Latest entries

Peshawar murders show need to support those who share our values

by David McElroy

Peshawar-school-attack-child

For those who are committed to the idea that Muslims are evil, the vicious school attack in Peshawar, Pakistan, must be confusing, because it doesn’t fit their script.

Nearly 150 people are known dead in the attack so far — almost all of them children. For Pakistanis, this is the equivalent of about five or six of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. We were traumatized in this country when 20 children and six adults were killed by a mentally ill man two years ago. The tragedy for my Pakistani friends is far more deadly.

It’s natural for us to see tragedies close to us as more serious than tragedies on the other side of the world. Tragedies in which the victims look like us seem more important to us than those where the victims belong to some other group. But imagine a school attack like this — with at least 132 children intentionally slaughtered — in California or Ohio or Alabama or New Jersey.

This is a tragedy that’s hard for us to comprehend, because we haven’t faced one bigger than this since Sept. 11, 2001.

For those who see the world in terms of “evil Muslims” vs. “good westerners,” the Peshawar massacre doesn’t make sense, because it doesn’t fit within their understanding. Instead, the attackers and the victims were all Muslims. If you start to understand the significance of that, you can see the error that many people make in seeing Muslims — all Muslims — as their enemies.

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Good riddance, UAB football: Taxes shouldn’t subsidize college sports

by David McElroy

UAB game at Legion Field

The University of Alabama at Birmingham announced this week that it’s shutting down its football program. All 17 fans are really upset about it.

For 20 years, UAB football has struggled to attract fans and donors. For the most part, its attendance has been a joke. The photo above is a fair representation of what it’s like to see a game at 71,000-seat Legion Field.

For last year’s football season, the Blazers averaged 11,589 tickets sold, but anyone who thinks there were that many people actually there is lying to himself. As part of that average number sold, however, the city of Birmingham bought 5,000 tickets for each game, costing city taxpayers $225,000. So fewer than 7,000 tickets were actually sold on average if you don’t count the tickets the city bought for politicians to give away. The 11,589 average was the second lowest in all of big-time college football last year.

The program has been a joke.

Now that the university has announced plans to shut the football program down, news stories are filled with outrage about this alleged travesty. The president of the Birmingham City Council called rumors of the impending shutdown “an attack on the city of Birmingham.” Many supporters of UAB claim that a powerful trustee of the University of Alabama system — the son of former Alabama Coach Bear Bryant — engineered the shutdown out of revenge for a letter written 20 years ago by UAB’s former basketball coach and athletic director.

All of these stories are silly and speculative. Even if they were true, though, they’re irrelevant. All that matters is that Alabama taxpayers are subsidizing this rather large hole in the ground to the tune of $20 million a year.

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Existing biases dictate how you see grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo.

by David McElroy

Rorschach_inkblot_test

Take a look at this picture. It reveals the decision of the Ferguson grand jury. Tell me what you see.

I’m writing this before the grand jury decision is announced, but click here for the obligatory link I’ll add. By the time you read this, many people are outraged. I don’t have a clue what the decision will be, but I can guarantee that something about it — and the aftermath of its announcement — will confirm the worst of what millions of people believe.

If Officer Darren Wilson is indicted, it would confirm for many people that cops are killers and deserve to be attacked. For others, it would confirm that civilized society is under assault by those who are being allowed to destroy it — and that our valiant protectors are being harmed.

If Wilson is not indicted, it would confirm for many people that an evil and corrupt system is willing to let white cops murder young black men without accountability. For others, the aftermath would confirm that they need to prepare for a race war against lawless hoodlums.

It’s not a pretty picture. I suspect things are going to get ugly.

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If you’re offered a second chance at creating a happy family, grab it

by David McElroy

Baby and parents

Is life full of second chances? Or do our bad choices doom us to live with ugly consequences? Maybe the second chances are always there. Maybe we tend to doom ourselves.

It seems as though we’re all going to make serious mistakes, but life frequently gives us chances to make better choices later. If we learn from our mistakes and choose differently, we can break out of ugly patterns. But if we refuse to learn — if we blame everyone else and keep making the same mistakes instead — we end up suffering consequences over and over and over again, even though we have the power to change our own lives.

I’ve been thinking about second chances and life’s tradeoffs over the past four days, and it started with a happy family that I saw at dinner Wednesday night.

I’m not sure what caught my attention about this family. Maybe it was because they all seemed happy and the parents were both strongly engaged with the children and with each other. There were three young children in addition to the parents, two young girls and a slightly older boy. For whatever reason, they were the very picture of what I want for myself.

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Collective freak-out over tasteless shirt points to double standard

by David McElroy

Matt Taylor shirt

I don’t wear shirts with sexually suggestive drawings of women. (Or men, either, for that matter.) Call me a prude or a conservative, but I think it’s inappropriate and tasteless. Besides that, it’s disrespectful to the people you’re going to be around, especially women.

I don’t like the shirt that English scientist Matt Taylor wore Wednesday at an ESA briefing about the Rosetta mission. It’s ugly and the stylized artwork of scantily clad women is boorish and tasteless. Nobody working for me would be allowed to wear it for work. It’s unprofessional.

But the media firestorm attacking him is just as distasteful. Some people are calling it “misogyny” and saying this is why women allegedly feel unwelcome in science. Others are saying it creates a hostile environment for women. And on and on and on. (Do a Twitter search for #ThatShirt or #ShirtStorm.)

I object to the shirt on the grounds of taste and good judgment, but the hysterical objections I’m reading seem really overblown. The thing that bothers me most about the firestorm, though, is the obvious double standard.

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Mark Bodenhausen was principled libertarian, but even better person

by David McElroy

Mark BodenhausenWhen I became a libertarian two decades ago, one of the first people I met was Mark Bodenhausen. Back in the days when Jimmy Blake was chair of the Alabama Libertarian Party, Mark was one of the small group who would gather regularly at Jimmy’s house for discussion and planning about how to spread our gospel of small government.

Over the years, I came to know Mark as a brilliant nerd, a principled libertarian, a pragmatic political thinker and as a caring human being. He went on to serve the Alabama Libertarian Party as its chair and as a candidate for a variety of offices. I was very saddened to learn that Mark died Thursday after a long illness.

I knew that Mark was sick, but I had no idea how serious the problem was. Last Sunday, former Alabama Libertarian Party vice chair Mike Rster posted a note on Facebook updating us about Mark. It sounded very serious, but I assumed it meant good news.

“The past 19 days have been trying,” Mike wrote. “Due to an aneurysm that caused two catastrophic bleeds in Mark’s brain, the doctors inserted a tube into his brain to relieve the pressure. In the course of the Mark’s treatment his liver failed and then his kidneys. He remained unresponsive for the 17 days.

“Two days ago he nodded yes and no for the first time since the initial bleed. His kidneys have stabilized although he still might require further dialysis. His liver is causing a problem with blood clotting. He has had multiple units of blood and blood products. Once his blood platelet count is sufficient he is scheduled for three surgeries….

“We anticipate a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation period for Mark. He still has a long way to go.”

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Life-threatening accident for child puts my tiny problems into context

by David McElroy

Emergency room

Thursday wasn’t a good day for me at work. I had a conflict with a co-worker that wasn’t even out in the open. She got irritated with me about something — unfairly, in my view — and she said some hurtful things behind my back.

I fumed about it for a couple of hours and I sent a message to a friend to say I wanted to tell her what had happened when we both had time. I was hurt and angry — and I wanted to complain about it.

Before I had the time to tell my friend about my woes, though, I got an email from her that changed my perspective.

“Please say a quick prayer for my sister’s little boy, Carson,” she wrote. “A tractor tire or tractor ‘something’ fell over onto him and he stopped breathing. (I don’t have the details yet.) They’ve just life-flighted him to Columbus.”

My friend’s 3-year-old nephew had been playing on the farm where he lives in Ohio and something heavy fell on him. He suffered broken bones and internal injuries. It was unclear whether he was going to live.

Suddenly, my little spat with a co-worker didn’t seem like a big deal.

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If elections could bring freedom, voting would have been outlawed

by David McElroy

Real change this time

Republicans are almost certainly going to take control of the U.S. Senate in today’s elections across the United States. Conservatives are excited and progressives are trembling. There’s change in the air. It’s a revolution.

But haven’t we seen this movie before?

In 1994, Republicans gained a staggering 54 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to take control. They were running against President Bill Clinton and attacking Big Government in a mid-term election. It was the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution. Remember the Contract with America? It was going to change everything and reduce the size of government. How did that work out in the long run?

In 2006, Democrats picked up 31 seats in U.S. House elections to give control back to Nancy Pelosi and Co. In these mid-term elections, Democrats ran against President George W. Bush and his alleged attempts to hurt poor people and wage perpetual war around the world. Progressives promised to use their power to stop Republicans from continuing various wars. What changed for us in the long run?

Time after time, one party or the other has held power and the other party has taken power by promising change. But the two parties simply swap the seats of power like some giant game of musical chairs. If you believe in individual freedom and have watched this long enough, you come to realize that their promises of big change don’t come true.

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We have a hunger for love just as strong as the need for food, water

by David McElroy

Hungry for love

You can almost always tell whether I’m getting the love I need. When I’m not getting the love I need, I gorge myself on ice cream and cookies and doughnuts. I stuff as much as I can into my body — trying to fill a hole that can only be filled by love. The result is serious weight gain.

So the general rule for me is simple. If I’m eating in a way that’s good for my body, I’m probably feeling loved and understood. If I’m gaining weight and making daily trips to the ice cream aisle for Blue Bell cookies ’n’ cream or rocky road, you can be pretty sure that I’m empty inside and I’m engaged in a futile unconscious attempt to fill that hole with food.

I’ve been thinking about this today because of a comment that a friend made on Facebook Thursday night. He’s down and frustrated this week, and he said, “Me siento perdido y tambien he perdido mi fe en el amor,” which roughly translates to, “I feel lost and I’ve also lost my faith in love.”

His comment struck me as sad and I could easily empathize with him. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life feeling the same way. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that his phrasing didn’t strike me as right.  What does it mean to “lose faith in love”? Does that even make sense?

Human beings have a very fundamental need for love and understanding. Love is just as necessary to the healthy functioning of a human being as food, water and oxygen. Lack of oxygen can kill you in minutes. Going without water might take days or weeks to kill you.

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What do you love enough to want once more before life slips away?

by David McElroy

Seeing the ocean one last time

On Tuesday, a California woman took a trip to the beach. Her daughter pushed her wheelchair into the water so she could feel the water at Laguna Beach rush onto her legs. Her joy was obvious, but it’s an experience she will never repeat.

This was her last trip to the beach, because she’s checking into a hospice facility to die.

For me, this bittersweet image tells a lot about the truth of the life we live on this planet. It can be sweet and joyful. It can be an amazing sensory experience. But it’s all too short — and death is always waiting at the end far too soon.

When I was a child, a year seemed like forever. Even an afternoon or a week could seem like forever sometimes. The time between one Christmas and the next was definitely eternity.

That changed slightly as I grew, but I was still always eager for the next step. Others seem to have shared this pattern. We were impatient for life to begin. Or, rather, we were impatient for what we thought life was going to be for us. We had high hopes and we believed that life would be different for us than it was for other people. We were going to be happy and successful. Our futures were unlimited.

Life would be very long for us. Death was so far away that it almost didn’t seem to exist.

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