Wealth does not make Wise

The time has come for us to abandon the implicit belief that the successful acquisition of deep pools of money or vast power does not confer prima facie credibility or rightness on anyone. That process begins in our daily conversations.

So the next time someone defends a questionable idea posited by a self-made individual with a rejoinder along the lines of “hey, he’s worth $10 billion, so he must be doing something right,” respond with “hey, he’s worth $10 billion, and it is also likely that he got there by doing something very wrong.”

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In Re Barr and the Bee

With regards the fact that Samantha Bee still has a job on television while Roseanne Barr does not, I see four possibilities.

1. Some unknown authority has issued a secret decree to the effect that an offensive sexist slur is less egregious than an offensive racist slur.

2. The leadership at TBS lack the courage and conviction of the leadership at ABC.

3. An educated progressive immigrant can get away with things that an native-born high-school dropout cannot.

4. Some combination of the above.

I am no fan of Barr or her politics, and I find Bee’s show rather more entertaining than Roseanne’s ever was, even though Samantha and I roost on distant squares of the political plane.

That said, I find both sets of comments equally loathsome, and if one of these two comedians deserves to be collecting unemployment for her  remarks, both do.

A Nation of Creeds

To those who would make of America a Christian nation, I respond thus: if you succeed in your ultimate goal of having America decreed a “Christian Nation,” you might hold your head a little higher on your way to church. You might eliminate some of the opposition to your practices that have been an irritation for you. Maybe.

What you will have done, and done irrevocably, is to revoke the citizenship not only every Muslim in America, but every Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, Animist, and Zoroastrian, not to mention every agnostic, atheist, and traditional practitioner of Native American faiths. In so doing, you will have made a joke of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. You will have placed us on the road to becoming the kind of theocracy our forefathers rejected. You will, in so doing, have made yourself an enemy of Liberty, of the Constitution, of Freedom, and of these United States.

America is a country of religions, not a religious country; it is a nation made up mostly of Christians, but not a Christian nation. Accepting that fact does not make you less Christian – on the contrary, in your charity and mercy, in seeing to it that America ever remains a country where the granting of liberty and justice for all is what makes up a nation under G-d, have you not lived the very tenets of your faith?

Lay to rest, I implore you, this idea of declaring America a Christian nation. Raise high the banner of religious freedom, and show the world that America will live under the law of men under G-d, not the Law of God under Men.

The Sharks are Coming for Fat Albert

I grew up with Bill Cosby. I watched iSpy with my parents. I watched Fat Albert on Saturday mornings (“Nah nah nah, gonna have a good time!”) I saw Mother, Jugs, and Speed at an age when technically the theatre should not have let me in without a parent. The first comedy album I owned was To My Brother Russel, Whom I Slept With. Willie Sobel and I had the album memorized in 7th grade and we would recite entire passages, complete with sound effects. I saw Bill perform live at Concord Pavilion, watched The Cosby Show. And when he took to the page and the stage and challenged young men to be better dads, I listened to his advice and resolved to be a father of whom Cos and my own dad would approve.

I was white, male, and Jewish, and Bill Cosby was my role model. He transcended race, creating a post-ethnic space that made it possible for young white men to have black role models who weren’t athletes. Equally important, he became a stepping stone into a world where black voices were not just speaking to blacks, but were speaking to all men. Malcolm X died when I was a toddler; Dr. King died when I was in pre-school. They never meant to me what Cos did. Cos arguably opened the door for Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson, but in some respects, he did the same for  Colin Powell, Thomas Sowell, and Condoleeza Rice. In short, he was proof that the future of America would be integrated and diverse, and that for it to be anything else was foolhardy.

He was an icon. And for that reason, I wanted to believe the best about him. When he admitted in a paternity suit in 1997 that he’d had an affair with Shawn Upshaw of Las Vegas, I believed that it was an isolated transgression in an otherwise ideal marriage with his wife Camille. When questions arose about whether or not he deserved his Doctorate in Education, I believed them to be the jealous sniping of academics trying to score points on each other. And when he stood up and criticized young black men for not being better fathers, I believed it was tough love from a man who had wrestled with his own parenting challenges and won.

I will leave questions of his parenting for his children to answer, but the glow of the rest has faded. The award of his doctorate and possibly his Master’s degree appear less justified than first glance, not only because he never completed an undergraduate degree, but because of an allegedly weak thesis, spotty academic work, his strong-handing of both the university and his doctoral committee, and the fact that he was given academic credit for appearing on “Fat Albert” and “The Electric Company.”  And now it appears that the L’affaire Upshaw may not have been a once-in-a-marriage misstep, but the leading indicator of a long love life lived away from the marriage bed, and allegedly under extremely unsavory circumstances.

I am trying, however, to reserve judgments on each the crimes of which he is accused. Having spent most of my adult life living in a land where a person is guilty until proven innocent, I am enjoying the luxury of sustaining a reasonable doubt about Cosby’s guilt of each accusation until a jury of his peers has had their say. I suspect that not many will join me in that. Cosby has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, and many view his court proceedings as a formality.

That is a shame, not for Cosby, but for us. If we truly believe in our system of justice, it is our obligation to remember and remind ourselves that we are obliged to hold a man innocent until he is proven guilty in a court of law as judged by a jury of his peers. When we stop doing that, we undermine the monopoly our system of justice has on punishment. In a day when a man must live or die by his public reputation, participating in a trial by public opinion is the moral equivalent of vigilantism.

Let us allow justice to be done. And then let us pass our own verdicts.

Agriculture

It is a mistake to tar our entire modern agriculture and food distribution system with the worst behavior of its meanest participants.

The proper response to the excesses of industrial agriculture is not to destroy it in favor of small scale farms and locovore culture, but to punish the miscreants, remove perverse incentives, and generally to redress the problems in the system.

Fix big ag. With a hammer. And the threat of an alternative.