point where someone finally stood up to McCarthy and he could no longer bully people and end careers, etc. in his zealot pursuit of Communists in high places in American government.

It is time for such a moment regarding the situation in Iraq. More specifically with the people coming out of the woodwork to blame the current mess on Obama and his administration. Mostly, I was thinking of John McCain, but it applies to the usual suspects. All of those who designed, sold and were cheerleaders for a war of choice that was doomed from the start.

McCain, his "Smithers" Lindsay Graham (fans of The Simpsons will understand that reference), John Bolton, Ari Fleisher, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, any conservative or mainstream pundit or "journalist" who sold us on weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds, links to al Queda, we will be greeted as liberators, the war will pay for itself, it will be over in a matter of weeks, months at the most, there will be no problems between Sunnis and Shias, anyof the people who peddled that garbage should not be given the time of day ever again.

And all those who scoffed at and ridiculed those who questioned the build up to war, or stood by silently while critics or skeptics were silenced, their patriotism questioned, the warnings to "watch what you say" were made, the Dixie Chicks were "dixie chicked", as Phil Donahue lost his show on MSNBC for questioning the war on terror and the need to invade Iraq, as a CIA agent was outed as political payback for her husband calling out the President for one of his intelligence lies, as people who predicted the chaos that came in the wake of the invasion and that we see again now, were driven to the margins, and you did or said nothing.

You were wrong. Dreadfully, disastrously wrong. The hippies, the liberals, the anti-war freaks got this right. And many professionals in State, Defense and intelligence communities. They knew the intelligence didn't add up. They knew the history of the region and warned and predicted the insurgency and the sectarian violence then and now should we go in and destabilize the area.

But who do we see and hear from now? Largely the list from above, especially McCain and Graham. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. The surge never worked. We went in and paid off the Sunni tribal and militia leaders to stop fighting us and the Iraqi government. We even armed some of them to help us against other militant groups. And they told our soldiers as soon as you leave we're using these weapons against the Shi'ites. Thank you very much.

This was never "mission accomplished". It never was going to be. As many predicted the most likely outcome was always going to be civil war and a partitioning of the country into three parts. And the likelihood that some of those parts might be more closely aligned to Iran, or more radical and militant than Sadaam had ever been. And now these idiots want to say it's time to turn to the crowd that made the mistakes and got us into that mess in the first place to "make it work". 

If there weren't over 4,000 Americans dead, tens of thousands wounded and maimed, and trillions of dollars spent, those statements would be funny. But they aren't. So to John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and all the rest of that crowd, "have you at long last no shred of human decency"?

And one more thing to them as well - "shut the fuck up". 
Is it just me, or is there something a bit perverse in this craze of @HiddenCash that is sweeping the Bay Area and poised to move on to other places? 

I know it's great for the people finding the $100 bills in San Francisco and elsewhere. But in this era of outsourced jobs, shrinking opportunities for more and more people, the disappearance of the American Dream as it were, I can't help but have this image...

of a retreat somewhere where billionaires sit around, drinks and cigars in hand, having their agents plant prizes of what amounts to their pocket change. And then sitting back and entertaining themselves watching "the little people" scurry like rats to collect the crumbs. Maybe even thinking of the landscapes in the hunts as the laboratory maze.

I'll admit I'm torn by the decision of the House Democrats to participate in the House select committee on Benghazi.

On the one hand you can argue that the Democrats should participate to keep an eye on the GOP members and call them on the unadulterated bullshit that you know the proceedings will be.

But that presumes that Democrats inside the Beltway have spines and will stand up to the Republicans rather than merely roll over and try to appear collegial and bipartisan. Clarence Thomas hearings anyone?

I wish they had stayed away. Let the GOP single-handedly continue this farce. You can still hold daily briefings to "set the record straight". But now you have provided cover, a patina of legitimacy, to what at best can be called a charade. 

If only the inside the Beltway Democrats would listen more to the rank and file Democrats around the country, they, and the country, would be better off.