Mike Kueber's Blog

October 7, 2014

Really listening

Filed under: Culture,Relationships,Self-improvement — Mike Kueber @ 1:18 am
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Last month when I was visiting with a friend in my hometown of Aneta, ND, she mentioned a high school chum who regularly returns to Aneta for its summer festival in June. This chum lives an outwardly successful life in a large urban area, yet still seems to enjoy returning to the small-town rural charm of Aneta and reconnecting with the people she grew up with. But something in their conversations has begun to bother my friend.

It seems that my friend and her chum usually bump into each other before or after Aneta’s small parade on Saturday, and invariably they have a warm and friendly chat for a few minutes before moving on. At first, these conversations were very satisfying, with the polished urban person asking appropriate questions and apparently enjoying the conversation. But lately my friend has realized that her chum asks the same questions every year, not unlike the movie Groundhog’s Day.

Although the repeated questions might not be immediately insulting, my friend has gradually become insulted because she has concluded that her chum is merely deploying her social graces in answering the appropriate questions and is not actually listening to or remembering her answers.

I think my friend is right.

One of my happy-hour friends complains that I often ask him the same question on multiple occasions, and I have to confess that this happens when I am making conversation with him instead of being hugely interested in what his answer is.

Don Imus has the same problem. Several times I’ve noticed him ask a guest something that I recalled he asked the same guest several weeks ago, and occasionally the guest will even point that out. Obviously, Don was making conversation in the earlier interview and didn’t particularly care what the guest’s response was (even though Imus takes great pride in asserting that, unlike other media interviewers, he actually listens to the answers and then lets those answers dictate the direction of the interview).

So, is this a teaching moment? I’m not sure. Obviously, it would be nice to be sincerely interested in your conversation, consistent with that old saying, “Be here now.” But sometimes a person is engaged in casual conversation that is not significant.

Do I want to waste my scarce brain cells remembering that? I vote yes, and I’m going to redouble my efforts here.

October 1, 2014

Exercising my brain over whether George Clooney married up

Filed under: Culture,Facebook,Media,Philosophy — Mike Kueber @ 5:56 pm

A Facebook friend, Ronda, recently commented favorably on an article that suggested the world’s most eligible bachelor, George Clooney, had actually married up when he won the hand of “internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin.”

Because I was feeling a bit feisty, I decided against letting this silly suggestion pass and commented as follows:

  • Mike:  Clearly, Clooney was being self-deprecating, at least in the arena of worldly achievement. To suggest he is marrying up reminds me of people who say that a great athlete is even greater as a person. Although there is a mechanism for identifying and recognizing worldly achievement, there is no such mechanism for identifying truly great persons.
  • Ronda:  Mike, my point was that mass-consumed publications imply that he was a “catch” for her, when vice-versa is equally, if not more, true. At least in the arena of being accomplished in a particular field.
  • Mike:  Ronda, that was my point, too – Clooney was considered to be one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. Amal? Not as much. Surely, she is exceptionally accomplished, but her accomplishments are surely overshadowed by his. I am not, however, suggesting that he has lived a better, more fulfilling life. He may have married up, and that is a good thing for any newlywed to think.
  • Ronda:  We will have to disagree on this one. She is an expert on human rights issued who’s often called upon to speak to the UN. He’s an actor.
  • Mike:  Agreed, Ronda. But I don’t think you do Clooney justice by calling him merely an actor. According to Wikipedia, “He is the only person ever to be nominated for Academy Awards in six categories (writing, producing, directing, and acting) …. In 2009, he was included in Time’s annual Time 100 as one of the Most Influential People in the World. Clooney is also noted for his political activism and has served as one of the United Nations Messengers of Peace since January 31, 2008. His humanitarian work includes his advocacy of finding a resolution for the Darfur conflict, raising funds for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2004 Tsunami, and 9/11 victims, and creating documentaries such as Sand and Sorrow to raise awareness about international crises. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.”
  • Ronda:  This isn’t worth arguing about.
  • Mike:  I wasn’t arguing. I am retired and was giving my brain its daily exercise.
  • Ronda:  He IS good looking, though.
  • Mike:  In my quotation from Wikipedia, I used an ellipsis for deleting the following information – “In 2005, TV Guide ranked Clooney #1 on its”50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list.” I didn’t think it helpful to my case to sexualize him.

Incidentally, because Ronda quickly tired of this discussion, I decided against fully elaborating on my initial comment about great athletes whom some suggest are even greater persons.  I touched on the point that greatness as a person is highly subjective, but I failed to expound on how rare great athletes are.  In most situations, being in the top 10% is special and the top 1% is wonderful.  But great athletes are actually rarer than the top 1% of the top 1%.  Based on these numbers, none of us know enough people to place some individual at the top of some huge pyramid.

That’s enough exercise for today.

September 30, 2014

Women in the Secret Service

Filed under: Culture,Fitness,Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:00 pm
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Washington, D.C. is abuzz about the most recent Secret Service lapse. How could a man with a knife jump the White House fence, run 70 yards to the North Portico entrance, barge over a Secret Service agent guarding the front door, and finally run past the staircase and into the East Room before being tackled by an off-duty agent on his way home? Director Julia Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the agency and the first female director, spent the day being grilled by a House committee for this debacle.

According to an article in the NY Times:

  • In response to repeated questions about the recent intrusion, Ms. Pierson offered new details about the moments before Mr. Gonzalez was finally captured. She said he made his way through the unlocked front doors, “knocked back” an agent inside the building, and then fought with the agent as he continued through the Entrance Hall, turned left into the Cross Hall, got a few steps inside the East Room, and was finally tackled back in the Cross Hall, just outside the Green Room.

Although the incident is replete with obvious security lapses, including the unimpeded 70-yard dash and the unlocked front door, the one that no one has discussed is the fact that the agent at the front door who was “knocked back” and shoved aside was a women. The unexamined question – is it appropriate for a woman to serve in that role?

Women have been a part of the Secret Service as agents and uniformed personnel for over 40 years. More recently, women have been allowed to compete for positions in military combat units. (Read about Sage Santangelo’s unsuccessful attempt to become a Marine Corps infantry officer.)

But service by a woman in the President’s protective detail seems even more problematic, and this White House incident illuminates the problem. The man who breached the White House while brandishing a knife was eventually tackled by a man. At the Congressional hearing, according to the Times article, a congressman suggested that the intruder should have been shot before getting to the East Room:

  • Chaffetz angrily questioned Ms. Pierson about why the Secret Service had put out a statement that said its officers had exhibited “tremendous” restraint of force when the intruder breached the fence. He said that he wanted it to be “crystal clear if you dash at the White House we are going to take you down.” Mr. Chaffetz said that the Secret Service should take lethal action because even if intruders do not appear to be armed, they could be strapped with an explosive device or dirty bomb. Ms. Pierson responded that officers can only use lethal force if a person poses an imminent danger to themselves or others. She said that based on what had occurred, she believed that the officers had used proper restraint.

How the hell can Ms. Pierson say that the female agent at the front door of the White House, after being knocked aside by a knife-wielding intruder, showed proper restraint in not blasting the intruder?

More importantly, wouldn’t America and President Obama be better served by having a bulky guy guarding the front door, sort of like a barroom bouncer, or even better, like the offensive linemen that guard Peyton Manning? Those guys would be excused for tackling the intruder instead of plugging him.

September 27, 2014

The politically correct buffalo Stephen A. Smith

Filed under: Culture,Media — Mike Kueber @ 5:27 pm
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A Facebook friend recently posted a complaint about ESPN’s relatively excessive suspension of Bill Simmons:

  • Bill Simmons received a three week suspension by ESPN for criticizing Roger Goodell. That’s two weeks longer than Stephen A. Smith’s recent suspension. Apparently criticism of the NFL commissioner is worse than telling women not to provoke men if you don’t want to get hit.

I wasn’t familiar with Smith’s suspension, so I research it and learned that it was related to Ray Rice’s domestic assault on his then fiancée. Apparently, Rice’s fiancée, who eventually married him, claimed some responsibility for the assault by admitting that she provoked Rice. Smith merely elaborated on that point:

  • What I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family — some of who you all met and talked to and what have you — is that … let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come — or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know — if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you.

The politically-correct were outraged by Smith’s comment. ESPN’s Michelle Beadle led the charge against Smith by suggesting she would wear a mini-skirt to work, implying that Smith-type thinkers would feel provoked to rape her.

That’s crazy. Violence is often provoked by the ultimate victim, and Smith was merely treating women as equal to men for this character flaw. After taking heat for a few days, Smith bowed to the politically correct and apologized profusely:

  • On Friday, speaking right here on ‘First Take’ on the subject of domestic violence, I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career. My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault. This was not my intent. It is not what I was trying to say.

This case is another blatant example of the politically correct whining about “insensitive” conversation.

Emma Watson on feminism

Filed under: Culture — Mike Kueber @ 12:13 am
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A female Facebook recently posted a quote from Emma Watson on feminism, taken from a speech that Watson gave to the United Nations:

  • The more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” …. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, instead of two sets of opposing ideals.

As I further reflected on this matter, I recalled that singer Taylor Swift had taken a pro-feminist position a few weeks ago, and I decided to revisit her comments:

  • As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means. For so long it’s been made to seem like something where you’d picket against the opposite sex, whereas it’s not about that at all.

In the parlance of politics, what we seem to have here are two talking points:

  1. Feminists want men and women to have equal rights and opportunities.
  2. Feminists don’t hate men.

But talking points seldom provide a thoughtful analysis, so after reading a text of Watson’s speech, I responded to my friend’s post as follows:

  • I agree with much of what Ms. Watson says – i.e., men and women should be free to be as sensitive or as strong as they prefer. And I agree with feminism as she defined it: “For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” But she goes on to modify that definition by saying, “It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Equal opportunity does not equate to equal results. Methinks most feminists want women to be as strong as men, and will not be satisfied until they pressure/ostracize feminine women who prefer being sensitive over being strong. And they will insist on quotas for all powerful positions.

 

September 26, 2014

Why poor kids struggle at elite colleges

Filed under: Culture,Education — Mike Kueber @ 5:58 pm
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The New York Times recently published a fascinating op-ed piece titled, “Why poor kids struggle at elite colleges.”  The column was authored by a NYC teacher, Vicki Madden, who 35 years ago immigrated to the City from “hardscrabble” Montana.

Madden’s main point is that, although kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are admitted to elite colleges in depressingly low numbers (5% are from the bottom quartile; 14% are from the bottom two quartiles), these kids can handle the academic challenges, but they have immense difficulty with leaving their way of life behind:

  • But once those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds arrive on campus, it’s often the subtler things, the signifiers of who they are and where they come from, that cause the most trouble, challenging their very identity, comfort and right to be on that campus…. Hardest was the awareness that my own experiences were not only undervalued but often mocked, used to indicate when someone was stupid or low-class…. To stay four years and graduate, students have to come to terms with the unspoken transaction: exchanging your old world for a new world, one that doesn’t seem to value where you came from.

Madden then explains why she was able to navigate the distance from old world to new world:

  • Perhaps because I came from generations of people who had left their families behind and pushed west from Ireland, West Virginia and Montana, I suffered few pangs at the idea of setting out for a new land with better opportunities. I wanted the libraries, summer houses and good wine more than anything that I then valued about my own history…. Being young, I didn’t understand, believing myself immune to the idea that any gain might entail a corresponding loss. I was keen to exchange my Western hardscrabble life for the chance to be a New York City middle-class museumgoer. I’ve paid a price in estrangement from my own people, but I was willing. Not every 18-year-old will make that same choice, especially when race is factored in as well as class.

All of this rings true to me, as I still remember the difficulty I had in moving from being a practical small-town farm kid to a big-city urban/intellectual guy.

You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.

September 9, 2014

Danny Ferry and political correctness

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 10:47 pm
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First we have LA Clipper NBA owner Donald Sterling complaining to his girlfriend about her habit of hanging out with former black basketball players at Clipper games. (Chris Rock has joked that he wouldn’t want his girlfriend hanging out with black basketball players either :) )  In the wake of the media/public uproar over “racist” comments, the NBA forced Sterling to sell his team.

Then we have Atlanta Hawks NBA owner Bruce Levenson complaining to his team executives about the team’s failure to get adequate numbers of affluent white people supporting the team. To remedy this failure, he suggested including some white women as cheerleaders and playing something other than hip hop music at the games. When Levenson learned that his emailed complaint, which he self-described as offensive, was going to be made public, he fell on his sword and agreed to sell his team.

Next we have Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice on a video coldcocking his then fiancée, now wife Janay in an elevator. Although local law enforcement and the NFL had already investigated the incident and issued penalties – i.e., anger-management counseling and a two-game suspension, respectively – the release of the video to the public created such a media/public uproar that the Ravens released Rice and the NFL banned him.

And finally, now we have Atlanta Hawk general manager Danny Ferry during a conference call to his ownership group reading the following scouting report on Africa-born free agent Luol Deng:

  • “[Deng] “is still a young guy overall. He is a good guy overall. But he is not perfect. He’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell your counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

This comment greatly offended one of the co-owner/listeners – J. Michael Gearon, Jr. – and prompted him to personally consult legal counsel to determine the team’s legal and exposure.   Following that consultation, Gearon issued a demand to the team’s controlling owner Bruce Levenson, which included the following verbiage:

 

With respect to one potential free agent, a highly-regarded African-American player and humanitarian, Ferry talked about the player’s good points, and then went on to describe his negatives, stating that “he has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly, all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat.

We are appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call. One of us can be heard on the tape reacting with astonishment. Our franchise has had a long history of racial diversity and inclusion that reflect the makeup of our great city. Ferry’s comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy.

As a minority partner with no effective say in decision-making, we were somewhat at a loss what to do next. So we consulted this week with two attorneys, one a very well-known and highly respected African-American former judge in Atlanta, and the other a highly regarded employment discrimination lawyer. They confirmed our fears and then some. The former judge put it pretty succinctly, saying that any African-American who heard the comments would interpret them as meaning “all blacks are two-faced liars and cheats.” The employment attorney opined that we as a team face significant exposure, possibly in the courts, but certainly in the court of public opinion, and, as we all know, within the league. She described the possible fallout as “devastating.” We agree.

 

As you may recall from my previous posts about being politically correct, the Urban Dictionary defines the term as, “A way that we speak in America so we don’t offend whining pussies.” I wonder if you look up the term “whining pussies” whether you will see a photo of J. Michael Gearon, Jr.

I also wonder if the 24-hour media will ever be able to rise above its current role as an alter ego for a lynch-mob public.

Incidentally, Gearon is incorrect in referring to Deng as an African-American player. Deng was born in Sudan, move to Egypt, and finally settled in England, where he was naturalized in 2006.

 

September 8, 2014

More racism or more political correctness

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Media,Politics,Sports — Mike Kueber @ 3:06 am
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I know that I just complained in this blog about political correctness, but I can’t resist commenting on the latest outrage. Bruce Levenson has declared that he will sell his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks basketball team because of a self-described offensive email that he sent to his team executives a couple of years ago. Leading media outlets have variously described the email as racist, vile, and bigoted, but their reports failed to document precisely what the offensive language was. So I found a copy of the actual text, and concluded that Levenson’s email isn’t nearly as offensive as the political correctness in vilifying him.

Essentially, Levenson argued that the target demographic for Hawk season tickets is age 35-55 white males and that this demographic might prefer to see some white cheerleaders, some music that is not hip hop, and some post-game concerts that are not gospel or hip hop.

So that is racist?

NY Times columnist Bill Rhoden concedes that racism is a “sometimes imprecise” word, but that doesn’t stop him from concluding that Levenson was a racist:

  • Because the email was so open and earnest, it is likely that Levenson did not believe he was being racist, but simply addressing a problem that seemed obvious to him.

I wonder what Rhoden would think of a team owner who was concerned about the dearth of black people in its season-ticket base? Enlightened!

What if the owner suggested that the problem might be ameliorated by adding some black cheerleaders, maybe even some hip hop music?   Inclusive!

What if the owner desired a “critical mass” of black fans so that they didn’t feel uncomfortable or out of place in the arena? Far-sighted and shrewd!

Diversity cuts both ways, and when whites become minorities, as they already are in San Antonio, the politically correct will need to adjust their modus operandi.

 

 

August 28, 2014

The New York Times on white privilege and whether we are all racists

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wondered if everyone was a little bit racist. Prompted by the Ferguson incident, Kristof started his column, titled “Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist?,” by admitting that we really don’t what happened in Ferguson, but he went on to assert that we do know the following:

  • But here’s what evidence does strongly suggest: Young black men in America suffer from widespread racism and stereotyping, by all society — including African-Americans themselves. Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.

If Kristof’s train of thinking confuses you, join the club. Although he begins by asserting “widespread racism and stereotyping,” he quickly walks that back to “unconscious attitudes.” And then, when he describes the various studies that provide evidence of the unconscious attitudes, he fails to explain why these unconscious attitudes exist, such as there are a plethora of psychological studies showing that people are inherently suspicious of people different from them.

Kristof seems to think that if everyone tries to be more sensitive to the issue, it can be willed away. He concludes his column as follows:

  • Yet an uncomfortable starting point is to understand that racial stereotyping remains ubiquitous, and that the challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists but something infinitely more subtle and complex: People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.

The problem with Kristof’s prescription is that it ignores the scientific fact and common-sense understanding that people behave based on their life experience. It is also a fact that young black males, especially those who present themselves like gangsters, are more likely to commit crimes and violence that almost any other distinguishable group. What sentient human being would not consider that fact?

When Kristof advises people to behave in a politically correct fashion, he reminds me of the Marx Brothers’ line – “Who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”

p.s.,

Shortly after Kristof’s column, the Times published a similarly-themed column by Charles Blow titled, “Bill O’Reilly and White Privilege.”  In the column, Blow takes O’Reilly to task for arguing that the problem in the black community is internal (black behavior), not external (white privilege). O’Reilly’s argument:

  • Last night on ‘The Factor,’ Megyn Kelly and I debated the concept of white privilege whereby some believe that if you are Caucasian you have inherent advantages in America. ‘Talking Points’ does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.

O’Reilly also pointed out that Asian-Americans have achieved success despite their obstacles, which included a different language, but he also noted that the black experience was unique:

  • One caveat, the Asian-American experience historically has not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience. Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today, but in order to succeed in our competitive society, every American has to overcome the obstacles they face.”

Blow explained away the Asians as “model immigrants” based on immigration policy, which he said resulted in high-achieving people being selected for immigration. [What an novel idea!]

Then for a solution, O’Reilly makes two points, according to Blow:

  1. In arguing that it isn’t, O’Reilly goes on to raise the seemingly obligatory “respectability” point, saying: “American children must learn not only academics but also civil behavior, right from wrong, as well as how to speak properly and how to act respectfully in public.”
  2. Then he falls back on the crux of his argument: “Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault. That is the big lie that is keeping some African-Americans from reaching their full potential. Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place, millions of African-Americans will struggle.”

Blow then turns the table on O’Reilly and seems to compare him to Al Sharpton:

  • No, Mr. O’Reilly, it is statements like this one that make you the race hustler. The underlying logic is that blacks are possessed of some form of racial pathology or self-destructive racial impulses, that personal responsibility and systemic inequity are separate issues and not intersecting ones. This is the false dichotomy that chokes to death any real accountability and honesty. Systemic anti-black bias doesn’t dictate personal behavior, but it can certainly influence and inform it. And personal behavior can reinforce people’s belief that their biases are justified. So goes the cycle. But at the root of it, we can’t expect equality of outcome while acknowledging inequality of environments. Only a man bathing in privilege would be blind to that.

Finally, something we can agree on. There is a cycle between anti-black bias and the black personal behavior. O’Reilly’s solution is for cultural change in the black community while Blow seems content to merely vent against O’Reilly. At least Kristof has a plan, albeit a Pollyannaish one for non-blacks to will away their unconscious bias.

August 25, 2014

An open letter to Time magazine about its Ferguson coverage

Filed under: Culture,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 10:13 pm
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Dear Time magazine:
Your coverage in this week’s magazine of the Ferguson tragedy was a disgrace.  Although a close reading of the Von Drehle/Altman cover article reveals that the critical facts of the shooting are in dispute, your cover photo depicts the version provided by Dorian Johnson, who you describe as “Brown’s friend,” while failing to note that he was also the alleged accomplice in the earlier robbery.  Perhaps most readers would apply that fact to the kid’s credibility.
Then to fan-the-flames to the “hands up” version of the narrative, you begin the story with a two-page photo of demonstrators with their hands up, and later end the story with a collage of six photos circulating at #HANDSUPDONTSHOOT.  You seem to see this protest almost like a pep rally.
For good measure, you follow-up the Von Drehle/Altman travesty with three opinion pieces from kindred spirits – Rand Paul, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mom).  Are they the best serious thinkers you could find?  Why not include someone with a mind to defend the police under assault?
Just when I was going to through my arms up in disgust with the entire magazine, I got to Joe Klein’s column.  His angle was so different than the other four that you wondered if they were looking at the different worlds.  He quickly eviscerated their version with his lead sentences in the first two paragraphs:
  1.  At first, it seemed a perfect metaphor for 400 years of oppression….
  2. But the perfection of the metaphor is soon blurred by facts.
Those points are so obvious that the obvious question is why did you publish the other four articles in support of the metaphors that are blurred by facts?
Klein’s thoughtful and balanced column concluded with a statement that I agree with totally, but which I haven’t seen elsewhere in connection with the Ferguson tragedy – “Absent a truly candid conversation about the culture that emerged from slavery and segregation, they [problems emanating from a debilitating culture of poverty among the urban underclass] won’t be solved at all.
Hear, hear.
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